The mythology of the Hittites has not yet been studied in all its details, but in the chaos of the

pantheon where the 'thousand gods and goddesses' dwell, one can distinguish groups of

extremely varied origin: ancient indigenous gods worshipped before the advent of the Indo-

European Hittites, Irbitiga, Kalhisapi, Teteshapi and Wasezzel; Luwian divinities such as Santa,

Tarhunza and Wandu; Hurrian divinities like Teshup and Hepat; gods of Babylon and Assyria,

who are less easy to recognise because their names can also represent Hittite names in

consequence of the system of allo-graphy (or name substitution) adopted by the Hittites.

Thus the Sumerian name. Ishkur, adopted as an ideogram in Akkad for the god Hadad, and the

number X, a name of the same god, were utilised by the Hittites for the still unknown name of

their god who presided over tempests and beneficial rainfall, as Ishkur and Adad did, as Teshub

did in Hurrian lands, or Hadad did in Canaan.

At the head of the Hittite pantheon can be distinguished the divine couple, symbolising vital

forces, which is common to all Asian peoples. In the thirteenth century B.C. this couple can be seen

leading a long procession of other gods on the rocks at Yazilikaya, a mile and a half from the ruins

of Hattusa, the capital of the empire.

We shall mention only two of the Hittite myths: that of the Great Serpent and that of Telepinu.

The Great Serpent had dared to attack the weather-god. The god demanded that he be brought to

justice. Inar, a god who had come southward with the Indo-European Hittites, prepared a great

feast and invited the serpent with his family to eat and drink. The serpent and his children, having

drunk to satiety, were unable to go back into their hole, and were exterminated.

Telepinu had vanished and all life withdrew from the earth. Fire was extinguished, the gods died

of hunger in their sanctuaries, animals perished in their stables, the trees lost their leaves and the

fields their verdure. The Sun gave a festival. His divine guests could not eat their fill nor could

they quench their thirst. The weather-god explained the situation to them: his son, Telepinu, was

angry and had gone no one knew where, taking all his goods with him. All the gods, great and

small, set about searching for the fugitive. Twice the eagle vainly explored the entire land. Then,

on the orders of the Lady of the gods, the bee flew off with instructions that if she found Telepinu

she should 'sting him in the hands and feet to make him reappear'.

Telepinu returned, and at once life resumed its normal course.


It is now known that well before the peoples whom we know as the Greeksvhad emerged from

primitive barbarism there existed in the basin of the Aegean Sea a Mediterranean civilisation

which had its centre in Crete. Aegean civilisation, which had already made tentative beginnings in

the third millennium, reached its apogee towards the sixteenth century B.C. jwhen it spread to

continental Greece, starting in Argolis (Mycenae). It was destroyed in the twelfth century by the

Dorian invasions.s

In Aegean civilisation, religion naturally had its place.'But the only silent documents which

archaeology has yet furnished are insufficient to allow an exact estimate of its character and

elements. As with all peoples the first form Aegean religion took was fetishism the worship of

sacred stones, the cult of pillars, the cult of w eapons (particularly the double-axe), the cult of trees

and animals.

Later, when an anthropomorphic conception of divinity had arisen, the Cretan pantheon was

formed and myths were created. We find survivals of such myths in a great many'Greek legends;

for instance, the birth of Zeus in Crete, Europa and the bull, Cretans brought by Apollo to Delphi

to be priests of his cult, the Minotaur, etc. When they moved to continental Greece, however, the

Aegean divinities took on a Hellenic aspect beneath which their original physiognomy

disappeared. Thus what we know about the Aegean pantheon is reduced to very little.


The Great Goddess. The chief deity of the Aegeans was - like that of many Asiatic cults - feminine.

She was the Great Goddess, the Universal Mother, in whom were united all the attributes and

functions of divinity. Above all she symbolised fertility, and her influence extended over plants

and animals as well as humans. All the universe was her domain. As celestial goddess she

regulated the course of the heavenly bodies and controlled the alternating seasons. On earth she

caused the products of the soil to flourish, gave men riches, protected them in battle and at sea

guided them on their adventurous voyages. She killed or tamed fierce beasts; and finally she also

reigned over the underworld: mistress of life, she was also sovereign of death.

The Great Goddess is represented, depending on the epoch, either crouching or standing.

Sometimes she is nude, sometimes dressed like a Cretan woman. In the latter case she wears a

flounced skirt and her bosom is either entirely bare or covered with a corsage which leaves her

breasts exposed. Her head-dress varies: the hair may be free, knotted with a simple fillet; it may be

covered either by a sort of turban decorated with flowers or aigrettes, or by a conical tiara in the

Oriental manner, or, again, by a very tall tiara in the shape of a topless cone.

Although the type is always the same and only the attributes and details of dress vary, it is

questionable if a single divinity is concerned or if, on the contrary, these various representations

do not depict distinct goddesses, each having her own character. The procreative goddess with

broad hips who presses her raised arms to heavy breasts - could she be the same as the virgin

warrior who advances, escorted by a lion, striking the ground with her spear? Could the

vegetation-goddess whom we see sitting under the sacred

The Protectress of Athens. Perhaps the most characteristically Greek of all the Olympians, Athene

is also the most positively identified as having developed from an archaic local cult. The daughter

of Zeus, according to the Greeks, she sprang fully armed from his brow. Warrior goddess,

patroness of the arts, and the personification of intelligence, she was a deity much revered and

respected. Her formidable character is well caught in this striking bronze statue of the fifth

century B.C.


tree, receiving from her priestesses the first fruits and flowers, be the same as the sea-goddess who

is carried across the waves in a boat, or the earth-goddess around whom serpents intertwine?

What was the name of the mother-goddess of the Aegeans? Here again in the absence of

documentation we are left to conjecture. It seems that she was worshipped in Crete under the

vocable Rhea. At least this was the name later associated with the ancient Cretan divinity in the

cult of Zeus. Zeus was made her son, a tradition revived, as we shall see, by Hesiod in his


Two other names of Cretan goddesses have been preserved: Dictynna and Britomartis. In their

legends the Greeks applied the two names to the same divinity.

Dictynna, whom the Greeks called the 'goddess of the nets', was perhaps the goddess of Mount

Dicte, a mountain in Crete which was later said to be the birthplace of Zeus. She would, then, be

the mother-goddess.

Britomartis means 'the sweet virgin', a denomination which

could not very well be applied to the Great Mother of the universe. j( According to the Greek

legend, Britomartis was a young virgin .. huntress who pursued wild beasts in the forests of

Crete. She was ;; said to be the daughter of Zeus. Minos saw her and was captivated <., by

her beauty. He offered her his love, but was refused. He then attempted violence but Britomartis

fled and, after a race which ;j lasted no less than nine months, in order finally to escape Minos

-\ she flung herself off a high rock into the sea. She fell into the nets of a fisherman and for that

reason received the name Dictynna. Artemis, in reward for her chastity, raised her to the rank of

the | immortals and thenceforth she appeared during the night to navigators. The Greeks

made the assimilation even closer and called * Dictynna-Britomartis the Cretan Artemis. \

The God. With the Great Goddess the Aegeans associated a god. *

It would seem that this god, at least originally, was, in imitation of

the cults of Western Asia, subordinate to the goddess; but though I

we are informed of the relationship between Tammuz and Ishtar, : between Attis and Cybele, and

between Adonis and Astarte, no , indication has yet come to light with regard to the relationship f

between the Aegean god and goddess.

A celestial divinity, like the goddess with whom he was associated, the Aegean god bore the

epithet Asterius (the 'starry'). He is found again under the name Asterion, king of Crete, who

married Europa after her adventure with Zeus. Afterwards he was assimilated with Zeus himself,

whose legend was thus enriched with the older Cretan contributions.

The peculiarity of the Cretan god was the mingling of animal and human features which

composed his nature. The bull, as in many Asiatic religions, had been adopted since the earliest

ages as the Aegean symbol of strength and creative energy. It later became the emblem of the

Great God, and as such played an important part in Cretan legends. It even became incorporated

in the divine nature: Minotaur is analogous to the bull-god of the Elamites and to the Enki of the

Sumerians, who was also 'the savage bull of the f sky and the earth'.

The bull-god was not the only aspect under which the Cretan god appeared. Besides the Minotaur

there was also Minos. Therefore the god was also conceived in human form, and it was thus that

he sometimes appeared to his worshippers in all his terrifying majesty. But whether we are

concerned with Minos or the Minotaur we know them only through the modifications they

underwent when Hellenised. We shall therefore only mention them here in passing and reserve a

later occasion to discuss them at greater length, when we meet them again in the heroic legends of

classical Greece.



Greek Theogonies. The Greek pantheon was established as early as the Homeric epoch. The many

divinities of which it was composed generally appear in the Iliad and the Odyssey with their

characteristic physiognomy, their traditional attributes and their own time-honoured legends. But

the poet tells us nothing of their origin or their past. At the most he mentions that Zeus is the son

of Cronus and says incidentally that Ocean and his spouse Tethys were the creators of gods and

living beings.

It was only later that the Greeks felt the need to provide their gods with a genealogy and a

history/Hesiod's poem, the Theogony, written in about the eighth century B.C., is the oldest Greek

attempt at mythological classification/While recounting the origin of the gods, recalling their chief

adventures and establishing their relationships, he also claims to explain the formation of the

universe. The poem is thus as much a cosmogony as a theogony. A reflection of popular beliefs,

the Theogony of Hesiod had, in Greece, a kind of official recognition.

From the sixth century B.C., however, until the beginning of the Christian era other theogonies

were elaborated' under the influence of Orphic doctrines/and these theogonies departed widely

from the traditions of Hesiod/But the Orphic theogonies, known only to the initiated, were never

popular/ In addition they were too intermingled with foreign contributions, notably Asiatic, to be

specifically Greek in character/We shall therefore merely give a summary of their principal

features, having first given Hesiod's version of the origins of the world.


Chaos and Gaea. In the beginning, Hesiod says, there was Chaos, vast and dark. Then appeared

Gaea, the deep-breasted earth, and finally Eros, 'the love which softens hearts', whose fructifying

influence would thenceforth preside over the formation of beings and things.

From Chaos were born Erebus and Night who, uniting, gave birth in their turn to Ether and

Hemera, the day. / On her part Gaea first bore Uranus, the sky crowned with stars, /whom she

made her equal in grandeur, so that he entirely covered I her.' Then she created the high

mountains and Pontus, 'the sterile \sea', with its harmonious waves.

Uranus and Gaea: The Uranus group. The universe had been formed. It remained to be peopled.

Gaea united with her son Uranus and produced the first race - the Titans. There were twelve of

them, six male and six female: Oceanus, Coeus, Hyperion, Crius, lapetus, Cronus; Theia, Rhea,

Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and Themis.

Uranus and Gaea then gave birth to the Cyclopes: Brontes, Steropes and Arges, 'who resembled

the other gods but had only one eye in the middle of their forehead'. Finally they bore three

monsters: Cottus, Briareus and Gyges. 'From their shoulders sprang a hundred invincible arms

and above these powerful limbs rose fifty heads attached to their backs'. For this reason they were

called the Hecatoncheires or the Centimanes.

Uranus could only regard his offspring with horror, and as soon as they were born he shut them

up in the depths of the earth. Gaea at first mourned, but afterwards grew angry and meditated

terrible vengeance against her husband. From her bosom she drew forth gleaming steel, fashioned

a sharp sickle or harpe and expl ined to her children the plan she had made. All of them hesitated,

struck with horror. Only the astute Cronus, her last-born, volunteered to support his mother.

When evening fell Uranus, accompanied by Night, came as usual to rejoin his wife. While he

unsuspectingly slept, Cronus, who with his mother's aid lay in hiding, armed himself with the

sickle, mutilated his father atrociously and cast the bleeding genitals into the sea. From the terrible

wound black blood dropped and the drops, seeping into the earth, gave birth to the redoubtable

Furies, to monstrous giants and to the ash-tree nymphs, the Meliae. As for the debris which

floated on the surface of the waves, it broke into a white foam from which was born a young

goddess, Aphrodite, 'who was first carried towards the divine Cythera and thence as far as

Cyprus surrounded with waves'.

The Character of the First Gods. Such are the first divine figures and the first drama they

underwent. Some of the actors are, it is true, rather vague and ill-defined.

The Chaos of Hesiod, the name of which comes from a Greek root meaning 'to gape', simply

designates open' space. Only later,

sanctuary was at Samos, wnere sue was believed to have been born, and it was here that this overlifesize

statue was discovered. It was dedicated to the goddess by Cheramyes and was originally

painted. Marble, c. 560 B.C.

a man witn a DUII s neau auu upraised arms, the Minotaur fed exclusively on human flesh and

lived in a palace called the Labyrinth. It was finally killed by Theseus. Bronze, c. eighth century


because of a false derivation from a word meaning 'to pour', was Chaos considered to mean the

confused and unorganised mass of the elements scattered through space. Chaos is moreover a

pure cosmic principle devoid of god-like characteristics.

The same may be said of Hesiod's Eros, who has nothing in common with the Eros whom we shall

meet in later legends. Here Eros has only a metaphysical significance: he represents the force of

attraction which causes beings to come together.

Uranus, son and husband of Gaea, is the starlit sky. It may be pointed out that he received no cult

in Greece. This conception of the sky and the earth, considered as two primordial divinities, is

common to all Indo-European peoples. In the Rig-Veda the sky and the earth were already called

'the immortal couple' and the 'two grandparents of the world'.

Gaea. The only divinity with well-defined features is Gaea, the earth. According to Hesiod it

seems likely that Gaea, from whom all things issued, had been the great deity of the primitive

Greeks. Like the Aegeans and like the peoples of Asia, the Greeks must doubtless have originally

worshipped the Earth in whom they beheld the mother-goddess. This is again confirmed by the

Homeric hymn in which the poet says: 'I shall sing of Gaea, universal mother, firmly founded, the

oldest of divinities.'

Gaea, 'the deep-breasted', whose soil nourishes all that exists, and by whose benevolence men are

blessed with fair children and all the pleasant fruits of earth, was thus at one time the supreme

goddess whose majesty was acknowledged not only by men but by the gods themselves. Later,

when the victorious dynasty of the Olympians was established, Gaea's prestige was not lessened.

It was still she whom the gods invoked when they made oaths: 'I

swear by Gaea and the vast sky above her,' Hera proclaims when, in the Iliad, she answers Zeus'


Gaea the omnipotent not only created the universe and bore the first race of the gods, but also

gave birth to the human race. Thus in the myth of Erichthonius she draws him forth from her own

bosom and offers him to Athene: he was the first inhabitant of Attica

The power of Gaea was also manifest in her gift of foretelling the future. The Oracle of Delphi,

before it passed into Apollo's hands, had originally belonged to Gaea.

Later, as. other divinities rose in the estimation of men, the role of Gaea gradually became less

important. Her cult, however, always continued in Greece. She presided over marriages and was

honoured as pre-eminent among prophetesses. At Patras the sick came to consult her. She was

particularly venerated at Aegae, at Delphi and at Olympia. She had sanctuaries at Dodona, Tegea,

Sparta and at Athens, near the Areopagus. She was offered first fruits and grain; but when she was

invoked as the guardian of the sanctity of oaths a black ewe was immolated in her honour. She

was commonly represented in the form of a gigantic woman.

The Titans. The Titans, who formed the first divine race, had for the most part no very clearly

defined personality. The etymology of their name which Hesiod gives (from a word meaning 'to

stretch out', because they had stretched out their hand against their father) is fanciful. Their name

probably derives from a Cretan word which meant 'king'.

In Greece the Titans were honoured as the ancestors of men. To them was attributed the invention

of the arts and of magic.

Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires. In Hesiod the Cyclopes were storm genii, as their names indicate:

Brontes, thunder; Steropes, lightning; Arges, thunderbolt.

As for the Hecatoncheires or Centimanes- the 'hundred-handed'-their names are sufficient to

characterise them. They, too, were three in number: Cottus, the Furious; Briareus, the Vigorous;

Gyges, the Big-limbed.

Orphic Cosmogonies. To the above primitive and popular cosmogony followers of Orphism

opposed other explanations of the origin of things. They claimed as their authority the apocryphal

writings attributed to Orpheus which seem actually to have been written by a priest named

Onomacritus. The philosophic and scientific pre-occupations which all these systems reflect, the

subtleties in which they delight, and the many abstractions which they employ, remove them from

the realm of the primitive. They are metaphysical systems rather than mythology.

Taken as a whole this is roughly what they come to: the first principle was Cronus, or Time, from

which came Chaos, which symbolised the infinite, and Ether, which symbolised the finite.

Chaos was surrounded by Night, which formed the enveloping cover under which, by the creative

action of the Ether, cosmic matter was slowly organised. This finally assumed the shape of an egg

of which Night formed the shell.

In the centre of this gigantic egg, whose upper section formed the vault of the sky and whose

lower section was the earth, was born the first being, Phanes - the Light. It was Phanes who, by

union with Night, created Heaven and Earth. It was he also who engendered Zeus.

We shall not dwell longer on this brief summary of Orphic doctrine; for we shall meet it again

when we come to the god Dionysus, who became the supreme god of Orphism. Meanwhile

Hesiod continues to recount the fate of the second divine dynasty.


The Reign of Cronus. When Uranus was reduced to impotence, Cronus liberated his brothers, the

Titans - with the exception of

to Doom (Moros), to black Ker (Moera) and to Death; then to Sleep and his retinue of Dreams. She

then bore bantering Gaiety (Momus) and wailing Misery (Oizus), and the Hesperides who

guarded the golden apples beyond the Ocean. Then came the Fates: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos,

who when a mortal was born apportioned his share of good and evil. Night also bore Nemesis,

fearful to mortals, Fraud, Incontinence, Old Age and Eris (Strife) who in turn gave birth to Sorrow,

Forgetfulness and Hunger, to Disease, Combat, Murder, Battles, Massacres, Quarrels, Lies and

Equivocations, to Injustice and Oaths.

Pontus, the sea, united with Gaea, the earth, to produce Nereus the Truthful, Thaumas the

Monstrous, Phorcys the Intrepid and pretty-cheeked Ceto and Eurybia with the heart of steel.

To Nereus and Doris, daughter of the Ocean, were born fifty daughters, the Nereids. To Thaumas

and Electra were born Iris, the rainbow, and the Harpies with their fair tresses. By Phorcys Ceto

bore the Graeae (the Old Ones) who came into the world with white hair, and the Gorgons who

lived beyond the Ocean in the land of the Hesperides.

The Titans also begot children either with their sisters or with nymphs.

Oceanus and Tethys had three thousand sons, the Rivers, and three thousand daughters, the

Water Nymphs, plus Metis (Wisdom), Tyche (Fortune), and Styx (the Infernal River). To Hyperion

and Theia were born Helios (the Sun), Selene (the Moon) and Eos (the Dawn). Coeus and Phoebe

engendered Leto and Asteria. By Eurybia Crius had: Astraeus, Pallas and Perses. By the Oceanid

Clymene or, according to others, by Asia, lapetus fathered Atlas, Menoetius, Epimetheus and

Prometheus. Finally Cronus married his sister Rhea, who gave him three daughters: Hestia,

Demeter and Hera; and three sons: Hades, Poseidon and Zeus.

of coiled serpents and whose wings blotted out the sun. Detail from a red-rigureo vase.

But whether it was that he feared, as it seems an oracle had predicted, that he would be

supplanted by one of his children, or whether he had agreed with his older brothers, the Titans, to

leave no posterity, Cronus swallowed each of his children as it was born.

The Birth and Childhood of Zeus. Rhea, his wife, was overwhelmed with boundless grief. She

asked herself in despair if she were condemned to see all her progeny thus disappear. When the

time approached for her to give birth to Zeus she beseeched her own parents, Uranus and Gaea, to

help her save this child. On their advice she went to Crete and there, in a deep cavern under the

thick forests of Mount Aegeum, she brought forth her son. Gaea took the new-born baby and

undertook to bring it up. Meanwhile Rhea wrapped up an enormous stone in swaddling clothes

and presented it to the unsuspecting Cronus, who swallowed it at once.

Meanwhile Gaea had carried her grandson to Mount Ida (others say to Mount Dicte) and given

him for safe keeping into the hands of the nymphs Adrasteia and Ida, daughters of Melisseus,

king of Crete. The two nymphs surrounded the young god with care and attention. They put him

in a golden cradle and to amuse him Adrasteia presented him with a ball composed of hoops of

gold. So that Cronus should not hear the baby crying the Curetes executed around the cradle

warlike dances, beating their bronze shields with their swords.

Who exactly were these Curetes? In primitive times there had been a tribe of this name settled in

Aetolia. On the other hand the Greeks gave them the epithet Gegeneis (children of the earth) or

Imbrogeneis (children of the rain), so they may have been earth-spirits. Herodotus, however, calls

them Phoenicians, followers of Cadmus, who had settled in* Crete. Others say they came from

Phrygia. Probably the Curetes were Cretan priests devoted to the orgiastic cult of the great

goddess Rhea. They were distinguished by their half-warrior, half-sacredotal character. To

increase their prestige the first among them were deified and thus became the

sacred Curetes, the protectors of Zeus. They had temples, in Messina notably, and - which tends to

confirm their earth-spirit origin - they were invoked in making oaths. The Curetes appear many

times in the mythological history of Greece; on Hera's orders they spirited away at birth the young

Epaphus, son of Zeus and lo, and were in consequence put to death by Zeus.

Thus sheltered from his father's cruelty the young Zeus grew up in the forests of Ida. For a wetnurse

he was given the goat Amal-theia. She was a wondrous animal whose aspect terrified even

the immortals. In gratitude Zeus later placed her among the constellations and from her hide,

which no arrow could pierce, he made the redoubtable aegis. To the nymphs he gave one of her

horns, conferring upon it the marvellous property of refilling itself inexhaustibly with whatever

food or drink was wished for; this was the horn of plenty (cornucopia). According to certain

authors Amaltheia was the wife of Melisseus and suckled the young god with her milk. Others

make her a nymph who simply watched over the child Zeus, claiming that the god was fed on

ambrosia and nectar brought to him by doves and an eagle. And if Adrasteia and Ida are called

daughters of Melisseus (from the Greek melissa, a bee) was this not because the bees of Ida

brought their scented honey to the divine child?

The oracle which had predicted to Cronus that he would one day be overthrown by one of his

sons had not lied. As soon as Zeus had reached manhood he planned to punish his father. Apollodorus

tells us that he summoned to his aid Metis, daughter of Oceanus. Metis gave Cronus a

draught that made him vomit up the stone and with it the gods, his own children, whom he had

swallowed. Vanquished by the might of Zeus, Cronus was driven from the sky and cast to the

very depths of the universe and there enchained in the region which stretches beneath the earth

and the fruitless sea. This at least is what Homer says; according to others Cronus was sent to the

ends of the earth to dwell in bliss, or plunged into mysterious slumber in distant Thule.

This famous stone was for long preserved at Delphi within the walls of the tomb of Neoptolemus.

The era of the Olympians now began.

The Revolt of the Titans. The Titans, with the exception of Oceanus, were jealous of the new gods

and wished to reconquer the kingdom of which they had been dispossessed. Then the terrible

struggle began. From their stronghold on Mount Othrys the Titans launched furious attacks upon

Olympus. For ten years the outcome of the war remained doubtful. Zeus descended into Tartarus

where, guarded by the monster Campe, the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclopes were kept prisoners.

He set them free and made them his allies. The Cyclopes gave him the thunderbolt and the

Hecatoncheires put their invincible arms at his service. Seizing in their enormous arms great

boulders, they crushed the Titans. 'Sea and earth resounded with the horrifying clamour and the

shaken firmament groaned aloud.' Zeus, too, was unable to curb his warlike rage and joined in the

fray. From the heights of Olympus, Hesiod tells us, from the heights of the heavens he hurled

thunder and lightning. With unwearying hand he flung bolt after bolt, and the air was rent with

sound and fury. The fertile earth shuddered and burned; vast forests flamed and all things melted

and boiled: the River Ocean, the immense sea and the entire earth. Around the infernal Titans

arose stifling mists and blazing air; their bold glances were blinded by flashes of lightning. The fire

even reached Chaos, and from what the eye could behold and the ear distinguish one would have

said that sky and earth were confounded, the earth shaken on its very foundations, the sky

crashing down from its heights. Such was the mighty uproar of this battle among the gods! In

spite of their pride and courage the Titans were finally defeated and, bound with chains, cast into

the abysmal depths of the earth -as far below its surface as is the earth itself from the sky. 'It is


The War of the Giants. Zeus had scarcely put down this dangerous revolt when he was forced to

undergo a new struggle, this time against the Giants. The Giants had sprung from the blood of the

mutilated Uranus and were not only distinguished for their size. For these monstrous sons of the

Earth had legs like serpents and their feet were formed of reptiles' heads. At the instant that they

emerged from the entrails of the ground at Phlegra, in the peninsula of Pallene, they appeared in

glittering armour grasping enormous spears. Porphyrion and Alcyoneus were their leaders. They

at once attacked Olympus, whose mass dominated the plain of Phlegra on the west. Islands,

rivers, mountains, all gave way before them. 'While one,' says Claudian, 'with vigorous arm shook

Mount Oeta of Thessaly in the air, another balanced the summits of Mount Pangaea in his

powerful hand. One armed himself with the ice of Mount Athos, another seized Ossa and lifted it,

while still another tore up Rhodope.. .From everywhere the horrible din echoed.' To reach the

heights of Olympus the giants piled the surrounding mountains one upon another, Ossa on

Pelion. But grouped around Zeus the gods with the exception of Demeter who took no part in the

struggle - stood their ground before the assailants. Apollo struck down Ephialtes. Clytius fell

under the blows of Hecate or Hephaestus. The impetuous Ares pierced Pelorus and Mimas with

his sword. Poseidon pursued Polybutes across the sea, flung the island of Nisyros on top of him

and buried him.

The gods alone, however, could not triumph, for the oracle had declared that the sons of Gaea

would succumb only to the blows of a mortal. This mortal was Hercules (Gk. Heracles), with

whom Dionysus was sometimes associated. While Dionysus struck down Rhaetos (or Eurytus),

Hercules attacked Alcyoneus. At first the giant resisted his blows. Hercules was astonished, but

Athene revealed to him that Alcyoneus was invulnerable as long as he stood

Dn the soil which had given him birth. The hero then seized the jiant in his arms and carried him

away from the territory of Pallene ind at once slew him. Porphyrion wished to avenge his brother,

but Zeus inspired in him a sudden passion for Hera. While the giant pursued Hera, Hercules

pierced him with a deadly arrow. From that moment the defeat of the giants was assured. In vain

Pallas and Enceladus attempted to struggle against Athene; one after the other they were

overcome. With the skin of Pallas Athene fashioned the aegis. As for Enceladus, she buried him

under the island of Sicily. And even today when the giant turns over, the entire island quakes.

Typhoeus. Gaea, however, could not resign herself to the defeat of herchildren. AgainstZeus she

raised up afinal monster, Typhoeus, whom she had borne to Tartarus. He was a terrifying creature

whose hands worked ceaselessly and whose feet were never still. From his shoulders sprang a

hundred horrible dragons' heads, each with a darting black tongue and eyes which spurted

searing flame. From his thighs emerged innumerable vipers; his body was covered with feathers;

thick bristles sprouted from his head and cheeks. He was taller than the tallest mountain. At sight

of Typhoeus the gods were seized with fear and fled-as far as Egypt. Only Zeus stood firm before

the monster; but entwined in the myriad coils of the serpents he fell into the hands of Typhoeus

who cut the tendons of his hands and feet and imprisoned him in his den in Cilicia. Rescued by

Hermes, Zeus renewed the struggle. With his thunderbolts he overwhelmed Typhoeus, who fled

to Sicily, where under Etna the god crushed him.

Thus in the first ages of the world, when the elements were not yet mastered and matter was still

rebellious, there occurred terrifying cataclysms which threatened to overthrow everything. The

ground writhed and trembled, the mountains crumbled or split apart to belch forth enormous

boulders and molten stone, rivers broke from their courses, the seas rose and engulfed the earth.

But the divine wisdom, regulator of the universe, finally imposed its will over all these disorderly

elements. The earth became firm, the volcanoes subsided, the now well-behaved rivers again

irrigated the plains and the tumultuous sea no longer tossed its waves beyond the sands of its

shores. Harmony was born anew and man, reassured, gave thanks to the god whose might had

triumphed over the forces of evil.

The defeat of Typhoeus assured the final and lasting supremacy of Zeus. From then on no serious

adversary dared to measure his strength with this god who had vanquished all the powers of evil.

His reign, established by triple victory, would never be seriously disturbed; and among the

Olympians Zeus maintained his rank ofuncontested master of gods and men.


Prometheus. The Titan lapetus was the father of four sons. Their mother, according to Hesiod, was

the Oceanid Clymene; according to Aeschylus, she was Themis. Two of these sons, Menoetius and

Atlas, were punished by Zeus, doubtless for having taken part in the revolt of the Titans.

Menoetius was plunged into darkest Erebus, in punishment for 'his wickedness and boundless

audacity'. As for Atlas, he was condemned to stand for ever, before the Hesper-ides on the edge of

the world, and to bear upon his shoulders the vault of the heavens. The other two - Prometheus

(who foresees) and Epimetheus (who reflects after the event) - had a different fate and played an

important role in the legendary history of the origins of humanity.

In view of the unchallengeable might of the Olympians, Prometheus' only weapon was cunning.

During the revolt of the Titans he had kept a prudent neutrality and had even made overtures to

Zeus when it seemed likely that the war would be won by him. Thus Prometheus had been

admitted into Olympus and the circle of the Immortals. But he entertained a silent grudge against

the destroyers of his race and revenged himself by favouring mortals to the detriment of the gods.

He had, perhaps, other reasons for his interest in the human race; for a tradition - rather late, it is

true - said that Prometheus was the creator of mankind. It was he who with earth and water some

said with his own tears - had fashioned the body of the first man into which Athene breathed soul

and life. In Phocis the author

Pausanias saw bits of hardened clay which had the odour of human skin and which were plainly

the residue of the slime employed by Prometheus.

But it seems that this creation took place only after the earlier race of man had been destroyed in

the deluge. Current opinion actually attributed to mankind an older and nobler origin. 'Men and

gods,' says Pindar, 'we are of the same family; we owe the breath of life to the same mother.'

The Four Ages of Man. The first men, who were contemporaries of Cronus, enjoyed complete

happiness. It was the Golden Age. Hesiod says: 'They lived like gods, free from worry and fatigue;

old age did not afflict them; they rejoiced in continual festivity.' Their lot did not include

immortality, but at least 'they died as though overcome by sweet slumber. All the blessings of the

world were theirs: the fruitful earth gave forth its treasures unbidden. At their death, men of the

Golden Age became benevolent genii, 'protectors and tutelary guardians of the living'.

After the Golden Age came the Silver Age, during which lived a race of feeble and inept men who

obeyed their mothers all their lives (i.e. it was a matriarchal age). They were also agriculturalists,

Hesiod says.

The men of the Bronze Age were robust as ash trees and delighted only in oaths and warlike

exploits. 'Their pitiless hearts were as hard as steel; their might was untameable, their arms

invincible.' They ended by mutually cutting each other's throats. From this generation, however,

dated the discovery of the first metals and the first attempts at civilisation.

After the Bronze Age Hesiod places the Heroic Age, peopled by the valiant warriors who fought

before Thebes and under the walls of Troy. But the more widespread opinion was that after the

Bronze Age came the Iron Age - the contemporary age, a period of misery and crime 'when men

respect neither their vows, nor justice, nor virtue'.

Thus they explained the progressive degeneration of mankind.

The Theft of Fire: Pandora. As long as Cronus had reigned, gods and men had lived on terms of

mutual understanding. Hesiod says: 'In those days meals were taken in common; men and the

immortal gods sat down together.' Everything changed with the coming of the Olympians. Over

men Zeus asserted his divine supremacy. A meeting of gods and men was held at Sicyon to

determine which portion of victims offered in sacrifice was owed to the gods. Prometheus, who

was in charge of the partition, laid out an enormous ox which he had cut up in his own way. He

arranged the flesh, the entrails and the most succulent morsels in the skin and placed them on one

side; on the other side he perfidiously laid the fleshless bones which he had covered with a rich

layer of fat. Zeus, who was invited to take first choice, chose the bones; but when he had removed

the white, gleaming fat and discovered nothing but the animal's bones he fell into a rage. In his

anger he withheld fire from the unfortunate race who lived on earth. But the astute Prometheus

went to the island of Lemnos, where Hephaestus kept his forges. There he stole a brand of the

holy fire which he enclosed in a hollow stalk and carried back to men. Another version of the story

claims that he lighted his torch at the wheel of the sun.

Outraged by the theft, Zeus sent a fresh calamity to men. He ordered Hephaestus to fashion clay

and water into a body, to give it vital force and human voice, and to make therefrom a virgin

whose dazzling beauty would equal that of the immortal goddesses. All the divinities heaped

their especial gifts on this new creature, who received the name of Pandora. Hermes, however, put

perfidy into Pandora's heart and lies into her mouth. After Which Zeus sent her as a gift to

Epimetheus.. Although his brother Prometheus had warned him against accepting any gift from

the ruler of Olympus, the imprudent Epimetheus was enchanted by Pandora's beauty, welcomed

her, and made a place for her among men. Unhappy imprudence! For Pandora brought in her

arms a great vase - which is incorrectly called 'Pandora's Box'. She raised its lid, and the terrible

afflictions with which the vase had been filled escaped and spread over the earth. Hope alone did

not fly away. Thus, with the arrival of the first woman, misery made its appearance on earth.

The Deluge: Deucalion and Pyrrha. Zeus' rage, however, was not appeased. In his anger he

resolved to annihilate the human race

by burying it beneath the waves of a deluge. But once again Prometheus was on guard. He

warned his son Deucalion who, with his wife Pyrrha, daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora, then

reigned in Thessaly. On the advice of his father, Deucalion constructed an ark and with his wife

went aboard. For nine days and nine nights they floated on the waters. On the tenth day the

downpour ceased and the two survivors disembarked on the crest of Mount Othrys or Mount

Parnassus. Deucalion offered up sacrifice to Zeus Phyxius (protector of fugitives) and the god,

touched by his piety, promised to grant him his first wish. Deucalion asked Zeus to renew the

human race.

Another legend says that Deucalion and Pyrrha, having gone to Delphi, addressed their prayers to

Themis. 'Veil your heads,' replied the goddess, 'remove the girdles of your robes and cast

behind you the bones of your first ancestor.' Stricken at first with astonishment, Deucalion and

Pyrrha at last solved the mystery of this ambiguous command. They veiled their heads and

walked across the plain, throwing over their shoulders stones torn from the earth - for were they

not descendants of Gaea, the earth, and were not the rocks her very bones? The stones which

Deucalion threw were changed into men, those that Pyrrha cast were transformed into women.

The human race was renewed and Zeus recovered from his anger. Deucalion was regarded as the

father of the Hellenes, the first king and founder of towns and temples. It was he, they said, who

built the temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens, and nearby the temple his tomb was pointed out. In

Cynos, however, they also boasted of having the tomb of Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha.

The Torture of Prometheus. Although peace had been concluded between Zeus and mankind,

Prometheus had to pay cruelly for his trickery and thefts. At the command of Zeus, Hephaestus,

assisted by Kratos and Bia, seized and bound Prometheus with indestructible chains to one of the

crests of Mount Caucasus. There, 'an eagle with outstretched wings, sent by Zeus, fed upon his

immortal liver; as much as the winged monster devoured during the day, that much grew again

during the night'. In spite of the torture the Titan persisted in his attitude of revolt. Disdaining

complaints and humiliating prayers he never ceased to defy the lord of Olympus and to express

his hatred in violent outbursts. For was he not in possession of a secret which dangerously

concerned the future of Zeus himself?

Finally after thirty years of suffering - others say thirty thousand years - he was with Zeus'

permission rescued by the divine Hercules, who slew the eagle and broke the prisoner's chains.

Prometheus then revealed to Zeus his famous secret and warned him that if he continued to pay

court to Thetis, daughter of Nereus, he would run the risk of seeing a son born who would

dethrone him. Not wishing to chance the same misadventure that had befallen his father and his

grandfather, Zeus abandoned his amorous enterprise and allowed Thetis to marry a mortal,


Prometheus, however, could not acquire divine immortality unless some immortal consented to

exchange destinies with him. Now the centaur Chiron, whom Hercules had struck with a

poisoned arrow, was in despair lest his wound never healed. To put an end to his suffering Chiron

begged to be allowed to descend into Hades in the place of Prometheus. Zeus consented, and from

then on the

son of lapetus took his permanent place on Olympus. And the Athenians, who saw in Prometheus

the benefactor of mankind and the father of all the arts and sciences, raised an altar to him in the

gardens of the Academy.


Mount Olympus. On the confines of Thessaly and Macedonia, along the shores of the Aegean Sea

from which it is separated only by a narrow littoral, rises the chain of Olympus. While on the

north the mountain group descends to the plain by a series of gentle hills, the south face - that

which the Greeks saw - falls precipitously and the mountain offers the aspect of a rocky cliff.

Above a sort of monster plateau, itself steeply flanked which serves as a base, Mount Olympus

soars in one sweep up to more than nine thousand feet. Down its sheer slopes, covered with dark

woods, tumble numerous torrents which dig deep furrows, rather like the folds of a garment.

Thus the poets called it 'Olympus of the innumerable folds'. The line of the mountain peaks is

rounded into a kind of amphitheatre and the upper tiers of rock, formed by the heaping up of

huge boulders round which cling shreds of cloud, look like gigantic seats arranged there for the

use of supernatural beings.

The mariner who sailed into the gulf of Therme (today the gulf of Salonica) would feel himself

filled with religious awe when he perceived against the hard blue line of sky the lofty profile of

Mount Olympus. Everything concurred to reveal to him the fearful majesty of the gods. In the first

place he had no doubt that Olympus was the highest mountain in the world. Then he would

remember that the

Ihe gods on Ulympus. fosemon, /\pono, nuemib. mcit num m^ . u,n.~,

narrow Vale of Tempe, which separates Olympus from Ossa and cradles under its willows and

plane-trees the peaceful stream of Peneus, had been hollowed out by Zeus during his struggle

with the Titans. Finally he would scarcely dare raise his eyes towards the summits; for he knew

that up there, behind the veil of clouds which hid them from mortal regard, dwelt the almighty

gods. Bending over his oars he would repeat the words of old Homer who, speaking of Olympus,

had said: 'Never is it swept by the winds nor touched by snow; a purer air surrounds it, a white

clarity envelops it and the gods there taste of a happiness which lasts as long as their eternal lives.'

Actually when the sons of Cronus drew lots for the partition of the empire of the world, Zeus

received as his share the sublime regions of the Ether, Poseidon the tumultuous sea, and Hades

the sombre depths of the earth. But it was agreed that Olympus should be held in common by all

the gods and that there they should make their dwelling-place.

The Gods on Olympus. Assembled on Olympus, the gods formed a society with its own laws and

hierarchy. First came the twelve great gods and goddesses: Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Hermes,

Ares and Apollo; Hera, Athene, Artemis, Hestia, Aphrodite and Demeter. Beside them were

ranged other divinities, some of whom did not relinquish pride of place to the great twelve. Such

were Helios, Selene, Leto, Dione, Dionysus, Themis and Eos. Then, of a lower rank, forming as it

were the courtiers of the Olympians and sworn to their service, came: the Horae, the Moerae,

Nemesis, the Graces, the Muses, Iris, Hebe, Ganymede. It must be pointed out that Hades,

although a brother of Zeus, did not frequent Olympus and, with the goddesses Persephone and

Hecate, remained in his subterranean empire.

Over this society Zeus reigned as sovereign ruler. If at times the gods were tempted by rebellious

impulses they were quickly reduced

to obedience. In Homer we see how Zeus speaks to them: 'Let no god, let no goddess attempt to

curb my will... or I shall seize him and cast him into darkest Tartarus. Then will he recognise how

much mightier am I than all the gods! Come, then, try it, O gods! And you will discover with

whom you have to deal. Hang from the heavens a golden chain and attach yourselves all, gods

and goddesses, to it, and no matter how hard you strive, you will not drag Zeus in his supreme

wisdom from the sky down to earth. But when, afterwards, I begin to pull I shall draw you, you

and the earth and the sea together, I shall draw you up and roll the chain around the summit of

Olympus and you will all remain there suspended in the air.' Without quite carrying out this

threat Zeus nevertheless inflicted severe penalties on gods who had displeased him. For instance

he would make them serve as slaves to mortals; such was the fate of Poseidon and Apollo.

Therefore the gods did not resist him and even the irascible Hera counselled prudence. 'Foolish

that we are to lose our tempers with Zeus... He sits apart and neither worries nor is disturbed; for

he boasts of being incontest-ably superior to the immortal gods in might and power. So resign


Above the gods, however, and above Zeus himself hovered a supreme power to whom all were

subject: Moros, or Destiny. Son of the Night, Moros, invisible and dark like his mother, prepared

his decrees in the shadows and extended his inescapable dominion over all. Zeus himself could

not set aside his decisions and had to submit to them like the humblest mortal. He had, moreover,

no desire to set aside the decisions of Destiny; for, being himself Supreme Wisdom, he was not

unaware that in upsetting the destined course of events he would introduce confusion into the

universe it was his mission to govern. Thus, even when it was a matter of saving the life of his

own son Sarpedon, the hour of whose death the Fates had marked down, Zeus preferred to bow

his head and let what was ordained be fulfilled.


The days of the gods passed in merrymaking and laughter. Sometimes, when they intervened in

the affairs of men whose quarrels they enthusiastically adopted, the gods would disagree. But

these passing storms did not affect the normal serenity of Olympus.

Seated around their golden tables the gods dined on celestial nectar and ambrosia, and savoured

the rising fragrance of fatted cattle which mortals burned in their honour on their altars below.

Even when Zeus called them together in counsel on the topmost peak of Olympus where he

resided, the fair Hebe would move among them pouring nectar, and the golden cups would pass

from hand to hand.

While they drank, Apollo would delight them with the harmony of his lyre and the Muses would

sing in turn in their sweet voices.

Finally, 'when the brilliant torch of the sun had disappeared the gods would take, their leave and

return to the dwelling Hephaestus had built with wondrous cunning for each of them, there to rest

and repose'.

If the gods' daily life resembled that of men it was because, at least in appearance, their natures

were not dissimilar. Their bodies were like mortal bodies, but superior in stature, strength and

beauty. Ares' body, stretched on the ground, covered a length of seven plethra - well over two

hundred yards - and when Hera from the heights of Olympus swore by the Styx, she could touch

the earth with one hand and with the other reach the seas.

In the case of the gods, however, blood was replaced by a more fluid substance, the ichor, which

rendered the body imperishable and incorruptible. This did not prevent the gods from being

vulnerable to weapons used by men. But their wounds, no matter how painful, always healed and

their bodies retained eternal youth.

Another privilege which the gods enjoyed was the power of metamorphosis, to change themselves

if they wished into animals or even to take on the aspect of inanimate objects.

Like mortals the gods were subject to human passions. They were accessible to love, hate, anger,

even to envy. They cruelly punished all who aroused their enmity, but showered favours on those

who revered and honoured them with gifts.


The very name Zeus, in which the Sanskrit root dyaus and the Latin dies (the day) are found,

evokes the idea of the luminous sky. Originally, then, Zeus was the god of the sky and of

atmospheric phenomena. He was lord of the winds, of the clouds, of rain both destructive and

beneficial, of the thunder. He resided in the ether, the upper part of the air, and on mountain tops.

He was literally the All-high. Hence he was worshipped in elevated spots such as Mount Lycaeus

in Arcadia, Mount Apesas in Argolis, Parnassus and Hymettus in Attica, Helicon in Boeotia,

Pelion in Thessaly, Olympus in Macedonia, Pangaea in Thrace, Ida in Crete and so forth.

His Attributes. Later Zeus took on a moral personality and became the supreme god who united

in himself all the attributes of divinity. He was omnipotent, he saw everything and knew

everything. Thus he was the fountainhead of all divination, whether he spoke oracularly in person

as on Olympus and at Dodona, or whether he had recourse as at Delphi to the intermediary of

Apollo, his prophet. A wise sovereign, he ordained all according to the law of Fate with which his

own will was merged. To mortals he dispensed good and evil; he was, moreover, kind and

compassionate. Though he chastised the wicked he was capable of pity. He averted threatening

dangers (Alexikakos); he protected the weak, the indigent, the fugitive and, in general, all

suppliants (Milichios). His solicitude also extended to the family as god of the hearth (Ephestios),

of marriage (Gamelios), of friendship (Philios), and of the peoples' assemblies (Agoraios). Finally

he was the protector-god of all Greece - Panhellenic Zeus.

His Cult. The most famous sanctuary of Zeus was that of Dodona, in Epirus. It was also the oldest,

dating back to the Pelasgians. People came there from all parts of Greece to consult the oracle of a

sacred oak whose rustling and murmurs were regarded as the words of Zeus himself. On the

origin of this oracle Herodotus, who claims to have heard it from the lips of the priestesses of

Dodona, says: 'Two black doves flew from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and the other to Dodona.

The latter, alighting in an oak tree, began to speak in a human voice and to say that an oracle of

Zeus should be founded in this place. The people of Dodona believed that they had received an

order coming from the gods, and on the dove's advice founded the oracle.' The interpretation of

the oracles of Dodona was entrusted to a college of priests, the Selli, a name which was

undoubtedly none other than that of the former inhabitants of the country. These priests practised

asceticism, slept on the ground and never washed their feet. To the Selli were later added three

priestesses, called the Peleiades. They were more especially attached to the service of the goddess

Dione, who was venerated at Dodona at the side of Zeus, here taking over the role of Hera. Dione

was a Pelasgian divinity and, according to Hesiod, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. She was

said to be mother of Aphrodite.

Among Zeus' other sanctuaries must be mentioned that of Mount Lycaeus in Arcadia on the

summit of which was a mound of earth, fronted by two columns with engraved eagles. Here, it

was said, human sacrifice was once practised. The root from which the word Lycaeus was formed

(it means 'light') reveals that Zeus was here originally a solar deity.

Finally there was the celebrated temple of Olympus with its famous statue of the god sculptured

by Phidias. It rose on a richly ornamented pedestal which was about ten yards high and seven

yards wide. The statue itself was more than thirteen yards in height. Seated on a throne of bronze,

gold, ivory and ebony, the god held in his right hand a crowned Victory while his left hand rested

on a sceptre surmounted by an eagle. He was dressed in a golden mantle strewn with flowers. On

his brow there was an olive wreath and his countenance, framed by a long beard, wore an

expression of serene majesty.

Representations. The Olympian Zeus of Phidias represented the ideal which inspired subsequent

artists. The god was normally depicted as a man in the fullness of maturity, of robust body, grave

countenance and with broad forehead jutting out above deeply set eyes. His face is framed by

thick waving hair and a finely curled beard. Except in primitive images he is rarely nude. He

usually wears a long mantle which leaves his chest and right arm free. His attributes are the

sceptre in his left hand, in his right hand the thunderbolt and at his feet the eagle. Often on his

brow he wears a crown of oak-leaves.

The Marriages of Zeus. Before marrying Hera and associating her officially with his sovereignty,

Zeus, among whose many functions that of procreation was pre-eminent, had contracted

numerous unions.

His first wife was Metis (Wisdom) who, says Hesiod, 'knew more things than all the gods and

men put together'. But Gaea and Uranus warned Zeus that if he had children by Metis they would

be more powerful than he, and dethrone him. So, when Metis was about to give birth to Athene,

Zeus, in order to forestall the danger, swallowed the mother and with her the unborn baby. By

avoiding the risk of an embarrassing posterity in this manner he also now embodied supreme

Wisdom - a double benefit.

Next he married Themis, daughter of Uranus and Gaea. Themis was the Law which regulates both

physical and moral order. It is not surprising, then, that her children should be: the Horae or

Seasons; Eunomia (Wise Legislation); Dike (Justice); Eirene (Peace), and finally the Fates or

Moerae who were also said to be the daughters of Night. Even when she was replaced by Hera,

Themis continued to remain near Zeus as an adviser, and she was always revered on Olympus.

Another Titaness, Mnemosyne, was the wife of Zeus. The god stayed nine nights with her, and

when her time had come Mnemosyne gave birth to nine daughters, who were the Muses.

Zeus was also enamoured of Demeter, but the goddess repulsed his advances. He changed himself

into a bull and violated her, and from this union was born Kore, also called Persephone.

The Oceanid Eurynome was also among Zeus' wives and was the mother of the three Graces or


Zeus and Hera. And then Zeus married Hera. Actually their relationship was already long

established. In the days when Cronus

still reigned, the young goddess grew up in the island of Euboea under the care of her nurse

Maoris. Zeus came to her one day and bore her to Mount Cithaeron on the confines of Attica and

Boeotia, where he lay with her. Another legend places the first encounter between Zeus and Hera

in the region of the Hesperides, while at Cnossus in Crete, near the river Theris, they also pointed

out the exact spot where the marriage of the divine couple was consummated. Pausanias relates

the adventure differently. In order not to awaken his sister's suspicions Zeus came to her in the

form of a cuckoo. It was winter and the bird seemed to be frozen with the cold. Touched by pity,

the young goddess warmed the cuckoo by holding it against her breast. Zeus then reassumed his

natural form and attempted to take advantage of the situation. Hera resisted at first and gave way

only after Zeus had promised to marry her. The marriage, solemnly celebrated on Olympus, did

not, however, put an end to Zeus' amorous enterprises. Braving Hera's jealousy and ignoring the

misfortunes which this jealousy could bring upon its victims, Zeus continued enthusiastically to

pursue goddesses and mortal women.

Zeus and the Titanesses. Zeus was not always successful. Thus, on the advice of Prometheus, he

freely renounced Thetis for fear of begetting by her a son who would dethrone him. Nor could he

overcome the resistance of the nymph Asteria, daughter of Coeus and Phoebe, who in order to

escape him changed herself into a quail and threw herself into the sea where she became a floating

island called, at first, Ortygia, and later Delos.

Leto was less shy than her sister Asteria and surrendered to Zeus' seductions. In this way she

earned Hera's enmity and, as we shall later see, it was only after many misadventures that she was

finally able to bring into the world her two children: Apollo and Artemis.

Maia, daughter of Atlas and Pleione, was more adroit and succeeded in evading Hera's jealous

eye. She lived in Arcadia on Mount Cyllene. 'Escaping from the crowd of happy immortals,' says

the Homeric hymn, 'Maia of the fair tresses lived in the depths of a dark cavern. It was here that

the son of Cronus lay all night with the nymph whilst sweet sleep held alabaster-limbed Hera,

sleep who thus deceives immortals and feeble men alike.' Maia gave birth to Hermes.

It was said that another daughter of Atlas, Electra, bore Zeus Harmonia - whom Hesiod, however,

calls the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite - and Dardanus. Finally a third daughter of Atlas,

Taygete, was pursued by Zeus. According to some accounts she was protected by Artemis, who

turned her into a hind and only later restored her to her original form. In gratitude Taygete

consecrated to the goddess a hind whose horns she had gilded and which we shall meet again

during the labours of Hercules. According to other accounts Taygete submitted to Zeus and gave

birth to Lacedaemon.

Zeus and the Nymphs. Among the nymphs loved by Zeus must also be mentioned Aegina and

Antiope, the daughters of the river-god Asopus. The former had been carried off by Zeus who,

assuming the shape of an eagle or a flame, had borne her to the island of Oenone or Oenopia,

where she gave birth to Aeacus. Asopus set out in search of them. From Sisyphus he discovered

the name of his daughter's ravisher and the place where she had hidden herself. He was on' the

point of finding her when Zeus struck him with a thunderbolt and forced him to return to his

river-bed. Others relate how Asopus surprised the two lovers: to protect Aegina from the paternal

fury Zeus changed her into an island and himself into a rock.

As for Antiope - who, according to Pausanias, was not the daughter of Asopus but of Nycteus -

Zeus approached her in the form of a satyr and surprised her when she was asleep. To hide her

shame Antiope fled to Sicyon, where she married the king, Epopeus. Her father Nycteus killed

himself with despair, but before he died he charged his brother Lycus to avenge his honour. Lycus

seized Sicyon, put Epopeus to death and brought Antiope back, a prisoner. At Eleuthere Antiope

gave birth to twins, Amphion and Zethus, whom she exposed on Mount Cithaeron and who later

figured among the chief heroes of Theban legend.

The nymph Callisto was a daughter of Lycaon. She was a companion of Artemis and had made a

vow of chastity. But Zeus was captivated by her extraordinary beauty. One day while the nymph

was reposing in the woods Zeus presented himself to her in the form of Artemis. The young virgin

welcomed him unsuspectingly, and when she realised her mistake it was already too late. She

tried to hide her shame, but Artemis discovered what had occurred when

one day she saw Callisto bathing with her companions. In order to shield the nymph from the rage

of the goddess, Zeus changed Callisto into a bear. But Artemis pierced her with her arrows and

she died giving birth to a son, Areas, who was the ancestor of the Arcadians. As for Callisto, she

was transformed into a constellation and became the Great Bear.

A similar adventure overtook Mera, daughter of Praetus. Mera too was a follower of Artemis and

was also killed by the goddess for having given herself to Zeus. Before dying she gave birth to

Locri, ancestor of the Locrians.

Zeus and Mortal Women. The first mortal woman whom Zeus loved was Niobe, daughter of

Phoroneus and the nymph Laodice. She gave birth to Argos, founder of the city of that name. The

same Phoroneus, son of Inachus, had a sister named lo who, in the former Heraeum, between

Mycenae and Tiryns, exercised the functions of priestess of Hera. Zeus fell in love with her. In

order to lie with her he took the form of a cloud. In spite of this stratagem Hera's suspicions were

aroused. Zeus pleaded innocence and, in order to put his wife off the scent, changed his mistress

into a white heifer. Hera pretended to be deceived and asked him for the heifer as a gift. Once it

was in her possession she placed the animal under the care of Argus Panoptes - 'who sees all'. This

Argus, son of Arestor, was a giant of redoubtable strength: he had once killed a bull which was

ravaging Arcadia, and slain Echidna, daughter of Tartarus and Gaea. In addition he had one

hundred eyes, of which fifty remained open while the other fifty closed in sleep. Zeus, however,

ordered the cunning Hermes to set lo free. Hermes succeeded in charming the giant to sleep with

the sound of his flute, and cut off

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his head. To honour Argus, who had served her, Hera distributed his eyes over the tail of her

favourite bird, the peacock, whose plumage was thenceforth so brilliant. As for the unfor unate

heifer, Hera sent a gad-fly to torture her. Driven mad by the stinging insect, lo fled across the

world. She swam the Thracian Bosphorus, crossed the Ionian Sea which took her name and,

having ranged Asia Minor, finally reached Egypt where, by a simple touch of the hand, Zeus

restored her to her human form. She then bore a son, Epaphus - child of 'the touch'. But Hera was

not disarmed. She ordered the Curetes to abduct the child. They obeyed and for this reason were

slain by Zeus. lo at last found her child in Syria and returned to Egypt where she married the king,

Telegonus. In later days lo became confused with the Egyptian goddess Isis and her son Epaphus

with Apis.

At Argos reigned Acrisius who had but one daughter, Danae. An oracle had told Acrisius that one

day his daughter would bring into the world a son by whose hands he would perish. Acrisius

thereupon had a chamber of bronze built underground - or some say a tower - and in it locked

Danae with her nurse. But Zeus, who had been attracted by the girl's charms, found a way to enter

the chamber in the form of a shower of gold and frequently visited Danae. The result was the birth

of a son, Perseus. Acrisius was terrified when he learned of this miraculous birth, and shut up

both mother and child in a chest which he cast into the sea. Tossed by the waves, the chest was

finally carried to the island of Seriphus where a fisherman, one Dictys, brother of King Polydectes,

caught it in his nets. Danae and Perseus were thus saved. We shall see, when we come to Perseus,

how this romantic adventure continued.

More terrible still was Hera's jealousy of and the vengeance she took on another of Zeus' loves,

Semele, daughter of Cadmus. When she learned of the relationship between her husband and this

mortal girl Hera came to her rival in disguise and suggested that Semele ask her lover to appear

before her in all the brilliance of his majesty. Zeus tried in vain to dissuade Semele from making

such an unreasonable demand. Semele insisted. The god gave in, and visited her in his chariot of

glory, surrounded by lightning and thunder. The sight of the great god in all his dazzling

splendour was too much for mortal eyes and Semele perished, consumed by celestial flames. Zeus

gathered up the child she bore in her womb and enclosed it in his own thigh until the day set for

its birth: it was to be Dionysus.

The rape of Europa had less tragic consequences. Daughter of Phoenix or of Agenor, King of

Phoenicia, and of Telephassa, the young Europa was playing one day at the water's edge,

gathering flowers with her companions. Her attention was caught by the sight of a bull with

glistening hide who browsed peacefully among her father's herd. His air, gentle and at the same

time majestic,

struck her. She did not suspect that this Dull was none other than the master of the gods, Zeus

himself, who had assumed this shape in order to deceive the girl of whom he had become

enamoured. Trustingly Europa approached and caressed the animal, who very gallantly knelt

before her. She climbed playfully on to his mighty back, and began to wreathe flowers around his

powerful horns. Suddenly the bull reared to his feet, at a bound sprang into the waves, and

carried the weeping virgin across the vast sea. They finally reached the southern coast of Crete, at

Gortyna. In the days of Theophrastus the plane tree under which Zeus made the young

Phoenician his mistress was still pointed out. Because it had witnessed and sheltered the divine

union this tree received the privilege of retaining its foliage in all seasons. Europa gave birth to

Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. All three were adopted by the King of Crete, Asterius, who

subsequently became Europa's husband.

Although it was within his province to guard the sanctity of marriage, Zeus on occasion did not

hesitate to pay court to married women. Thus he fell in love with Leda, the wife of Tyndareus.

One evening when the young woman was bathing in a pool she saw floating majestically towards

her a swan of dazzling whiteness. It was Zeus. The same night Leda also lay with her own

husband: afterwards she bore Pollux and Helen, children of Zeus; and Castor and Clytemnestra,

children of Tyndareus.

In order to seduce Alcmene, Zeus employed another stratagem. He wished, Hesiod says, 'to

produce a son who would one day be a powerful protector for gods and men alike', and he had set

his heart on the wife of the Theban chief, Amphitryon. But as he knew she was virtuous and

incorruptible he took advantage of Amphitryon's absence to assume Amphitryon's own

appearance. Alcmene welcomed Zeus in this disguise exactly as though he were her actual

husband. When the real Amphitryon returned a few hours later he was surprised by his wife's

lack of enthusiasm while she, in her turn, was astonished that he had so quickly forgotten the

marks of tenderness she had so recently bestowed upon him. The mystery was finally cleared up

by the soothsayer Teiresias. From the double union twins were born: Hercules, son of Zeus; and

Iphicles, son of Amphitryon.

Such were the more memorable of Zeus' love affairs. But many more were attributed to him and

his progeny was enormous.

By him the Oceanid Pluto had Tantalus. The Danaid Anaxithea and Hesione had, respectively,

Olenus, founder of Olenus in Achaia, and Orchomenus, king of the city of the same name in

Boeotia. Orchomenus' own daughter, Elara, was also loved by Zeus who, to protect her from

Hera's jealousy, hid her under the earth, where she gave birth to the giant Tityus. Zeus also loved

Neaera, who bore Aegle. He carried off Protogenia, daughter of Deucalion, from her


husband Locre and she bore him a son, Opuns. Another daughter of Deucalion, Thyia, was also

loved by Zeus; and he changed himself into a pigeon in order to seduce a young nymph of Achaia

named Phthia.

Among the other mistresses of Zeus were Thalia, daughter of Hephaestus, who became the

mother of the Palici; Thymbris who bore a son, Pan; Dia, wife of Ixion, whom Zeus seduced in the

shape of a horse and who became the mother of Pirithous; finally, in Crete, Carme, who gave birth

to Britomartis; and Cassiopeia, whose son Atymnius was honoured at Gortyna with Europa.

One could prolong the list, which was enriched by the regional pride of various provinces of

Greece or even small towns, eager to give themselves a divine ancestor. We have seen, in fact, how

a number of Zeus' offspring became the ancestors of a tribe or the founders of cities. But some of

these unions of the god can be explained in other ways. Some are solar myths: for instance the

union of Zeus, god of the luminous ether, with Leto and Leda, who seem to have been deities of

the night. Others are merely allegorical accounts of historical facts: the Phoenician Europa brought

to Crete by a bull could represent the contribution of Asiatic civilisation to that of Crete,

symbolised by the bull-god. Finally others are the romanticised expression of great natural

phenomena: in the shower of gold which penetrates to the subterranean Danae it is easy to

recognise the rays of the sun which germinate the seed buried in the ground.

In attributing to Zeus all these adventures, the Greeks then were not guilty of irreverence towards

their god. They were only translating the emotions they felt in face of nature's great mysteries into

gracious and poetic form. Or else, more naively, they were creating for themselves a noble



The name Hera was once believed to be connected with the Latin root hems (master) and with an

old Greek word which meant 'earth'. Today, however, it is agreed that Hera is related to the

Sanskrit svar (the Sky). Hera was then originally queen of the sky, the celestial virgin (hence her

epithet Parthenia), and at first quite independent of Zeus. Their marriage was arranged

afterwards, in order to explain the fusion of two cults which had at first been distinct. Some

authorities even see in the hostility of Hera towards her husband a vestige of the resistance which

the worshippers of Hera opposed to the rival cult of Zeus. Others interpret the noisy quarrels of

the divine couple as a mythological translation of storms or the 'struggle of the meteors and

atmospheric disturbances in revolt against the sky'.

Her Functions. Hera, however, soon lost her cosmic character and retained only her moral

attributes. She was thought of as Woman deified. She presided over all phases of feminine

existence. Thus Temenus, son of Pelasgus, consecrated at Stymphalus three temples to her: the

first to the child-goddess, the second to the wife-goddess, the third to the widow-goddess. But

primarily she was the goddess of marriage (Gamelia) and maternity. She represented the idealised

type of wife.

Representations. Hera was depicted as a young woman, fully developed, of a chaste and rather

severe beauty. Her forehead is normally crowned with a diadem or with a high crown of

cylindrical shape, the polos. She wears a long tunic or chiton and is enveloped in a veil which

adds to her bearing of nobility, reserved and full of modesty. Her attributes are a sceptre

surmounted by a cuckoo (in allusion to the circumstances of her nuptials) and a pomegranate,

symbol of conjugal love and fruitfulness. The bird sacred to her is the peacock, whose spangled

plumage recalls the stars in the vault of heaven - and testifies to the service of hundred-eyed


Her Cult. Like Zeus, Hera was venerated on the summits of mountains. In Greece the chief centre

of her cult was Argos. Here she had five or six temples, the oldest of which had been built by Phoroneus.

It was the Heraeum at Argos which housed the famous statue of Hera in gold and ivory

by Polycletus. The goddess was represented seated on a throne, her brow crowned by a diadem

on which were depicted the Horae and the Graces. In her left hand she held a pomegranate and in

her right a sceptre surmounted by

a cuckoo. Near her stood her daughter Hebe. Hera also possessed sanctuaries at Mycenae,

Olympus, Sparta, in Attica, Boeotia and Euboea. She was particularly venerated in Crete and at

Samos where stood the greatest of her temples, which was built, it was said, by the Argonauts.

The Legend of Hera. Hera was the oldest daughter of Cronus and Rhea, born, according to the

Samians, on the isle of Samos, on the banks of the river Imbrasos near a waterwillow which could

still be seen in the days of Pausanias. She had been brought up, according to some, by Macris or

by the daughters of the river Asterion; according to others, by the Horae or Seasons. Her

childhood was spent on the isle of Euboea and we have seen how her brother Zeus found her

there and made her his wife. From then on Hera was associated with Zeus' sovereignty and

became the chief feminine deity of Olympus. She sat on a golden throne beside her husband, and

when she entered the assembly of the gods all rose in homage to her. On Olympus her marriage to

Zeus had been the occasion of great rejoicing. All the Immortals had taken part in the procession

and the Fates themselves had chanted the hymeneal chorus.

But Hera's happiness was not unclouded. She had given Zeus four children: the gracious Hebe,

Ilithyia, mother of birth-pangs, the impetuous Ares, and the skilful Hephaestus. Her fidelity to her

husband was exemplary. He, on the other hand, was constantly unfaithful.

It was not that she was lacking in charm. She took great care of her beauty. Every year she went to

bathe in the spring Canathus at Nauplia and in these marvellous waters each time renewed her

virginity. The 'white-armed goddess' was irresistible when she anointed her lovely body with an

oil whose sweetness was such that it filled the whole earth and sky with its fragrance. When she

had arranged her divine tresses, when she had pinned to her breast with golden clasps the robe

Athene had woven for her with such art, put on her ear-rings, exquisitely worked and set with

precious clusters of three drops, and draped from her head a glorious veil white as the sun, Zeus

himself, seeing her thus arrayed, cried: 'Never has love for goddess or mortal woman so flooded

my senses and filled my heart!'

Hera would never have lacked suitors had she wished them. Ixion, King of the Lapithae, when

invited to dine with the gods, had only to turn his eyes towards her to be inflamed with irresistible

desire. In the madness of his passion he even embraced a cloud which Zeus had shaped to

resemble Hera. Ixion was chastised for his insolence: he was bound to a fiery wheel which whirled

him perpetually through the sky.

Hera, proud of her own virtue, did not endure the continual faithlessness of her husband without

protest. Shortly after her marriage she left Olympus in vexation and returned to the isle of Euboea.

In order to bring her back again Zeus employed a pleasant stratagem. He had a veiled statue

carried around in a chariot and let it be everywhere known that this was the new fiancee of the

master of the gods. In a transport of jealousy and wounded pride Hera arrested the chariot,

lacerated the robes of her supposed rival and, discovering the trick her husband had played on

her, returned somewhat crestfallen to Olympus.

The renewed infidelities of Zeus incited her to avenge herself physically on his person. One day,

assisted by Poseidon, Apollo and Athene, she succeeded in binding him with thongs. It would

have been the end of Zeus' power had not Thetis summoned to his rescue the hundred-armed

giant whom the gods called Briareus and men called Aegaeon. 'Proud of his glory, he sat beside

the son of Cronus; and the gods were struck with terror and did not enchain Zeus.'

Hera considered it equally outrageous that Zeus alone and unaided had given birth to Athene. In

her rage she invoked the earth and the vast heavens and the Titans imprisoned in Tartarus, and

implored their favour so that she, too, might bear unaided a child 'who should be in no way

inferior in strength to Zeus'. Her wishes were granted and when her time came she gave birth 'not

to a son who resembled gods or men, but to the frightful, the terrible Typhon, scourge of

mankind'. This monster is confused with Typhoeus, son of Gaea and Tartarus, against whom Zeus

had had so hard a struggle.

Hera was roughly punished for these vain attempts to revolt. One day Zeus beat and bruised her,

and when Hephaestus tried to


defend his mother Zeus seized his too-zealous son by one foot and flung him from the heights of

Olympus. On another occasion Zeus attached an anvil to each of Hera's ankles, bound her hands

with bracelets of unbreakable gold and suspended her from the sky, surrounded by clouds.

Though Hera was forced to submit she could at least vent her fury on her rivals. She caused

Semele's death, for a long time persecuted lo, and tried to prevent the confinement of Leto and of

Alcmene. She was equally remorseless towards the children of her rivals and towards their

families. Hercules was her victim, and Ino, Semele's sister, was cruelly punished for having cared

for the infant Dionysus.

The vindictive temper of the goddess was not only displayed when her conjugal honour was at

stake. Because Antigone, daughter of Laomedon, had boasted of having hair more beautiful than

Hera's, Hera turned her locks into serpents. Because they had treated a wooden statue of the

goddess with contempt the daughters of Proetus, Lysippe and Iphianassa, were stricken with

leprosy and madness. They went raging half-nude through the Peloponnese and were only cured

by the costly intervention of the seer Melampus. Melampus demanded as the price of his services

a third of ProetuS' kingdom. Proetus at first refused; but his daughters' madness became worse.

He went again to Melampus, who raised his price and insisted on a second third of the kingdom

for his brother Bias. Proetus consented, and from Hera Melampus obtained the two girls'

restoration to health. Another tradition, to be sure, attributes the madness of Proetus' daughters to

the anger of Dionysus.

Finally Hera never forgave the Trojan Paris for having preferred Aphrodite on the occasion of the

famous beauty contest on Mount Ida, and her rancour was only satisfied when the entire Trojan

race had been annihilated.


Of the many derivations proposed for the name of Athene (or Athena) none is really satisfactory.

The Sanskrit vadh (to strike) and adh (hill) have been suggested, as well as the Greek for 'flower'

and 'nurse'! The poetic epithet Pallas frequently joined to the name Athene comes either from the

Greek 'to strike' or more probably from the Greek 'girl'.

Her Character and Functions. Although certain scholars have seen in Athene a personification of

moisture, analogous to the Hindu Sarasvati, it seems more probable that she was in origin a stormand

lightning-goddess. Hence her normal attribute, the aegis - which in primitive times signified

the stormy night - and her epithet as a goddess 'of the brilliant eyes'. She would thus be analogous

to the Vedic goddess Vach. But Athene very quickly lost this meteorological character.

Her functions were many: she was venerated among the great divinities in her quality of warriorgoddess,

as goddess of the arts of peace and as goddess of prudent intelligence.

To Athene the warrior - her oldest manifestation - belong the epithets Promachos ('who fights in

the foremost ranks') and Alalcomeneis ('who repulses the enemy'). She was the protectress of

towns and the guardian of acropolises.

The pacific Athene protected various industries. She was preeminently the Ergane, or working

woman, and was the patron of architects and sculptors, as well as of spinners and weavers. She

also protected horses (Hippia) and oxen (Boarmia). The olive tree owed to her its fruit. Her

wisdom, which earned her the epithet Pronoia (the Foreseeing), made her the counsellor-goddess

(Boulaia) and the goddess of the Assembly (Agoraia). Athene's emblem was the owl.

Her Cult. Though she was honoured throughout Greece Athene was the object of an especial cult

in Athens. On the Acropolis she had, besides the Parthenon, two other temples: the temple of

Athene Nike and the Erechtheum.

The chief festivals of the cult of Athene were: the Arrephoria, in the course of which two little girls

of noble family, from seven to eleven years old, descended from the Acropolis to deposit in an

underground chamber near the sanctuary of Aphrodite mysterious objects which they carried in a

basket; the Scirophoria, when priests and priestesses walked in solemn procession under a vast

parasol (sciron); and finally the Panathenaea which dated from the days

of Theseus and consisted of a solemn procession to the Acropolis in which was carried to the

goddess a peplos made by the most skilled workmen in Athens. Taking part were not only priests

and magistrates but also girls carrying baskets, old men bearing olive branches and young men on

horseback. During the Panathenaea were held races, gymnastic games, regattas and contests of

music, singing and dancing.

Representations. The oldest representations of Athene were the palladia. Originally the palladia

were stones which were said to have fallen from the sky and to which protective power was

attributed. Later these stones were replaced by statues in wood (xoana) which had the same

celestial origin. In them the goddess was depicted with her body sheathed in tight draperies, and

in her hands she held a shield and spear. The most celebrated statue of the warrior Athene was

that of the Parthenon, the work of Phidias. The goddess,


standing, wore a long chiton; her head was helmeted, her breast covered with the aegis, her right

hand rested against a spear and in her left hand she held a winged victory.

The Birth of Athene. When Zeus swallowed his wife Metis she had been about to give birth to a

child. Shortly afterwards Zeus was tortured by an intolerable headache. To cure him Hephaestus -

some said Prometheus - split open his skull with a bronze axe and from the gaping wound,

shouting a triumphant cry of victory, sprang Athene - 'fully armed and brandishing a sharp

javelin'. At the sight all the Immortals were struck with astonishment and filled with awe. 'Great

Olympus was profoundly shaken by the dash and impetuosity of the bright-eyed goddess. The

earth echoed with a terrible sound, the sea trembled and its dark waves rose. ..'

In Crete they said that the goddess had been hidden in a cloud and that it was by striking this

cloud with his head that Zeus had caused Athene to emerge. The event was supposed to have

taken place near Cnossus beside a stream, the Triton: whence the epithet Tritogeneia (born of

Triton) often given to Athene. It was also explained by making her the daughter of Poseidon and

of Lake Tritonis. Finally some said that Athene's father was the giant Pallas whom she had killed

because he wished to ravish her. But these various relationships were dubious and it was

generally agreed that Athene was the daughter of Zeus, engendered by the god himself.

This birth, in which she had played no part, infuriated Hera who, in reprisal, gave unassisted birth

to the monster Typhon.

Athene was Zeus' favourite child. His preference for her was marked and his indulgence towards

her so extreme that it aroused the jealousy of the other gods.

"Thou hast fathered,' says Ares to Zeus, 'a rash and foolish daughter who delights only in guilty

acts. All the other gods who live on Olympus obey thee and each of us submits to thy will. But

she, thou never curbest neither by word nor deed; she does as she pleases.'

Athene, the Warrior Goddess. The manner in which Athene made her first appearance revealed

her warlike proclivities. And, indeed, she delighted above all in battle. We have seen her taking

part in the war against the giants, killing Pallas and hurling her chariot against Enceladus whom

she finally crushed under the island of Sicily. We find her again, equally belligerent and ardent, in

the battles which raged beneath the ramparts of Troy. Not satisfied with stimulating the ardour of

the Greeks - whom she favoured -she entered the skirmish herself. She put on her head a helmet of

gold with jutting crest 'vast enough to cover the foot-soldiers of a hundred towns'. Over her

shoulder she slung the aegis which she had fashioned, according to some, from the skin of the

giant Pallas or which - as was more generally held - was made from the hide of the goat

Amaltheia. Zeus had used it for the first time during the war with the Titans and afterwards

presented it to his daughter. It was a sort of cuirass or breastplate, fringed and bordered with

snakes and bearing in the centre the horrifying head of the Gorgon. Thus armed, Athene mounted

on to the chariot of Diomedes, seized the whip and reins herself, and flung the horses against

Ares, whom she stretched on the ground with a blow of her spear.

The memory of Athene's warlike prowess was perpetuated in Libya in annual festivals during

which girls, divided into two camps, would stage a furious battle with sticks and stones.

Athene, Protectress of Heroes. Herself a warrior, Athene protected the brave and valorous. When

Hercules, a victim of Hera's hostility, undertook his arduous labours Athene stood at his side to

help and comfort him. It was she who gave him the brazen cymbals whose sound frightened the

birds of Lake Stymphalus. It was she who escorted him when he brought Cerberus from the

underworld. Finally it was she who, after his death, welcomed him on the threshold of Olympus.

And so, when Hercules won the golden apples of the Hesperides. he offered them in homage to

this tutelary goddess. In the same way Athene also guided Perseus on his expedition against the

Gorgons. As the hero dared not look into the terrifying face of the Medusa she guided his arm so

that he could strike the monster. In gratitude Perseus afterwards gave Athene the Gorgon's head

which she placed on her shield. Athene's part in the adventures of Perseus was so active that

certain traditions say that she herself

killed the Medusa by striking her during her sleep. This theory gave rise to several legends; for

instance, that the battle between Athene and the Gorgon was the result of a beauty contest; and

that the goddess gathered up the blood of her victim and made a gift of it either to Asclepius or to

Erichthonius - blood which had issued from the left vein brought death, blood from the right vein

restored life.

Athene was also kindly disposed towards Bellerophon: she appeared to him in a dream and gave

him a golden bridle, thanks to which he was able to tame the horse Pegasus.

Finally she protected Odysseus successfully against all the perils which assailed him on his return

from Troy, and in the guise of the sage Mentor she guided young Telemachus during his efforts to

find his father again.

Athene's Chastity. On all these occasions when Athene came to the aid of heroes it was because

they were worthy of her esteem, not because of any amorous attraction. Athene was a striking

exception to Olympian society because of her absolute chastity. In spite of calumny and

insinuations about supposed relations with Helios, Hephaestus and even Hercules, her heart

remained insensitive to the pangs of love and she defended her virginity fiercely. Woe to anyone

who wounded her modesty!

One day when she was bathing with the nymph Chariclo, Teire-sias by chance beheld her. He was

guilty of no more than involuntary indiscretion. Athene, nevertheless, punished him by depriving

him of his sight. In spite of her companion's plea for pity she refused to revoke her decision, but to

soften the harshness of the punishment she conferred upon the unhappy Teiresias the gift of

foretelling the future.

Hephaestus became enamoured of Athene. One day when the goddess came to see him about

making a suit of armour for her he attempted to violate her. Athene fled, pursued by the limping

god. He caught up with her, but she defended herself so effectively that Hephaestus was unable to

accomplish his criminal design and, instead, scattered his seed on the earth, which shortly

afterwards gave birth to a son, Erichthonius. The child was found by Athene, who brought him up

unknown to the other gods. She enclosed the infant in a basket which she confided to the

daughters of Cecrops, forbidding them to open it. One of the sisters, Pandrosos, obeyed; the other

two, Herse and Aglauros, could not control their curiosity. But the moment they opened the

basket they fled in terror; for around the infant a serpent was coiled. They were stricken with

madness by Athene, and flung themselves off the top of the Acropolis. Erichthonius grew to

maturity and became king of Athens, where he established the solemn cult of Athene.

The Quarrel between Athene and Poseidon. Previously the goddess had already shown particular

benevolence to the land of Athens. In the days of King Cecrops a dispute had arisen between her

and Poseidon for the possession of Attica. To affirm his rights Poseidon struck the rock of the

Acropolis with his trident and a salt water spring gushed forth. According to another tradition it

was a horse which appeared under Poseidon's trident. Athene, in her turn, caused an olive tree to

sprout on the Acropolis, a tree which could be seen in the time of Pericles, still alive in spite of

having been burned by the Persians during the invasion of Xerxes. Asked to settle the dispute the

gods, on the evidence of Cecrops, pronounced in favour of Athene.

The Gifts of Athene. Athene was as benevolent in peace as she was redoubtable in war, and

rendered valuable service to mankind. She taught the people of Cyrene the art of taming horses.

She showed Erichthonius how to harness the first war chariots. She was present while Jason's

companions were building the ship Argo. Her skill was revealed in the humblest handicrafts: she

invented the potter's wheel and made the first vases. But above all she excelled in woman's work.

The art of weaving cloth and embellishing it with wonderful embroidery had no secrets from her.

The Immortals relied on her skill and it was she who embroidered Hera's veil. She was jealous of

her accomplishments and allowed no one to surpass her.

In Lydia there lived a girl named Arachne who was renowned for her skill in handling needle and

spindle. One day she dared to challenge the goddess to compete with her. Athene arrived in the

guise of an old woman and asked Arachne to withdraw her impious challenge. Arachne refused.

Athene reassumed her divine form and accepted the challenge. Arachne at once drew threads

across her loom and with cunning hand guided the shuttle through the taut netting. As a subject,

she had chosen to weave the loves of the gods. When she had finished she submitted her work to

Athene for examination. The goddess tried in vain to discover any imperfection in it. Furious at

her failure and unwilling to admit defeat, Athene changed Arachne into a spider and condemned

her eternally to spin, and to draw from her own body the thread with which to weave her web.

Although Athene's activities were chiefly concerned with useful work she was not averse to

artistic creation. Certain traditions originating in Boeotia attributed to her the invention of the

flute. They said that the goddess had thought of blowing into a stag's horn, pierced with holes, in

order to imitate the plaintive whistling sound made by the Gorgon when Perseus cut its throat.

But in Athens it was said that Athene had not persevered with her musical efforts because the

Olympians had laughed at her when she blew out her cheeks and pursed her lips. So she had

contemptuously tossed the flute aside and pronounced a curse against any person who picked it

up. The satyr Marsyas, who dared to take possession of the instrument, was cruelly punished for

his imprudence.

Athene also at times filled the role of goddess of health: everyone knew how the architect

Mnesicles who, while working on the construction of the Propylaea, had fallen and was in danger

of death, had been miraculously healed by Athene who was called for this reason Hygieia.

Athene extended her protection not only to individuals but also to entire cities. She was

symbolised by the Palladia or statues of herself which had, it was claimed, fallen from heaven. The

possession of a palladium was a pledge of security. Athens guarded one jealously in the

Erechtheum. When Danaus fled from Egypt he was careful not to forget his palladium which he

carried to Lindus in the isle of Rhodes. The most celebrated palladium was that of Troy which

Zeus had presented to King Dardanus. According to others it had been made by Athene herself:

heartbroken at having accidentally killed young Pallas, her playmate and the the daughter of

Tritonis, her foster-father, Athene carved from a tree trunk a statue reproducing the features of

Pallas which she left with Zeus. Later Electra, whom Zeus seduced, took refuge behind this

palladium. Zeus tossed it away and it fell on the land of Ilium, where Ilus had a temple built for it.

When the Greeks laid siege to Troy they realised that they would never be victorious so long as

the city retained its palladium. Diomedes and Odysseus therefore decided to steal the precious

idol, and its theft spread discouragement among the Trojans. It was said, to be sure, that Dardanus

had taken the precaution of exposing to the faithful only a copy of the palladium, and had

carefully concealed the original in the adytum - or innermost sanctuary - of the temple. Thus it

was the replica that the Greeks had stolen. As for the genuine palladium, it was taken after the fall

of Troy to Italy by Aeneas. But it did not remain there. After many vicissitudes it was brought

back to Amphissa in Locris, where it could be seen and venerated by all.


The etymology of the word Apollo is uncertain. A connection has been suggested between the

name and an old Greek verb which means 'to repel or set aside', and also an ancient form of a verb

meaning 'to destroy'. (In the latter case Apollo would be the 'destroyer', as he appears to be in the

Iliad.) A relationship between Apollo and the English word apple which would make of him a

primitive apple-tree god is equally unsatisfactory.

Origin, Character and Functions. The same uncertainty surrounds Apollo's origin. Some

authorities believe that he came from Asia and was either a Hittite god, a Hellenic double of the

Arab god Hobal, or a god of Lycia. Others, because of his close, relations with the Hyperboreans,

think that he was a Nordic divinity, brought by the Greeks from the North in the course of their

migrations. It is difficult to decide between these two opposing schools of thought because,

though both advance plausible arguments, neither can actually prove its case.

The difficulty is that the legend of Apollo and his functions reveal divergences which are

sometimes even contradictory. How is it, for example, that this pre-eminently Greek god was, in

the Iliad, the ally of the Trojans - that is to say, the Asiatics? And if he was in fact of Asiatic origin,

how can we explain his retreat in the Vale of Ternpe and among the Hyperboreans? In this it is

tempting to see a return of the god to the land of his origin.

As to his functions, they are so multiple and complex that it is often hard to connect one with


Apollo was first of all a god of the light, a sun-god-without, however, being the sun itself, which

was represented by a special divinity, Helios. From this arose his epithets: Phoebus, the 'brilliant';

Xanthus, the 'fair'; Chrysocomes, 'of the golden locks'; as such he delighted in 'high places, the

frowning peaks of high mountains, wave-lapped, beetling promontories'. This god of the light was

the son of Latona or Leto - probably a double of the Asiatic Lada - who was undoubtedly a

divinity of the night.

As a solar god Apollo made the fruits of the earth to ripen, and at Delos and Delphi the first crops

were therefore consecrated to him. In addition he protected the crops by destroying the mice

which infested the fields (Apollo Smintheus) and drove off the locusts which devastated the

harvest (Apollo Parnopius).

Because the sun is murderous with its rays which strike like darts, and at the same time beneficent

because of its prophylactic powers, Apollo was thought of as an archer-god who shot his arrows

from afar (Hecatebolos) as the god of sudden death; but also as a healer-god who drove away

illness (Alexikakos). In this latter function he had apparently supplanted a primitive deity Paeon

(the healer) whose name is closely related to the divinity whom Homer calls the physician of the

gods, Paeeon.

Apollo was also the god of divination and prophecy. Without speaking of the many early oracles

he possessed in Asia Minor, at Thymbra, Clarus, Grynia, Didymus, all over Greece he had

sanctuaries where men came to consult him and where he pronounced judgment through the

intermediary of priestesses, the Sibyls. Famous were those of Tegyra, near Orchomenus, and of

Thebes in Boeotia, over which presided Teiresias' own daughter, Manto.

At Thebes in the days of Pausanias the stone from which the priestess delivered her oracles could

still be seen. It was called the Seat of Manto. Manto was afterwards led to Delphi, where she

devoted herself to the cult of Apollo. The god, it was said, sent her to Asia Minor to found the

oracle of Clarus.

But of all the sanctuaries of Apollo the most celebrated was that of Delphi, situated in a deep

cavern from which emanated prophetic vapours. The priestess, or Pythia, sat on a tripod placed on

the threshold of the cavern. Soon, under the god's influence, she would fall into a trance and,

possessed by prophetic delirium, begin to pour forth broken phrases and obscure words which

were then interpreted by the priest and members of the sacred counsel of Delphi.

This role of prophecy conferred on a sun-god is surprising in view of the fact that in Greece

divination was reserved for underworld divinities. It is a fact, however, that Apollo ousted them

all little by little. We must then assume that he already possessed this function when he came to

Greece; and we cannot fail to notice his resemblance in this respect to the Assyro-Babylonian sungod

Shamash, who also had the gift of prophecy - an argument in favour of Apollo's being of

Asiatic origin.

But there are other aspects of the sun-god which are not easy to relate to the above.

For Apollo was also a shepherd-god (Nomius) whose mission it was to protect the flocks. We shall

see later that flocks are often associated with Apollo. His epithet, Lycian - unless it simply signifies

that he was of Lycian origin - can clearly be derived from the root lux, light, and would then be a

qualifying epithet for a solar-deity. But 'Lycian' is also related to the Greek word meaning wolf.

Apollo could then have primitively been a wolf-god (as Reinach conjectured) or else a god who

killed wolves (Lukoktonos) - both equally applicable to a rural divinity. Apollo Nomius may be

linked with Apollo Carneios (the ram-god of the Dorians) who was also a pastoral divinity.

Apollo is a musician-god as well, the god of song and the lyre. This is how Homer shows him

when he described the gods listening to 'the sound of the gracious lyre which Apollo held'.

He is also a builder and a colonising-god who, as Callimachus

says, 'delights in the constructions of towns of which he himself lays the foundations'.

So many varying functions lead one to suspect that in Apollo there were many personalities, and

the problem of his origin would be clarified by considering him to be a solar-god from Asia who

was merged with a pastoral-god, the chief god of the Dorians, who came from the north of Greece.

Representations. In spite of his multiple character Apollo always appears as a single type in the

representations which were made of him. He was depicted as a young man of idealised beauty,

with a vigorous body, a broad chest and slim hips. His beardless face with its delicate features is

surmounted by a high forehead and thick, long hair which sometimes falls freely behind him,

sometimes is knotted on top or at the nape of his neck so that only a few curls fall to his shoulders.

He is generally nude or wears only a chlamys thrown over his shoulder. Sometimes, particularly

when he is

represented as a musician, he wears a long tunic witn loose ioius.

His attributes are the bow, the quiver, the shepherd's crook, the lyre. The animals which are sacred

to him are the swan, the vulture, the crow, the cock, the hawk, the cicada, the wolf and the

serpent. His favourite plants are the laurel, the palm, the olive and the tamarisk.

The Birth of Apollo. According to the oldest traditions Apollo's mother, Leto, daughter of Coeus

and Phoebe, was the wife of Zeus before Zeus was married to Hera. This is how she appears in the

Iliad where, like her son - and doubtless because of her Asiatic origin she protects the Trojans.

Hesiod also depicts her in the same role and represents her as enveloped in a veil of sombre hue, a

garment natural to a goddess of the night. Only later was Leto made a mistress of Zeus and a

victim of Hera's jealousy; and it is chiefly the history of her misfortunes which enriches her legend.

When Leto was pregnant with the twins Zeus had given her she wandered the earth in search of a

place to give birth to them. But she was pursued by Hera's jealous fury and ranged Attica, Euboea,

Thrace and the islands of the Aegean sea, begging in vain of each of these countries to receive her.

All feared the anger of Hera and all 'were seized with dread and terror' and none dared receive

her. But Leto at last found shelter. It will be remembered that Leto's sister, Asteria, had been

changed into a quail because she had resisted the ardours of Zeus, then into the floating isle of

Ortygia. On the promise that Apollo would erect a splendid temple on its stony and barren soil,

the isle of Ortygia consented to receive Leto. Hera, however, had sworn that her rival would only

give birth in a place where the sun's rays never penetrated. In order that this vow should not be

broken Poseidon raised the waves like a dome over the isle of Ortygia which, at the same time, he

anchored to the depths of the sea with four pillars. After the birth of Apollo, Ortygia changed its

name to Delos - 'the Brilliant'.

No longer able to prevent the birth she loathed, Hera attempted at least to delay it. While all the

other Immortals hastened to Delos to be with Leto, Hera kept Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth,

behind. During nine days and nine nights Leto was the victim of atrocious suffering. Finally Iris

was dispatched to Olympus and succeeded in fetching Ilithyia. Then, says a Homeric hymn to

Apollo, 'Leto clasped a palm-tree in her arms, pressed the soft ground with her knees, and the

earth beneath her smiled and the child leapt into the light. All the goddesses cried out with joy.

Then, O Phoebus, the goddesses washed thee in sweet water, limpid and pure, and they gave thee

for swaddling clothes a white veil of tissue, light and fresh, which they tied with a golden girdle'.

Leto, at the same time, gave birth to a daughter, Artemis.

Due to the similarity of names the birth of Apollo is sometimes placed in the sacred grove of

Ortygia, in the neighbourhood of Ephesus.

Leto's tribulations did not end with the birth of Apollo. For fear of Hera she left Delos in haste and

went to Asia Minor, to the land which later became Lycia. There one day she paused at the edge of

a pool. She wished to quench her thirst but was prevented from doing so by rude shepherds who

stirred the water to make it muddy. Leto punished them by turning them into frogs.

The Childhood of Apollo: The Serpent Python. Unlike other children Apollo was not nourished on

his mother's milk. Themis put nectar and sweet ambrosia to his lips. Immediately the new-born

baby threw off his swaddling clothes and was endowed with manly vigour, which he proved

without delay in doing battle with the serpent Python.

This monster was a female dragon which the earth had given birth to and which had acted as

nurse to Typhon. Hera, who was resolved to exterminate her rival, sent Python against Leto at the

moment of Apollo's birth. But thanks to Poseidon, who had hidden Leto's retreat among the

waves, Leto was saved and the serpent Python returned to its lair on the wooded slopes of

Parnassus. Now, four days after his birth, Apollo set forth in search of a place to establish his

sanctuary. Armed with the arrows which Hephaestus had forged for him, he descended from the

heights of Olympus, crossed Pieria, Euboea, Boeotia, and arrived in the valley of Crissa. On the

treacherous advice of the nymph Telphousa, who reigned over this region and wished to retain

her position, Apollo wandered into the savage gorge of Parnassus which was the

serpent Python's lair. The serpent saw the god and sprang at him. But Apollo let fly an arrow.

'Torn with cruel pain the monster lies shuddering: he rolls in the sand. He plunges into the forest

and twists on the ground, now here, now there, until the moment when, with poisonous breath, he

exhales his life in a torrent of blood.' Apollo contemptuously pushed his victim aside with one foot

and said: 'Now rot where you lie.' And in memory of the occasion the spot where this dramatic

encounter took place was called by the name Pytho - from the Greek 'to rot'. It was later changed

to Delphi. As for Telphousa, the god punished her treachery by smothering her under a rock.

In order to purify himself from the stains he had got when killing the serpent, Apollo exiled

himself to Thessaly, in the Vale of Tempe. When his period of expiation was concluded he

returned to Delphi, his head crowned with sacred laurel, and escorted by a procession of priests,

chanting hymns of triumph.

The memory of these events was perpetuated at Delphi by the festival of the Septeria (or

Veneration) which was celebrated every nine years. An adolescent youth, chosen from among the

nobility, represented Apollo. Accompanied by other young folk he would go and set on fire a

wooden hut which symbolised the dragon's lair. At the close of the Septeria the same youths

would make a pilgrimage to the Vale of Tempe, practise expiatory rites and return to Delphi

carrying sacred laurel.

The Foundation of Delphi. Delphi was in fact Apollo's chosen land. Soon after his victory over the

serpent Python he built an altar in harsh Pytho, in the midst of a sacred grove. The place was

deserted and Apollo was wondering where he would find priests for his new cult when he

perceived in the distance on the dark sea a ship manned by some Cretans. Immediately assuming

the form of a dolphin, he sped after the ship and leapt on to the deck, to the great terror of the

sailors, who were even more terrified when their ship suddenly ceased to obey the oars and,

deviating from its course, rounded the Peloponnese, entered the Gulf of Corinth and ran aground

on the shores of Crissa. Apollo then reassumed his his divine appearance and told the Cretans his

will. 'From now on none of you will again return to your pleasant city. You will see your rich

dwellings and your cherished wives no more; but you will guard my temple. You will know the

designs of the immortal gods and, by their will, you will be perpetually honoured. You will have

in abundance all that the illustrious tribes of men bring to me. And since you first beheld me on

the dark sea in the shape of a dolphin, you shall invoke me by the name of the Delphinian.' Such

was the origin of Delphi. The same episode explains the role of Apollo as god of navigation and

marine expeditions, particularly colonisation. But Apollo did not always remain at Delphi. Every

year at the end of autumn he went away, beyond the Rhipaei mountains where the impetuous

Boreas reigned, towards the mysterious land of the Hyperboreans. There, under a sky eternally

bright, lived a happy and virtuous race of men devoted to the cult of Apollo. Leto herself, they

said, was a native of this blessed land, which she had left in the guise of a she-wolf to come to

Delos. With the return of the good weather Apollo would come to Delphi again in a chariot drawn

by white swans or monstrous griffins. Some placed this annual exile of the god in Lycia.

The Exploits of Apollo. Apollo, the celestial archer whose arrows were long-ranged and infallible,

was distinguished for many exploits. He fought against the Aloadae, Ephialtes and Otus. These

two giants, sons of Aloeus or Poseidon, aspired to the hands of Hera and Artemis, and repeating

the audacious attempt of the Titans to scale Olympus, piled Pelion on Ossa to achieve their daring

objective. They would have succeeded had not Apollo struck them down with his arrows. It is true

that another tradition attributes the death of the Aloadae to Artemis. Apollo, in the same way,

slew the giant Tityus who had dared to assail the honour of Leto, his mother.

The god was no less ruthless towards mortals. In Phocis there was a man of extraordinary strength

named Phorbas. chief of the Phlegyians. He would lie in wait beside the road which led to the

temple of Delphi and force the passing pilgrims to fight with him. Having vanquished them he

would then put them painfully to death. Apollo, disguised as an athlete, appeared one day and

felled Phorbas with a mighty blow of the fist. Apollo even measured his


strength against Hercules. Hercules had come to Delphi, but, not obtaining from the Pythia the

oracle he hoped for, he seized the sacred tripod and carried it away. Apollo hastened after him,

overtook him and prepared to fight it out. It required the intervention of Zeus himself to put an

end to the combat. Zeus obliged Hercules to restore the tripod and reconciled the two adversaries.

Apollo, indeed, tolerated no insult to his person or his cult. The archer Eurytus, who had dared to

challenge him, perished for his presumption; and because Agamemnon at Troy had gravely

offended his priest Chryses, Apollo for nine days let fly his exterminating arrows against the

Greek army, sending innumerable warriors to the kingdom of Hades.

Among the Olympians Apollo enjoyed especial consideration. When he entered, the assembly of

the gods all rose in sign of respect. Leto, his mother, would relieve him of bow and quiver, which

she would hang from a golden nail. Zeus would welcome his son and give him nectar in a golden

cup. The Immortals would then resume their places. Leto was proud to have borne this illustrious

son who wielded the redoubtable bow.

Only the cunning Hermes dared to play tricks on his half-brother; we shall see later how he stole

Apollo's heifers.

Apollo's Servitude. In spite of the marked favour which the master of the gods showed him,

Apollo twice aroused the wrath of Zeus. The first time was when Apollo took part in the plot

which Hera formed against her husband and which failed thanks to Thetis. In fury Zeus

condemned Apollo, together with Poseidon, to go to Troy, there to enter the service of King

Laomedon for a year. While Poseidon worked on the construction of the Trojan ramparts, Apollo

pastured the royal oxen on the slopes and in the wooded gorges of Mount Ida. When the year had

run its course Laomedon refused to pay the two gods the wages which had been agreed upon and

even threatened to cut off their ears. In revenge Apollo spread plague through the country and

Poseidon summoned a a monster from the sea which killed men in the fields.

The second time Apollo incurred his father's anger was when, in order to avenge the murder of his

son, Asclepius, whom Zeus had struck with a thunderbolt, Apollo killed the Cyclopes who had

made the thunderbolt. Zeus punished him by sending him to serve Admetus, king of Pherae.

Apollo tended his mares and ewes. He showed devotion to his mortal master, helped "him to get

married and even saved his life. These two episodes demonstrate the pastoral character of Apollo


was the most important of musician-gods. Attracted by the divine music, the fallow deer and

hinds would come to frisk, and even the savage beasts of the forest joined in. Did Apollo invent

the lyre? According to some he did; though it seems more likely that he received the instrument

from Hermes.

Apollo would have it that no instrument could compare in beauty with the lyre or the cithara. One

day while strolling on Mount Tmolus he was challenged to a musical contest by the satyr Marsyas,

While he watched his flocks Apollo would play his lyre, for he who had acquired a remarkable

virtuosity on the flute which Athene had once cast aside. A jury was constituted among whom sat

the Muses and Midas, king of Phrygia. When the tournament was finished Apollo was declared

the victor. Only Midas voted for Marsyas. The god punished Midas by bestowing upon him a pair

of ass's ears. As for his unfortunate rival, he attached him to a tree trunk, flayed him alive and

suspended his body at the entrance of a cavern which could be seen in the neighbourhood of

Celaenae in Phrygia. According to other traditions the contest took place between Apollo and Pan.

The Loves of Apollo. It would seem that a god endowed with all the charms of youth, strength

and grace would find few to resist him. Indeed the amorous adventures of Apollo were numerous;

but several of them were singularly unfortunate -- his mistresses were unwilling and the

denouements were tragic.

To be sure, he was loved by the Oceanid Melia, whom he made mother of Ismenius, by Corycia

who gave him a son Lycoreus, and by Acacallis, mother of Phylacides and Philandros; but he tried

in vain to seduce Daphne. This nymph, daughter of the river Penei-us, was as chaste as she was

beautiful. When she refused to submit to Apollo he attempted to ravish her; but she fled. He

overtook her and she already felt the eager arms of the god around her when

1V1 I 1 1 1

she called upon the venerable Gaea to aid her. Immediately the earth gaped open. Daphne

disappeared, and in her place a laurel tree sprang from the ground. Apollo made it the plant

sacred to him.

The nymph Cyrene, who was said to be the daughter of King Hypseus, was a huntress. Apollo

saw her one day on the wooded slopes of Mount Pelion, wrestling with a lion. Charmed by her

beauty and courage, he carried her away in a golden chariot to Libya, where she gave birth to


Nor did all mortal women submit to Apollo's desires. There was Castalia, a girl of Delphi, who, in

order to escape the god's pursuit, threw herself into the fountain which afterwards took her name.

Acacallis - who must not be confused with the nymph of the same name - and Chione were loved

simultaneously by Hermes and Apollo. Chione, daughter of Daedalion, had Autolycus by Hermes

and Philammon by Apollo. Very proud of the beauty of her sons she had the imprudence to scoff

at the barrenness of Artemis, who in punishment pierced her with arrows. Acacallis, also called

Deione, was the daughter of Minos. Her father had sent her to Libya, where she knew Apollo. She

had two sons by him, Amphithemis or Garamas and Miletus. When Miletus was born his mother,

for fear of Minos, had him carried into a forest where, thanks to Apollo's protection, the wolves

took care of the newly born babe who grew up among them. Shepherds discovered him and

removed him from this savage existence. Later Miletus aroused the suspicions of Minos and fled

to Asia Minor, where he founded the town of Miletus. Less fortunate was Linus, Apollo's son by

Psamathe, daughter of Crotopus, King of Argos. Linus had been exposed by his mother, who

wished to conceal his birth, and he was devoured by dogs. At the news Psamathe was overcome

with grief and betrayed herself. Her father had her put to death. Apollo immediately struck the

city of Argos with a terrible plague which only ceased when Crotopus was exiled. This Linus, who

died in infancy, is not the musician hero whom Apollo had by Urania.

The adventure of Apollo and Coronis had a tragic sequence. Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas, King

of the Lapiths, had yielded to Apollo and conceived a son. When she was on the point of

becoming a mother she married the Arcadian Ischys. A crow, that Apollo had left with Coronis to

watch over her, came at once to tell Apollo of the girl's infidelity. In his rage Apollo cursed the

crow, whose plumage suddenly turned black, and put Coronis and Ischys to death. According to

others he let Artemis avenge him. The two bodies were placed on the funeral pyre and the body of

Coronis was already half consumed when Apollo arrived and tore from the flames the child who

was about to be born. The child became the god of medicine, Asclepius. When Phlegyas learned

who was responsible for the tragedy he marched on Delphi and burnt the temple of Apollo. But he

perished under the blows of the god and was thrown into Tartarus, where he was cruelly tortured

for his sacrilege.

One day while gathering flowers on the slopes of the Acropolis, Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus.

and Praxithea, was surprised by Apollo. She lay with him in a neighbouring cavern. Here she later

gave birth to a son, Ion. Apollo sent Hermes to fetch the child and bring him to Delphi, where he

entered the service of the temple. Meanwhile Creusa had married Xuthus, but their union

remained childless. The couple came to Delphi, where the oracle proclaimed that the .first being

whom they beheld would be their son. As they emerged from the temple the first person they

encountered was the young Ion. Xuthus adopted him. Creusa, jealous, attempted to poison Ion,

and Ion himself tried to kill Creusa. The Pythia herself cleared up the misunderstanding and

revealed to Creusa and Ion that they were mother and son. Athene also told Xuthus the truth, and

from Apollo Xuthus received the promise that he would become the father of two sons, Dorus and

Achaeus who, with Ion, were the ancestors of the Greek race.

By Thyria Apollo had a son Cycnus, a youth of rare beauty who was attached by a tender affection

to his companion of the chase, Phylius. When Phylius abandoned him, Cycnus in despair threw

himself into Lake Canopus. Thyria, his mother, threw herself in after him; and Apollo changed

them both into swans.

By a certain Cyrene, sometimes also called Asteria, Apollo had another son, Idmon, whom he

endowed with the gift of foreseeing the future. When he was invited to take part in the expedition

of the Argonauts, Idmon foresaw that he would die in the course of

the voyage. He went, nevertheless, and was in fact killed by the bite of a snake.

Evadne bore Apollo lamus, a celebrated soothsayer and chief of the family of the lamidae at


Divination naturally plays an important role in the legends of Apollo. Thus, when Apollo fell in

love with Cassandra, daughter of King Priam, he conferred upon her the gift of foretelling the

future on her promising to yield herself to him. But Cassandra refused to fulfil her part of the

bargain. Apollo then begged a single kiss. In this way he breathed into her mouth and, though he

left her with the power of foretelling the future, he took from her the power of persuasion so that

from then onwards no one would believe what Cassandra predicted.

Several youths were also loved by Apollo. Such was Cyparissus, whom the god changed into a

cypress because the young man was heartbroken at having carelessly killed a favourite stag. Such

also was Hyacinthus, son of Amyclas, King of Laconia. Now Hyacinthus was loved not only by

Apollo but also by Boreas and Zephyrus. One day when Hyacinthus and Apollo were throwing

the discus, Boreas and Zephyrus jealously directed the discus which Apollo had just thrown so

that it struck Hyacinthus on the head and immediately killed him. From the blood which gushed

from the wound sprang the flower which bears his name, the hyacinth. In memory of this sad

event they celebrated annually in Laconia the festival of the Hyacinthia, which began with funeral

offerings and lamentations and ended with songs of joy in honour of the young hero who had

become immortal.


The Muses. In his aspect of god of music, Apollo's habitual companions were the Muses. Thus he

was called Apollo Musagetes.

Originally the Muses, like the Nymphs, seem to have been deities of springs. Afterwards they

became goddesses of memory, and then of poetic inspiration.

This number varied. The first Muses worshipped on Mount Helicon were three in number: Melete,

Mneme and Aoide. There were also three at Sicyon, as well as at Delphi, where their names -Nete,

Mese and Hypate - personified the three strings of the lyre. There were seven Muses in Lesbos and

in Sicily, eight for the Pythagoreans and in primitive Athens. It was finally agreed that there were

nine Muses: Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, Urania and


Functions. The Muses were for long merged in an indissoluble choir which presided over music

and poetry in general. It was only later that a special province was assigned to each.

Clio thus became the Muse of History. Her attributes were the heroic trumpet and the clepsydra.

Euterpe presided over flute-playing and her attribute was the flute.

Thalia, who was at first considered a bucolic Muse, became the Muse of Comedy. In her hands she

carried the shepherd's staff and the comic mask.

Melpomene was the Muse of Tragedy. Her attributes were the tragic mask and also the club of


Terpsichore, whose attribute was the cithara, was the Muse of Lyric Poetry and of the Dance.

Erato was the Muse of Love Poetry.

Polyhymnia, after having been the Muse of heroic hymns, became the Muse of Mimic Art. She was

represented in an attitude of meditation with a finger on her mouth.

Urania was the Muse of Astronomy and her attributes were the celestial globe and a compass.

Calliope, who was first in rank among her sisters, was considered in turn to be the Muse of Epic

Poetry and Eloquence. Her attributes were the stylus and tablets.

Places of Cult and Representations. The cult of the Muses originated in Thrace, or more precisely

in Pieria, as their oldest sanctuary testifies. It was established at Libethrum on the eastern slopes of

Olympus, whence it spread to Boeotia where, around Helicon, the centres of the cult were the

towns of Ascra and Thespiae. At Thes-piae festivals in honour of the Muses were celebrated every

five years and included poetic contests. In the rest of Greece the cult of the Muses was no less

fervent. In Athens a hill near the Acropolis was consecrated to them and they were worshipped on

the banks of the Ilissus. At Delphi they were venerated with Apollo. The Muses also had

sanctuaries at Sparta, Troezen, Sicyon, Olympus, in the islands and in several towns in Magna


Their former character of spring nymphs explains why numerous fountains were sacred to the


Offerings to the Muses consisted of grains of wheat kneaded with honey. Libations were poured

to them of water, milk and honey.

The Muses are represented as young women with faces smiling, grave or thoughtful, according to

their function. They are dressed in long floating robes, covered by a mantle. Urania and" Clio are

normally depicted sitting. They are otherwise distinguished by their individual attributes.

The Legend of the Muses. As to the origin of the Muses traditions vary. According to Mimnermus

and Alcman they were born of Uranus and Gaea; they were also said to be daughters of Pierus

and Antiope or else the nymph Pimplea, of Zeus and the Arcadian nymph Neda, of Apollo and so

forth. Hesiod's opinion was, however, generally accepted, and he called them the daughters of

Zeus and the Titaness Mnemosyne (or Memory).

It was told how after the defeat of the Titans the gods had asked Zeus to create divinities who

were capable of celebrating the victory of the Olympians. The master of the gods then went to

Pieria, where he shared Mnemosyne's couch for nine consecutive nights. When her time had come

Mnemosyne gave birth to nine daughters who formed the choir of the Muses.

Although the Muses often frequented Olympus, where they added gaiety to the feasts of the

Immortals with their singing, they preferred to dwell on Helicon, a high mountain in Boeotia

whose wooded slopes were covered with fragrant plants which had the property of depriving

snakes of their venom. Here numerous springs

"aused an agreeable freshness: the most celebrated were Aganippe and Hippocrene, which gushed

forth under the hoof of Pegasus. Both had the virtue of conferring poetic inspiration on those who

drank their waters. On the tender greensward which bordered these fountains the Muses 'with

tireless feet would trace the graceful figures of a dance, full of charm, while they displayed the

harmony of their brilliant voices', and when they were tired they would restore the freshness of

their complexions in the azure waters of Hippocrene. When nighf came they would abandon the

summits of Helicon and, wrapped in a thick cloud, draw near the habitations of men, who could

then hear the melodious sound of their voices.

The Muses also liked to visit Parnassus in Phocis where they shared the company of Apollo. From

the flank of this mountain came forth a spring, the fountain Castalia, which was sacred to them

and whose waters also gave poetic inspiration. This fountain which, they said, communicated

with the Cephisus - which also had its source on Parnassus - was regarded as a mouth of the River

Styx. The waters of Castalia were used in purification rites in the temple at Delphi, and they were

given to the Pythia to drink. The Muses, indeed, were closely connected with the cult of Apollo

and as well as being patrons of poetry were guardians of the oracle of Delphi. They themselves,

moreover, had the gift of prophecy: 'they said that which is, what will be, and what has been'. It

was they who taught Aristaeus the art of divination.

But their legend is chiefly concerned with them as goddesses of song. Hesiod shows us the Muses

on Olympus charming the great soul of Zeus. Their tireless voices flow from their mouths in sweet

accents, and this bewitching harmony as it spreads afar brings smiles to their father's palace, their

father who wields the thunderbolt.'

Like all goddesses the Muses were easily offended and harshly punished anyone who dared

compete with them.

When the Thracian Bard Thamyris boasted that he surpassed

even the Muses, they struck him blind and dumb.

Pierus, King of Emathia in Macedonia, had nine daughters, the Pierides, who dared to challenge

the Muses for the prize of poetry. They were changed into magpies by Apollo and the Muses took

over their name.

Finally, the Sirens paid dearly for their presumption. Having issued a challenge to the Muses they

were vanquished in spite of the irresistible sweetness of their voices, and in consequence were

deprived of their wings.

Originally the Muses were represented as virgins of the strictest chastity. They had taken shelter

one day with Pyrenees, King of Daulis in Phocis, when the king attempted to violate them. The

Muses then took their wings and flew away. Pyrenees tried to follow them, but he fell from the top

of his palace and was killed.

Later numerous love-affairs were attributed to the Muses.

Calliope was not only loved by Apollo, by whom she had two sons, Hymenaeus and lalemus; she

also married Oeagrus, to whom she bore Orpheus, the celebrated singer of Thrace.

Melpomene lay with the river-god Achelous and became the mother of the Sirens.

Euterpe - others say it was Calliope or Terpsichore had by Strymon, the river-god of Thrace, a son

Rhesus who was slain

during the Trojan war by Odysseus and Diomedes; for an oracle had said that if the horses of

Rhesus drank the waters of the Xanthus Troy would become impregnable.

Clio, having reproached Aphrodite for her passion for Adonis, was punished by Aphrodite, who

roused in her heart an irresistible love for Pierus, King of Macedonia. By him Clio had Hyacinthus,

whose unfortunate history we have already read.

Thalia gave birth to the Corybantes after lying with Apollo.

By Amphimarus, the musician, Urania had Linus, who was also said to be the son of Apollo and

Calliope or Terpsichore. To Linus was attributed the invention of melody and rhythm. It was told

how he challenged Apollo to a song contest and how Apollo killed him. Linus had a statue on

Helicon where he was honoured as an equal of the Muses. Thebes claimed to possess his tomb.

Finally, Thamyris was supposed to be the son of Erato, and Triptolemus the son of Polyhymnia.


The etymology of the name Artemis is obscure and gives us no precise indication of her character.

The laws of phonetic derivation

are against connecting the name with the world for 'bear', and 'quail' has been suggested in

memory of her birth in the isle of Ortygia. The adjective meaning 'safe and sound' has also been

proposed, ** which would make Artemis 'she who heals sickness'. But none of the etymologies

take into consideration the goddess's complex character in which, it would seem, different

divinities are merged, as in the case of Apollo.

Character and Functions. The primitive Artemis, probably a replica of Apollo Nomius, was an

agricultural deity, worshipped especially in Arcadia. She was the goddess of the chase and of

forests (Agro-tera). Her symbol was a she-bear, which suggests that she was originally confused

with Callisto, who was later made her companion. One is tempted to connect the Arcadian

Artemis with Artio, the Celtic goddess of Berne, whose symbol was also a she-bear.

From the beginning Artemis was associated with Apollo and could not fail to participate in his

nature: thus she is also a divinity of the light (Phoebe), though of the moon's light. Similarly, her ^

lunar character gradually became less marked, as the appearance of a special moon-goddess,

Selene, testifies. In her aspect of light-goddess she has the same functions as Apollo. Like him

armed with bow and quiver, she bore the epithet Apollousa, the destructress; or locheaira, who

liked to let fly with arrows, strike down mortals with her fearful darts, and assail their flocks with

deadly disease. Like Apollo she was the deity of sudden death, though it was usually women

whom she struck. She was, however, equally benevolent and brought prosperity to those who

honoured her.

In her capacity of moon-goddess Artemis presided over childbirth, jointly with Ilithyia.

Finally Artemis was likened to other divinities who had no connection with her, such as the moongoddess

of Tauris, as a . result of confusion caused by the epithet Tauropolos which Artemis had

in certain towns like Samos, Amphipolis and Icarus. She was also compared to the Cretan goddess

Britomartis, and to Hecate, a Thracian divinity who was at the same time a moon-goddess and a

goddess of the underworld. There is even less connection between the Greek Artemis and the

Artemis or Diana of Ephesus, a personification of fecundity, one of the forms of the Great Mothergoddess

of the Orient.

Artemis, particularly venerated in Arcadia, was worshipped throughout Greece, notably in the

Peloponnese, at Sparta, at Caryae in Laconia, at Athens, Aegina, Olympia and Delos, where the

laurel was consecrated to her and where Hyperborean girls brought their offerings to her. She was

revered, too, in Crete, Asia Minor and Magna Graecia.

Representations. Although the lunar character of Artemis is sometimes recalled on coins by a

torch held in her hand, or by the moon and the stars which surround her head, sculptors have

chiefly emphasised her rural aspect. She appears to us as a young virgin, slim and supple, with

narrow hips and regular features. Her beauty is a little severe, with her hair drawn back or partly

gathered in a knot on her head. She wears a short tunic which does not fall below her knees: this

is, in fact, the Dorian chiton which has been turned up and the folds retained by a girdle. Her feet

are shod with the cothurnus or laced buskin. She is usually accompanied by a hind or a dog.

Very different is the appearance of the crowned Artemis of Ephesus, whose body is tightly

sheathed in a robe covered with animal heads which leaves her bosom with its multiple breasts

exposed: a striking image of a fertility-goddess who has nothing to do with the Greek Artemis.

The Legend of Artemis. Artemis was occasionally presented as the daughter of Zeus and Demeter

or Per-sephone; or else of Dionysus and Isis. But according to the tradition general among the

Greeks she was the daughter of Leto, and Apollo's twin sister.

She was born, they said, on the sixth day of the month of Tharge-lion - a day before her brother -

on the isle of Ortygia which only took the name Delos after the birth of Apollo. She shared the

vicissitudes which marked the childhood of her brother, accompanying him on his expedition

against the serpent Python and during his exile in Thessaly. Then she chose Arcadia for her

favourite place of abode. In this savage and mountainous region, where torrents tumbled down

the woody slopes and plunged through


narrow gorges, Artemis, accompanied by sixty young Oceanids and twenty nymphs appointed to

the care of her pack of swift hounds gave herself to the pleasures of the chase. As soon as she was

born she had, in fact, gone to find her father Zeus and, embracing his knees, begged from him, not

ornaments or jewellery, but a short tunic, hunting boots, a bow and a quiver full of arrows.

As skilled as her brother, 'on the shady mountainside, on the wind-lashed mountain tops, she

bends her bow of sparkling gold and lets fly her deadly arrows'.

When she had tired of tracking wild beasts or pursuing the light-footed roebuck she would pause

beside the clear waters of a fountain and bathe with her companions until the freshness of the

waters had assuaged her fatigue.

In this rude, out-door existence there was no place for love. To the virgin huntress even the

legitimate joys of marriage were repugnant, and she made of chastity a strict law which she

imposed on her companions. Woe to the nymphs who had joined Artemis' band and then so far

forgot their duty as to taste of forbidden pleasures! Even were she a victim of some god's trickery

she was nonetheless cruelly chastised. The unfortunate Callisto, who had been approached by

Zeus in the guise of the goddess herself and seduced, fell beneath Artemis' arrows when her

disgrace became known.

Woe, also, to the imprudent man who gave way to his curiosity! Actaeon, son of Aristaeus and

Autonoe, was himself a passionate huntsman. One day with his hounds he was chasing a stag

when he came to the valley of Gargaphia, near the fountain Parthenius, where at that moment

Artemis and her companions happened to be bathing. Ravished by the beauty of the goddess,

Actaeon paused to contemplate her. He was observed. Enraged that a mortal should have seen her

in her nakedness, Artemis changed Actaeon into a stag and set his own pack on him. The hounds

tore Actaeon to pieces and devoured him.

But on one occasion, it would seem, Artemis' own heart was stirred by the hunter Orion. Perhaps

she might even have married him had not Apollo intervened. One day when Orion, a strong

swimmer, was bathing in the sea, he had swum far from shore and had nearly vanished on the

horizon when Apollo challenged his sister to hit the scarcely perceptible point which, far out to

sea, moved on the surface of the waves. Artemis, not realising that the distant object was Orion,

accepted the challenge, bent her bow and shot an arrow. It pierced the temple of him she loved.

Did Apollo wish to safeguard his sister's honour, or was he motivated by secret jealousy? Certain

traditions do, indeed, claim that he had ravished Artemis on his own altar at Delos. But we prefer

to believe in the intact purity of the goddess.

Elsewhere it was told that Orion perished for having dared to touch the goddess one day when

they were hunting together in the island of Chios. Artemis summoned a deadly scorpion from the

earth which stung Orion on the heel.

This version agrees better with what we know of the dark and vindictive character of Artemis.

When Apollo punished Tityus for the outrage done to Leto, his mother, Artemis seconded him. To

her also the death of the Aloadae was sometimes attributed: the two giants having attempted to

violate her, Artemis turned herself into a white doe and got between them in such a way that,

trying to strike the beast with their javelins, they ran each other through instead.

We have seen how Artemis killed Chione whom her brother loved, because Chione was vain of

her children's beauty. Niobe was punished still more harshly. Daughter of Tantalus, Niobe had six

sons and six daughters by her husband Amphion. In her maternal pride she dared to disparage

Leto, who had brought only two children into the world. To punish this insolence Apollo and

Artemis struck down all twelve of Niobe's children with their arrows and Niobe, heartbroken, at

last persuaded Zeus to change her into a rock.

The slightest negligence towards Artemis was apt to be punished. Admetus, who had omitted to

offer sacrifice to the goddess on his marriage, had when he entered the bridal chamber the

disagreeable surprise of finding it full of snakes. Oeneus, who reigned at Calydon in Aetolia,

forgot to consecrate the first fruits of his crop tcr Artemis: his territory was ravaged by a

prodigious boar and, in the course of the adventures which accompanied and followed the

capture of the monster, his whole family perished.

It was also for offending the goddess, either by killing a stag in a wood that was sacred to her or

by boasting that he was a more skilled hunter than she, that Agamemnon was wind-bound in the

port of Aulis, together with the Greek fleet. He could obtain the return of favourable winds only

by immolating to Artemis his own daughter, Iphigenia. But the goddess took pity on the innocent

victim and snatched Iphigenia away at the moment of sacrifice, bearing her to Tauris where she

was made a priestess of Artemis' cult.

In the Tauric Chersonese there existed, in fact, a local divinity who was later identified with the

Hellenic Artemis and who was honoured by blood sacrifices. All strangers who were shipwrecked

on the coasts of Tauris were sacrificed to her. Iphigenia presided over the sacrifices. One day her

brother Orestes approached these inhospitable shores. He was condemned to death, but he

revealed himself to his sister and together they fled, carrying with them the statue of the goddess,

which was deposited in the town of Brauron in Attica and later transferred to a sanctuary on the

Acropolis in Athens. It was venerated under the name of Artemis Brauronia, the bear being sacred

to her. It was told a tame bear which wandered freely through the villages of Attica one day

lacerated a girl with its claws. It was killed by the girl's brothers. Artemis in anger at once sent a

deadly plague to Athens. The oracle, when consulted, replied that the scourge would cease only if

the inhabitants consecrated their daughters to Artemis. And so, every five years, a procession of

little girls from five to ten years old, dressed in saffron-coloured robes, would wend its way

solemnly to the temple of Artemis.

The town of Limnaion in Laconia also gloried in the possession of the true Taurian Artemis. The

statue had been found standing upright in the middle of a thicket - for this reason it was called

Artemis Orthia (the upright) - and the discovery had been accompanied among the inhabitants of

Limnaion and the neighbouring villages by an outbreak of madness, murders and epidemics.

They succeeded in appeasing the bloodthirsty goddess by human sacrifices, later replaced by the

flagellation of youths in front of the statue of Artemis. The statue was carried by the priestess, and

it became heavier whenever the zeal of those performing the flagellation slackened.

We should be wrong, however, to consider the daughter of Leto only under this rough and

barbarous aspect. Though she loved to roam the mountains and the valleys, she also permitted


more gentle amusements. She was the sister of Apollo, god of the cithara, and she too was a

musician-goddess: song and dancing were pleasing to Artemis Hymnia. 'When the chase has

rejoiced her heart she unbends her bow and enters the vast dwelling-place of her brother in the

rich land of Delphi and joins the lovely choir of the Muses and the Graces. There she hangs up her

bow and arrows and, dressed in gracious style, leads and directs the choir.'

Artemis of Ephesus and the Amazons. We have said above that by a rather strange confusion the

name of Artemis had been given to a fertility-goddess particularly venerated at Ephesus. The

origin of this cult was said to go back to the Amazons, a mythical people of female warriors who

had come from the region of the Caucasus to settle in Cappadocia on the banks of the Thermodon.

There the Amazons founded a state whose capital was Themiscyra and which was ruled over by a

queen. Men were not admitted. Once a year the Amazons would go to their neighbours the

Gargarensians to form temporary unions. Of the children which resulted therefrom they would

keep only the girls who, from infancy, were trained for the chase and for war. The ancient Greeks

derived their name from mazos, 'breast', and '0', 'no', and explained that they removed their right

breast in order to draw the bow more easily. But, apart from the fact that no trace of such

mutilation is ever seen in representations of the Amazons, the peculiar aspect of Artemis of

Ephesus, their great goddess, suggests that the prefix V has, on the contrary, an augmentative


To the Amazons was attributed the foundation of many towns: Smyrna, Ephesus, Cyme, Myrina

and Paphos. From Cappadocia they reached the islands, landed at Lesbos and Samothrace, and

had even penetrated Boeotia and Attica. The motive for this invasion of Attica was to avenge the

abduction or the abandonment - one does not know exactly which - of Antiope by Theseus.

Antiope was the sister of the Amazon queen, Hippolyta. In Athens they used to show the tombs of

the Amazons who had perished in the course of the war, and every year the Athenians offered

sacrifices to the manes of their enemies. The Amazons also fought in Lycia against Bellerophon,

and against Hercules, who slew Hippolyta, their queen. During the Trojan war they came to the

aid of Troy and saw their young queen, Penthesileia, fall beneath the blows of Achilles. It was also

told how they sent an expedition against the isle of Leuce in the Black Sea, where they were put to

flight by the shade

Hephaestus ana tne ^yciopes lorgmg UK MUCIU ^" <-i^.,...~.,. ,...,.-,"> - ..

of Achilles, whose sanctuary they were about to sack. By their warlike habits and their horror of

men the Amazons offer some resemblance to the Greek Artemis, which is doubtless the reason

why their great goddess was given the same name.


As in the case of the other Greek gods, many etymologies have been proposed for the name

Hermes. Some suggest a connection with the Vedic Sarameya, derived from Sarama, god of the

storm or of the dawn; others relate Hermes to a Greek word which conveys the idea of movement;

still others-thinking of the early representations of the god - suggest the word for 'stone' or 'rock',

and also the verb which means 'to protect'.

Character and Functions. Certain details of Hermes' legend suggest that he was either a god of the

twilight or of the wind. Such are his birth, his theft of Apollo's heifers - analogous to the cows of

the Vedic Indra, which personified the clouds - the myth of his slaying Argus, later thought to

explain the epithet Argephontes, a probable deformation of Argeiphanies, 'he makes the sky clear'.

It is, however, more probable that Hermes was a very ancient Pelasgian divinity, of Thracian

origin, who was particularly honoured by the shepherds of Arcadia and whose mission was to

watch over their flocks and protect their huts. From this doubtless arose the Greek habit of placing

at the doors of houses a more or less crude image of this god. The Dorian invasion lessened the

prestige of Hermes. Apollo Nomius took his place, and the primitive Hermes of the shepherds and

of animal fertility took on another character.

Hermes was above all thought of as the god of travellers, whom he guided on their perilous ways.

His images were placed where country roads branched and at crossroads in towns. It is without

doubt a natural extension of this role that Hermes was also charged with conducting the souls of

the dead to the underworld. Unless, indeed, this Hermes Psvchopompus (conductor of souls),

who is sometimes differentiated from the celestial Hermes, was not a substitute for some older

subterranean divinity, a kind of Zeus Plulos.

Since in primitive times voyages were scarcely undertaken except for commerical purposes,

Hermes was consequently the god of commerce, the god of profit - lawful and unlawful - and the

god of games of chance. And, since buying and selling require much discussion, and the art of the

trader is to overcome the buyer's

hesitation by subtle and persuasive words, Hermes became the god of eloquence, the god Logics.

To these various functions Hermes added that of being the messenger of Zeus. This is how he

appears in Homer, where he is qualified with the epithet Diactoros (the messenger). He comes to

earth ceaselessly with orders from the king of the gods and undertakes the most delicate missions.

In Hesiod, Hermes is the god who brings to men's hearts the impressions and sentiments which

Zeus has inspired.

This indefatigable runner could scarcely fail to be honoured by athletes. Thus he had the epithet

Agonios, 'who presides over contests', especially in Boeotia. His statue stood at the entrance to the

stadium at Olympia, and to him was attributed the invention of pugilism and racing.

Representations. The classic aspect of Hermes is that of an athlete-god. In primitive times he had

been represented as a mature man with a thick, long beard, his hair bound with a fillet and falling

in curls to his shoulders. Afterwards he became the idealised type of the ephebe or young

gymnast, with lithe and graceful body. His hair is short and crisp, his features fine; he carries his

head slightly inclined as though listening with friendly interest. His nervous and supple body is

largely exposed by the chlamys tossed over his shoulder or wound round his left arm. He often

wears a round, winged hat - a petasus - and on his feet there are winged sandals. In his hand he

holds a winged staff around which serpents are entwined; this is the caduceus.

The Theft of Apollo's Heifers. Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia, was born in the depths of a cave on

Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. On the very day of his birth Hermes displayed his mischievous

humour by stealing the cattle which had been confided to the care of Apollo. Sneaking furtively

from his cradle, the infant god climbed the mountains of Pieria, where he found the divine herd.

From it he separated fifty lowing heifers which he drove before him under cover of the night to

the banks of the Alpheus. He made them walk backwards so that their hoofmarks should not

betray the direction they had taken. He himself had cautiously put enormous sandals of tamarisk

and myrtle twigs on his delicate feet. Before shutting up the heifers in a cavern he picked out two

of the fattest and, having ingeniously produced fire by rubbing twigs of laurel together, he roasted

them, dividing the flesh into twelve equal portions in honour of the twelve great gods. After

which he regained the heights of

Cyllene, re-entered his cave through the keyhole, 'like vapour or a breath of autumn', and crawled

into his cradle again. On the following day Apollo noticed the disappearance of his heifers. He

grasped - by divination - what had occurred and went at once to Cyllene, where Hermes

stubbornly denied all knowledge of the theft. Apollo seized the infant in his arms and carried him

to the tribunal of Zeus on Olympus. The master of the gods could not but laugh at the cunning of

his new-born child but, as he also cherished Apollo, he instructed Hermes to return the heifers.

'The two handsome sons of Zeus then hastened to sandy Pylus, near the ford of the Alpheus, and

they reached the fields and the tall stable where the objects of the theft had been shut in at


The Invention of the Lyre. Reconciliation between the two gods was completed by the gift Hermes

made to Apollo of a musical instrument he had ingeniously devised. When he had set out on his

nocturnal adventure, Hermes found a tortoise in his path. He picked it up and, with a bright

chisel, emptied the shell. Around it he stretched oxhide with the aid of reeds and arranged over a

bridge seven strings made from sheep gut which then gave out harmonious sounds. It was the

first lyre.

When Apollo, still annoyed by the theft of his heifers continued bitterly to reproach him, Hermes

struck the strings of the instrument he had just fashioned. Apollo was charmed by the sound and

his anger died - 'while the delightful sound of the divine music penetrated his senses, a sweet

desire took possession of him'. Hermes guessed that Apollo coveted the lyre and spontaneously

gave it to him. In exchange Apollo gave Hermes a bright whip or a golden wand - a prototype of

the caduceus - and entrusted him with the care of the celestial herd. From then on Apollo became

the god of music and Hermes the protector of flocks and herds. The friendship of the two gods

was never broken. On many occasions Hermes was of service to Apollo and, in particular, took

charge at their birth of several of Apollo's children.

The Good Offices of Hermes. In spite of his malicious pranks Hermes won the sympathy of all the

gods. Even the vindictive Hera forgot her jealousy where Hermes was concerned. Alone among

the illegitimate children of Zeus, the son of Maia found favour with her and the august goddess

even consented to suckle him.

Hermes was always willing to be helpful, and his ingenuity made him a valuable ally. During die

war against the giants he put on the helmet of Hades - which made him invisible - and killed the

giant Hippolytus. We have already seen how he freed Zeus, when Zeus was a prisoner of

Typhoeus. He restored Zeus' strerigth by replacing the nerves which the giant had cut. During

Zeus' amorous adventures, Hermes' aid was invaluable: he put the giant Argus to sleep with the

sound of his flute and then, in order to free lo, killed him. When Dionysus was born it was

Hermes who carried the child to Orchomenus and delivered him into the hands of Ino, Semele's

sister. Zeus moreover made him his messenger. In order rapidly to cross the celestial spaces

Hermes wore winged sandals which bore him 'over the watery sea or over the vast earth like a

breath of wind'. To aid his flight he sometimes added wings to his hat.

When Ares fell into the hands of the Aloadae and was kept captive for thirteen months without

anyone's knowing the place of his captivity, it was Hermes who finally discovered his prison and

set him free. Again it was Hermes who, with the help of Iris, found in the abode of Tantalus the

golden dog Pandareus had stolen from Zeus.

Hermes' protection was also extended to heroes: when Perseus faltered he restored his courage,

and he accompanied Hercules during his descent to the underworld.

Hermes was a benefactor of mankind, and protected their flocks, guided them on their voyages,

presided over their business affairs and inspired in them melodious speech and eloquence. Often

he also took a direct part in their affairs. He plunged the Greeks into deep slumber with the aid of

his magic wand 'with which he made drowsy the eyes of mortals or, if he so desired, roused them

from sleep'. In doing this he made it possible for Priam to bring the body of his son Hector back

into the walls of Troy. He gave Odysseus a magic plant which made him immune to the

enchantments of Circe. We even see him one day, when the Euboeans were preparing to attack the

city of Tanagra, put himself at the head of the youths of that city in order to repel the invaders.

Hermes, as we have seen, was also concerned with the underworld; for it was he who conducted

the souls of the dead to their final dwelling-place. For this reason he was called Psychopompus.

Homer shows us the souls of Penelope's suitors slain by Odysseus as they fly after Hermes,

rustling like bats, until they reach the 'fields of asphodel where dwell the phantoms of those who

are no longer'. Hermes could also lead back the souls of the dead into the world of light. When

Tantalus cut his own son into pieces and served them as a feast for the gods, Hermes, on the

instructions of Zeus, re-assembled the pieces and restored the young man to life. Hermes also

accompanied Orpheus on his search for Eurydice.

The Sons of Hermes. Hermes, like the other gods, had many amorous adventures. Among the

goddesses he was, it appears, the lover of Persephone, Hecate and Aphrodite. Among nymphs,

whom he pursued in the shady depths of forests, his conquests were wider. By them he had a

numerous progeny among whom it is sufficient to mention: Saon, son of the nymph Phene,

whocolonised Samothrace; Polydorus, son of the Thessalian nymph Polymele; Daphnis, the

beautiful and unhappy shepherd of Sicily, who was born in the neighbourhood of Etna; and above

all Pan, the rustic god of Arcadia. While tending the flocks of Dryops on the slopes of Mount

Cyllene, Hermes saw Dryops' daughter and loved her. She brought into the world a son who was

covered with hair and had the horns and feet of a goat. In horror she abandoned him, but Hermes

picked him up, wrapped him in the skin of a hare and then carried him to Olympus where the

gods delighted in the spectacle. According to another tradition, Pan was the son of a mortal,

Penelope, whom Hermes came to in the guise of a he-goat.

Among the mortals whom Hermes loved were Acacallis, daughter of Minos, whom he made

mother of Cydon, founder of the Cretan town of Cydonia, and Chione, who also bore him a son,

Autolycus. Autolycus received from his father the gift of rendering what he touched invisible. In

this way he was able to commit numerous thefts until one day Sisyphus, whose oxen he had

stolen, caught him. Another son of Hermes was Myrtilus, who was killed by Pelops: the god

avenged himself on the murderer's descendants.


Should we, with Max Muller, connect the name Ares - like Mars -with the Sanskrit root mar, from

which derive the Vedic maruts, storm-divinities? Or with the Greek root which means 'carry

away, destroy'? Both hypotheses are equally ingenious and equally uncertain.

Character and Representations. Ares originated in Thrace. He was always thought of by the

Greeks with more terror than sympathy, and his role was strictly limited. He was simply the god

of war, of blind, brutal courage, of bloody rage and carnage. Hypotheses which would make him

primitively a fertility-god or a solar deity seem to be unfounded.

Actually we know little more about this god than what the poets tell us. He was, however,

honoured throughout Greece and his cult was particularly developed in Thrace and Scythia. He

had a temple in Athens. Olympia honoured him under the name Ares-Hippios, and Sparta under

that of Ares-Enyalius (the warlike). A spring was consecrated to him near Thebes, beneath the

temple of Apollo.

In Greek sculpture Ares was not represented by any especially fixed type. We scarcely know him

except from vase paintings. At first he was depicted as a bearded warrior wearing a helmet with a

tall crest and dressed in heavy armour. Later he appears as a young man, almost nude, who has

retained little of his warlike attributes except the spear and helmet.

The Rages of Ares. 'Of all the gods who live on Olympus', says Zeus in the Iliad to Ares, 'thou art

the most odious to me; for thou enjoyest nothing but strife, war and battles. Thou hast the

obstinate and unmanageable disposition of thy mother Hera, whom I can scarcely control with my


In expressing these unfriendly sentiments to his son, the master of the gods exactly defines the

character of Ares, 'a furious god, by nature wicked and fickle', who in the immortal society of

Olympus found, it seems, very little sympathy.

As god of war it was natural that he enjoyed fighting. Mounted

second quarter ot tne sixtn century B. u.

on a chariot drawn by swift horses with golden brow-bands, clad in bronze armour and grasping

in his hands an enormous spear, Ares ranged the battlefield, striking deadly blows on all sides.

His two squires, Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Fright) - sometimes said to be his sons - accompanied

him, together with Eris (Strife), 'insatiable in her fury', Enyo, 'destroyer of cities', and the Keres,

sombre divinities, eager to drink the black blood of the dying.

Though none disputed his warlike ardour, Ares was disliked not only for his perpetual thirst for

blood and slaughter which made him the 'scourge of mortals', but for his brutality and blind

violence. It was in this, especially, that he differed from Athene who, as a warrior-goddess,

represented cool and intelligent courage. Ares and Athene were thus constantly opposed. Many

times they encountered each other on the plains of Ilium where they fought on opposite sides. The

very sight of Athene set Ares in a rage. 'Why, then, shameless fly, dost thine insatiable audacity

enflame the war between the gods? What ardour carries thee away? I think that to-day thou shall

pay for all thou hast done to me!' With these words he struck the terrible aegis which even the

thunderbolt of Zeus could not break. Athene, drawing back, took up a stone which was lying on

the plain: a black stone, rugged and enormous, which men of past ages had put there to serve as a

boundary stone for the field. She hurled it at the neck of the impetuous Ares. His knees gave way

and when he fell his body covered seven acres. Dust soiled his hair and about him his armour

jangled. Pallas Athene smiled and, glorying in her exploit, addressed to him winged words: 'Vain

fool! Hast thou not yet learned how superior my strength is to thine?'

Indeed the impetuous Ares, contrary to what one might expect, rarely emerged victorious from

combat. Nor was it only the immortal gods who got the better of him. Otus and Ephialtes, the two

Aloadae, succeeded in binding and keeping him captive for thirteen months. When he challenged

Hercules, who had just killed his son Cycnus, Ares was wounded by the hero and forced to return

groaning to Olympus. According to others, Zeus, who did not wish to see his two sons quarrel,

put an end to the fight by dropping a thunderbolt between the two combatants.

The Loves of Ares. He was scarcely more happy in his love affairs. Impressed by the glamour of

the handsome warrior whom she

doubtless compared with Hephaestus, her ill-favoured husband, Aphrodite fell in love with Ares.

The sentiment was quickly reciprocated. Ares took unscrupulous advantage of Hephaestus'

absence to dishonour the marital couch; but Helios, who had observed the two lovers, reported

the business to the smith-god. Although a deceived husband is usually an object of ridicule,

Hephaestus was able to parry the laughter by an ingenious artifice. Secretly he forged a net so fine

that it could not be seen, but so strong that it could not be broken. He arranged this net above the

couch where the lovers normally frolicked, and pretended to leave for Lemnos.

'As soon as Ares saw the industrious Hephaestus depart he directed his steps towards the

dwelling-place of the illustrious god, burning with love for Cytheraea of the fair crown. She was

seated. He took her hand and said, "Come, my dear, let us lie on the couch of Hephaestus, for thy

good man has gone to Lemnos, the land of the barbarous-tongued Sintians."' Thus he spoke, and

his words were pleasing to the goddess. Soon they fell asleep and the invisible net of the ingenious

Hephaestus spread over them. Then the limping god, who had retraced his steps, cried out in a

terrible voice to all the gods:

' "Zeus and ye Immortals! Come in haste and see this intolerable thing, worthy of your laughter.

Because I am lame Aphrodite despises me. She loves the fatal Ares because he is agile and

handsome. See them both, asleep on my couch. Soon they will no longer care to sleep; for these

cords will keep them bound together until Zeus returns the gifts I made him in order to obtain this

impudent wench who cannot restrain her lust!"'

Then the gods gathered together in the palace of bronze and frorn their throats rose roars of

uncontrollable laughter which threw Ares and Aphrodite into a state of extreme confusion.

Hephaestus at last consented to free the two guilty ones when Ares promised to pay .him the price

of the adultery. The guilty wife iled to Paphos in the island of Cyprus and the seducer retired into

the mountains of Thrace. From the union of Ares and Aphrodite a daughter was born, Harmonia,

who later became the wife of Cadmus, King of Thebes.

Whether Ares had other misadventures of this nature is unknown, but he had little luck with his


By the nymph Aglauros Ares had a daughter, Alcippe. One day

Halirrhothius, son of Poseidon, ravished her and Ares killed him. For this murder Poseidon

summoned him before the tribunal of the twelve great gods, which met on a hill situated in front

of the Acropolis in Athens. Ares was acquitted. In memory of this event the hill received the name

of the Areopagus, and afterwards criminal cases continued to be judged there.

Among the other children of Ares who came to unhappy ends it is sufficient to mention: Phlegyas,

son of Chryse, who was killed by Apollo; Diomedes, King of the Bistones of Thrace, who was put

to death by Hercules; Cycnus, son of Pelopeia or of Pyrene, who was also killed by Hercules: cruel

and belligerent like his father, Cycnus used to attack travellers in the region of Tempe and use

their bones for building a temple to his father. He challenged Hercules, who struck him down and,

into the bargain, wounded Ares himself, who had tried to defend his son. Some genealogies say

that the unhappy Meleager, son of Oeneus and Althaea, was also the son of Ares.

Having seduced Harpina, daughter of the river-god Asopus, Ares had by her a son, Oenomaus,

who reigned near Olympia, and himself had a daughter, Hippodameia. Since an oracle had

predicted that he would be killed by his son-in-law, Oenomaus, in order to get rid of her suitors,

announced that he would give bis daughter only to the man who beat him in a chariot race. He

was certain he would always win, because Ares his father had made him a gift of winged steeds.

Pelops, however, carried away the prize, thanks to a treacherous ruse of Hippodameia herself, and

Oenomaus found death in defeat.

Finally, among mortal women who were loved by Ares, there was Aerope, daughter of Cepheus,

who died in giving birth to a son, Aeropus. However, thanks to the intervention of Ares, the newbom

babe was able miraculously to suckle at the breast of his deceased mother.


Origin, Function and Representations. Whether we see in the name Hephaestus the Greek form of

the Sanskrit Yavishtha (the very young), an epithet of Agni, the Vedic god of fire, or whether we

derive it from the Greek words for 'hearth' and 'to kindle', there is no doubt that Hephaestus was,

from remotest times, the personification of terrestrial fire, of which volcanoes were the most

terrifying manifestation.

Thus the cult of Hephaestus, who was perhaps an Asiatic divinity, a native of Lycia, first arose on

the volcanic island of Lemnos. From there it was brought to Attica and, with the colonisations,

introduced into Sicily.

It is possible that in primitive times Hephaestus personified celestial fire and that he had thus been

a thunder-god; his limping gait would then symbolise the zigzag of the lightning. If fire is of

celestial origin then there is no reason why Hephaestus should not have such a character.

The fire which he represents is not, however, the destroying element, but rather the beneficent

element which permits men to work metal and foster civilisation. Thus Hephaestus appears as the

divine blacksmith, the artisan-god, the demiurge who has created admirable works and taught

men the mechanical arts.

That is why Hephaestus - who was at first depicted as a beardless young man - was afterwards

traditionally represented as a robust smith, with bearded face, powerful neck and hairy chest. His

short and sleeveless chiton leaves his right shoulder bare; on his head he wears a conical bonnet

and in his hands he grasps a hammer and tongs.

The Birth of Hephaestus. Although Hesiod's genealogy claims that Hephaestus was, like Typhon,

born by Hera alone, it was generally admitted that he was tne son of Hera and Zeus. At most one

was sometimes given to understand that he was conceived before the official marriage of the two

deities and that Hera had invented this legend of a miraculous birth in order to conceal her shame.

In contrast with the other Immortals, who were distinguished by beauty and the symmetry of

their bodies, Hephaestus was ill-made and lame in both legs. His feet were twisted. His stumbling

gait and dislocated hip aroused the 'unquenchable laughter of the Immortals' when he walked

among them.

His Misadventures. Contrary to what was often said Hephaestus' infirmity was not the result of an

accident. He was lame from birth. Homer, in fact, recounts that Hera, ashamed of the ugliness of

her son, tried to hide him from the Immortals 'because he was lame'. She threw him from the

heights of Olympus into the sea, where he was taken in by Thetis, daughter of Nereus, and

Eurynome, daughter of the old Ocean. For nine years he remained concealed in their deep grotto,

'forging a thousand ingenious objects for the two nymphs', and at the same time preparing a

cunning revenge. One day Hera received a gift from her son, a golden throne artistically wrought.

She sat on it with delight, but when she tried to rise again she was suddenly gripped by invisible

bands. The Immortals tried in vain to extricate her from the throne. Only Hephaestus was capable

of releasing her, but he refused to leave the depths of the Ocean. Ares tried to drag him up by

force, but was put to flight by Hephaestus who threw burning brands at him. Dionysus was more

successful: he made Hephaestus drunk and, while he was drunk, perched him astride a mule and

thus brought him back to Olympus. But they still had to meet his demands: Hephaestus refused to

set Hera free unless they gave him the loveliest of the goddesses, Aphrodite - though some say

Athene - for a bride. According to another tradition the reason why Hephaestus bound up Hera

was to make her tell him the secret of his birth.

From then on there was peace between Hera and her son. Indeed, forgetting his former rancour,

Hephaestus at the peril of his life attempted to defend his mother when she was beaten by Zeus.

Irritated by his son, Zeus seized him by one foot and flung him from the courts of heaven. All day

long he tumbled through space and, at sunset, fell more dead than alive on to the island of

Lemnos, where the Sintians gathered him up.

The Blacksmith of Olympus. Under this graceless exterior, however, lurked a subtle and inventive

spirit. Hephaestus excelled in the art of working metals. On Olympus he built palaces for the gods.

For himself he constructed a 'sparkling dwelling of glittering and incorruptible bronze'. In it he

had his workshop. There he could be seen beside the flaming furnaces, bathed in sweat, bustling

about his bellows, poking the fires under twenty crucibles at a time, or hammering out the molten

metal on an enormous anvil. When some god came to visit him, the gigantic blacksmith would

pause to sponge his face, his hands, his powerful neck and hairy chest. He would put on a tunic

and, leaning against a heavy staff, reach his gleaming throne. In order to steady his unsure

footsteps - for his frail legs supported his massive body with difficulty - he had even fashioned

two golden statues which resembled living girls. They had been endowed with movement and

hastened to his side to aid him as he walked.

The Earthly Dwellings of Hephaestus. Homer placed the workshop of Hephaestus on Olympus.

But the fire-god also haunted the earth, where he maintained various underground places of

residence. He had done his apprenticeship as a blacksmith in the isle of Naxos and it was said that

he unsuccessfully disputed the possession of the island with Dionysus. If so, understanding

between the two gods was quickly re-established, and they always remained on excellent terms.

Often the Sileni and the Satyrs helped Hephaestus in his work. To initiate him in the art of the

forge Hera, it was said, had confided Hephaestus to the dwarf Cedalion, whose identity is rather

mysterious. Some call him the son, others the father of Hephaestus. All that is known is that he

always remained attached to the fire-god and followed him to Lemnos when Hephaestus set up

an establishment there.

Hephaestus, indeed, had never forgotten the welcome the Sintians had given him on the occasion

of his fall from Olympus and, in gratitude, settled in this volcanic island. His presence there was

attested by the flaming vapours which escaped from Mount Mos-chylus to the accompanying

sound of dull rumbling. This was the sound of the divine blacksmith's hammers from the

workshop he had set up in the bowels of the mountain. Beside him worked the faithful Cedalion

from whom he was never separated, except on the occasion when he lent him as a guide to the

blind giant Orion who wished to be conducted to the West in order to recover his eyesight.

Hephaestus was also helped by the Cabeiri, who were probably his sons. One tradition says

Prometheus came to Lemnos to steal the divine fire which he then gave to mankind.

Later on Hephaestus emigrated to Sicily. At first we find him in the volcanic archipelago of the

Lipari Islands. He it doubtless was, mysterious and obliging blacksmith, who at night wrought the

metal which was left in the evening on the edge of a crevasse and found there again next morning

wondrously worked. Subterranean ramifications connected the Lipari Islands with Mount Etna in

Sicily, where Hephaestus finally settled. He dislodged an indigenous demon called Adranus. In

Etna Hephaestus also acted as a gaoler to Typhoeus who, it will be remembered, had been crushed

under this mountain by Zeus. Earthquakes and eruptions of lava were due to the convulsions of

this monster when he attempted to break from his prison. But he could not escape, for Hephaestus

had placed on his head heavy anvils on which he energetically hammered bronze and iron. When

sailors skirted the coasts of Sicily and saw long streamers of smoke escaping from the crest of Etna

they had no doubt that it was Hephaestus lighting his forge. The god was helped in his task by the

Palici, twins whom he had had by the Oceanid Etna (though others say that the Palici were sons of

Zeus and the nymph Aethalia, daughter of Hephaestus). The giant Cyclopes also assisted him.

His Works. The activity of Hephaestus was prodigious and only equalled by his skill. He was

ceaselessly employed on some work of great delicacy. As well as the palaces on Olympus with

their bronze trimmings, he fashioned Zeus' golden throne, sceptre and thunderbolts, the fearful

aegis, the winged chariot of Helios, the arrows of Apollo and Artemis, Demeter's sickle, Hercules'

cuirass, the arms of Peleus, the armour of Achilles, the necklace which Harmonia, wife of Cadmus,

wore for her nuptials, Ariadne's diadem, Agamemnon's sceptre, the hypogeum or underground

chamber of Oenopion. Nor should one forget the golden goblet which Zeus offered to Aphrodite,

a vase given by Dionysus to Ariadne, the harpe of Perseus and Adonis' hunting equipment. To

Hephaestus were also attributed such works of wonder as the tripods with golden wheels which

rolled of their own accord into the assembly of the gods, the bronze bulls whose nostrils spurted

forth flame, the golden and silver dogs of Alcinous' palace, and even the giant Talos 'that man of

bronze' whose duty it was to guard the Cretan tree and prevent its being approached.

Nothing was impossible to him. When Zeus, in order to punish men, decided to create the first

woman, Pandora, it was to Hephaestus that he turned. He ordered Hephaestus to mould the body

of a woman with water and clay, to give it life and a human voice, and to form from it a virgin of

ravishing beauty. To perfect his

work Hephaestus encircled Pandora's brow with a golden crown which he himself had engraved.

On many other occasions Hephaestus gave assistance to Zeus. He split his skull with an axe in

order that Athene might spring out. On his orders he bound Prometheus to the Caucasus.

Doubtless he remembered the harsh lesson his father had given him when he had dared to cross

Zeus' will. For this reason Hephaestus would pacify the other gods on Olympus, and especially

Hera, when they were angry with Zeus. To all he preached submission: 'Have patience, O my

mother, and, in spite of thy sorrow, be resigned so that I shall not see thee struck before my eyes.

No matter how distressing this would be I could not come to thine aid; for it is hard to oppose the

master of Olympus.' And all these quarrels spoiled the joy of living. The finest feast is without

pleasure when discord triumphs.'

His Loves. Hephaestus was addicted to all pleasures. In spite of his ugliness he became the

husband of Aphrodite. The position was not without its compensations, nor without its risks: his

wife was continually unfaithful to him, especially with Ares. We have already seen with what

spirit Hephaestus avenged himself by imprisoning the two lovers in a net and exposing them thus

to the laughter of the Olympians. This misadventure did not prevent Hephaestus himself from

aspiring to the love of the wise Athene. But the goddess successfully resisted him and he tried in

vain to ravish her in the plain of Marathon. Certain legends say that Hephaestus' passion for

Athene dated from the very moment of her birth. Before he struck Zeus with the axe which would

liberate Athene from his head, Hephaestus had demanded the hand of the virgin who was about

to appear. Zeus, they said, consented; but Athene herself refused to keep her father's promise.

Must one see in these pursuits and evasions a symbol of the rivalry between these two workinggods,

or an antagonism between celestial fire (Athene) and terrestrial fire (Hephaestus)? It is more

probable that their histories are mingled simply because both were patrons of men's work and

hence frequently associated.

Hephaestus was also said to have married the beautiful Charis and Aglaia, one of the Graces. By

Cabeiro, daughter of Proteus, he was the father of the Cabeiri. The Oceanid Etna bore him twins,

the Palici, the Dioscuri of Sicily; though another tradition says that they were sons of Zeus and the

nymph Aethalia, daughter of Hephaestus. To escape Hera's vengeance Aethaiia begged the earth

to conceal her until the day of her delivery. Her prayers were granted and when her time came the

two children sprang from the

earth, whence their name: 'They who return to the light'. Two small lakes at the foot of Etna,

always full of boiling sulphur water, marked the place where they had appeared. Their temple

was there, and there they delivered oracles.

Among the other sons of Hephaestus may be mentioned Ardalus, Palaemon, Pylius - who cared

for Philoctetes in Lemnos - and Periphetes who, like his father, was lame - which did not,

however, prevent him from attacking travellers on the outskirts of Epidaurus and slaying them

with his brazen club. He was killed by Theseus.

The Companions of Hephaestus. We have seen that Hephaestus was aided in his work by a

certain number of subterranean divinities or fire genii. The best known were the Cyclopes, who

assisted him at the forges under Etna. The first Cyclopes who appear in Greek mythology were the

three sons of Uranus and Gaea: Arges, Steropes and Brontes. It may be remembered how after

their father had cast them into Tartarus they were delivered by Zeus, whom they helped in his

struggle against the Titans. Apart from thunder, the thunderbolt and the lightning which they

gave Zeus, fhey presented Hades with a bronze helmet and Poseidon with a trident. They were

put to death by Apollo, who took his vengeance on them for the death of his son Asclepius.

These earlier Cyclopes had nothing in common with the Cyclopes whom Homer introduces us to

in the Odyssey. The latter were men of gigantic stature and repellent ugliness with their single eye

in the middle of their forehead, who inhabited the south-west coast of Sicily. Given to a pastoral

existence, they were gross and ill-mannered, living in isolated caverns, slaughtering and

devouring any strangers who approached their shores. The best known among them was

Polyphemus, who took Odysseus and his companions prisoner. In order to escape, the Greek hero

made Polyphemus drunk and put out his single eye by means of a sharpened, burning stake;

Odysseus and his companions then escaped from the cavern by tying themselves under the bellies

of rams. Before this misfortune Polyphemus, had fallen in love with the Nereid Galatea. He paid

court to her by sending her a daily present of a bear or an elephant. To this inelegant suitor

Galatea preferred the shepherd Acis, son of the nymph Symoethis. Jealous of this rival

Polyphemus crushed him beneath a rock, and Acis was changed by the gods into a river.

When tradition made Mount Etna the abode of Hephaestus he was given the Cyclopes as

companions. They borrowed their features from the Cyclopes of Hesiod and Homer. They were,

says Callimachus, 'enormous giants, as big as mountains, and their single eye, under a bushy

eyebrow, glittered menacingly. Some made the vast bellows roar, others, laboriously raising one

by one their heavy hammers, struck great blows at the molten bronze and iron they drew from the

furnace.' Their number was not stated. Among the names which were given to them we find those

of Brontes, Steropes, Acamas and Pyracmon.

At Lemnos the Cyclopes were replaced by the Cabeiri, divinities whose origin and nature have

remained rather mysterious especially since they occur in various regions with quite distinct

characters. The Cabeiri of Lemnos, said to be the sons of Hephaestus, were benevolent genii,

underground smiths evidently associated with the volcanic nature of the island's structure. At

Samothrace the Cabeiri were a kind of inferior god, sworn to the service of the great gods of the

island; tradition made them the sons of Zeus and Calliope. At Thebes in Boeotia the Cabeiri

appear to have been associated with the cult of Demeter and Kore, since their temple was situated

near a grove sacred to these two goddesses. In Thessaly they spoke of a Cabeire who was put to

death by his two brothers and buried at the foot of Olympus. Finally we find Cabeiri at Pergamus

in Phoenicia, and Herodotus believed he recognised them in Egypt. From all this it would seem

that the Cabeiri, whose name has been compared with the Phoenician qabirim, 'the powerful',

were in primitive times underground spirits, originating in Phrygia, who in the volcanic islands

naturally took on the character of fire genii. They were reputed to be the first metal-workers.

The Greeks, however, recognised other metallurgical genii who, without being directly concerned

with the cult of Hephaestus, must be mentioned here.

In the forests of Phrygian Ida there lived cunning magicians called the Dactyls. Originally there

were three of them: Celmis, Damnameneus and the powerful Acmon, 'who in the caves of the

mountains was the first to practise the art of Hephaestus, and

who knew how to work blue iron, casting it into the burning furnace'. Later their number

increased. From Phrygia they went to Crete where they taught the inhabitants the use of iron and

how to work metals. To them was also attributed the discovery of arithmetic and the letters of the


Genii who also played a civilising role but afterwards assumed a malignant character were the

Telchines, said to be the sons of Poseidon and Thalassa, though another tradition makes them

Poseidon's guardians. The centre of their cult was the Isle of Rhodes, whence they spread to Crete

and Boeotia. They were great metalworkers, as the names of three of them suggest: Chryson,

Argyron and Chalcon. They forged the first statues of the gods, and among their works were the

sickle of Cronus and the trident of Poseidon. But they were feared for their enchantments. They

could cast the evil eye and, by sprinkling the ground with the waters of the Styx mixed with

sulphur, they blighted the harvest and killed the flocks.


Origin and Character. Though the primitive Greeks certainly had a goddess of love it would seem

she was not Aphrodite. We must not be misled by the legend which arose later to justify an

etymology based on a sort of pun which connects her name with the Greek word for 'foam'. In

reality the name Aphrodite seems to be of oriental origin, probably Phoenician, like the goddess

herself -

sister of the Assyro-Babyloman Ishtar and the Syro-Phoenician Astarte. From Phoenicia the cult of

Aphrodite passed to Cythera, a Phoenician trading-post, and to Cyprus (whence the epithets

Cytheraean and Cyprian which the goddess has in Homer); then it spread throughout Greece and

even reached Sicily.

In origin Aphrodite was - like the great Asiatic goddesses -obviously a fertility goddess whose

domain embraced all nature, vegetable and animal as well as human. Afterwards she became the

goddess of love in its noblest aspect as well as in its most degraded.

Aphrodite Urania, or the celestial Aphrodite, was the goddess of pure and ideal love. Aphrodite

Genetrix or Nymphia favoured and protected marriage: unmarried girls and widows prayed to

her in order to obtain husbands. Aphrodite Pandemos (common) or Aphrodite Pome (courtesan)

was the goddess of lust and venal love, the patroness of prostitutes. Under the influence of her

legend Aphrodite later became a marine deity (Pelagia, Pontia).

Cult and Representations. The chief centres of the cult of Aphrodite were Paphos in Cyprus and

Cythera in Crete. Among her most famous sanctuaries were the temple of Cmdus in Caria and the

temple on the Isle of Cos. Aphrodite Pandemos was venerated at Thebes, where a statue of the

goddess could be seen, made, they said, of the battering-rams of the ships which had brought

Cadmus to Greece. In Athens there was a temple of Aphrodite Hetaera, in which the goddess was

represented sitting on a he-goat. She was \enerated at Abydos, at Ephesus and above all at

Corinth, where the prostitutes of the town were her veritable priestesses. Aphrodite Genetrix was

worshipped at Sparta and at Naupactus. Aphrodite Urania had temples at Sicyon, Argos and

Athens. Finally the marine Aphrodite Pelagia was especially honoured at Hermione. In Thes-sal\

they venerated an Aphrodite Anosia (the impious) in memory of ilie murder of the courtesan Lais

by the wives of the region. In Sicily Aphrodite had a celebrated temple on Mount Eryx.

The representations of Aphrodite vary according to the character in u hich she was envisaged.

At Sicyon they venerated an ivory-adorned statue in which the goddess was crowned by a polos.

Nobility and modesty characterised this statue, which evidently depicted Aphrodite Urania or


The note of sensuality is emphasised in the later effigies of Aphrodite. Indeed, the models whom

the sculptors employed were often courtesans like Cratina, Phryne or Cambyse, the mistress of

Alexander. Such were the nude Aphrodites of Praxiteles which, it is said, shocked the piety of the

inhabitants of Cos. The Aphrodite which was honoured at Cnidos was particularly voluptuous.

Hesiod's myth of the birth of Aphrodite inspired the various types of Aphrodite anadyomene - i.e.,

rising from the waters - like the celebrated Aphrodite (or Venus) de Medici, and the Aphrodites at

the bath so popular in statuary.

A type rather different from the preceding is Aphrodite the Warrior, represented armed and

wearing a helmet. She was particularly venerated at Sparta. She is an echo of the warrior Ishtar of


The Birth of Aphrodite. Homer describes Aphrodite as the daughter of Zeus and Dione - a rather

vague divinity who was said to be the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys and of whom we know

only that she was closely associated with the cult of Zeus at Dodona. Even her name, which is

merely the feminine form of Zeus, suggests her lack of defined personality. Popular imagination

could scacely be satisfied with so poor a legend, and the Homeric tradition was thus supplanted

by another, richer in popular appeal.

When, at the instigation of his mother, Gaea, the audacious Cronus had castrated his father,

Uranus, he cast the severed genitals into the sea. They floated on the surface of the waters,

producing a white foam from which rose Aphrodite. Carried on the moist breath of Zephyrus, the

West Wind, across the tumultuous sea, the goddess was borne along the coast of Cythera and

finally landed on the shores of Cyprus. She was greeted by the Horae, who dressed her richly,

adorned her with precious jewels and conducted her to the assembly of the Immortals. Beside her

walked Love and Himeros, tender Desire. When they saw her the gods were struck with

admiration for such beauty and each, says the poet, 'wished in his heart to take her as a wife and

lead her to his abode'.

It was natural that they should be moved; for Aphrodite was the

essence of feminine beauty. From her gleaming fair hair to her silvery feet everything about her

was pure charm and harmony. To be sure Hera and Athene were also very lovely, but the haughty

beauty of Hera imposed respect and the severe beauty of Athene arrested desire. Aphrodite

exuded an aura of seduction. To the perfection of her figure and the purity of her features she

added the grace which attracted and conquered. 'On her sweet face she always wore an amiable


The Judgment of Paris. One can imagine that the other goddesses did not accept the presence on

Olympus of this redoubtable rival without resentment. They were determined to dispute the prize

of beauty with her. Now, to the nuptials of Thetis and Peleus all the Immortals had been invited

except Eris, or Discord. Infuriated by the omission, Eris tossed into the hall where the guests were

gathered a golden apple with this inscription: For the fairest. Hera, Athene and Aphrodite all three

claimed it. To settle the affair Zeus ordered them to submit the argument to the judgment of a

mortal. Choice fell upon one Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. Hermes then conducted the three

goddesses to Phrygia where Paris was tending his father's flocks on the slopes of Mount Ida. Paris

was acutely embarrassed and tried to refuse, but he had to submit to the will of Zeus, expressed

by Hermes. One by one the three goddesses appeared before him and attempted to influence his

decision by reinforcing the power of their charms with alluring promises. 'If you award the prize

to me,' said Hera, 'I shall make you lord over all Asia.' Athene promised to see that the young

shepherd was always victorious in battle. Aphrodite, who could offer neither sceptres nor

victories, merely loosened the clasps by which her tunic was fastened and unknotted her girdle;

then she promised to give Paris the most beautiful of mortal women. The verdict was then

delivered, and the shepherd of Mount Ida awarded the coveted apple to Aphrodite. In this way

Paris won possession of Helen, wife of Menelaus: but neither Hera nor Athene forgave him the

wound to their pride, and avenged themselves cruelly by delivering his country, his family and

his people to devastation and making sure that he, too. fell beneath the blows of the Greeks.

But from that time Aphrodite's supremacy remained uncontested. Even Hera, when she wished to

recapture her husband's wayward love, did not hesitate to run to her former rival to borrow the

magic girdle which was endowed with the power of enslaving the hearts of gods and men alike. It

was a girdle wondrously worked and cunningly embroidered. It contained every seduction,

Homer tejls us love and desire and sweet dalliance - which enthrals the heart of even the wisest.

Goddess of love, Aphrodite was mistress of seductive conversation, 'gracious laughter, sweet

deceits, the charms and delights of love.' This was her empire, though, like the other gods, she

sometimes espoused the quarrels of mankind. On such occasions she too threw herself into the

fray and we see her defending the Trojans and taking part in the battles which raged beneath the

walls of Ilium with, it may be added, little success. One day when she had come to the aid of her

son Aeneas and was shielding him from the Greek arrows with a fold of her sparkling veil,

Diomedes recognised her. Well aware that she was a divinity without courage, he attacked her,

and with the point of his spear lightly wounded her delicate hand. Aphrodite retired hastily to

Olympus, regarded mockingly by Athene who said: 'Doubtless the Cyprian has been persuading

some Greek woman to fight for her dearly beloved Trojans, and while she was caressing the

woman a golden clasp has scratched her delicate hand!' Aphrodite complained bitterly to the

father of the gods. Zeus smiled and said to her: "You, my child, were not meant to concern

yourself with matters of war. Go, attend to the sweet tasks of love.'

The Loves of Aphrodite. Aphrodite's beauty had stirred all the gods; but it was Hephaestus, the

ugliest and most graceless among them, who obtained her for a wife. Such an ill-matched union

could not be happy, and even on Olympus Aphrodite found those to console her, among others

Ares, with whom she was surprised by her husband, and Hermes who, it seemed, was more

adroit. Aphrodite, moreover, took a wicked delight in rousing the passionate desires of the

Immortals and launching them on amorous adventures. With the exception of Athene, Artemis

and Hestia, all came under her influence. The master of the gods himself yielded to her power.

'She distracts the mind of Zeus, deceives his prudent soul, and sends him chasing after mortal


To avenge himself 'Zeus, in his turn, inspired in Aphrodite the sweet desire to lie with a mortal

man'. And so the goddess was seized by an irresistible passion for the Trojan Anchises, whose

beauty rivalled that of the gods. One day when Anchises was pasturing his flocks on Mount Ida

Aphrodite came to join him. First she had visited her sanctuary at Paphos where the Graces had

anointed her body with fragrant and incorruptible oil and adorned her in her most precious

jewels. 'Her veil was more dazzling than flame, she wore bracelets and ear-rings, round her throat

there were golden necklaces, her delicate bosom shone like the moon.' While she climbed the

slopes of Mount Ida shaggy wolves, bristling lions and agile panthers frisked around her; 'at this

spectacle she rejoiced and instilled love in their hearts'.

When she came to Anchises she explained that she was the daughter of Otreus, King of Phrygia,

and confessed her desire to become his spouse. Without further ado Anchises conducted

Aphrodite to his well-prepared couch, covered with the skins of bears and lions. And there 'a

mortal man, by the will of the gods and destiny, slept with an immortal goddess without knowing

who she was'.

Upon awaking Aphrodite appeared before Anchises in all her divine splendour. The shepherd

beheld her in terror, fearing the premature old age with which a man who has lain with an

immortal goddess is stricken. But Aphrodite reassured him and promised him a son who would

be like a god. She asked of him only that he should never reveal the name of the child's mother.

The child was later the pious Aeneas.

Anchises was not the only mortal loved by Aphrodite. The Phoenicians who frequented the isles

of the Aegean and the ports of the Peloponnese had brought with them the tale of the love of their

own goddess Astarte for Adonis. The Greeks naturally retold it of Aphrodite, and the story of

Aphrodite and Adonis was one of the episodes most often treated by poets and artists.

Among Aphrodite's favourites must be mentioned Phaethon, son of Eos and Ceohalus, who was

carried off as a child by the goddess and became 'the nocturnal guardian of her sacred temples'.

There was also Cinyras, sometimes described as the father of Myrrha - and consequently of

Adonis. He was usually regarded as the founder of the cult of Aphrodite in the island of Cyprus

over which he reigned.

In this same island of Cyprus, in Amathus, there lived a sculptor named Pygmalion. Passionately

devoted to his art, Pygmalion was only happy in the silent world of statues which his chisel had

created. His misanthropy was attributed to the disgust he felt at the conduct of the Propoetides.

These were girls in Amathus who rashly denied the divinity of Aphrodite. To punish them

Aphrodite inspired in them such immodesty that, losing all sense of shame, they would prostitute

themselves to all comers. In the end they were turned into rocks. Thus Pygmalion shunned the

society of women, but nonetheless fervently venerated Aphrodite. Now it came about that he

made an ivory statue of a woman of such extraordinary beauty that he fell in love with it. Alas! the

cold image did not respond to his transports of love. Aphrodite took pity on this singular lover.

One day while pressing the inert statue in his arms Pygmalion felt the ivory suddenly moving; his

kisses were returned. The statue was miraculously alive.

This prodigy is only an example of the sovereign power of Aphrodite over all creation.

Throughout all nature she spread her life-bringing joy: at her appearance, Lucretius says, 'the

heavens are assuaged and pour forth torrents of light; the waves of the sea smile on her'.

Aphrodite, however, was also the terrifying divinity who filled women's hearts with the frenzy of

passion. Unhappy were they whom Aphrodite chose for her victims; such would betray their own

fathers like Medea or Ariadne. They would abandon their homes, like Helen, to follow a stranger.

They would be overcome, like Myrrha or Phaedra, with incestuous desires, or, like Pasiphae, be

torn by monstrous and bestial passions.

The same Aphrodite nevertheless protected legitimate unions and figured among the divinities

who presided over the sanctity of marriage. Spartan mothers offered a sacrifice to her when their

daughters were married. It was she who cared for the daughters of Pandareus, Merope and

Cleothera, after the death of their parents, fed them on milk and honey and delectable wine and,

when they had grown up, asked the almighty Zeus that their nuptials should

be blessed. Had :t depended on Aphrodite alone, Merope and Cleothera would have become

happy and respected wives; but the two unfortunate young women, at the moment of their

marriage, were carried oft'by the Harpies and made into followers of the odious Furies.

Hermaphroditus. Among Aphrodite's children were Harmonia, a daughter, whom she bore to

Ares and who married Cadmus, and a 'son, Hermaphroditus, whose father was Hermes.

To conceal his birth Aphrodite immediately confided Hermaphroditus to the nymphs of Mount

Ida who brought him up in the forests. At the age of fifteen he was a wild and savage youth whose

chief pleasure was to hunt in the wooded mountains. One day in Caria he arrived at the banks of a

limpid lake whose freshness tempted him to bathe. The nymph Salmacis who ruled the lake saw

him and was enamoured of his beauty. She told him so, and in vain the shy youth attempted to

repulse her. Salmacis threw her arms around him and covered him with kisses. He continued to

resist and the nymph cried out: 'Cruel youth! You struggle in vain. O ye gods! Grant that nothing

may ever separate him from me, or me from him!' Immediately their two bodies were united and

became as one. 'In their double form they are neither man nor woman; they seem to have no sex

yet to be of both sexes.'

In consequence of this event the waters of the lake received the property of causing those who

bathed therein to lose their virility. This was in accomplishment of the final wish that

Hermaphroditus had pronounced just before Salmacis drew him down into the depths of the


Some have interpreted this strange fable as a survival of the cult of the Bearded Aphrodite of



Eros. Among Aphrodite's normal companions the most important was Eros. Unknown in Homeric

times, he appears in Hesiod's Theogony as the son of Erebus and the Night. His role was to coordinate

the elements which constitute the universe. It is he who 'brings harmony to chaos', and

permits life to develop. This primitive deity, a semi-abstract personification of cosmic force, has

little resemblance to the traditional Eros whose physiognomy was only developed in later times.

About his origin there is little agreement. Some say his mother was the goddess Ilithyia; others say

he was born to Iris and Zephyrus. Sometimes he is supposed to have been born before Aphrodite,

whom he and the Horae welcomed on the shores of Cyprus. Sometimes - and this was the most

widespread tradition - he was considered to be the son of Aphrodite. As to his father, the ancients

hesitated between Ares, Hermes and Zeus.

Eros was the youngest of the gods; he was a winged child, gracious though rebellious, whose

pranks and caprices caused much suffering among men and gods. He was armed with a bow and

arrows whose prick stirred the fires of passion in all hearts. In his malice he respected not even his

own mother, and Aphrodite sometimes had to punish him by taking away his wings and quiver.

Normally, however, he was her zealous servant. He helped with her toilet and accompanied her

abroad. While the goddess lingered in the arms of Ares, Eros amused himself by handling the

war-god's heavy weapons and trying on his helmet with its gleaming plume. In much the same

way we see him later playing with the weapons of Hercules.

This cruel and charming young god who delighted in torturing men and who, according to

Anacreon, repaid hospitality offered to him by an artfully released dart, was himself sometimes a

victim of the passions he inspired in others. This is illustrated by the charming tale of Psyche,

although the story is of late invention and more philosophical than mythological.

Eros and Psyche. Psyche (in Greek the word means 'soul') was a princess of such remarkable

beauty that Aphrodite herself was jealous of her. She instructed her son Eros to punish the

audacious mortal. Shortly afterwards an oracle commanded Psyche's father, under threat of

terrifying calamities, to conduct his daughter to the summit of a mountain where she would

become the prey of a monster. Trembling but resigned, Psyche was awaiting on a solitary rock the

fulfilment of the oracle, when suddenly she felt herself gently lifted in the arms of Zephyrus, who

carried her to a magnificent

palace. When night fell Psyche was on the verge of sleep when a mysterious being joined her

in the darkness, explaining that he was the husband for whom she was destined. She could not see

his features, but his voice was soft and his conversation full of tenderness. Before the return of

dawn the strange visitor disappeared, first making Psyche swear never to attempt to see his face.

In spite of the oddness of the adventure, Psyche was not discontented with her new life; in the

palace nothing she could desire was lacking except the constant presence of her delightful

husband, who only came to visit her during the dark hours of night. Her happiness could have

continued in this way had not her sisters - who were devoured by envy - sown the seeds of

suspicion in her heart. 'If your husband,' they said, 'is afraid to let you see his face it is because he

must really be some hideous monster.' They nagged her so much that one night Psyche, in spite of

her promise, rose from the couch she shared with her husband, stealthily lighted a lamp and held

it above the mysterious face. Instead of a fearful monster she beheld the most charming person in

the world - Eros himself. At the foot of the couch lay his bow and arrows. In her delight Psyche, in

order to study her husband's features more closely, held the lamp nearer. A drop of scalding oil

fell on the god's bare shoulder. He awakened at once, reproached Psyche for her lack of faith and

immediately vanished.

The palace vanished at the same time, and poor Psyche found herself on the lonely rock again in

the midst of terrifying solitude. At first she considered suicide and threw herself into a nearby

river; but the waters bore her gently to the opposite bank. From then on she was pursued by

Aphrodite's anger and submitted to a series of terrible ordeals. She succeeded, however, in

overcoming them one by one, thanks to mysterious assistance. She even had to descend into the

underworld. Finally, touched by the repentance of his unhappy spouse, whom he had never

ceased to love and protect, Eros went to Zeus and implored permission for Psyche to rejoin him.

Zeus consented and conferred immortality on Psyche. Aphrodite forgot her rancour, and the

wedding of the two lovers was celebrated on Olympus with great rejoicing.

At the side of Eros other divinities were often seen, of which the chief were Himeros and Pothos,

both personifications of amorous desire.

The Graces. Aphrodite's retinue was usually completed by the Graces. Though sometimes said to

be the daughters of Helios and Aegle, the Graces were more generally considered to have been

born to the Oceanid Eurynome and fathered by Zeus. They were smiling divinities whose

presence spread joy not only throughout the external world but also in the hearts of men. 'With

you,' Pindar says to them, 'all becomes sweetness and charm.' Their number and their names often

varied. According to epochs and regions they were called: Charis and Pasithea (by Homer); in

Sparta, Cleia and Phaenna; Hegemone and Auxo in Athens. But the most widely accepted

tradition fixed their number as three and their names as Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. They

were Aphrodite's companions and attended to her toilet. The goddess made use of their services

when she wished to adorn herself in all her seductions.

With the return of Spring the Graces delighted in mingling with the nymphs, forming with them

groups of dancers who tripped the ground with nimble step. This was because these divinities - in

whom some have seen a personification of the sun's rays, but who were originally naturegoddesses

- also presided over the budding of plant-life and the ripening of fruits. Aglaia was 'the

brilliant'. Thalia was 'she who brought flowers'. The joy which results from the sun's blessings is

revealed in Euphrosyne's name: 'she who rejoices the heart'. In origin as well as function the

Graces were closely connected with Apollo: hence they often form part of his retinue.

They were also considered to be the goddesses of gratitude. Thus their mother was sometimes

said to be Lethe (oblivion) because gratitude is quickly forgotten.

The most celebrated sanctuary of the Graces was at Orchomenus in Boeotia, where they were

worshipped in the form of aeroliths or meteorites. They also had two sanctuaries in Athens.

The Graces were at first clad in long chitons and wore crowns. However, from the end of the

fourth century B.C. they were represented as three nude young women holding one another by

the shoulder.


Character and Function. Although Poseidon's dominion was the sea, he held his own appointed

position among the great gods on Olympus.

Far from being a Libyan importation, as Herodotus claims, he was actually a very ancient

Pelasgian deity, older even than Zeus. His province, later confined to the waters, was in primitive

times much wider.

The etymology which the ancients gave his name, connecting it with 'drink' and 'river', is

doubtful. The name Poseidon seems rather to derive from the root meaning 'to be master' which is

found again in the Latin potens.

It is. not impossible that this primitive Poseidon, this sovereign 'master', had once been a celestial

god, as his attribute, the trident -probably a symbol for the thunderbolt - seems to indicate.

Though supplanted by Zeus, Poseidon continued to exercise his empire over the entire earth, as is

proved by those struggles he had with other divinities who contested with him the supremacy of

various parts of Greece, and also by the titles Homer gives him, such as Enosichthon - 'earthshaker'.

Poseidon was, indeed, the god of earthquakes. Even when his sphere was more narrowly

confined to the sea Poseidon retained his character of a great god: he remained the equal of the

celestial Zeus, the Zeus Elalios (marine), whose power extended over the whole physical universe.

As a personification of the watery element Poseidon was always considered a god of fecundity

and vegetation.

Cult and Representations. Poseidon was a national god of the lonians of the Peloponnese, who

brought him with them when they emigrated from Asia, and was particularly worshipped in this

part of Greece. At Sparta he was even called Genethlios, the creator. But his cult was spread

throughout Greece, especially in maritime towns. In Corinth, Rhodes and Taenarus he actually

succeeded in supplanting the local divinity.

Animals which were sacred to him were the horse, symbol of gushing springs, and the bull,

emblem either of his power to fertilise or of his impetuosity. In the course of certain festivals

dedicated to Poseidon and called Taureia, black bulls were thrown into the waves.

In the same way horse races were celebrated in honour of Poseidon. This custom originated in

Thessaly where the god, they said, had created the horse with a blow of his trident.

In the art of classical antiquity Poseidon very much resembles Zeus: he has a similar majesty when

he is depicted standing, his chest bare, grasping his trident. But normally his features are less

serene and, with his thick beard and disorderly hair, reveal a careworn expression.

The Legend of Poseidon. Poseidon was a son of Cronus and Rhea. He shared the fate of his

brothers and sisters, and at birth was swallowed by his father. He was disgorged with the others

when Zeus, on the advice of Metis, gave Cronus the draught which made him vomit up his

children. According to another tradition Rhea managed to shelter Poseidon from his father's

voracity by giving Cronus a young foal to swallow, meanwhile hiding her son in the midst of a

flock of lambs near Mantinea. Poseidon was then confided to a nurse named Arne and grew up

without his father's knowledge. It was also said that Rhea gave Poseidon to Capheira, a daughter

of Oceanus who, with the aid of the Telchines, brought him up in Rhodes.

When Zeus fought the Titans and the Giants, Poseidon fought at his side and killed the giant

Polybutes by hurling at him a fragment of cliff torn from the island of Cos, which later became the

islet of Nisyros. After their common victory the paternal heritage was, as we remember, divided

into three parts: Zeus took the vast heavens, Hades the murky underworld, and Poseidon

obtained the immense sea.

Although he was the equal of Zeus by birth and dignity Poseidon was nevertheless subject to his

brother's sovereign power. The sea-god complained and grumbled at times. Once he went so far

as to conspire with Hera and Athene to dethrone Zeus. Zeus was the stronger and Poseidon was

forced to pay for his attempted revolt by spending a year in the service of the haughty Laomedon,

for whom he constructed the walls of Troy.

Poseidon's empire, however, was not unworthy of his ambitions.

He was master not only of the sea but of the lakes and rivers. In a sense even the earth belonged to

him, since it was sustained by his waters and he could shake it at will. Indeed, during the war

with the Giants he split mountains with his trident and rolled them into the sea to make the first

islands. And it was he who, in the days when Thessaly was merely a huge lake, had cleared the

road for the River Peneius by splitting the mass of Mount Ossa in two.

Poseidon's thirst for possession was so keen that he often found himself in conflict with the other


We have already mentioned the dispute he had with Athene for the possession of Attica, a dispute

which ended to Athene's advantage. Out of spite Poseidon flooded Attica. Nor could he win

Troezen from the same goddess; Zeus awarded it to them in common.

Poseidon was no more fortunate with Hera, with whom he contested the dominion of Argolis. The

decision was submitted to the judgment of the river-god Inachus, assisted by the rivers Asterion

and Cephissus. It was unfavourable to Poseidon, who avenged himself by drying up the three

rivers and with them Argolis.

There was also a contest between Poseidon and Helios over the isthmus of Corinth. Briareus,

chosen to arbitrate, awarded the Corinthian Acropolis to Helios and left the rest of the isthmus to

Poseidon. This was the origin of the cult in which Poseidon was honoured in the isthmus of

Corinth; during his festivals the celebrated Isthmian Games were held.

Finally Poseidon unsuccessfully disputed Aegina with Zeus, and Naxos with Dionysus. He had to

cede the territory of Delphi, which until then he had held in common with Gaea, to Apollo,

receiving in exchange the island of Calauria.

On the other hand no one ever disputed Poseidon's rule over the sea. He established his abode in

the depths of the Aegean Sea where 'there had been built for him a magnificent palace, glittering

with gold, which would endure for ever'. When he left the palace he would harness to his chariot

swift steeds with golden manes and shod with bronze. Clad in golden armour he would seize a

cunningly wrought whip in his hand and hurl his chariot across the watery plain. Around him

would frolic sea monsters, come up from the abysmal depths to render homage to their sovereign.

The joyful sea would open before him as his chariot flew lightly across waves which did not even

so much as wet the bronze axle. More often, however, the appearance of Poseidon was

accompanied by wild tempests, a manifestation of the god's furious rage.

Amphitrite. Poseidon's wife was Amphitrite who was in origin the feminine personification of the

sea. She was a daughter of Oceanus or of Nereus. Poseidon picked her out one day when she was

dancing with her sisters on the isle of Naxos. When he asked for her hand in marriage Amphitrite

at first refused and fled to Atlas. Poseidon sent a dolphin to look for her. The dolphin discovered

where she had taken refuge and brought her back to his master; as a reward Poseidon placed him

among the constellations.

From then on Amphitrite shared Poseidon's kingdom. We see her at her husband's side on the

divine chariot drawn by tritons blowing conch-shells. In her hand she sometimes holds the trident,

insignia of Poseidon's sovereignty.

From the union of Poseidon and Amphitrite were born a son. Triton, and two daughters: Rhode,

who gave her name to the island of Rhodes and was the mother of the Heliades; and

Benthesicyme, who settled in Ethiopia.

Amphitrite was an accommodating wife and patiently put up with her husband's frequent

infidelity. Only once did she show jealousy: this was with regard to Scylla, who was originally a

nymph of rare beauty. Enraged by the love Poseidon showed her, Amphitrite threw magic herbs

in the pool where Scylla used to bathe, and the nymph was changed into a frightful monster. Her

metamorphosis is sometimes attributed to Circe.

The Loves of Poseidon. Of Poseidon's innumerable mistresses we shall mention only the principal


Among the goddesses there was Gaea, whom he made mother of the fearful giant Antaeus. There

was Demeter, who changed herself into a mare in order to escape him. But Poseidon took the form

of a stallion and from their union was born - apart from a daughter whose name remains

mysterious (perhaps it was Despoena) - the wild horse, Arion, whose right feet were

those of a man and who was endowed with the power of speech.

It was also in the shape of a horse - though others say a bird - that Poseidon succeeded in seducing

Medusa, in the very temple of Athene. Infuriated by this profanation, Athene turned Medusa's

hair into snakes. When Perseus decapitated Medusa, the blood which escaped from the wound

gave birth to Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus.

By Alcyone, one of the Pleiades, Poseidon had a daughter, Aethusa, who was loved by Apollo,

and two sons: Hyperenor and Hyrieus. The latter reigned in Boeotia and by the blessing of the

gods became father of the giant Orion, of whom we shall speak later.

By the harpy Celaeno, Poseidon had two sons: Lycus, who reigned over the Fortunate Isles, and

Eurypylus, who distinguished himself at the siege of Troy and took part in the expedition of the


Another Eurypylus, who reigned over the isle of Cos and was killed by Hercules, and the

Argonaut Ancaeus were born to Poseidon and Astypalaea, sister of Europa.

Chione, daughter of Boreas, was seduced by Poseidon and had a son, Eumolpus. To hide her

shame she threw the child into the sea; but Poseidon saved it and carried it to Ethiopia where he

confided it to his daughter Benthesicyme, who later became Eumolpus' mother-in-law.

Aethra was the daughter of Pittheus, King of Troezen. Athene ordered her in a dream to go to the

isle of Sphaeria and there on the tomb of Sphaerus to offer a sacrifice. Aethra was surprised in the

temple by Poseidon and ravished. She afterwards married Aegeus and became the mother of


Because of her great beauty Theophane, daughter of Bisaltes, was besieged by suitors. To protect

her from their attentions Poseidon, who loved her himself, carried her to the isle of Crinissa

(Crumissa). The suitors followed her. Poseidon then turned her into a ewe, the inhabitants of the

island into sheep, and himself into a ram. Theophane gave birth to the famous ram with the

golden fleece.

Alope, daughter of Cercyon, had a son by Poseidon. She exposed him, after having covered him

with a rich robe. The infant was suckled by a mare and found by herdsmen who carried him to

Cercyon. Cercyon at once recognised the rich robe and discovered his daughter's disgrace. He

condemned her to perpetual imprisonment and once more exposed the infant. But the faithful

mare again came to suckle him. For this reason he was named Hippothous. Later, when Cercyon

was slain by Theseus, Hippothous mounted the throne of his grandfather.

For having plundered a grove sacred to Demeter, Erysichthon, King of Thessaly, was afflicted

with insatiable hunger. To appease it he was obliged to sell everything he possessed. At the end of

his resources he finally put his own daughter Mestra up for sale. Now Poseidon loved Mestra and

granted her the gift of metamorphosis, so that each time she was able to escape her purchasers.

This stratagem allowed Erysichthon to sell his daughter over and over again, until at last the ruse

was discovered and he had no alternative but to devour himself.

During the drought in Argolis which was the result of Poseidon's fury with Inachus, Danaus sent

his daughters in search of water. One of them, Amymone, carelessly wounded a sleeping satyr

who then leapt at her. Others say that Amymone was surprised by the satyr while she herself was

asleep. In either case Poseidon arrived, put the satyr to flight and rescued Amymone, whose

favours he then enjoyed. In gratitude the god struck a rock with his trident and the springs of

Lerna gushed forth. By this union Amymone had a son, Nauplius, who later founded Nauplia and

was swallowed by the waves for having blasphemed the gods. The origin of the fountain of

Pirene, near Corinth, was also connected with a legend of Poseidon. By the nymph Pirene,

daughter of Achelous or Asopus, the god had two sons who perished miserably. Pirene was

inconsolable and could not stop weeping; it was her tears which gave birth to the celebrated


The nymph Tyro, daughter of Salmoneus and Acidice, had conceived a passion for the river

Enipeus. Poseidon, who loved her, despaired of moving her heart. One day when Tyro was

strolling along the banks of the Enipeus Poseidon assumed the appearance of the river-god and

approached her. The nymph was deceived by this disguise and yielded. She bore two sons, Pelias

and Neleus, whom she exposed. They were found by shepherds and brought up

among herds of horses. Meanwhile Tyro had married Cretheus, King of lolcus, and was ill-treated

by Sidero, her mother-in-law. When Pelias and Neleus returned to their mother they killed the

wicked Sidero.

The Posterity of Poseidon. Among Poseidon's numerous offspring we shall limit ourselves to

mentioning a few names:

Euphemus, son of Europa, who received from his father the power of walking on the waters and

who was the second pilot during the expedition of the Argonauts.

Halirrhothius, son of the nymph Euryte, who was put to death by Ares for having ravished his

daughter Alcippe. This murder gave rise to a quarrel between Ares and Poseidon, to settle which

the tribunal of the Areopagus was instituted at Athens.

Evadne, daughter of Pitane, who at her birth was confided to Aepytus, King of Phoesane in

Arcadia, and who afterwards bore a son to Apollo, lamus.

The Molionids, twin sons of Molione, who were born of a silver egg and who so resembled each

other that later tradition said they had but a single body with two heads, four arms and four legs.

It was they who commanded the troops of Augias against Hercules who, moreover, killed them.

Cycnus, son of Calyce or Harpale, who was exposed on the seashore at birth and taken in by

fishermen. Later, he became king of Colonae in the Troad, and by his first wife, Procleia, had two

children, Tenes and Hemithea. His second wife, Phylonome, conceived a passion for her stepson

Tenes but, unable to seduce him, slandered him to his father. Cycnus had Tenes and his sister

Hemithea locked up in a chest and set them adrift on the sea. But the two young people were

saved by Poseidon, and Tenes, landing at Tenedos, became its king. When Cycnus learned the

truth he killed Phylonome and went to join his son. Both fought in the Trojan ranks against the

Greeks and perished by the hand of Achilles. Since Cycnus was invulnerable, Achilles strangled

him with the strap which secured his helmet; but when he attempted to despoil him of his arms

the body of Cycnus changed into a swan.

Finally we mention a certain number of monstrous and malignant beings who were also among

Poseidon's progeny.

Amycus, born of the nymph Melia, reigned in Bithynia. He was of prodigious strength and

challenged all strangers who approached his kingdom to a fatal boxing match. When the

Argonauts arrived in Bithynia he at once defied them, but Pollux accepted the challenge and killed


The Aloadae were children of Poseidon by Iphimedeia, wife of Aloeus. They were twin brothers,

Ephialtes and Otus, who each year grew so fast that at the age of nine they were nearly twenty

yards high. We have seen how they attempted to scale Olympus, kept Ares captive for thirteen

months and finally perished either beneath Apollo's blows or through a stratagem of Artemis'.

They were thrown into Tartarus for their crimes and there bound, back to back, to a column by

means of a chain made of interlaced serpents. To them were attributed the foundation of Ascra

and the institution of the cult of the Muses on Mount Helicon.

Cercyon, son of a daughter of Amphictyon, lived in Eleusis. He forced all travellers to wrestle with

him and he killed the vanquished. Only Theseus succeeded in beating him, and put him to death.

Cercyon was the father of Alope, who was herself loved by Poseidon.

Another son of Poseidon's was also killed by Theseus. This was the brigand Sinis, who lived in the

Isthmus of Corinth. He submitted all passers-by to an odious torture: he tied them to the tops of

two pine-trees which he had bent down. When the trees were released the victims were torn

asunder. Theseus made him suffer the same torture.

No less cruel was the King of Egypt, Busiris, son of Poseidon and Anippe. When drought

devastated his kingdom Busiris consulted a soothsayer of Cyprus, who declared that the scourge

would cease only if each year he immolated a stranger. Busiris began by immolating the

soothsayer and continued this bloody practice until the day when Hercules arrived in Egypt and

was chosen as a victim. They were about to cut his throat when Hercules burst from the chains

which bound him and killed Busiris and his attendants. From that day human sacrifice was no

longer practised in Egypt.

To this list of monsters may be added the Cyclops Polyphemus, son of Poseidon and the nymph

Thoosa. In this monstrous progeny attributed to Poseidon may perhaps

be seen a survival of the impression of terror felt by primitive men at the rages of the stormy sea.

Similarly it was said that Poseidon often summoned up fearful monsters against his enemies. He

sent sucha monster to ravage the Troad to revenge himself on Laomedon; another, at the prayers

of the Nereids, desolated Ethiopia in order to punish the pride of Cassiopeia, mother of

Andromeda. He sent a wild bull to devastate the plain of Marathon and a dragon which caused

the death of the son of Theseus, Hippolytus.


Character and Functions. The Greek word 'hestia' means the hearth, the place in the house where

the fire was maintained. The difficulty which primitive man experienced in procuring fire easily

explains why he tended it with care and also venerated it. Moreover it was around the hearth that

the family gathered. When one of its members departed to found a new family he took with him a

parcel of fire from his parents' hearth, which thus symbolised the continuity of the family. When

families began to form groups in towns, each town had its communal hearth where the public fire

was maintained. Finally the fire of the hestia was used in sacrifices. For these various reasons the

hestia, like the Vedic Agni, very early took on a sacred character. This character was afterwards

personified in a deity who took the actual name of the object she symbolised.

Hestia, then, was, like Hephaestus, a fire-divinity. But while Hephaestus represented the fiery

element in its celestial and subterranean manifestations, Hestia symbolised the household fire fire,

as it were, domesticated. Hence the homely and social character of this goddess, whose province

was to protect not only the house and the family but also the city. Later Hestia, by analogy,

represented the fire in the centre of the earth and the earth itself; but this conception was less

mythological than philosophical.

Hestia was venerated in all Greek towns; she had her altar in every prytaneum - or Public Hearth.

The Hest'ia of Delphi was the object of an especial cult, because Delphi was believed to occupy the

centre of the universe and its hearth was therefore the common hearth of all Greece. Temples of

Hestia were characterised by their circular form.

Representations of Hestia are rare. Glaucus of Argos sculptured one for Olympia. There was also a

very celebrated one in Paros. The goddess was depicted sometimes seated, sometimes standing,

but always in an attitude of immobility.

Hestia did not spring, like the other divinities, from popular imagination, and legends about her

are few.

According to Hesiod - for Homer, before him, did not know of the goddess Hestia - she was the

first child born to Cronus and Rhea. Thus she was the oldest of the Olympians and always

maintained her precedence. Men understood this well and when they offered sacrifices

consecrated the first morsels of the victims to Hestia and in festivals poured her the first and last

libations. On Olympus Hestia's dignity was unquestioned and her rights as the eldest were

recognised. She seems to have taken little advantage of this and played a minor role in Olympian

drama. 'In the dwelling of the gods,' says Plato, 'Hestia alone maintains repose.' We only know of

her that both Poseidon and Apollo sought her hand in marriage. She would have neither one nor

the other. In order to put an end to their attentions she placed herself under Zeus' protection and

made a solemn vow, touching the head of the master of the gods, to remain a virgin for ever. Zeus

accepted her vow and 'instead of marriage offered her a handsome recompense: seated in the

midst of the celestial dwelling-place she receives the richest part of sacrifices, and among men she

is of all the deities the most venerated'.

Hestia thus shared with Athene and Artemis the prerogative of chastity. She was one of those over

whom Aphrodite never succeeded in exercising her power.


Olympian society was made in the image of human society and beneath the great gods there were

lesser gods who held various positions.

Themis. Of these Themis may be said to be the most important. She was the daughter of Uranus

and Gaea and belonged to the race

of Titans which the Olympians had supplanted. Far from sharing the disgrace of her brothers,

however, Themis never ceased to be honoured on Olympus. Indeed, at the beginning of his reign

Zeus had chosen her for his wife. The Moerae, they said, had brought her to Zeus from the far-off

regions where Uranus dwelt. Later, when Hera became the wife of Zeus, Themis remained at his

side to offer counsel and service. It seems that Hera took no offence at this; when Hera arrived in

the assembly of the gods it was from the hand of Themis that she received the cup of nectar.

Themis' mission on Olympus was not only to maintain order but also to regulate the ceremonial;

she invited the gods to forgather and prepared their feasts.

She was moreover helpful and obliging. It was she, they said, who had received the infant Zeus

from Rhea when Rhea wished to shelter him from the voracity of his father, Cronus. Later she

presided over the laborious birth of Apollo and Artemis. It was also said that she made Apollo a

present of the oracle at Delphi which she had inherited from her mother, Gaea.

On earth her province was also extensive; above all she was the goddess of justice. She protected

the just - whence her epithet Soteira - the protectress - and punished the guilty. In her name and

according to her advice judges gave their verdicts. Themis was also goddess of wisdom and was

called Euboulos, the good counsellor; under this title she presided over public assemblies. Finally,

since she was the interpreter of the gods' will, she had the gift of delivering oracles. It was she

who, after the deluge, suggested to Deucalion the means of re-peopling the earth. We have just

seen that she once owned the oracle of Delphi.

F'rom her union with Zeus Themis had several children: the Horae, and the Moerae or Fates. The

Hesperides were also sometimes said to be her daughters.

The cult of Themis was spread throughout Greece; a temple was consecrated to her in the citadel

of Athens. She also had sanctuaries at Troezen, Tanagra, Olympia and at Thebes, where she was

worshipped with Zeus Agoraios.

She is represented as a woman of grave countenance and austere features. Her attribute is a pair of


Iris. Pontus and Gaea had had, among other children, a son Thau-mas who united with Electra,

daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. From this union were born the Harpies and Iris. On Olympus

Iris, who to the ancients personified the rainbow, was the messenger of the gods. She was assigned

in particular to the service of Zeus. When Zeus had an order to give another Immortal, Iris

delivered it. If he wished to make his will known to men, Iris flew lightly down to earth where she

either borrowed mortal shape or appeared in her divine form. In her divine form she wore a long,

full tunic, her hair encircled by a bandeau, and in her hand held the caduceus. She could be

recognised by the golden wings attached to her shoulders. Occasionally, like Hermes, she wore

winged sandals. Sometimes she cleaved the air as swiftly as the wind, at others glided down the

rainbow which bridged sky and earth. She sped through the waters with equal ease. When Zeus

sent her in search of the marine-goddess Thetis, Homer tells us how she dived into the dark waves

between Samos and the cliffs of Imbros, making the gulf itself groan aloud. Even the underworld

opened before Iris when, at the command of Zeus, she went to refill her golden cup with the

waters of the Styx by which the Immortals bound themselves with fearful oaths.

Iris was devoted to Zeus but even more so to Hera. She not only delivered Hera's messages but

also effected her vengeance, such as the time when she went to Sicily and, in the guise of Beroe, set

fire to Aeneas' fleet. Iris also fulfilled the role of Hera's faithful servant. She prepared Hera's bath,

helped her with her toilet, and night and day stood at the foot of her mistress's throne, never

falling asleep or even loosening her girdle or sandals.

She also waited on the other gods. When they returned to Olympus in their chariots she would

unharness steeds and give them nectar and ambrosia. When Aphrodite was wounded by

Diomedes, Iris 'took the overwhelmed goddess and led her away from the battle', helped her to

mount the chariot of Ares, and took the reins and whip into her own hands.

Even mortals experienced her good nature. When she heard Achilles bitterly complain that the

flames of the pyre were slow in consuming the body of Palroclus she immediately went to find the

Winds - who had just foregathered in the dwelling of the violent

Zephyrus for a solemn feast - and begged Boreas and Zephyrus to come and fan the funeral pyre.

Some said that this same Zephyrus was the husband of Iris and claimed that Eros was the fruit of

their union.

On earth Iris was particularly honoured at Delos, where she was offered dried figs and cakes of

wheat and honey.

Hebe. Hebe was worshipped by the Greeks as the goddess of youth. She had an altar in the

Cynosarges at Athens. At Phlius a grove of cypresses which possessed the right of asylum was

sacred to her. She also had a sanctuary at Sicyon.

She was the daughter of Zeus and Hera. She had the gift of eternal youth and represented the

deified type of young maiden who in the primitive family was devoted to domestic occupations.

Thus on Olympus she performed many duties.

She assisted her brother Ares to dress, bathed him and clad him in magnificent robes. When her

mother Hera wished to go forth from Olympus, Hebe prepared the chariot, 'rapidly fixing the


wheels to the iron axle, tying to the end of the shaft a handsome golden yoke to which she

attached reins of gold'. But her chief duty was to hand around nectar and ambrosia to the gods

during their feasts. She would move among them, bearing the ewer with the divine draught with

which she would fill their goblets. It was claimed that as a result of a fall in which Hebe exposed

herself to the eyes of all in a rather indecent posture, she lost her job and was replaced by


When Hercules, having at last appeased Hera's wrath, was admitted on his death to Olympus

with the rank of a god, he was given the gracious Hebe for a wife. They had two children,

Alexiares and Anicetus.

Ganymede. In primitive times Ganymede seems to have been conceived as the deity responsible

for sprinkling the earth with heaven's rain. He is compared with the Vedic Soma who, like him,

was ravished by Indra - and changed into a sparrow-hawk. Ancient astronomers identified him

with Aquarius, the Water-carrier.

Ganymede was venerated at Sicyon and at Phlius conjointly with Hebe.

He is depicted as an adolescent in a Phrygian cap and a mantle thrown back over his shoulders,

either seated beside Zeus or carried through the air by an eagle.

In spite of the honorary position he occupied on Olympus, Ganymede was not of divine birth,

being the son of Tros, King of Phrygia, and of Callirrhoe. At least this was the general opinion,

although some said his father was Laomedon, Ilus, Assaracus or even Erichthonius. He was

distinguished among mortals for his extraordinary beauty. Zeus was charmed and, wishing to

make him his favourite, had him swept up by an eagle from the plains of the Troad and brought to

Olympus. It was also said that Zeus himself took the form of an eagle in order to carry off the fair

adolescent. The abduction of Ganymede took place, according to various versions, in either Mysia,

Harpagia, on Phrygian Ida or on the promontory of Dardanus.

To recompense Tros for the loss of his son Zeus presented him with magnificent steeds, 'swift as

the storm'.

On Olympus Ganymede became the cup-bearer of the gods and rejoiced the eye of all by his


The Horae. The Greek word from which the Horae derive their name signifies a period of time

which can be applied equally to the year, the seasons, and the hours of the day. These different

meanings influenced the successive conceptions of the Horae.

First the Horae were divinities of a meteorological character whose function was limited to

showering the earth with life-giving rain. They encouraged the blossoming and ripening of fruits

and therefore symbolised spring and summer. Afterwards they presided over the order of nature

and the succession of the seasons, with whom in the end they were confused.

The number of the Horae varied. The Athenians venerated two: Thallo, who brought the flowers;

and Carpo, who brought the fruits. Hesiod counted three Horae: Eunomia, Dike and Irene. Then

their number became four and, according to the classification of Hyginus, as many as ten or


Their sphere of influence soon became moral as well as physical.

Guardians of the order of nature, they also watched over the moral order: Eunomia saw that the

laws were observed; Dike attended to justice, Irene to peace. According to Hesiod's expression

'they mellowed the behaviour of men'. Finally they were regarded as the protectors of youth.

The Horae were honoured at Athens, Argos, Olympia and particularly at Corinth.

They are depicted as young maidens, holding in their hands the products of the various seasons: a

branch in flower, an ear of corn, a vine stock.

Even before their number was determined and their names decided, the Horae had their

appointed occupations on Olympus. In particular it was their duty to guard the gates of heaven,

which they opened or closed to the passage of the Immortals by removing or replacing a thick

cloud. This is how they appear in the Homeric poems, where we can also see them harnessing

Hera's chariot with the celestial steeds which they fed with ambrosia.

Later their character became definite: it was known that their number was three, that their names

were Eunomia, Dike and Irene, and that they were the daughters of Zeus and Themis. They were

charming maidens with lovely hair, golden diadems and a light footstep. On Olympus they loved

to dance in company with the Graces, and thus formed part of the retinue of Aphrodite, whom

they adorned with their own hands.

When Zeus to man's perdition sent Pandora down to earth the Horae enhanced her attractions by

embellishing her hair with floral garlands.

On many occasions they demonstrated their tenderness towards childhood and youth. It was they

who nurtured Hera. It was they again who swaddled Hermes at his birth and wove garlands to

shelter him. They received Dionysus when he emerged from the thigh of Zeus. Thallo, the

Athenian Hora, was venerated by youthful athletes in the temple of Agraulos.

The adventures which were related of them sometimes appear to arise from confusion with other

divinities. For example, it was told that the Hora of springtime had been loved by Zephyrus, to

whom she bore a son, Carpos; but the tale seems to apply rather to Chloris, the Flora of the Latins.

In the same way Pausanias makes

Irene the mother of Plutus because in Athens there was a statue of Irene with Plutus in her arms;

nothing, however, authorises such a relationship. Of Carpo, one of the two Athenian Horae, it was

said that she fell in love with young Camillus, son of the river-god Maeander, and that in despair

she drowned herself in the waters of the river, whereupon Zeus changed her into fruit.


By his sister Theia (or by Euryphaessa) the Titan Hyperion, son of Uranus and Gaea, had three

children: Helios, the sun; Selene, the moon; and Eos, the dawn.


Although the Greeks considered Apollo to be the god of solar light, the sun itself was personified

by a special divinity, Helios. In Greece the cult of Helios was very ancient and was practised

throughout the land, at Elis, at Apollonia, on the Acropolis of Corinth, at Argos, at Troezen, on

Cape Taenarum, at Athens, in Thrace and finally, and especially, in the island of Rhodes which

was sacred to him. In Rhodes could be seen,the colossal statue of Helios, the renowned work of

the sculptor Chares. It was about thirty yards high, and ships in full sail could pass between the

god's legs.

It was related that Helios was drowned in the ocean by his uncles, the Titans, and then raised to

the sky, where he became the luminous sun.

Every morning Helios emerged in the east from a swamp formed by the river-ocean in the far-off

land of the Ethiopians. To his golden chariot, which Hephaestus had fashioned, the Horae

harnessed the winged horses. They were of dazzling white, their nostrils breathed forth flame and

their names were Lampon, Phaethon, Chronos, Aethon, Astrope, Bronte, Pyroeis, Eous and

Phlegon. The god then took the reins and climbed the vault of heaven. 'Drawn in his swift chariot,

he sheds light on gods and men alike; the formidable flash of his eyes pierces his golden helmet;

sparkling rays glint from his breast; his brilliant helmet gives forth a dazzling splendour; his body

is draped in shining gauze whipped by the wind.'

At midday Helios reached the highest point of his course and began to descend towards the West,

arriving at the end of the day in the land of the Hesperides, where he seemed to plunge into the

Ocean. In reality, there he found a barque or a golden cup, made by Hephaestus, in which his

mother, wife and children were awaiting him. He would sail all night and in the morning regain

his point of departure.

The abode of Helios was also said to be on the isle of Aeaea where his children Aee'tes and Circe

lived. Again it was said that his horses rested on the islands of the Blessed, at the western

extremity of the earth, where they browsed on a magic herb.

Helios possessed other domains on earth. When the gods had divided up the world Helios was

absent and was forgotten. He complained about this to Zeus and obtained an island which was

just beginning to emerge from the waves. He called it Rhodes after the nymph Rhode, whom he


A dispute arose one day between Helios and Poseidon for the possession of the Isthmus of

Corinth. The giant Briareus, who was chosen to arbitrate, awarded the Isthmus to Poseidon but

gave Acrocorinth to Helios, who later relinquished it to Aphrodite.

As well as his horses, Helios owned on the isle of Thrinacia seven herds of oxen and seven flocks

of ewes with beautiful fleece, each herd and flock being of fifty head. This number always

remained constant, like the three hundred and fifty days and three hundred and fifty nights of the

primitive year. Two daughters of the god, Phaetusa and Lampetia, guarded these animals. When

Odysseus and his companions landed on the isle of Thrinacia the men, in spite of their chiefs

warning, laid hands on the sacred cattle. 'Chasing before them the handsome broadbrowed heifers

which grazed not far from the azure-prowed vessel, they cut their throats, then cut up the flesh in

morsels which they fixed to their skewers.' When Helios was told by Lampetia what had occurred

he complained to the gods and threatened to shut himself up in the kingdom of Hades and shed

his light on the dead. Zeus calmed him by promising to strike these foolish mortals with a


As god of light Helios saw everything and knew everything. Of him it could be said what Pindar

said of Apollo: 'He is the god who plumbs all hearts, the infallible, whom neither mortals nor

immortals can deceive either by action or in their most secret thoughts.' Similarly the Assyro-

Babylonian sun-god Shamash was also the god who discovered the crimes of the wicked. Nothing

escaped Helios. It was he who informed Demeter of the rape of her daughter. It was he who

revealed Aphrodite's unfaithfulness to Hephaestus.

Aphrodite avenged herself by inspiring in Helios a burning passion for Leucothea, daughter of

Orchamos, King of Babylon, and Eurynome. Having assumed the appearance of the venerable

Eurynome, Helios was about to approach the young maiden, who received him without suspicion.

But Clytie, Leucothea's sister, who had herself enjoyed thefavours of the god, wasjealous of

Leucothea's happiness. She informed Orchamos, who condemned his daughter to be buried alive.

Helios came in haste, but his rays could not 'bring back living warmth into the frozen limbs of his

mistress'. Incapable of restoring her to life, he changed her into an incense shrub. As for Clytie, she

realised that the god was now indifferent to her love and, according to Ovid, died of despair.

'Exposed to the weather's inclemency, night and day she slept naked on the ground; for nine days

without food or water she could quench her thirst only with the dew and her own tears.. . Her

body at last took root in the soil; a mortal pallor spread over her and her limbs changed into a

colourless stalk; her head became a flower bright as the violet, and in spite of the root which held

her fast to the ground she turned her face towards Helios whom she never ceased to worship.' She

is the heliotrope.

Helios also loved the nymph Anaxibia, but she fled from him

and took refuge in the temple of Artemis Orthia and disappeared. Helios was unable to find her

and rose up into the sky; the place took the name of Anatolius, which means ascension.

Helios had numerous wives as well: the Oceanid Perse, by whom he had two sons, Aeetes and

Perses, and two daughters, Circe and Pasiphae; Neaera, who bore him Phaetusa and Lampetia, the

guardians of his flocks; the nymph Rhode, by whom he had seven sons, the Heliads, and one

daughter, Electryone. The Heliads were distinguished for their intelligence and to them was

attributed the perfecting of naval architecture as well as the division of the day into hours. One of

them, Tenagis, was outstandingly learned and finally aroused the jealousy of his brothers, who

murdered him. After the murder they dispersed among-the islands in the neighbourhood of


Among the wives of Helios were also Gaea, who gave him a son, Achelous; Iphinoe (or Iphiboe) or

Naupiadame, mother of Augeias; finally Clymene, wife of Merops, King of the Ethiopians, by

whom he had seven daughters - who were also called the Heliads - and one son, Phaethon.

Phaethon. One day Phaethon had a dispute with Epahus, son of Zeus and lo, who had thrown

doubts on his divine origin. Phaethon was mortified and went to his mother to complain. In order

to reassure him, she advised him to go to Helios himself and ask for confirmation of his divine

birth. Phaethon obeyed and begged Helios to accord him a favour which would prove to all eyes

that he was indeed the son of Helios. The god gave his promise and swore it by the Styx, which

made the oath irrevocable. Phaethon then demanded permission to drive the sun's chariot for one

day. In vain Helios tried to dissuade the presumptuous youth from this insane

project. Phaethon insisted and Helios was bound by his oath; he had, therefore, to confide the

sun's impetuous steeds to Phaethon. The horses, no longer restrained by the firm hand of their

usual driver, rushed wildly through space, carrying the unhappy Phaethon, who had lost all

control over them, on their mad career. The chariot came too near the earth; the rivers dried up

and the soil began to burn. The universe would have been destroyed by flame had not Zeus struck

the rash youth with a thunderbolt and sent him tumbling into the waters of the Eridanus.

Phaethon was buried by the nymphs. His sisters, the Heliads, came to weep beside his tomb and

were changed into poplar trees. Their tears became the amber which was gathered in abundance

on the banks of the Eridanus.

Circe. A daughter of Helios was equally celebrated in the mythological annals of Greece: Circe.

Because she lived in the west of the isle of Aeaea some have tried to see in Circe a moon-goddess.

But more probably she was a goddess of love - of degrading love -comparable to the Babylonian

Ishtar who was so roughly treated by Gilgamesh.

Circe was above all known for her evil spells and enchantments. Married to the king of the

Sarmatians, she poisoned her husband and went to live in the isle of Aeaea where she built herself

a magnificent palace. She cast a spell over all who landed on the island and, by means of magic

potions, turned them into animals. Thus she changed Odysseus' companions into swine. Odysseus

alone escaped their fate, thanks to a herb, moly, which Hermes had given him. Better still, he

forced the sorceress to restore his companions to their human form. Nevertheless he spent a year

with Circe, forgetting his wife and his country. Circe, it was said, was slain by Telemachus, who

had married her daughter, Cassiphone.


Selene, who was also called Mene, was the sister of Helios, and with her golden crown illuminated

the shadowy night. Every evening, beginning her journey when her brother had finished his, the

divine Selene of the broad wings, 'after bathing her lovely body in the Ocean, clad herself in

splendid robes and rose in the sky on her chariot drawn by shining steeds'. Sometimes we also see

her mounted on a horse, a mule or even a bull.

Although she was generally considered to be the daughter of Hyperion and Theia (or

Euryphaessa) her father was sometimes said to be Helios or even Zeus.

Her beauty attracted the love of Zeus, who made her mother of three daughters: Pandia,

'remarkable for her beauty among the Immortals'; Erse, the dew; and Nemea. It was claimed that

the Nemean Lion was also born to Zeus and Selene, and that it fell from the moon on to the earth.

Selene was loved by Pan, who took the shape of a white ram and drew her into the depths of a

wood in Arcadia.

Selene and Endymion. The best-known legend of Selene was that of her love for Endymion. The

story was told differently in Elis and in Caria. According to the Elians, Endymion was a king of

Elis whose tomb was still shown at Olympia and to whom Selene bore fifty daughters. According

to the Carian tradition Endymion was a young prince who, hunting on Mount Latmus one day,

lay down to rest in a cool grotto where he fell asleep. Selene saw him and, captivated by his

beauty, stole a kiss while he slept. Endymion asked Zeus to grant him immortality and eternal

youth; Zeus consented on condition that he remained eternally asleep.

Another tradition explains this eternal sleep as a punishment inflicted by Zeus on Endymion who,

on his admission to Olympus, had been rash enough to aspire to Hera's love.

Be this as it may, Selene came faithfully night after night silently to contemplate her sleeping

lover. Thus the rays of the amorous moon come to caress the sleep of mortals.


The third child of the Titans, Hyperion and Theia, was Eos (Aurora), the rosy-fingered dawn with

the snowy eyelids. It was she who brought the first glimmer of day to men. Every morning at

dawn she slipped from the couch of her husband, Tithonus, and


emerging from the ocean rose into the sky. Sometimes she appeared as a winged goddess tilting

an urn from which fell the morning dew. Sometimes she was mounted on the horse Pegasus and

bore in her hands a torch. Most often saffron-robed Eos rode on a purple chariot drawn by two


It was only later that Eos was distinguished from Hemera, goddess of the day; originally she was

represented as accompanying her brother Helios during his whole journey.

Eos at first united with the Titan Astraeus, to whom she bore the winds, Boreas, Zephyrus, Eurus,

Notus and various astral bodies.

Eos was young and lovely and made to awaken desire. She was loved by Ares, which earned her

the enmity of Aphrodite. To avenge herself, Aphrodite inspired Eos with love for numerous


She conceived a passion for the giant Orion, whom she carried off and kept with her, to the great

annoyance of the gods. Artemis finally killed him by accident in the isle of Ortygia.

Eos and Tithonus. Then Aphrodite filled the heart of Eos with love for Tithonus, one of

Laomedon's sons. Wishing to be bound to her new husband for eternity, Eos begged Zeus to

confer immortality on him; but, alas, she had forgotten to ask at the same time for perpetual

youth! As the years passed the young and handsome lover of former days became an old man

with wrinkled brow. In vain Eos fed him on the celestial ambrosia which rendered the flesh

incorruptible; old age gave way to decrepitude. The goddess then shut Tithonus up in a chamber

where the impotent old man remained in solitude until the day when the gods took pity and

changed him into a cicada.

Eos and Cephalus. Meanwhile the inconstant Eos sought consolation among other mortals. There

was Cleitus, grandson of the soothsayer Melampus, for whom she obtained the favour of being

admitted into Olympus. There was Cephalus, son of Hermes, or of Deion, King of Phocis, whose

fate was more tragic. Cephalus had just married Procris, whom he dearly loved, when Eos saw

him hunting on Mount Hymettus and carried him off to Syria. Far from responding to the

goddess's love, Cephalus thought only of his beloved Procris. Not unnaturally irritated, Eos filled

him with doubts about his wife's fidelity and advised him to test her. Cephalus then approached

Procris in disguise and, offering her rich jewels, tried to seduce her. Procris repelled him at first,

but finally the temptation was too strong for her. Cephalus revealed his identity and drove her

away. The unhappy Procris retired to Euboea and put herself under the protection of Artemis.

Artemis - or some say it was Minos - gave her a dog who never lost the scent and a javelin which

never missed its mark, and sent her back in disguise to Cephalus. This time Cephalus, offered the

dog and the javelin, was himself tempted and, in fact, made the same mistake his wife had

previously made. The couple then became reconciled. But Procris still feared that her husband

might be unfaithful to her and followed him when he went hunting, spying on him without his

suspecting it. One day when Procris was hidden in a thicket Cephalus heard a rustling sound.

Thinking it was some wild beast, he threw the javelin which never missed its mark. Procris was

slain and Cephalus was summoned before the Areopagus, which banished him from Athens. He

went to Thebes, where he visited Amphitryon, and then retired to an island which was named

Cephallenia after him. According to another version of the story Cephalus was inconsolable at the

death of Procris and threw himself from the promontory of Leucas into the sea.

The Offspring of Eos. By her marriage with Tithonus, Eos had two sons: Memnon and Emathion.

Emathion reigned over Arabia and was killed by Hercules. Memnon was King of Ethiopia and

went to Troy with an army of Ethiopians and Susians to assist Priam. He was 'the most handsome

warrior who appeared before Troy'. Having killed Antilochus, son of Nestor, he was himself killed

by Achilles. Eos obtained immortality for him; nevertheless she never ceased to weep each

morning for her dearly beloved son, and it was her tears which formed the dew. It seems likely

that this hero represents some former Asiatic divinity. Memnon, indeed, was reputed to have

founded Susa - where his tomb was - and to have built the walls of Babylon. He was also

venerated in Egypt: the colossal statue at Thebes was called the statue of Memnon.

Among the other sons of Eos must be mentioned Phaethon, son of Tithonus (or of Cephalus) who

was carried off by Aphrodite to be the guardian of her temple. He is thus connected with the

planet Venus, of which two other sons of Eos, Phosphorus and Hesperus, represent the planet's

double aspect of morning star and evening star.

Phosphorus was the son of Astraeus; with a torch in his hand he could be seen in the guise of a

winged spirit flying through the air before his mother's chariot.

Hesperus, 'the most splendid star which shines in the firmament', was sometimes said to be the

son of Atlas. Hesperus' own children were: Daedalion, who in despair at the death of his daughter

Chione threw himself from the heights of Parnassus and was changed by Apollo into a sparrowhawk;

and Ceyx, who married Alcyone. Ceyx and Alcyone were both turned into birds for having

dared to compare themselves to Zeus and Hera. Another version is that when Ceyx perished in a

shipwreck Alcyone threw herself in despair into the sea and Thetis changed the couple into

halcyons or kingfishers.

The Hesperides. Hesperus was also said to be father of the Hes-perides; though others said they

were daughters of Night and Erebus, or of Phorcys and Ceto, or of Zeus and Themis. The

Hesperides were three or four in number: Aegle, Erytheis, Hespera, Hestia or Arethusa. Their

abode was beyond the river-ocean, at the extreme western limits of the world, where they

personified the clouds gilded by the setting sun. They lived in a wondrous garden and guarded

the golden apples which grew there. Since, however, the Greeks had two identical words for

'apple' and for 'flock of sheep', it has been wondered if the Hesperides were not rather guardians

of the celestial flocks which in Indo-European mythology symbolised clouds.


The constellations of Orion, the Pleiades and the Hyades, occupied a particular place in Greek


Orion. Orion was a giant of Boeotia famous for his beauty. He was variously described as the son

of Mother Earth, of Poseidon and Euryale, and of Hyrieus, King of Hyria in Boeotia. One day

when Zeus, Hermes and Poseidon were travelling together on earth they were handsomely

received by Hyrieus. In gratitude for his hospitality they promised to grant whatever he asked for.

Hyrieus asked for a son. The three gods then took the hide of a heifer, urinated on it and buried it.

Nine months later Orion emerged from the ground. This singular mode of procreation seems to

arise from a play on words, Orion and urine being similar also in Greek. Orion was of such

gigantic stature that he could walk on the bottom of the sea without wetting his head. He was

endowed with prodigious strength and was a passionate hunter. He followed his favourite sport

accompanied by his dog Sirius. He had married Side who, because she boasted that she was more

beautiful than Hera, was cast by that goddess into Tartarus. Afterwards Orion fell in love with

Merope, daughter of Oenopion, ruler of Chios. He rid the island of all its savage beasts in vain: he

was rejected by Oenopion. Orion therefore took Merope by violence. Her father then implored the

aid of Dionysus, who plunged Orion into deep slumber; while Orion slept, Oenopion put out his

eyes. The giant, however, discovered from an oracle that he could regain his sight if he travelled

towards the sun. He went to Lemnos, where Hephaestus gave him his son Cedalion for a guide.

When his sight was restored Orion sailed on*to Crete, where he went hunting with Artemis. We

have seen t,hm he was carried off by Eos. The end of Orion was attributed to Artemis, though

there are various versions of how it occurred. Some said she struck him down on the isle of

Ortygia after Eos had carried him off, others that she shot him by accident at Apollo's instigation,

or that she caused his death by a scorpion's sting after he had attempted to ravish her, or, again,

because he boasted of having destroyed all the wild beasts in Crete. Asclepius attempted to

resuscitate Orion, but Zeus struck him with a thunderbolt. Orion descended into the realm of

Hades, where his shade with a brazen club continued to hunt the wild beasts. But according to the

more popular tradition Orion was transported to the sky where.

in golden armour and sword in hand, he shines on winter nights. His brilliance, however, fades

when the constellation Scorpio appears.

Pleiades and Hyades. The Pleiades were daughters of Atlas and Pleione or Aethra. There were

seven of them: Maia, Taygete, Electra, Alcyone, Celoeno, Sterope and Merope. The first three were

loved by Zeus. Poseidon obtained the favours of Alcyone and Celoeno. Ares was Sterope's lover.

Only Merope had to be content with the love of a mere mortal, Sisyphus - hence she shines less

brightly in the sky than her sisters. They had all been changed into stars. They were being pursued

across the mountains of Boeotia by the hunter Orion. They were about to fall into his clutches

when they cried to Zeus for help. He turned them into doves, then placed them in the sky. It was

also related that the Pleiades, inconsolable at the death of their sisters, the Hyades, killed

themselves in despair and were then changed by Zeus into stars. They appeared in the sky in the

middle of May and thus announced the return of the good weather.

The appearance of the Hyades on the contrary was the signal for the rainy season. Their very

name meant the Rainy Ones. They were also daughters of Atlas and Aethra or Pleione. Their

number varies among different authors from two to seven. Nor are their names fixed. The ones

most frequently listed are: Ambrosia, Eudora and Coronis. It was related that they had brought up

Zeus in Dodona, and later Dionysus in Nysa. In recognition of these services they were placed

among the heavenly bodies, where they formed a group of stars in the constellation Taurus. Their

metamorphosis was also explained as a recompense for the unhappiness they suffered at the death

of their brother Hyas, who was killed while hunting by a serpent or a wild boar.


The empire of the winds was shared between the four sons of Eos, the dawn, and Astraeus, the

starry sky. They were called: Boreas, the North Wind; Zephyrus, the West Wind; Eurus, the East

Wind; and Notus, the South Wind.

Boreas dwelt in the mountains of Thrace. It was there that Iris came in search of him to fan the

funeral pyre of Patroclus. It was said that Boreas carried off Oreithyia, daughter of Erechtheus,

from the banks of the Ilissus, and by her had several children, notably Chione, who was loved by

Poseidon; Cleopatra, who married Phineus; and the twins Zetes and Calais, also called the

Boreades, who took part in the expedition of the Argonauts, fought victoriously against the

Harpies, and were slain by the arrows of Hercules in the island of Zenos. They were changed into

favourable winds which blew from the north-east and were given the name Prodromes,

forerunners, because they came shortly before the rise of the Dog Star.

Boreas assumed the form of a stallion to mate with the mares of Erichthonius, and from this union

were born twelve young mares so light of step that 'they ran across fields of standing corn without

bruising an ear of grain and over the crests of the sea without wetting their feet'.

In memory of the abduction of Oreithyia the Athenians raised a temple to Boreas on the banks of

the Ilissus. They especially venerated Boreas because he had dispersed the fleet of the invader

Xerxes. Boreas was represented as a winged man of mature age with hair floating in the wind. On

the chest of Cypselus, however, he is depicted as having serpents for legs.

The normal companion of Boreas was Zephyrus who was not, originally, the soft and beneficial

wind at whose breath the spring flowers open. Like his brother he was a savage and baleful wind

who took pleasure in brewing storms and tossing the waves of the sea. With Boreas he lived in the

caves of mountainous Thrace. From his union with the Harpy Podarge were born the two horses

Xanthus and Balius, who drew the chariot of Achilles.

Later Zephyrus' violent disposition softened. He became a sweet-scented wind which gently

fanned the blessed regions of Elysium. For a wife he was given the gracious Chloris by whom he

had a son, Carpus - or fruit.

The Athenians consecrated an altar to Zephyrus on the road to Eleusis.

As for Notus and Eurus, their individualities were never clearly defined.

Aeolus. Another tradition, which has its source in the Odyssey, places the abode of the winds in

the Aeolian Islands, where they were kept under the guardianship of Aeolus. Aeolus was the son

of Poseidon and Arne, and a brother of Boeotus. After an adventurous youth he settled in the

Lipari Islands and married Gyane, the daughter of King Liparus. Because of his piety and justice

Aeolus became a friend of the gods. It was said that he invented ships' sails. Zeus appointed him

guardian of the winds which he could, at will, excite or soothe. When Odysseus landed on his

island Aeolus welcomed him hospitably and on his departure gave him a wine-skin in which were

tied up those winds which would impede his voyage. Overcome by curiosity the companions of

Odysseus untied the wine-skin and let the deadly contrary winds escape.

At first Aeolus was simply the guardian of the winds, but later he became their father and, in

Roman mythology, the god of wind. He resided, they said, on the isle of Lipara, where he kept the

winds chained up in deep caverns.

The Chimaera and the Harpies. In opposition to these regular winds there were various monsters

who personified the storm winds who, 'pouncing suddenly on the darkened waves, unleashed the

raging tempests to destroy men'. Their father was Typhon, son of Typhoeus, spirit of the

hurricane, and their mother was Echidna, the upper part of whose body was that of a young

nymph but whose lower part was that of a horrifying serpent covered with scales. Among these

monsters it will be sufficient to mention the Chimaera and the Harpies.

The Chimaera had the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a dragon. She vomited forth

horrible flames. It is agreed that she was a personification of the storm-cloud.

The Harpies - who were also said to be daughters of Thaumas and Electra - were tempestgoddesses,

'the ravagers'. Homer only names one of them, Podarge. Hesiod mentions two, Aello

and Ocypete, winged creatures as swift as birds and the winds. Later the Harpy type became

definite: they were monsters with the face of an old hag, the ears of a bear, and the body of a bird

with long hooked claws. It was their habit to snatch and devour food from tables, or else to soil the

table, spreading filth and stench and causing famine. Thus when the soothsayer Phineus was

condemned by Zeus to eternal old age and everlasting hunger, the Harpies came to steal the food

which was laid before him, soiling with their excrement what they did not carry away. They were

attacked by the Argonauts and particularly by the Boreades Zetes and Calais, who pursued them

through the air and vanquished them. They granted them their lives, however, at the request of

Iris. According to other traditions one of the Harpies drowned herself in the Tigris, a river in the

Peloponnese; the other fled to the Echinade Islands where she turned round and fell to the shore.

Thus the islands took the name of the Strophades, from the Greek 'to turn'.


Pontus. The oldest divinity of the waters was Pontus, whom Gaea produced from herself at the

beginning of time. Pontus is no more than the personified sea. He was without physiognomy or

character, and all that remained of him was his name, which poets later used to designate the sea.

Oceanus. The primitive Greeks, like the Chaldeans, imagined an immense river which formed a

liquid girdle around the universe. It lay beyond the sea and embraced the sea without, however,

mingling with its waters. It was the River Ocean, or Oceanus, who, having himself neither source

nor outlet, gave birth to 'all the rivers, the entire sea, to all waters which gushed from the earth, to

all deep wells'. From him arose all the stars - with the exception of the Great Bear - only to plunge

back again. On the shores of Oceanus were the fabulous lands of the virtuous Ethiopians, the fogbound

Cimmerians, the minute Pygmies.

Son of Uranus and Gaea, the Titan Oceanus was one of those elemental forces which had

contributed to the formation of the world. In him Homer salutes the essence of all things, even of


gods, and regards him as a divinity whose power was inferior to none but Zeus'.

Oceanus married his sister Tethys and by her had the three thousand Oceanids and the three

thousand rivers. According to one tradition Oceanus and Tethys cared for the infant Hera, whom

they sheltered in their palace in the west of the world.

The Olympians, however, finally established their empire over the waters, as over the rest of the

universe, and the watery element was inherited by Poseidon, who from then on became the

uncon-tested lord of the sea and the rivers, while the aged Oceanus was confined to his distant

place of retirement.


The importance assumed by Poseidon in Greek religious belief caused the other and more ancient

marine deities to play secondary roles, and their cult retained no more than a popular character.

Nereus. Nereus was the son of Pontus and Gaea. He was born in the first ages of the world, and

the accumulation of centuries had made of him a venerable greybeard. He was, indeed, called 'The

Old Man of the Sea'. He was kindly and helpful, 'having known only thoughts of justice and

kindness'. He only left the dwelling he occupied with his wife Doris in tr lepths of the Aegaean

Sea in order to come to the assistance of sailors and give them useful advice. Like other marine

deities, however, he only spoke when he had to. Hercules resorted to force in order to learn from

him how to reach the land of the Hesperides. Nereus also possessed the gift of prophecy; Paris one

day beheld him emerging from the waves and heard from his mouth the announcement of the

coming destruction of Troy.

Of the marriage of Nereus and Doris were born fifty daughters, the Nereids, fair virgins with

golden hair who lived with their father in his submarine abode, but who might sometimes be seen

when the sea was calm frolicking with the Tritons on the crest of the waves.

Of most of the Nereids we know only the names; some of them, however, played a part in the

legends of Greece.

Arethusa was seen one day by the hunter Alpheius, who immediately fell in love with her. He

pursued her, and to escape him Arethusa took refuge on the isle of Ortygia, where she was

changed into a spring. Alpheius, who remained in the neighbourhood of Olympia, was himself

changed into a river and his waters, crossing the sea without mingling with it, then joined the

waters of the spring Arethusa on the isle of Ortygia.

Galatea, another Nereid, was courted by the Cyclops Polyphemus, but she preferred a young

herdsman of Sicily, named Acis. Polyphemus surprised the two lovers one day while they were

conversing in the hollow of a grotto and crushed Acis under an enormous boulder. Galatea,

however, succeeded in having Acis changed into a river.

Psamathe had a son by Aeacus, Phocus, who reigned over the island of Aegina and who was

assassinated by Peleus and Telamon. To avenge the murder of her son Psamathe sent a monstrous

wolf who devastated Peleus' flocks.

The most celebrated of the Nereids was Thetis. For her beauty she was sought in marriage by both

Zeus and Poseidon. But Themis declared that Thetis would give birth to a son more powerful than

his father, and both gods prudently renounced their project. Zeus decided to marry Thetis to a

mortal, and chose Peleus, King of Thessaly. Thetis did not accept this alliance which she, being

immortal, considered beneath her dignity, without protest. She attempted to escape from Peleus

by taking on various shapes: she changed herself into a fish and then into an animal, into a fluid

wave, then into burning flame. Thanks to the advice of the centaur Chiron, Peleus finally

succeeded in seizing her and their marriage was celebrated with great pomp in the presence of the

gods, who showered handsome gifts on the couple. To Thetis and Peleus was born a son, Achilles.

Some said that Achilles was their seventh child and that Thetis had thrown the first six into the

fire to destroy such evidence of an unworthy union. This story agrees rather badly with the

tenderness which Thetis always showed towards Achilles. When she learned the fatal destiny

which awaited her son she tried to prevent it by rendering Achilles invulnerable. In order to do

this, she exposed him every night to the flames and

dressed his wounds with ambrosia. But Peleus caught her unawares one night and, terrified,

snatched the child away. According to a more accredited version, as soon as Achilles was born

Thetis plunged him into the Styx, thus making his body invulnerable, all except the heel by which

she held him.

Thetis plays a part in many legends. It will be recalled that she came to the assistance of Zeus

when he was nearly overcome by Hera, Apollo, Poseidon and Athene: she brought the.giant

Briareus to defend Zeus. Thetis and her sister Eurynome sheltered Hephaestus after his fall from

Olympus. She also sheltered Dionysus when he fled before Lycurgus.

She was honoured in various parts of Greece, in Thessaly, in Messenia and at Sparta.

Proteus. Proteus was another 'Old Man of the Sea'. He was the son of Oceanus and Tethys, and his

duty was to guard Poseidon's herd of seals. At noon each day he would emerge from the waves

and come ashore to rest in the shelter of a rock. Around him slept the tight-packed herd of seals,

sons of the fair Halosydne. It was the propitious moment to obtain from wise Proteus a revelation

of what fate held in store; for he saw into the future and he spoke the truth. But, since he never

spoke oracularly unless forced to do so, it was first necessary to catch hold of him - no simple

matter, for Proteus could change shape at will and in order to escape from whoever held him

would in succession turn himself into a lion, a dragon, a panther, into water, fire, a tree.. . The

important thing was not to be intimidated by these metamorphoses, for then Proteus would admit

himself vanquished and talk. In this manner Menelaus, following the advice of Idothea, Proteus'

own daughter, learned from him how to return to his own country. Proteus was represented with

the features of an old man, and he lived on the isle of Pharos on the Egyptian coast.

This localisation no doubt resulted from a confusion with a fabled King of Egypt who was also

named Proteus. It was said that this king welcomed Paris and Helen when they fled from Sparta,

but that he kept Helen with him in order to return her to her legitimate husband. It was also said

that he went from Egypt to Thrace, where he married. Later, angered by the cruelty of his two

sons, Tmolus and Telegonus, he decided to return to Egypt, and Poseidon hollowed out for him

under the sea a road which led him back to Pharos.

Phorcys. The character of Phorcys is more vague. Homer calls him 'the old man who rules the

waves'. He says that his daughter was the nymph Thoosa who by Poseidon had the monstrous

Polyphemus. According to Hesiod, Phorcys was the son of Pontus and Gaea. He married his sister

Ceto and fathered the Graeae, the Gorgons, the dragon Ladon and, perhaps, the Hesperides. It

was also said that Scylla was born of his love for Hecate. To judge by his wild progeny Phorcys

must in the eyes of the Greeks have personified the perfidious and evil sea. His very name seems

to indicate the whitish foam which crowns the crest of the waves.

Glaucus. The name Glaucus evokes a picture of the dark greenish-blue which the sea assumes

when the winds begin to rise. There were various legends about Glaucus. One related that he was

a humble fisherman from Anthedon. One day when he returned from fishing he set down his fish

among some herbs which grew beside the shore. He saw them immediately leap up and fling

themselves back into the sea. He tasted the herbs himself and was changed into a Triton. He

jumped into the sea and was admitted among the marine deities as one of their own number.

Another legend recounts that while pursuing a hare Glaucus saw the creature swallow a blade of

this herb and at once recover its agility. In curiosity Glaucus also tasted the mysterious herb and

thus acquired immortality. He took to the sea either in obedience to a secret impulse sent by Zeus,

or because he was vexed at being unable to make his fellow men acknowledge his immortality.

Glaucus normally dwelt in Delos. Apollo conferred on him the gift of prophecy which he

transmitted to his daughter, the sibyl Deiphobe. Once a year Glaucus left his abode in Delos and

made a tour of the islands of the Aegaean Sea. He would appear to sailors, with his thin body

covered with seaweed and seashells, and predict sinister occurrences.

He was a lugubrious divinity and even his love affairs were


unhappy. Except for Syme, whose love he won and whom he carried to a small island near

Rhodes, all to whom he paid court repulsed him. He discovered Ariadne on the isle of Naxos and

attempted to console her, but Dionysus arrived, bound him up with vine-shoots, and consoled

Ariadne himself. It was also said that Glaucus turned Scylla into a monster out of resentment

though, it is true, Scylla's metamorphosis was also attributed to the jealousy of Amphitrite.

Sometimes confused with Glaucus was another personage of human origin who was raised to the

rank of a marine divinity: Melicertes Palaemon.

Melicertes was the son of Athamas and Semele's sister Ino who had incurred the wrath of Hera for

having fed and sheltered young Dionysus after his mother's death. Hera, in vengeance,

unbalanced Athamas' mind and Athamas slew one of his own sons, Learchus. To save the other

son, Melicertes, from his father's madness, Ino seized the child and jumped with it into the sea.

She was welcomed by the Nereids and became, under the name Leucothea, a divinity who

protected mariners. As for Melicertes, his body was carried by a dolphin to the coast of Corinth.

Sisyphus found it and erected a tomb for Melicertes on the shore. Under the name Palaemon,

Melicertes was from then on venerated as a god. On the instructions of the Nereids the Isthmian

games were instituted in his honour. He is usually represented as a child carried by dolphins.

Triton. Around the chariot of Amphitrite, who was escorted by the gracious Nereids, frisked

strange creatures, half-men, half-fish, whose bodies were covered with scales, whose teeth were

sharp and whose fingers were armed with claws. Their breast and belly were supplied with fins,

and instead of legs they had the forked tail of a marine monster. This lascivious troop played

among the waves, noisily blowing on conch shells. They were the Tritons. Some of their number,

who were furnished with a pair of horse's legs as well, were known as Centaur-Tritons.

Although they lived in the sea the Tritons sometimes ventured on to land. At Tanagra, people

remembered a Triton who had desolated the country and ravished the women. To capture him

they placed a vase filled with wine on the beach. The Triton drank it, and during his drunken

slumber a fisherman cut off his head. They placed a statue of a headless Triton in the temple of

Dionysus at Tanagra to commemorate the event.

These marine genii took their name from a primitive god, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, whose

name was Triton. He also was half-man, half-fish, and lived with his father in the depths of the

sea, although his favourite place of abode was near the coast of Libya. It even seems that in origin

Triton was a purely Libyan divinity, unless the Minyaen colonists had brought with them to

Africa the former god of the river Triton which flowed into Lake Copais in Boeotia.

As Poseidon's son, Triton shared some of his father's powers: like him he could raise or quieten

the waves. He could be seen riding the waves on his chariot drawn by steeds whose hooves were

the claws of crayfish.

On two occasions he did Zeus a good turn. During the war with the Giants, Triton contributed to

the victory of the Olympians by frightening the giants with the terrible sounds he made with his

conch. Later, it was Triton whom Zeus made responsible for seeing that the waters withdrew after

the deluge.

Benevolent and obliging, Triton saved the Argonauts when a tempest drove their ship on to the

Libyan coast. He helped them, and his advice enabled them to continue their voyage.

Triton shared the gift of prophecy with the other marine gods, Nereus and Proteus, of whom he

was originally, perhaps, only a local form. It seems, however, that he more especially personified

the roar of the sea or its wild movement, as his attribute, the conch, tends to indicate.

Sea Monsters: The Sirens. The name Siren derives from a Greek root meaning 'to bind or attach'

and clearly alludes to the role the Sirens played in mythology. One is inclined, however, to

consider them as divinities who symbolised the souls of the dead. They would thus be funerary

genii, avid for blood and hostile to the living. With their bird's body and woman's head, they

recall the human-headed Egyptian hawk who also incarnated the souls of the dead. The Sirens

were invoked at the moment of death, and their

images are frequently found on tombs. Legend, however, has retained nothing of this conception

of them, and depicts the Sirens only as malevolent monsters of the sea.

At first they were represented with the head and bust of a woman and the body of a bird, and

only later depicted as women whose bodies terminated in fish tails. Their attribute was a musical

instrument - a lyre or a double flute. They had a temple at Sorrento.

When Odysseus was about to leave Circe and take to his swift ships again, she warned him of the

dangers of the voyage and in particular said:

'First thou shall arrive where the enchanter Sirens dwell, they who seduce men. The imprudent

man who draws near them never returns, for the Sirens, lying in the flower-strewn fields, will

charm him with sweet song; but around them the bodies of their victims lie in heaps.'

And so it was that Odysseus came in sight of a rocky islet where he perceived the bizarre

creatures, half-women, half-birds, who, seeing his ship, began to sing. They were the Sirens and

what they sang was:

'Draw near, illustrious Odysseus, glory of the Achaeans, stop thy ship and come to us. None has

yet passed by this isle without having listened to the enchantment of our voices and heard us sing

of the mighty deeds done by the Greeks beneath the walls of Troy. For we know all that happens

on the fruitful earth.'

The sweetness of their voices was such that Odysseus could not have resisted their invitation had

he not followed Circe's advice and taken the precaution of having himself lashed to the mast of his

ship. As for his companions, he had cautiously stopped up their ears with wax.

Thus they escaped the fearful danger. But the human bones scattered over the green fields of the

Siren Island bore mute witness to the imprudence of former sailors and to the ferocity of these

insidious-voiced creatures.

They had not always been like this. In primitive times the Sirens, who were daughters of the river

Achelous, had been river deities.

In number they were - depending on different authors - two, three, four or even eight. They had

names which emphasised the charm of their voices: Aglaophonos or Aglaophone (of the brilliant

voice); Thelxepeia (of the words which enchant); Peisinoe (the persuasive); Molpe (song).

There were various explanations of their strange shape. According to some they were with

Persephone when she was ravished by Hades, and it was at their request that Zeus gave them

wings so that they could fly in pursuit of the ravisher. According to others they owed their birds'

bodies to the wrath of Aphrodite who punished them in this way for having been rebellious to


The Sirens were excessively proud of their voices and their musical talent and had, it was said,

dared one day to challenge the Muses. But the Muses vanquished them and pulled out their wing

feathers. They then abandoned the springs and dales and went to hide their shame among the

jagged rocks along the coasts of Southern Italy. Their abodes were Cape Pelorus, Capri, the isle of

Anthemusa, and the Siren Isles. There from the shores they attracted sailors by their songs and

devoured the unhappy wretches who had been unable to resist their seduction.

In the end, however, they found their master. When the ship of the Argonauts sailed past their

island they tried as usual to exert their power. But only Butes, son of Zelion, jumped overboard to

join the treacherous goddesses. The others were prevented by Orpheus who was with them. He

tuned his lyre and began to sing; and his persuasive voice overcame the allure of the Sirens.

Vanquished, the Sirens from that moment lost all power to do harm and were changed into rocks.

One of them, Parthenope, threw herself into the sea in vexation. Her body was tossed on to the

shore by the waves, and a tomb was erected for her on the very spot where later the city of Naples


Charybdis and Scylla. This same Sicilian sea where the Sirens dwelt also harboured two other

redoubtable monsters, Charybdis and Scylla.

Of Charybdis we know little more than what Homer tells us. 'Divine Charybdis with a terrible

roar swallows the waves of the bitter sea and three times each day she throws them up again.' She

lived under a rock crowned by a green fig tree. She was called the daughter of Poseidon and the

Earth and it was because she had stolen the oxen of Hercules that Zeus struck her with a

thunderbolt and changed her into a whirlpool whose vortex swallowed up ships.

The legend of Scylla was more extensive. She was the daughter of Phorcys and Crataeis, or of

Typhon and Echidna, or of Poseidon. According to others, her mother was Lamia, that queen of

Libya who was loved by Zeus and saw her children perish as a result of Hera's jealousy. In her

misery she went out of her mind and devoured babies whom she tore from their mothers' arms.

Scylla was at first a nymph of rare beauty. Whether it was because she repelled the advances of

Glaucus and Glaucus punished her for disdain, or whether, on the contrary, she had given herself

to Poseidon and thus excited Amphitrite's jealousy, Scylla was changed by Circe into a monster.

While she was bathing in a pool into which Circe had thrown certain magic herbs, six necks

suddenly sprang from her shoulders, necks of monstrous length, surmounted by six frightful

heads, each supplied with a triple row of teeth. She lurked in a dark cavern hollowed in the

middle of a reef from which emerged only her heads, which snapped up passing dolphins, the

dogs of the sea, and those of 'the enormous monsters nurtured by the noisy Amphitrite whom she

was able to seize'. When a ship passed within her reach each of her heads would carry off a man

from the bench of rowers, and no vessel could boast of escaping Scylla without loss.

When Hercules brought Geryon's herd through the straits of Sicily, Scylla seized and devoured

one of the oxen. Hercules killed her, but she was resuscitated by her father Phorcys, and mariners

passing the straits of Sicily continued to dread the twin perils of Charybdis and Scylla.


The Rivers. There were three thousand rivers according to Hesiod, sons of Oceanus and Tethys,

who partook of the divine nature of their parents and were worshipped by mortals.

Young folk consecrated their hair to them; rams were immolated to them and into their waters

were cast living horses and bulls.

The rivers were represented as vigorous men with long beards; their strength was symbolised by

the pair of horns which adorned their brow.

The most celebrated and venerated of rivers was the Achelous, which was also the largest

watercourse in Greece. Achelous fought against Hercules for the hand of Deianeira. Vanquished,

he changed himself into a serpent, then into a wild bull, Hercules, however, overthrew him and

tore off one of his horns, with which the nymphs made the Horn of Plenty. Achelous, ashamed of

his defeat, threw himself into the river which thenceforth bore his name. Achelous was revered

throughout Greece and even in Sicily - six rivers were named after him - and he was invoked

when taking oaths. It was for having omitted to do him honour during a sacrifice that the

daughters of the soothsayer Echinus were changed into islands and became the Echinades.

Almost as famous was the Asopus, a name also found in Thessaly and the Peloponnese. Asopus

was a river-god of Boeotia. By his wife Merope he had two sons, Pelasgus and Ismenius, and

twelve daughters, among them Sinope, who was carried off by Apollo; Corcyra and Salamis, who

were loved by Poseidon; and Aegina. who was ravished by Zeus. Asopus went in search of

Aegina and learned from Sisyphus - in exchange for a spring which he made gush forth \>n

Acrocorinth - the name of his daughter's ravisher. He attempted to obtain justice, but Zeus struck

him with a thunderbolt and forced him to return to his river bed.

Inachus, river-god of Argolis, also had one of his daughters, lo, seduced by Zeus. During the

dispute between Hera and Poseidon for possession of Argolis, Inachus was chosen to arbitrate. He

pronounced in favour of Hera, and Poseidon, in annoyance, dried up his waters.

Cephissus was a river-god of Phocis and Boeotia. He only appears in mythology as the father of

Narcissus, whom he had by the Oceanid Liriope. There was a sanctuary consecrated to him at



Among the other river-gods may be mentioned: Peneius in Thessaly; in Arcadia, Ladon, who was

the father of Syrinx and Daphne; in the Peloponnese, Alpheius, who, they said, fell in love with

Artemis. To elude him Artemis took refuge in Elis and when she reached Letrini made herself

unrecognisable by daubing herself with mud. It was also related that Alpheius was a hunter who

fell in love with the nymph Arethusa and pursued her to the isle of Ortygia, where she changed

into a spring. Alpheius, in his turn, was changed into a river, but he still obstinately pursued

Arethusa. He crossed the sea without mingling with its waters and in Ortygia rejoined her whom

he loved. When bulls were sacrificed in Olympia, past which the Alpheius flowed, it appeared

that the waters of the fountain of Arethusa were also tinted with blood. The Eurotas in Laconia

had, it was said, been a king of that country, and son of Taygete. Among his daughters was Sparta,

who was married to Lacedaemon. He was responsible for draining the marshes which covered

Laconia, and his name was given to the canal he dug to carry away the waters. Others said he

threw himself into the river which bears his name in despair at having lost a battle.

In Phrygia the two principal river-gods were the Scamander (or Xanthus) and the Maeander. It

was Hercules, seized by thirst, who had scooped out the earth and caused the Scamander to gush

forth. Scamander took part in the Trojan war and Homer describes his battle with Achilles. He

caught up the hero in his nets and it required the intervention of Hephaestus to appease the rivergod.

As for the Maeander, it owed its name to Maeander, King of Pessinonte, who in the course of

a war made a vow that if he were victorious he would immolate the first person who came to

congratulate him. The first person to do so was his son. Maeander fulfilled his vow, but threw

himself in despair into the river which took his name.

Water Nymphs. Just as every river had its own divine personality, so every stream, brook, spring

and pool harboured in its waters a divinity who was known as a nymph.

Water nymphs were classified according to their place of abode. Potamids were nymphs of rivers

and streams; Naiads were nymphs of brooks; Crenae or Pegae were nymphs of springs; Limnads

were nymphs of stagnant waters.

Although in the divine hierarchy they occupied an inferior rank, they were occasionally admitted

to Olympus, and mortals honoured them with a religious cult.

Their functions were many. They had the gift of prophecy and could deliver oracles. They were

benevolent deities and cured the sick; they watched over flowers, fields and flocks.

Sometimes they lived in the depths of the waters, sometimes in grottoes near the springs over

which they presided. There they would busy themselves weaving and spinning. Sometimes they

would mingle with the retinue of certain divinities.

In spite of their divine character they were not immortal. According to Plutarch the average life

span of a nymph did not exceed nine thousand six hundred and twenty years. But it was their

privilege always to remain young and beautiful, for their nourishment was ambrosia.

Although they were generally benevolent, they could become dangerous to those mortals whom

they distinguished with their favours. Like the Rusalki of the Slavs, they sometimes dragged such

mortals down into the depths of the waters. This, as we have seen, was the fate of

Hermaphroditus, victim of the nymph Salmacis. A similar fate overtook young Hylas, the

handsome companion of Hercules. When the ship of the Argonauts reached the coasts of the

Troad, Hylas, who was a member of the expedition, was sent to shore by his companions in search

of water. As it happened he discovered a fountain, but the nymphs of the place were so charmed

by his beauty that they carried him to the depths of their watery abode, and in spite of the cries of

Hercules which made the shores reverberate with the name Hylas, the young man was never seen


Among the nymphs whose name is known to legend may be mentioned Aganippe, nymph of the

spring of that name which flowed at the approaches of Mount Helicon and whose waters inspired

those who drank of them; Cassotis and Castalia, nymphs of prophetic springs on Parnassus; Hago,

who presided over a fountain on Mount Lycaeus. During periods of drought the priest of Lycaean

Zeus would touch the surface of the fountain with an

oak branch. At once a mist would arise which would thicken into a cloud and soon pour forth the

wished-for rain. There were also Pirene whose tears at the death of her son formed a fountain

which could be seen near Corinth; Cyane, a Sicilian nymph who accompanied Persephone when

she was carried off by Hades: heartbroken, she turned herself into a fountain. According to

another tradition this fountain sprang from the hole Hades made when he plunged into the earth.

Every year the people of Syracuse would come there and throw in a bull. Argyra, nymph of a

fountain in Arcadia, loved the shepherd Selemnos. When she deserted him Selemnos was so

broken-hearted that Aphrodite took pity on him and changed him into a river, granting him

oblivion to cure the sickness of his heart. Thus whoever bathed in the river Selemnos found

oblivion from the sorrows of love.

Calypso was the daughter of Atlas and Tethys and reigned, according to ancient tradition, over

the isle of Ortygia in the Ionian Sea. When Odysseus was thrown by a tempest on her shores she

welcomed him hospitably and kept him with her for seven years. To retain him forever she offered

him immortality, but Zeus ordered her to release him. As her name - derived from a root which

means 'to hide' - indicates, Calypso personified the depths of the waters.



A personification of the earth, Gaea was, as we have already seen, the primitive goddess of the

Greeks. Though her cult persisted throughout the ages her individuality became submerged in

that of other similar divinities. The Pelasgian Gaea was early supplanted by Rhea whose origin

was probably Cretan and who was herself only the earth deified. Her very name seems to derive

from an archaic word meaning earth.

The legend of Rhea was formed by more or less repeating that of Gaea. The couple Rhea-Cronus

correspond exactly to the couple Gaea-Uranus. Both goddesses have the same maternal anxieties

and both husbands come to the same unhappy end. In the same way that the primitive Greeks

made Gaea the Great Mother and and author of all beings, so the supremacy of Rhea was affirmed

by the fact that she was made mother of the great ruling gods of Olympus.

In spite of her foreign origin Rhea soon took on a physiognomy which was plainly Greek. Several

regions of Greece claimed the honour of having been the theatre of the divine episodes of her

legend. For instance, it was near Chaeronea, on the cliff of Petrachus, that Rhea presented the

stone to Cronus; the same scene was also localised at Methydium in Arcadia. Thebans pointed out

the place where Rhea brought Zeus into the world, while the Arcadians said he was born on

Mount Lycaeus. The god had grown up either in Olympia of Elis, or on Mount Ithome in

Messenia. Finally Rhea was supposed to reside on Mount Thaumasium in Arcadia.

The Hellenic character of Rhea was, however, altered by the influence of the great Phrygian

goddess Cybele whose cult was early introduced into Greece; but in the end the two goddesses

were merged.

Etymologically Cybele was the goddess of caverns. She personified the earth in its primitive and

savage state and was worshipped on the tops of mountains: on Ida in Phrygia, on Berecyntus,

Sipyle, Dindymus. She exercised dominion over wild beasts who habitually formed part of her


Greek representations of Cybele retained an Asiatic character. The goddess with her turreted

crown - the normal attribute of Asian mother-goddesses - is seated on a throne flanked by two

lions, or else is placed in a chariot drawn by the same animals. Sometimes she holds a whip

decorated with knuckle-bones. This attribute, emblem of power, was the instrument with which

the Galli, priests of Cybele, flagellated themselves.

The Galli were an odd fraternity who celebrated the cult of their goddess with convulsive dances

to the sound of flutes, drums and cymbals, while clashing their shields with their swords. In their

orgiastic fury they would sometimes voluntarily mutilate themselves. They were known in Greece

under the name of the Corybantes and were the issue, it was said, of a certain Corybas, son of


Later they were identified with the Cretan Curetes.

With the great Phrygian goddess a god of lesser rank was associated : Attis, whose role in respect

to Cybele was analogous to that of Tammuz to the Babylonian Ishtar, or Adonis to the Phoenician

Astarte. Eike them he was a vegetation god; the Phrygians honoured him under the name Papas,

the father.

As the cult of Cybele spread through Greece the figure of Attis became modified. He was

presented as a young and handsome shepherd from Celaenae with whom Cybele fell in love. She

chose him as her priest and imposed upon him a vow of chastity. When Attis broke his vow and

espoused the daughter of the river Sang-arius, Cybele struck him with frenzied delirium in the

course of which he mutilated himself. When he recovered from his madness he was on the point

of killing himself when Cybele changed him into a fir-tree. According to another tradition -

obviously inspired by the myth of Adonis - Attis perished a victim of the jealousy of Zeus who

sent a wild boar against him. The tomb of Attis was at Pessinus, and each year at the beginning of

spring his festival was celebrated for five days. The first was a day of mourning when in the midst

of lamentation a sacred fir wound with woollen bands was carried through the streets. On the

second day the Galli worked themselves into a fever to the sound of savage music. The third day

was marked by bloody mutilations. On the fourth day joyful dancing commemorated the

resurrection of Attis. Finally the fifth day was devoted to rest.

Cybele became united with the King of Phrygia, Gordius, who had devised the famous Gordian

knot. By him she had a son, Midas, who succeeded to his father's throne. He was a wise and pious

king who established the cult of the Great Zeus of Ida and instituted the mysteries of Cybele. His

kindness to Silenus who, on the banks of the Sangarius one day was drunk and had been tied up

by peasants, earned Midas the gratitude of Dionysus. The god asked him to make a wish and

Midas asked that everything he touched should be turned into gold. He soon regretted this

indiscretion, for even the food he ate immediately turned into gold. Dionysus took pity on him

and sent him to purify himself in the river Pactolus, which thenceforth flowed with gold dust.

Midas was less fortunate with Apollo. Asked to arbitrate between Apollo and Marsyas as to which

played the lyre or the flute better. Midas voted against Apollo who, as a reward, gave him a pair

of ass's ears. Midas was able to hide these ears under his Phrygian cap and his disgrace was

known only to his barber. The secret weighed heavily on the poor barber who dug a hole in the

ground and confided it to the earth. Now reeds grew in this spot and whenever the wind stirred

among them they could be heard to repeat: 'King Midas has ass's ears.' In despair Midas killed

himself by drinking, they say, the blood of a bull.


Character and Functions. Gaea and her substitutes, Rhea and Cybele, personified the earth as

such, while Demeter represented the fertile and cultivated soil. Of the two elements which

compose her name - an alteration or a more ancient form of a word meaning 'earth mother' - the

maternal part finally assumed the greater importance among the Greeks.

Without doubt the primitive character of Demeter was preserved in certain regions of Greece,

notably in Arcadia where the goddess was represented with a horse's head, surrounded by

serpents and ferocious beasts, bearing in one hand a dolphin and in the other a dove. But

elsewhere, and particularly in Attica. Demeter appeared above all as a goddess of the fruits and

riches of the fields. She was especially the corn-goddess. She presided over the harvest and all the

agricultural labours which attend it.

Goddess of the earth, Demeter's sphere of influence also reached the underworld; though her

character of underworld divinity soon devolved on a special goddess - Persephone who was made

the daughter of Demeter.

Demeter always remained in contact with mortals whom she heaped with the benefits of

civilisation. Thus she was called Thcsmo-phoros 'who gives laws', though this title may have been

given to her in her capacity of goddess of marriage.

Cult and Representations. Demeter was worshipped in Attica, Arcadia and Argolis. at Delos. in

Crete, in Asia Minor and in

Sicily. Her cult remained mysterious and was accompanied by orgies. Her temples, called Megara,

were often found in forests.

It is above all Demeter's maternal aspect that art has accentuated in the various portrayals of the

goddess. She appears sometimes seated, sometimes walking, dressed in a long robe and often

wearing a veil which covers the back of her head. Sometimes she is crowned with ears of com or a

ribbon, and holds in her hand either a sceptre, ears of corn, or a torch.

Demeter's Suitors. Demeter was a daughter of Cronus and Rhea and thus belonged to the group of

the great Olympians. She was of a severe beauty, a beauty scarcely relieved by her hair, which was

as fair as ripened grain.

Poseidon coveted her, but Demeter refused herself to him. To escape him she fled to Arcadia

where, assuming the shape of a mare, she mingled with the herds of King Oncus. Poseidon,

however, succeeded in finding her, changed himself into a stallion and made her the mother of the

horse Arion who was endowed with the gift of speech and had the right feet of a man. By

Poseidon Demeter also had a daughter whose name has remained concealed and who was known

only as the mistress - Despoena. She was particularly honoured in Thessaly.

Demeter was infuriated at the outrage to which Poseidon had submitted her and left Olympus.

She took on the aspect of a Fury -thus in Arcadia she was entitled Erinnys - and hid her shame in a

cavern. In order to bring her back to Olympus Zeus himself had to intervene. She resumed her

place among the Immortals after purifying herself in the waters of the Ladon.

Demeter was also coveted by Zeus whom she resisted in a similar fashion. Zeus, however,

deceived her by turning himself into a bull and made her mother of Kore.

But the heart of Demeter was not always untouched by sentiment. It was said that she loved

lasion, 'lay with him in a thrice-ploughed field' and had by him a son, Plutus. According to some

Zeus was jealous of lasion and struck him with a thunderbolt; according to others, he lived for a

long time with Demeter and introduced her cult into Sicily.

Demeter and Kore. Demeter, however, was chiefly celebrated for her maternal tribulations. She

loved her daughter Kore tenderly. One day Kore was gathering flowers in the fields of Nysa with

her companions when she suddenly noticed a narcissus of striking beauty. She ran to pick it, but

as she bent down to do so the earth gaped open and Hades appeared. He seized her and dragged

her with him down into the depths of the earth. According to another tradition, the abduction of

Kore took place on the heights near the town of Enna in Sicily. And in the neighbourhood of

Syracuse they showed the place where Hades plunged back into the earth, hollowing out a vast

cavity in the process, since filled by waters from the spring of Cyane. Colonus in Attica, Hermione

in Argolis, Pheneus in Arcadia and even Crete, likewise claimed for their territory the honour of

this divine abduction.

Demeter meanwhile had heard her child's despairing cry for help. 'Then,' says the poet of the

Homeric hymn, 'bitter sorrow seized her heart. . .Over her shoulders she threw a sombre veil and

flew like a bird over land and sea, seeking here, seeking there.. . For nine days the venerable

goddess ranged the world, bearing flaming torches in her hands. At last on Hecate's advice, she

went to consult the divine Helios who revealed to her the name of her daughter's ravisher. 'No

other god is guilty,' he said to her, 'but Zeus himself, who awarded thy daughter to his brother

Hades so that he might call her his flowering bride.' This revelation overwhelmed Demeter. In

rage and despair she withdrew from Olympus and in the guise of an old woman sought refuge

among the cities of men. For long she wandered aimlessly. One day she arrived in Eleusis and sat

down to rest near the palace of the wise Celeus, who reigned in that country. The king's daughters

saw her and questioned her kindly. Demeter told them that she had been carried off by Cretan

pirates who had brought her to these parts where she was a stranger. She was, she added, in

search of refuge and would be glad to work as a servant or nurse.

Now it happened that Metaneira, the wife of Celeus, had just been delivered of a son,

Demophoon. Metaneira, therefore, welcomed the goddess under her roof; but when Demeter

crossed the threshold her head brushed the rafters and from her emanated

a divine radiance. Metaneira was filled with respect and offered her her own seat. But Demeter

remained standing and silent, her eyes fixed on the ground, refusing food and drink; for longing

for her flower-girdled daughter consumed her. Finally young lambe who, though she was the

daughter of Pan and Echo, served as a slave in Celeus' palace - and to whom was attributed the

invention of iambic verse - succeeded in cheering up Demeter with her buffoonery. She persuaded

Demeter to drink a little kykeon, a beverage made of water, flour and mint.

Later legend substituted Baubo for lambe. Baubo was upset when Demeter refused the drink she

offered her and made an obscene gesture at which the goddess, in spite of herself, laughed.

Demeter was put in charge of bringing up the infant Demophoon. She gave him nothing to eat,

but instead breathed softly on him, anointed him with ambrosia and at night hid him in the fire,

like a burning coal, in order to destroy all that was mortal in him. Thus, to the amazement of his

parents, the child grew like a god. Intrigued by this prodigy Metaneira spied on the nurse and

caught her just as she was placing the little boy in the middle of the flames. Metaneira screamed

with terror. Incensed, the goddess withdrew Demophoon from the fire and put him on the

ground. 'Had it not been for your imprudence,' she said to his mother, T should have put this

child forever beyond the reach of old age and death; but now it is no longer possible for me to

shelter him from death.' Then she appeared before the wife of Celeus in her divine form. She

revealed her name and ordered that a temple be erected for her in Eleusis where the initiated

should celebrate her mysteries. Then she went forth from the palace.

Before departing, however, she wished to show her gratitude to her hosts; she gave Triptolemus,

Celeus' oldest son, the first grain of corn, and taught him the art of harnessing oxen to the plough

and how to sow the soil with grain from which would spring fair harvests. She gave him as well a

winged chariot harnessed with dragons, and bade him travel the world spreading the benefits of

agriculture among all men. Thus Triptolemus ranged all Greece, taught Areas, King of Arcadia,

how to make bread, and in Arcadia founded many towns. He also visited Thrace, Sicily and

Scythia where King Lyncus tried to murder him while he was asleep and was changed by

Demeter into a lynx. He visited Mysia where the King of the Getae, Carnabon, tried in vain to

harm him, and finally returned to Eleusis. There Celeus plotted to have him slain, but was

prevented by Demeter. Celeus was then forced to resign the throne to Triptolemus.

It should be pointed out that originally no bond of relationship united Celeus and Triptolemus

who in the Homeric hymn is merely described as one of the kings who were guardians of justice.

Very much later Triptolemus was identified with Demophoon and attributed with the marvellous

adventure in infancy of which Demophoon was originally the hero.

Demeter's stay at Eleusis was the chief episode in the course of her wanderings on earth, but she

also stayed with Pelasgus in Argos. She visited Phytalus to whom she gave the olive tree. She was

received in Attica by Misme whose son Ascalabos made Demeter the butt of his jokes and was

punished by being turned into a lizard.

Still inconsolable at the loss of her daughter, Demeter retired to her temple at Eleusis. There 'she

prepared for mankind a cruel terrible year: the earth refused to give forth any crop. Then would

the entire human race have perished of cruel, biting hunger if Zeus had not been concerned.' He

hastened to send his messenger Iris to Demeter, but without success. Then all the gods came one

by one to supplicate the implacable goddess. She stated flatly that she would not permit the earth

to bear fruit unless she saw her daughter again. There was no solution except to give in. Zeus

commanded Hermes to descend into the kingdom of Hades and obtain Hades' promise to return

young Kore - who since her arrival in the underworld had taken the name Persephone - to her

mother. Hades complied with the will of Zeus, but before sending his wife up to earth tempted

her to eat a few pomegranate seeds. Now this fruit was a symbol of marriage and the effect of

eating it was to render the union of man and wife indissoluble.

When Kore returned to the world of light her mother hastened to her and embraced her with

transports of joy. 'My daughter,' she cried, 'surely thou hast eaten nothing during your

imprisonment in the dark regions of Hades! For if thou hast not eaten thou shall

live with me on Olympus. But if thou hast, then must thou return to the depths of the earth!' Kore

admitted that she had tasted of the fatal pomegranate. It seemed that Demeter was again to lose

her daughter.

As a compromise Zeus decided that Persephone should live with her husband for one-third of the

year and pass the other two-thirds with her mother. The august Rhea herself brought this proposal

to Demeter who agreed to it. She set aside her anger and bade the soil again be fertile. The vast

earth was soon covered with leaves and flowers. Before she returned to Olympus, Demeter taught

the kings of the earth her divine science and initiated them into her sacred mysteries.

And thus they explained why each year when the cold season arrived the earth took on an aspect

of sadness and mourning: no more verdure, nor flowers in the fields, nor leaves on the trees.

Hidden in the bowels of the ground the seeds slept their winter sleep. It was the moment when

Persephone went to join her husband among the deep shadows. But when sweet-scented spring

came the earth put on its mantle of a thousand flowers to greet the return of Kore, who rose in

radiance, 'a wondrous sight for gods and men'.

The Eleusinian Mysteries. This double event - the disappearance and return of Kore - was the

occasion of great festivals in Greece. In the Thesmophoria which were celebrated in Attica in the

month of October, the departure of Kore for the sombre dwelling was commemorated. According

to Herodotus the origin of these festivals went back to the daughters of Danaus who imported

them from Egypt. They were exclusively reserved for married women and lasted three days.

The return of Kore was celebrated in the Lesser Eleusinia, which took place in the month of


As for the Greater Eleusinia, which took place every five years in September, it seems that they

had no direct connection with the story of Kore. It was a solemn festival - the greatest festival of

Greece - in honour of Demeter, and its principal object was the celebration of the mysteries of the

goddess. The scene of the Greater Eleusinia was Athens and Eleusis.

On the first day the ephebi (youths) of Athens would go to Eleusis to fetch the sacred objects

(hierd) kept in the temple of Demeter, and bring them back with great pomp to Athens where they

were placed in the Eleusinion, at the foot of the Acropolis. The following day the faithful (mystae)

who were judged to be worthy of participating in the mysteries would assemble in Athens at the

call of the hiero-phant. Afterwards they would go to purify themselves in the sea, taking with

them pigs which were bathed and then sacrificed. Finally the solemn procession towards Eleusis

took place and the hiera were returned with the same ceremonial as before. At the head of the

procession was carried the statue of lacchus, a mystic name for Dionysus who was early associated

with the cult of Demeter.

In Eleusis the actual mysteries themselves were then celebrated. Only the initiated could

participate and they were forbidden to divulge what occurred. Initiation comprised two stages;

the second, the epoptae, could only be undertaken after a year's probation.

As far as one can conjecture, the mystae, after drinking the kykeon and eating the sacred cakes,

entered the Telesterion, where they attended a liturgical drama concerning the abduction of Kore.

The epoptae - or those belonging to the highest grade - attended another liturgical drama the

subject of which was the union of Demeter and Zeus, and of which the priestess of Demeter and

the hierophant were the protagonists.

It is not easy to understand the exact meaning of these mysteries. They were, however, probably

more than a simple commemoration of the legend of Demeter and must also have had to do with

the problem of future life, the revelation of which the initiated awaited from the goddess.


Character and Functions. Dionysus is etymologically the 'Zeus of Nysa' and seems, by several

similarities of legend and function, to be the Greek form of the Vedic god Soma. The cradle of his

cult was Thrace. It was brought to Boeotia by Thracian tribes, who established themselves in that

country, and was afterwards introduced to the island of Naxos by Boeotian colonists. The cult

of Dionysus spread throughout the islands, whence it returned to continental Greece, first to

Attica, then later to the Peloponnese. The figure of the primitive Dionysus is complicated by traits

borrowed from other and foreign gods, notably the Cretan god Zagreus, the Phrygian god

Sabazius, and the Lydian god Bassareus. Thus his sphere of influence widened as his character

became enriched with fresh contributions. In origin Dionysus was simply the god of wine;

afterwards he became god of vegetation and warm moisture; then he appeared as the god of

pleasures and the god of civilisation; and finally, according to Orphic conceptions, as a kind of

supreme god.

Cult and Representations. Dionysus was honoured throughout Greece; but the character of the

festivals which were dedicated to him varied with regions and epochs.

One of the most ancient festivals was that of the Agrionia, first celebrated in Boeotia, especially at

Orchomenus: the Bacchantes immolated a young boy. Human sacrifice was also practised at Chios

and at Lesbos; it was later replaced by flagellation. In Attica, they celebrated rural Dionysia: in

December the Lenaea, festival of the wine press, when the god was offered the new wine; at the

end of February the Anthesteria, floral festivals which lasted three days, during which wine of the

last vintage was tasted. In the sanctuary of Lenoeon there was a procession followed by a sacrifice

offered by the wife of the archon-king, and finally boiled seed was offered to Dionysus and

Hermes. The most brilliant festivals were the Greater Dionysia, or urban Dionysia, at the

beginning of March. It was during these festivals that dramatic representations were given. In

addition to those dignified ceremonies all Greece celebrated festivals of orgiastic character as well,

such as those which took place on the slopes of Mount Cithaeron.

The appearance of Dionysus altered at the same time as his legend. He was first depicted as a

bearded man, of mature age, with brow generally crowned with ivy. Later he appears as a

beardless youth of rather effeminate aspect. Sometimes the delicate nudity of his adolescent body

is half-covered by the nebris, a skin of a panther or fawn; sometimes he wears a long robe such as

women wore. His head with its long curly hair is crowned with vine leaves and bunches of grapes.

In one hand he holds the thyrsus, and in the other, grapes or a wine cup.

The Birth and Childhood of Dionysus. When the earth has been made fertile by life-giving rains it

must, in order that its products may reach maturity, endure the bite of the sun which burns and

dries it up. Only then do its fruits develop and the golden grapes appear on the knotty vine. This

seems to be the meaning of the myth of Semele who was normally considered to be the mother of


Semele, daughter of Cadmus, King of Thebes, was seen by Zeus and yielded to him. Zeus would

come to her father's palace to visit her. One day, at the suggestion of the treacherous Hera who

had assumed the guise of her nurse, Semele begged Zeus to show himself

to her in his Olympian majesty. She was unable to endure the dazzling brilliance of her divine

lover and was consumed by the flames which emanated from Zeus' person. The child she carried

in her womb would also have perished had not a thick shoot of ivy suddenly wound around the

columns of the palace and made a green screen between the unborn babe and the celestial fire.

Zeus gathered up the infant and, as it was not yet ready to be born, enclosed it in his own thigh.

When the time was come he drew it forth again, with the aid of Ilithyia, and it is to this double

birth that Dionysus owed the title Dithyrambos.

Zeus confided his son to Ino, sister of Semele, who lived at Orchomenus with her husband


Such was the commonest version of the story. It was also related that Cadmus, learning of the

guilty liaison of his daughter Semele, had her shut up in a chest and thrown into the sea. The chest

was carried by the waves as far as the shores of Prasiae in the Pelopon-nese; when it was opened

Semele was dead, but the child was still alive. He was cared for by Ino.

Hera's jealous vengeance was unappeased and she struck Ino and Athamas with madness. Zeus

succeeded in saving his child for the second time by changing him into a kid whom he ordered

Hermes to deliver into the hands of the nymphs of Nysa.

Where was Nysa? Was it a mountain in Thrace? One seeks its precise situation in vain; for every

region where the cult of Dionysus was established boasted of having a Nysa.

Dionysus, then, passed his childhood on this fabled mountain, cared for by the nymphs whose

zeal was later recompensed; for they were changed into a constellation under the name of the

Hyades. The Muses also contributed to the education of Dionysus, as did the Satyrs, the Sileni and

the Maenads. In Euboea, according to tradition, Dionysus was confided by Hermes to Macris, the

rocks. As for Carya, it was her fate to be turned into a walnut tree.

After continental Greece Dionysus visited the islands of the Archipelago. It was in the course of

this voyage that the god, walking one day by the seashore, was abducted by Tyrrhenian pirates

and carried aboard their ship. They took him for the son of a king and expected a rich ransom.

They tried to tie him up with heavy cords, but in vain. The knots loosened of their own accord and

the bonds fell to the deck. The pilot, terrified, had a presentiment that their captive was divine and

attempted to make his companions release him, The pirates refused. Then occurred a series of

prodigies. Around the dark ship flowed wine, fragrant and delicious. A vine attached its branches

to the sail, while around the mast ivy wound its dark green leaves. The god himself became a lion

of fearful aspect. In horror the sailors leapt into the sea and were immediately changed into

dolphins. Only the pilot was spared by Dionysus.

On the isle of Naxos Dionysus one day perceived a young woman lying asleep on the shore. It was

the daughter of Minos, Ariadne, whom Theseus had brought with him from Crete and just

abandoned. When she awoke Ariadne realised that Theseus had left her and gave way to

uncontrollable tears. The arrival of Dionysus consoled her and shortly afterwards they were

solemnly married. The gods came to the wedding and showered gifts on the couple. Dionysus and

Ariadne had three sons: Oenopion, Euanthes and Staphylus. The Homeric tradition has a different

version of the Ariadne episode. Ariadne was supposed to have been killed by Artemis and it was

only after her death that Dionysus married her. In Naxos they showed the tomb of Ariadne and in

her honour two festivals were celebrated: one mournful, bewailing her death; the other joyful,

commemorating her marriage to Dionysus.

The travels and adventures of Dionysus were not limited to the Greek world. Accompanied by his

retinue of Satyrs and Maenads he went to Phrygia, where Cybele initiated him into her mysteries.

At Ephesus in Cappadocia he repulsed the Amazons. In Syria he fought against Damascus who

destroyed the vines which the god had planted and was punished by being skinned alive. Then he

went into the Lebanon to pay a visit to Aphrodite and Adonis whose daughter, Beroe, he loved.

After having reigned for some time over Caucasian Iberia, Dionysus continued his journey

towards the East, crossing the Tigris on a tiger sent by Zeus, joined the two banks of the Euphrates

by a cable made of vine-shoots and ivy-tendrils, and reached India where he spread civilisation.

We also find him in Egypt where he was received by King Proteus; and in Libya where he helped

Ammon to reconquer his throne from which he had been deposed by Cronus and the Titans.

After these glorious expeditions Dionysus returned to Greece. He was no longer the rather rustic

god recently come down from the mountains of Boeotia. His contact with Asia had made him soft

and effeminate: he now appeared in the guise of a graceful adolescent, dressed in a long robe in

the Lydian fashion. His cult became complicated by orgiastic rites borrowed from Phrygia. Thus

he was received in Greece with distrust, sometimes even with hostility.

When he returned to Thrace, notably, the king of that country, Lycurgus, declared against him.

Dionysus was obliged to flee and seek refuge with Thetis, in the depths of the sea. Meanwhile,

Lycurgus imprisoned the Bacchantes who followed the god, and Dionysus struck the country with

sterility, depriving Lycurgus of his reason. In his madness Lycurgus killed his own son, Dryas,

whom he mistook for a vine-stock. The desolation of Thrace did not cease until the oracle ordered

that Lycurgus be conducted to Mount Pangaeum where he was trampled to death under the

hooves of wild horses.

Dionysus was no better received by Pentheus, King of Thebes, who threw the god into prison.

Dionysus escaped without trouble and struck Agave, the mother of Pentheus, as well as the other

women of Thebes, with madness. They were transformed into Maenadsand rushed to Mount

Cithaeron where they held Dionysian orgies. Pentheus had the imprudence to follow them and

was torn to pieces by his own mother. This terrible drama forms the subject of Euripides' Bacchae.

A similar tragedy overtook the inhabitants of Argos who had also refused to recognise the divinity

of Dionysus: the women, driven out of their minds, tore up and devoured their own children.

Among the chastisements which Dionysus inflicted, one of the most famous concerned the

daughters of Minyas, King of Orcho-mcnus. They were three sisters: Alcithoe, Leucippe and


Since they refused to take part in the festivals of Dionysus, he visited them in the guise of a young

maiden and tried to persuade them by gentleness. Being unsuccessful, he turned himself

successively into a bull, a lion and a panther. Terrified by these prodigies, the daughters of Minyas

lost their reason and one of them, Leucippe, tore her son Hippasus to pieces with her own hands.

Finally they underwent metamorphosis: the first became a mouse, the second a screech-owl, the

third an owl.

Thenceforth no one any longer dreamed of denying the divinity of Dionysus or of rejecting his


The god crowned his exploits by descending into the infernal regions in search of his mother,

Semele. He renamed her Thyone and brought her with him to Olympus among the Immortals. At

Troezen, in the temple of Artemis Soteira, they showed the exact place where Dionysus had

returned from his subterranean expedition. According to the tradition of Argos the route to the

underworld had been shown to the god by a citizen of Argos, one Poly-mnus, and Dionysus had

come up again via the sea of Alcyon.

On Olympus Dionysus took part in the struggle against the Giants; the braying of the ass on

which he rode terrified the Giants and Dionysus killed Eurytus or Rhatos with his thyrsus.

Foreign Divinities Assimilated by Dionysus. The exuberance of the legends of Dionysus is

explained not only by his great popularity but also because the personality of Dionysus absorbed,

as we have already said, that of several foreign gods, notably the Phrygian Sabazius, the Lydian

Bassareus and the Cretan Zagreus.

Sabazius, who was venerated as the supreme god in the Thracian Hellespont, was a solar-divinity

of Phrygian origin. Traditions concerning him were very diverse. Sometimes he was the son of

Cronus, sometimes of Cybele whose companion he became. His wife was either the moongoddess

Bendis or Cotys (or Cottyto), an earth-goddess analogous to the Phrygian Cybele.

Sabazius was represented with horns and his emblem was the serpent. The Sabazia were

celebrated in his honour - nocturnal festivals of orgiastic character.

When Sabazius was later assimilated by Dionysus their legends became amalgamated. Some said

that Sabazius had kept Dionysus enclosed in his thigh before confiding him to the nymph Hippa;

others claimed on the contrary that Sabazius was the son of Dionysus. It was in consequence of

such confusions that Dionysus was finally supposed to have come from the Thracian Hellespont.

Sometimes the Bacchantes were called Bassarids and Dionysus himself had the epithet Bassareus,

in which case he was represented wearing a long robe in the Oriental fashion. The lexicographer

Hesychius considered this to be a reference to the fox-skins which the Bacchantes wore; but it

would rather seem to be an allusion to an Oriental divinity absorbed by Dionysus. Indeed, in

Lydia a god similar to the Phrygian Sabazius was venerated. The place of his cult was Mount

Tmolus where, according to Orphic-Thracian legend, Sabazius delivered the infant Dionysus to

Hippa. Tmolus actually became one of the favourite haunts of Dionysus. What was the name of

the Lydian god? It has been conjectured that his name was Bassareus. He was doubtless a

conquering god and to him may be attributed the origin of Dionysus' distant conquests. Bassareus

could also explain the visit of Dionysus to Aphrodite and Adonis, and perhaps also the legend of

Ampelus, a youth of rare beauty whom Dionysus cherished with particular affection. One day

when he was attempting to master a wild bull Ampelus was tossed and killed by the animal.

Dionysus was heartbroken and obtained the gods' permission to change Ampelus into a vine.

The identification of Dionysus with the Cretan god, Zagreus, who was very probably in origin the

equivalent of the Hellenic Zeus,

introduced - under the influence of Orphic mysticism - a new element into the legend of the god,

that of the Passion of Dionysus.

This is what they said of Dionysus-Zagreus:

He was the son of Zeus and Demeter - or of Kore. The other gods were jealous of him and resolved

to slay him. He was torn into pieces by the Titans who threw the remains of his body into a

cauldron. Pallas Athene, however, was able to rescue the god's heart. She took it at once to Zeus

who struck the Titans with thunderbolts and, with the still beating heart, created Dionysus. As for

Zagreus, whose remains had been buried at the foot of Parnassus, he became an underworld

divinity who in Hades welcomed the souls of the dead and helped with their purification.

On these sufferings and resurrection the adepts of Orphism conferred a mystic sense, and the

character of Dionysus underwent profound modification. He was no longer the rustic god of wine

and jollity, formerly come down the mountains of Thrace; he was no longer even the god of

orgiastic delirium, come from the Orient. Henceforth Dionysus - in Plutarch's words - 'the god

who is destroyed, who disappears, who relinquishes life and then is born again', became the

symbol of everlasting life.

Thus it is not surprising to see Dionysus associated with Demeter and Kore in the Eleusinian

mysteries. For he, too, represented one of the great life-bringing forces of the world.


From early times in Greece the vintage festivals were occasions for joyful processions in which

priests and the faithful, men and women, of the cult of Dionysus took part. These devotees were

called Bacchants and Bacchantes or Maenads. It was the habit to provide the god with a cortege or

thiasus composed of secondary divinities more or less closely bound up with his cult: Satyrs,

Sileni, Pans, Priapi, Centaurs, Nymphs.

Satyrs and Sileni. The Satyrs represented the elementary spirits of the forests and the mountains.

They were a kind of wood-genii whose sudden appearance would terrify shepherds and

travellers. There was something about them of both monkey and he-goat with their low forehead,

their snub nose, their pointed ears, their hairy body ending in a goat's tail, their cloven hooves.

Such at least was their primitive aspect; later traces of the beast which at first dominated

survived only in their pointed ears and the small horns on their brow, while their features

took on an expression of youth and gentleness. Their character also altered. According to Hesiod

the Satyrs were originally a lazy and useless race who loved only pleasure and good cheer.

Sensual and lascivious, they delighted in chasing the nymphs through the forests. Later, although

they preserved their malicious nature, they acquired more grace and specialised in the pleasures

of music and the dance. They were thought to be brothers of the nymphs and the Curetes. Another

tradition relates that they were originally men, sons of Hermes and Iphthima, but that Hera

turned them into monkeys to punish them for neglecting to keep watch on Dionysus. They were,

however, faithful companions of the god and played the principal role in his orgiastic festivals.

One of the most picturesque figures in the retinue of Dionysus was Silenus, a fat old man, bald,

snub-nosed, always drunk, who followed the god sometimes supported by Satyrs, sometimes

swaying precariously on an ass. Nevertheless this cheerful drunkard was full of wisdom. He had

been the tutor of Dionysus and had helped to form his character. His knowledge was immense, he

knew both the past and the future, and could reveal the destiny of anyone who succeeded in tying

him up during the heavy slumber which followed his drinking-bouts. Plato felt no irreverence in

comparing his master Socrates with Silenus. Silenus was, it appears, the son of Hermes and the

Earth. Others say that he was born of the blood of Uranus after Cronus had mutilated him. Pindar

says his wife was Nais.

In reality the name Silenus is a generic term which applies to a category of rural divinities, rather

similar to the Satyrs and often confused with them. The Sileni were native not to Greece, but to

Phrygia, and personified the genii of springs and rivers. Their name seems to mean 'water which

bubbles as it flows' and their fluvial character is evident from certain peculiarities of their bodies:

unlike the Satyrs who derive chiefly from the he-goat, the Sileni derive rather from the horse - a

water symbol - whose tail, hooves, and even ears they possess. Marsyas, who is generally made a

Satyr, was in reality a Silenus and, at the same time, a river-god of Phrygia. That was why the

Phrygian Midas - whose legend is closely connected with that of the Sileni - voted for Marsyas in

the famous music contest with Apollo.

Pan, Aristaeus, Priapus. Another divinity later incorporated in the retinue of Dionysus, and often

confused with the Satyrs because of his physical resemblance to them, was the god Pan, whose

cult was for long localised in Arcadia. Hence he was made the son of Hermes, the great Arcadian

god. His mother was either the daughter of King Dryops, whose flocks Hermes had tended, or

Penelope, whom he had approached in the form of a he-goat. Pan himself came into the world

with the legs, horns and beard of a goat.

Various etymologies have been proposed for the name Pan. The Homeric hymn connects it with

the adjective which means 'all' under the pretext that the sight of Pan on Olympus amused all the

Immortals. The same etymology was invoked by the mytholo-gists of the school of Alexandria

who considered Pan to be the symbol of the Universe. Max Muller found a connection between

Pan and the Sanskrit pavana, the wind, and believed that Pan was the personification of the light

breeze. In our opinion, however, it seems more likely that the name comes from the root which

means 'to eat' which gave the Latins the verb pascere, 'to graze or pasture'. Pan, indeed, was above

all a shepherd-god, of woods and pastures, protector of shepherds and flocks. He lived on the

slopes of Mount Maenalus or Mount Lycaeus, in grottoes where the Arcadian shepherds came to

worship him. He made their goats and ewes prolific - whence his aspect of a phallic divinity - and

caused wild beasts to be killed by hunters; when the hunt was unsuccessful they would whip his

image by way of reprisal. Pan himself delighted in roving the forests, frisking with the nymphs

whom he sometimes terrified with his appearance. One day he was chasing the nymph Syrinx and

had nearly caught her when she cried aloud to her father, the river-god Ladon, to change her into

a reed. Her prayer was granted. Pan consoled himself for his disappointment by cutting some

reeds with which he made a flute of a new sort, giving it the name Syrinx, or Pan-pipes. He was

more successful with the nymph Pitys who preferred him to Boreas. Boreas, the bitter North

Wind, was enraged and flung himself on

Pitys, throwing her against a rock where her limbs were crushed. In pity Gaea transformed her

into a pine. It was told that Pan succeeded in seducing the moon-goddess Selene; he disguised

himself in the fleece of a dazzling white ewe and drew her into the forest with him, or he himself

assumed the shape of a white ram.

For long he was confined to the mountains of Arcadia where he amused himself by giving the

lonely traveller sudden frights, called for this reason panics. He penetrated into Attica only at the

time of the Persian wars. Shortly before the battle of Marathon he appeared to the ambassadors

whom the Athenians had sent to Sparta and promised to put the Persians to flight if the Athenians

consented to worship him in Athens. In gratitude they erected a sanctuary for him on the

Acropolis and from there the cult of Pan spread throughout Greece.

We have said that Pan finally symbolised the universal god, the Great All. In this connection

Plutarch recounts how in the reign of Tiberius a mariner sailing near the Echinades Islands heard

a mysterious voice call out to him three times, saying: 'when you reach Palodes proclaim that the

great god Pan is dead.' This was at the exact time that Christianity was born in Judea. The

coincidence has always seemed strange; but Reinach has demonstrated that the sailor simply

heard the ritual lamentations in honour of Adonis.

Every region in Greece had its own Pan. That of Thessaly was called Aristaeus. Without doubt this

Aristaeus was a great primitive deity of this land, for his name means 'the very good', which was

also the epithet of Zeus in Arcadia. Moreover Pindar says that 'Aristaeus was carried after his

birth by Hermes to Gaea and the Horae who fed him on nectar and ambrosia, and transformed

him into Zeus, the immortal god, and into Apollo, the pure, the guardian of flocks and the chase

and pasturage.' According to legend Aristaeus was the son of Uranus and Gaea or of Apollo and

Cyrene. He was brought up by the Centaur Chiron and instructed in the arts of medicine and

soothsaying. He was considered as the protector of flocks and agriculture, particularly of the vine

and olive. It was he who taught men bee-keeping.

His civilising influence was felt throughout Greece. In Boeotia he married the daughter of

Cadmus, Autonoe, by whom he had a son, Actaeon. During his stay in Thrace he fell in love with

Eury-dice, the wife of Orpheus. It was in fleeing from Aristaeus that she was mortally bitten by a

serpent. The end of Aristaeus was mysterious; he vanished from the earth on Mount Haemus.

The Pan of Mysia, in Asia Minor, was Priapus. He was particularly venerated at Lampsacus. His

orgin is rather vague. His mother was said to be Aphrodite or Chione and his father Dionysus,

Adonis, Hermes or Pan.

It was told that Hera, jealous of Aphrodite, caused him to be bom with the extraordinary

deformity to which he owes his name. His mother abandoned him and he was taken in by

shepherds. Priapus presided over the fecundity of fields and flocks, over the raising of bees, the

culture of the vine and over fishing. He protected orchards and gardens where his phallic image

was placed. He was evidently introduced into the retinue of Dionysus by way of Asia.

The Centaurs. In addition to the Satyrs and the Sileni another kind of monstrous creature formed

part of the cortege of Dionysus: the Centaurs. Their torso and head were those of a man; the rest of

their body belonged to a horse. They had not always been like this: the first representations of

Centaurs show them as giants with hairy bodies; then they were depicted as men with the

hindquarters of a horse. Their definitive appearance goes no farther back than the period of


Natives of Thessaly, the Centaurs were descendants of Ixion, son of Ares. Ixion was engaged to

marry Dia, daughter of Eioneus. There was a dispute between Ixion and his future father-in-law

and Ixion threw him into a burning ditch. This crime earned universal reprobation and Ixion was

forced to seek refuge with Zeus who offered him hospitality. But Ixion had the audacity to covet

Zeus' own wife, Hera. In order to test how far his impudence would go, Zeus formed a cloud into

the likeness of Hera and gave it to Ixion. From this strange union was born a monster, Centaurus,

who, himself uniting with the mares of Pelion, fathered the race of the Centaurs.

Some have interpreted all this as a Hellenic equivalent of the

Vedic Gandharvas. But it is more likely that the Centaurs - whose

name etymologically signifies 'those who round up bulls' - were a primitive population of

cowmen, living in Thessaly, who, like American cowboys, rounded up their cattle on horseback.

Their behaviour was rude and barbarous, whence the savagery which was always attributed to

the Centaurs - gross creatures, cruel, and given to lechery and drunkenness.

Some of their number were, however, famed for their wisdom. Such was Pholus who entertained

Hercules. Such, especially, was Chiron who was educated by Artemis and Apollo themselves, and

who in his turn was the teacher of many heroes. He perished in consequence of a wound made by

Hercules with a poisoned arrow. The wound was incurable and Chiron exchanged his immortality

for the mortality of Prometheus. Zeus placed him among the stars where he became part of the

constellation Sagittarius.

The chief episode in the legend of the Centaurs was their battle with the Eapiths on the occasion of

the nuptials of Peirithous. The Lapiths were also a fabulous people from Thessaly. Their king,

Peirithous, was marrying Hippodameia and had invited the Centaur Eurytion to the festivities.

Excited by the wine Eurytion attempted to abduct the bride, but was prevented from doing so by

Theseus. Eurytion returned to the attack with a troop of Centaurs armed with slabs of stone and

the trunks of pine trees. A general battle took place from which the Eapiths at last emerged

victorious, thanks to the courage of Theseus and Peirithous. The Centaurs were driven to the

frontiers of Epirus and took refuge on the slopes of Mount Pindus.

The Nymphs. Among these graceless and brutal divinities the nymphs were conspicuous for the

charm of their youth and beauty. The nymphs of Dionysus' retinue were in all points similar to

their sisters who peopled the rivers and springs. Eike the nymphs also

found in -the retinue of Artemis and Apollo they were tutelary deities of the forests and

mountains. Their names varied according to their place of abode. The Oreads were nymphs of the

mountains and the grottoes. The Napaeac, the Auloniads, the Hylacorae and the Alsaeids haunted

the woods and valleys. Only the Dryads, forest nymphs responsible for trees, never mingled with

divine processions. Crowned with oak-leaves, sometimes armed with an axe to punish outrages

against the trees which they guarded, they would dance around the oaks which were sacred to

them. Certain of their number, the Hamadryads, were still more closely united with trees of

which, it was said, they formed an integral part.

Among the nymphs who followed Hera there was an Oread named Echo who, eveiy time that

Zeus paid court to some nymph, would distract Hera's attention with her chattering and singing.

When Hera discovered this she deprived Echo of the gift of speech, condemning her to repeat only

the last syllable of words spoken in her presence. Now shortly afterwards Echo fell in love with a

young Thespian named Narcissus. Unable to declare her love she was spurned by him and went

to hide her grief in solitary caverns. She died of a broken heart, her bones turned into stone, and

all that was left of her was the echo of her vioce. Her unhappy end was also attributed to the

wrath of Pan who was unable to win her love and had her torn to pieces by shepherds. Gaea

received her mortal remains but even in death she retained her voice.

As for Narcissus, the gods punished him for having spurned Echo by making him fall in love with

his own image. The soothsayer Teiresias had predicted that Narcissus would live only until the

moment he saw himself. One day when he was leaning over the limpid waters of a fountain

Narcissus caught sight of his own reflection in the water. He conceived so lively a passion for this

phantom that nothing could tear him away from it, and he died there

of languor. He was changed into the flower which bears his name and which grows at the edge of


Another victim of the nymphs was the handsome Sicilian herdsman Daphnis. Daphnis was the

son of Hermes and a nymph. He was abandoned by his mother and taken in by shepherds whose

daily life he shared at the foot of Etna. He was loved by a nymph, Echenais, Xenaea or Lyce, who

made him swear eternal fidelity to her under pain of going blind. Intoxicated by the princess

Chimaera, Daphnis broke his vow and at once lost his sight. He tried to console himself with

poetry and music; he was called the inventor of pastoral poetry. He killed himself one day by

falling from the top of a cliff.


Zeus, sovereign lord of mortals, did not rule directly over their fate. He delegated this task to

secondary divinities who accompanied men throughout their physical and moral life.


Ilithyia. In primitive times there were two llithyias, daughters of Hera, who presided over birth

and brought to women in labour both pain - the keen arrows of the llithyias - and deliverance. No

child could be bom unless they were present, no mother could find relief without them. Thus,

when Apollo was born, the jealous Hera detained Ilithyia on Olympus for nine days and nine

nights when she had been on the point of going to the aid of L.eto. Hera repeated this manoeuvre

when Alcmene was about to give birth to Hercules.

The two llithyias finally merged into a single person, the goddess of childbirth. She was, in fact, a

very ancient divinity believed to have originated in Crete. She is most often depicted kneeling, a

position which was believed to aid delivery, and carrying a torch, symbol of light, while with her

other hand she makes a gesture of encouragement.

Certain goddesses known to be particularly concerned with women were sometimes given the

epithet Ilithyia: Hera at Argos. Tor instance, and Artemis at Delos. It may even be asked if Ilithyia

is not simply a double of Hera's.

Asclepius. We have seen, in discussing Apollo, the tragic circumstances of the birth of Asclepius,

son of Apollo and Coronis. Apollo snatched him from the burning pyre on which his mother's

body had just been consumed and carried him to Mount Pelion where he was confided to the care

of the Centaur Chiron. Chiron taught him to hunt and instructed him in the science of medicine.

The medical career x)f Asclepius then began. With his miraculous cures he soon earned immense

renown. He even succeeded in restoring the dead to life, thanks either to the Gorgon's blood

which Athene had given him or to the properties of a plant which a serpent had told him about.

Hades felt that he was being wronged. He went .to Zeus to complain, and Zeus agreed that

mortals must follow their destiny. Thus Asclepius was guilty of thwarting the order of nature and

Zeus struck him dead with a thunderbolt.

Apollo avenged the death of his son by exterminating the Cyclopes who had forged the

thunderbolt. Apollo was banished from Olympus for a considerable time as a result of this


At Epidaurus another tradition of the birth of Asclepius was current. They said that Coronis gave

birth to her son Asclepius while her father, Phlegyas, was on an expedition to the Peloponnese.

She exposed the new-born child on Mount Titthion where a goat fed it and a dog guarded it. One

day Aresthanas, a shepherd, discovered it and was struck by the supernatural light which played

over the child.

Be that as it may, the god of health was always considered to be the offspring of light or fire. To

the sick he restored the warmth they had lost. Hence he was the object of great veneration in

Greece. He was surrounded by auxiliary divinities: to begin with, Epione, his wife, who bore the

two Asclepiads, Podaleirius and Machaon. Both took part, at the head of the Thessalians of Tricca,

in the Trojan war. They were as skilled in medicine as their father. Machaon, especially, cured

Menelaus of an arrow wound. He also cured Philoctetes. He himself was killed before Troy and

Nestor brought his body back to Greece. Podaleirius survived the

expedition and on his return was cast by a tempest on to the shores of Caria where he settled.

Asclepius also had daughters: laso, Panacea, Aegle and, above all, Hygieia, who was closely

associated with the cult of her father as goddess of health. Finally we must mention the guardian

spirit of convalescence, Telesphorus, who was represented wearing a hooded cape, the costume of

those who had just recovered from illness.

Asclepius was sometimes represented as a serpent, but more frequently as a man of middle age

with an expression of benevolence, and his cult was at the same time a,religion and a system of

therapeutics. His sanctuaries, such as those at Tricca, Epidaurus, Cos and Pergamus, were built

outside the towns on particularly healthy sites. 'The priests in charge of them at first held a

monopoly of medical knowledge which was handed down from father to son. It was only later

that they admitted outsiders as neophytes.

In the Asdepeia special rites were observed. After much purificatory preparation, baths, fasting,

sacrifices, the patient was permitted to spend the night in the temple of Asclepius where he slept

either on the skin of the sacrificed animal or on a couch placed near the statue of the god. This was

the period of incubation. During the night Asclepius would appear to the patient in a dream and

give him advice. In the morning the priests would interpret the dream and explain the god's

precepts. Patients would thank Asclepius by tossing gold into the sacred fountain and by hanging

ex-votos on the walls of the temple.


The Moerae or Fates. The Moerae, whom the Romans called the Parcae, were for Homer the

individual and inescapable destiny which followed every mortal being. Only in Hesiod's

Theogony are they treated as goddesses. They were three in number, daughters of Night, and they

were called: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Clotho, the spinner, personified the thread of life.

Lachesis was chance, the element of luck that a man had the right to expect. Atropos was

inescapable fate, against which there was no appeal. The whole of man's life was shadowed by the

Moerae. They arrived at his birth with Ilithyia. When he was married the three Moerae had to be

invoked so that the union should be happy. And when the end approached the Moerae hastened

to cut the thread of his life. Hesiod placed them with the Keres, thus giving them the role of

divinities of violent death.

The Moerae were submitted to the authority of Zeus who commanded them to see that the natural

order of things was respected They sat in the assemblies of the gods and possessed the gift of


Nemesis. Like the Fates, Nemesis had at first been a moral idea, that of the inexorable equilibrium

of the human condition. Man could displease the gods in two manners, either by offending the

moral law - in which case he incurred their wrath or by attaining too much happiness or riches - in

which case he excited their jealousy. In either of these cases the imprudent mortal was pursued by

Nemesis, or the divine anger. If he had offended only by an excess of good fortune he might hope

to propitiate the goddess by sacrificing a part of his happiness.

Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, was terrified of the unheard-of luck which followed him, and wished

to forestall the jealousy of the gods by throwing into the sea a priceless ring of which he was

especially fond. But when the ring was returned to him by a fisherman who had found it in the

belly of a fish, Polycrates realised that Nemesis had refused to accept his sacrifice and that

unhappiness was in store for him. And, indeed, it overtook him shortly afterwards.

Nemesis later became a goddess with more definitely defined personality, and various

genealogies were ascribed to her. According to some she was the daughter of Oceanus. According

to others she was born of Night and Erebus, in which case she was a deadly power. But when Dike

was made her mother she became an equitable divinity. She was, however, always responsible for

seeing that order was maintained. One of her titles was Adrasteia - the Inevitable. She is

sometimes depicted with a finger to her lips -suggesting that silence is advisable in order not to

attract the divine anger. The principal sanctuary of Nemesis was at Rhamnus, a small town in

Attica. There was a statue of the goddess there

which Phidias carved from the marble which the Persians, rashly counting on victory in advance,

had brought with them before the battle of Marathon, expecting to erect a trophy with it.

Tyche, Ate, Litae. To complete the list of divinities whose functions were moral, there is Tyche,

goddess of fortune. Hesiod calls her the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. She was represented

variously by various cities, each having its own Tyche. Adorned with the mural crown, she wears

the attributes of abundance.

Ate, daughter of Eris or of Zeus, was on the other hand a malevolent divinity who prompted men

to irresponsible acts. She led both men and gods into error and aberration. It was she who, when

Hercules was born, suggested to Zeus the imprudent vow which caused the hero such subsequent

misery. Hence the master of the gods punished the wicked goddess by banishing her permanently

from Olympus and 'from the heights of heaven flung her into the midst of man's affairs'.

In order to repair the damage done by the treacherous Ate, Zeus sent the Litae after her. The Litae

were Prayers and also daughters of Zeus. Wrinkled and lame, they limped after their sister Ate,

trying to mitigate the evils she caused. Whoever welcomed the Litae with respect was showered

with blessings.


In Greek mythology the Infernal Regions were the mournful abode where, separated from their

bodies, the souls of those who

had finished their earthly existence took refuge. There were two successive conceptions of where

the afterworld was situated. 'The Afterworld,' says Circe to Odysseus, 'lies at the extremity of the

earth, beyond the vast Ocean.' The earth was thought of as a flat surface limited by an immense

encircling river Ocean. One must cross this river in order to reach the desolate and uncultivated

shore of the infernal regions. There few things grew, the soil was barren and no living being could

survive, for the sun's rays could not penetrate so far. Black poplars were found there, and willows

which never bore fruit. The ground supported asphodel, a funerary plant of ruins and cemeteries.

This was the tradition of the epic poems. It was altered with the progress of geography when

navigators discovered that very far to the west - where the infernal regions were supposed to be -

there existed lands which were in fact inhabited. Popular belief then placed the kingdom of

Shadows elsewhere: from then on it was situated in the centre of the earth. It continued to remain

a place of shadows and mystery, of Erebus. Its approaches were no longer the Ocean. The

Underworld communicated with the earth by direct channels. These were caverns whose depths

were unplumbed, like that of Acherusia in Epirus, or Heraclea Pontica. Near Cape Taenarum there

was one of these entrance gates and also at Colonus in a place dedicated to the Eumenides.

In the same way certain rivers whose course was partly underground were thought to lead to the

infernal regions. Such was the Acheron in Thesprotia into which flowed the Cocytus. It must be

remarked, moreover, that the names of these rivers were given to them because they were

believed to flow into the underworld. Acheron derives from the word which means 'affliction'. It

was the

river of sadness and Cocytus was the river of lamentation.

Though the ancients carefully described the exterior appearance and approaches of the

underworld, they were vaguer about its interior. On this aspect of the Infernal Regions we have

little information. According to what we have, the actual Underworld was preceded by a vestibule

called the Grove of Persephone. Here the black poplars and sterile willows were again found. It

had to be crossed before reaching the gate of the Kingdom of Hades. At the gate was posted

Cerberus, the monstrous watch-dog with fifty heads and a voice of bronze. He was born of the

love of the giant Typhoeus for Echidna. Cerberus was variously represented. Sometimes he had

only three heads, sometimes he bristled with serpents and his mouth dribbled black venom. He

was always to be feared. When entering the underworld, to be sure, the terrible beast would

appear prepossessing, wagging its tail and ears. But never again could one come out. Cerberus,

however, could be appeased by tossing to him cakes of flour and honey. Hermes could calm him

down with his caduceus and Orpheus charmed him with his lyre. Only Hercules dared measure

his strength with Cerberus and, vanquishing him, carried him for a moment up to earth. Cerberus

infected certain herbs with his venom which were afterwards gathered by magicians and used in

the preparation of baleful philtres.

Within the Underworld flowed subterranean rivers: Acheron with its affluent the Cocytus swelled

by the Phlegethon, Lethe and, finally, the Styx. Acheron was the son of Gaea. He had quenched

the thirst of the Titans during their war with Zeus and been thrown into the Underworld where he

was changed into a a river. To cross Acheron it was necessary to apply to old Charon, the official

ferryman of the Underworld. He was a hard old man, difficult to deal with. Unless before

embarking the shade of the deceased newcomer presented Charon with his obolus, he would

mercilessly drive away an intruder so ignorant of local usage. The shade was then condemned to

wander the deserted shore and never find refuge. The Greeks therefore carefully put an obolus

into the mouths of the dead.

The Styx surrounded the Underworld with its nine loops. The Styx was personified as a nymph,

daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. She was loved, it was said, by the Titan Pallas and by him had

Zelos (Jealousy); Nike (Victory); Kratos (Force); and Bia (Violence). As a reward for the help she

rendered the Olympians during the revolt of the Titans it was decided that the Immortals should

swear by her name, and such vows were irrevocable.

Those who drank of the waters of Lethe forgot the past. Lethe flowed, according to some, at the

extremity of the Llysian fields: according to others at the edge of Tartarus. The Elysian fields and

Tartarus were the two great regions of the Underworld.


It seems that the name of the ruler of the Underworld derives from the privative prefix 'a' and the

verb 'to see', evoking an idea of mystery. He was the Invisible. He was also called Pluto, from the

word for 'riches'. It was he who received buried treasure: he was then considered the god of

agricultural wealth. From the centre of earth he exerted his influence on cultivation and crops.

Hades - he was also called Aidoneus - was the son of Rhea and the ferocious Cronus who

devoured him as he devoured his brothers and sisters. Fortunately he was delivered by his brother

Zeus, from whom he received as his share of the inheritance the Kingdom of the Underworld.

Over this domain Hades ruled as absolute master. He seemed happy there and was only seen to

leave his Kingdom on two occasions: once to abduct Persephone and the other time to go in search

of Paean in order to be cured of a wound inflicted by Hercules who struck his shoulder with a

sharp-pointed arrow. On the other hand, if an impulse to emerge from the Underworld seized

him, no one could see him; for his helmet made him invisible.

Hades was not a particularly inconstant husband. Persephone had only twice to complain of his

infidelity. First he became interested in Minthe, a nymph of the Cocytus. Persephone - or perhaps

it was Demeter - pursued the unfortunate nymph and trod her ferociously underfoot. Hades

transformed her into a plant which first grew in Triphylia; it was mint which was afterwards

sacred to Hades.

Hades also brought a daughter of Oceanus to his kingdom, one Leuce, who died a natural death

and became a white poplar, the tree of the Elysian Fields. When Hercules came up from the

Underworld he was crowned with its foliage.

Hades was very little venerated, though as Pluto he received much more homage. This was

because Hades was essentially a god of terror, mystery and the inexorable. Pluto, on the contrary,

was regarded as a benevolent deity and his cult was sometimes associated with that of Demeter.

To pray to him - Homer says - one struck the ground with bare hands or with rods. One sacrificed

to him a black ewe or a black ram. Plants sacred to the god of the Underworld were the cypress

and the narcissus.

Persephone. The name of the wife of Hades occurs in several forms: Persephone, Persephoneia,

Phersephone, Persephassa, Phersephatta. It is difficult to discover the etymology of all these

variations. It is believed that the last half of the word Persephone comes from a word meaning 'to

show' and evokes an idea of light. Whether the first half derives from a word meaning 'to destroy'

- in which case Persephone would be 'she who destroys the light' - or from an adverbial root

signifying 'dazzling brilliance' as in the name Perseus, it is difficult to decide.

The problem is complicated by the fact that Persephone is not a purely infernal divinity. Before

marrying Hades she lived on earth with her mother Demeter who had conceived her by Zeus. Her

name had then been Kore.

It is probable that originally mother and daughter were merged in one and the same divinity.

Demeter, as we have seen, had in her province not only the surface of the earth, but also its

interior. Subsequently the personality of Demeter split and her subterranean function devolved on

a distinct goddess who was, however, an offspring of the primitive goddess. This is the meaning

of the Kore-Persephone myth.

The dramatic circumstances of Kore's abduction will be recalled: how Hades surprised her while

she was gathering flowers in a field, carried her away in his chariot and plunged with her into the

depths of the earth; how Demeter, unable to regain full possession of her daughter, accepted the

gods' proposal that Persephone should pass at least part of the year with her.

Persephone's legend is limited to this single episode, though the initiates of Orphism tried to

enrich it by making the goddess the mother of Dionysus-Zagreus. Confined, like Hades, to her

shadowy empire, Persephone was exempt from the passions which swayed other divinities. At

most she was said to have felt a certain tenderness for the beautiful Adonis.

As goddess of the Underworld Persephone's attributes were the bat, the narcissus and the

pomegranate. She was honoured in Arcadia under the names Persephone Soteira and Despoena.

She was also venerated at Sardes and in Sicily. But usually her cult was joined to Demeter's and

the rites of both were almost always similar.

Hecate. Hecate is best treated as a divinity of the Underworld, though she was in origin a moongoddess.

She was a native of ancient Thrace and in some ways she resembled Artemis with whom

she was sometimes merged. Her name seems to be the feminine form of a title of Apollo's - the fardarter.

Thus Hesiod makes her the daughter of the Titan Perses and the Titaness Asteria, both

symbols of shining light. Hecate's lunar character always remained: she and Helios together

witnessed the abduction of Kore by Hades.

Hecate was powerful both in the sky and on earth: she gave men riches, victory and wisdom; she

watched over the prosperity of flocks and presided over navigation. During the war with the

Giants she was the ally of Zeus; thus she continued to be honoured on Olympus.

A later tradition says that Hecate was the daughter of Zeus and Hera. It was said that she incurred

her mother's wrath by stealing her rouge to give to Europa. She fled to the earth and hid in the

house of a woman who had just been brought to bed with a child, contact with whom rendered

Hecate impure. To remove the stain the Cabeiri plunged her into the Acheron, and that was how

Hecate became a divinity of the Underworld. In the infernal regions Hecate's authority was

considerable: she was called Prytania of the dead or the Invincible Queen. She presided over

purifications and expiations. She was the goddess of enchantments and magic

charms as well. She sent demons to the earth who tormented men. She herself would appear at

night accompanied by her retinue of infernal dogs. The places that she haunted most frequently

were crossroads, or near tombs or the scenes of crimes. Thus at crossroads her image could be

found, either columns or statues of the goddess with three faces - they were called triple Hecates -

and, on the eve of the full moon, offerings would be left before these images to propitiate the

redoubtable goddess.


Thanatos and Hypnos. Thanatos - Death - naturally supplied Hades with his subjects. He was the

son of Night. Euripides shows him dressed in a black robe holding in his hand the fatal sword, as

he walks among men. But normally Death did not appear in this sinister aspect; Thanatos was

more usually represented as a winged spirit. He then completely resembled his brother Hypnos -

Sleep -who lived with him in the Underworld. Hypnos put men to sleep by touching them with

his magic wand or by fanning them with his dark wings. He had power also over the gods and

Homer tells us how at Hera's request he took the form of a night bird and sent Zeus to sleep on

Mount Ida. The son of Hypnos was Morpheus, god of dreams.

The Keres. The Keres executed the will of the Moerae or Fates and were no doubt originally

confused with them. When the implacable deities had fixed the fatal hour, it was the Keres who

appeared. They

would then seize the unhappy mortal, deliver the decisive blow, and carry him down to the land

of shadows. In the midst of battle especially they could be seen to hover, with a sparkling eye,

grimacing mouth, and sharp teeth whose whiteness contrasted with the sombre hue of their

visage. They wore red robes and cried out dismally as they finished off the wounded. They would

dig in their sharp claws, then greedily drink the streaming blood. Not without reason were they

called the dogs of Hades.

The Erinnyes. The Erinnyes were also sometimes called the 'dogs of Hades'. They, too, were

infernal deities whose special mission was to punish parricides and those who had violated their

oaths. Their genealogy was rather vague: according to Hesiod they were born to Gaea fertilised by

the blood of Uranus. Aeschylus calls them 'the children of Eternal Night' and Sophocles

'Daughters of the Earth and the Shadow'. It seems that they were first venerated in Arcadia where

a Demeter Erinnyes, from whom they were perhaps derived, was worshipped. Tiieir number for

long remained undetermined, but was later fixed at three when they were given the individual

names of Tisiphone, Megara and Alecto.

When a crime was committed in a family - above all when a son's hands were stained with the

blood of his parents - the black goddesses would immediately appear, their hair bristling with

serpents, armed with torches and whips. They would sit at the threshold of the guilty one's house

and it was in vain to attempt escape. Even in the Underworld they pursued their vengeance and

tormented the guilty in Tartarus.

The cult of the Erinnyes was spread throughout all Greece, above all in Athens where they had a

temple near the Areopagus. Here they were honoured under the name of the Eumenides - the

Benevolent Ones - in memory of the mildness they had shown towards Orestes, who, after the

murder of his mother, had come to seek refuge in Athens

Life in the Underworld. Souls of the dead, when they had left the earth, only retained a pale

reflection of their former personality. Physically they were diaphanous and insubstantial. Morally

they were also shadows: their courage and intelligence had disappeared. Only a few privileged

persons lived in the Underworld as they had lived on earth, following the same occupations.

Orion continued to hunt, Minos judged souls, Hercules was always ready to overthrow some

monster or other.

In brief the Underworld, in this primitive conception of it, was a sort of dismal house of

retirement. Only the outstandingly guilty suffered eternal torture.

Little by little, however, the Underworld came to be thought of, not as a limbo, but as a place of

justice where each received exactly what he deserved.

Souls on their arrival appeared before a tribunal composed of Hades and his three assessors:

Aeacus, Minos and Rhadamanthys.

The latter two were sons of Zeus and Europa and had reigned, Minos over Crete and

Rhadamanthys over the Cyclades. Aeacus was the son of Zeus and Aegina and during his life had

been distinguished for his piety and love of justice. The gods themselves had chosen him as an

arbiter. After his death he was appointed in the Underworld especially to judge Europeans, while

Rhadamanthys tried Asiatics. It was Aeacus who held the keys of the Underworld.

After they had been examined and judgment pronounced, the souls of the dead were either cast

into Tartarus or conducted to the Elysian Fields or to the Islands of the Blessed.

Tartarus with its gates of bronze was the sombre gaol of those who had committed crimes against

the gods. It was surrounded by a triple wall and bathed by the waters of the Phlegethon. The

avenue which led to Tartarus was closed by a diamond gate. Here the most notorious prisoners

were the Titans and the giant Tityus on whom two vultures fed because he had attempted to

violate Leto. Tantalus could also be seen, eternal ly tortured by hunger and thi rst; Sisyphus, who

without respite rolled his rock up a steep cliff; Ixion, bound to his flaming wheel spinning in the

air; and the Danaids, condemned eternally to fill a bottomless barrel.

In Elysium, on the contrary, snow and rain and tempests were unknown. Soft breezes forever

refreshed this abode of happiness which was at first reserved for the children of the gods, but later

opened to the favourites of the Olympians and the souls of the just.


The Greeks' Idea of the Hero. The Greek Hero was not always a supernatural being related to the

gods. Homer made him a man of strength and courage or one who was especially venerated for

his wisdom, like Laertes, Aegyptus and Demodocus. The hero could also be simply a prince of an

illustrious family like Odysseus and Menelaus, for example. It is only incidentally that the heroes

of Homer's poems are related to gods.

Hesiod on the other hand generalised the idea of the superman and recounted his origin.

According to him, heroes were the offspring of the fourth generation of mythical men, that is to

say the generation which took part in the battles of Troy and Thebes. At that epoch, indeed, gods

and mortals often mingled.

Cult of the Heroes. The cult which the Greeks rendered to their heroes closely resembled the

devotion with which they honoured their own ancestors. The hero, they believed, was in fact their

most illustrious ancestor. Heroes and ancestors alike were offered sacrifice at the end of the day:

the sacrificial victim was turned towards the West and at the foot of the altar a trench was dug to

receive the victim's head. But the chief role of the hero was to act as intermediary between men

and the gods. While men after death became insubstantial shadows, heroes retained their original

qualities and could intercede for mortals. In brief, the heroes, who were originally idealised men,

became demi-gods and in the hierarchy occupied a position midway between men and the



We are not very certain about the etymology of the word Heracles (the Latinised form being

Hercules, which is used here throughout). Various hypotheses have been suggested to explain the

name. The ancients claimed that Heracles was thus named because he owed his glory to Hera. The

name has also been translated as 'glory of the air'. But no one of the theories advanced is more

convincing than the others.

The Functions of Hercules. Hercules was thought of as the personification of physical strength. In

his aspect of athlete-hero the foundation of the Olympic Games was ascribed to him. Pindar says

that he arranged all the rules and details. But the chief function of Hercules was to play the part of

a protector. When men were in danger Heracles Alexikukox was their chief resort. In consequence

he even had medical powers: he was invoked in case of epidemics, while certain medicinal springs

at Himera and Thermopylae were sacred to him. Finally, sometimes as Heracles Musagetes he

played the cithara. To sum up, he presided over all aspects of Hellenic education and, after being

the god of physical prowess, he was the god who sang of victory and accompanied himself on the

lyre. More than any other he was the friend and counsellor of men.

Representation and Cult. The glorious hero, the invincible athlete, is depicted as a man of mature

strength, endowed with muscular power, whose head is rather small in relation to his body.

Generally Hercules stands, leaning on his heavy club. In his statues and busts we observe a rather

sad and severe expression, as though Hercules, the eternal conqueror, never knew repose. His

appearance suggests that he is waiting for yet another superhuman task to fulfil.

Hercules was venerated like other heros and with the same rites, but his cult was much more

general. All Greece honoured him. His exploits, indeed, took place all over the Hellenic world.

Thebes and Argos were the centres from which his legend spread.

The Birth of Hercules. His Childhood and First Exploits. Hercules descended from Perseus, whose

son Alcaeus (the Strong) was the father of Amphitryon, the supposed father of Hercules. On the

other hand, Electryon (the Brilliant), another son of Perseus, was the father of Alcmene (woman of

might). Hercules, then, was born under the sign of strength and light; and, into the bargain, his

paternity was divine. Zeus, wishing to have a son who should be a powerful protector of both

mortals and Immortals, descended one night to the city of Thebes where he assumed the

appearance of Amphitryon and lay with Amphitryon's wife, Alcmene. Shortly afterwards

Amphitryon himself returned from a victorious expedition and took his wife in his arms. From the

two successive unions Alcmene conceived twins: Hercules and Iphicles.

Their birth was not without difficulties. On the day Hercules should have been born Zeus swore a

solemn and irrevocable oath before the Olympians that the descendant of Perseus who was about

to be born should one day rule Greece. At these words Hera, doubly jealous, hurried to Argos

where she caused the wife of one Sthenelus - himself a son of Perseus - to be brought prematurely

to bed. She gave birth to Eurystheus. Hastening to Thebes, Hera simultaneously retarded the birth

of Hercules. Thus Eurystheus came into the title of ruler of Greece and Zeus, bound by his solemn

oath, was obliged to recognise him. And that was why Hercules all his life found the hardest tasks

imposed on him by the rival whom Hera had set up against him. Nor was her vengeance yet

satisfied. One night while all in the palace of Amphitryon were asleep, two serpents attacked the

infant Hercules. While Iphicles screamed pitifully. Hercules firmly grasped the two monsters, one

in each hand, and wrung their necks. To encourage such promise Hercules was then handed over

to illustrious tutors. Rhadamanthys taught him wisdom and virtue while Linus taught him music.

Linus was killed by the young hero in a lit of temper. Amphitryon then confided his divine

offspring to some shepherds who lived in the mountains. There Hercules gave himself over to

physical exercise and developed his strength. At the age of eighteen he killed

Asclcpius. The god of" health and healing leans on a tree-trunk lost in meditation grasping a seroll

representing medical learning. The son of Apollo, he had learned the science of medicine from the

Centaur Chiron hut was later killed by Zeus for raising the dead. His image was set among the

stars. Greatly venerated throughout Greece, he had numerous shrines, his priests holding a

monopoly of medical knowledge.

a ferocious lion which came to devour Amphitryon s herds. The hero, while waiting lor the beast,

hid in the house of King Thcspius and. legend recounts, he made use of the occasion to lie in a

single night with his host's filly daughters.

Hercules shortly afterwards defended his native city against Orchomenus. He met the herald ol

Orchomenus. who had come to Thebes to collect the tribute, and cut off his nose and cars, thus

starting the war. Amphitryon, fighting beside his two sons. wa> killed. But Hercules, aided by

Athene, defeated Frginus. King ol Orchomcnus. Crcon became king of that country and gave his

daughter Megara to Hercules as a wife. Then marriage was unhappy Hera sent Lyssa. the t ury of

madness, to Hercules. The hero was sci/ed with the deadly malady, mistook his own children for

those of Lurystheus. and massacred them and their mother. Alter this grim crime Hercules had to

flee the country. He went to Argolis where he spent twelve years under the orders of Curystheus

\\ho imposed upon him the most arduous labours, f or thus the orack of Delphi had commanded

when Hercules, wishing to rcmo\e the stain of his crime, consulted her.


The \emcan Lion. The Hist monster that Hercules had to exterminate was the \emcan [.ion. the

skin ol which Kurvsthcus ordered

I lead of I lygeia. The daughter of Asclcpius. Hygeia was closely

associated \\ith her father's cult as the goddess of health and was frequently

portiased with him. The most important of his attendants, her mother.

brothers and sisters also being auxiliary divinities of the god.

she had a cult at Titanc which was almost as honoured as his.

Her name follows immediately after his and before that of her sister

Panacea in the Hippocratic oath.

him to bring hack. Hercules attempted in vain to pierce the beast with his arrows, then he engaged

it hand to hand and finally strangled it in his powerful grip. But he kept the skin and from it made

a garment which rendered him invulnerable. He then returned to Tiryns with his trophy.

The Lernaean Hydra. This hydra, horn of Typhon and F.chidna. was an enormous serpent with

nine heads. Its den was a marsh near I.erna in the Peloponnesc. It would issue forth to ra\age the

herds and crops: its breath moreover was so poisonous that whoever felt it fell dead.

Accompanied by lolaus. son of Iphicles. Hercules arrived at Lerna. found the monster near the

spring of Amymone and forced it to emerge from the marshes by means of flaming arrows. Then

he tried to overwhelm it by means of his mighty club. But in vain: lor every time he struck off one

of the hydra's nine heads two grew in its place. Then lolaus set the neighbouring forest on fire and

with the help of red-hot brands burnt the serpent's heads. Hercules cut oO the final head and

buried it. Then he soaked his arrows in the hydra's blood which made them poisonous and


The Wild Boar of Erymanthus. This savage beast came down from

Mount Erymanthus. on the borders of Arcadia and Achaia. and

devastated the territory of Psophis. Hercules succeeded in capturing it and carried it to Tiryns.

Eurystheus was so terrified at the sight of the monster that he ran away and hid himself in a

bronze jar. On his way to Mount Erymanthus Hercules had received the hospitality of the Centaur

Pholus, who in his honour broached a barrel of delicious wine which had been a present from

Dionysus. The other Centaurs were attracted by the bouquet of the wine and came running to the

house of Pholus, armed with stones and uprooted fir trees, to demand their share of the wine.

Hercules drove them off with his arrows. The Centaurs were decimated, and took refuge near

Cape Malea.

The Stymphalian Birds. The marshes of Stymphalus in Arcadia were peopled by monstrous birds

whose wings, beaks and claws were of iron. They fed on human flesh and were so numerous that

when they took wing the light of the sun was blotted out. Hercules frightened them with brazen

cymbals and slew them with arrows.

The Ceryneian Hind. Eurystheus then ordered Hercules to bring him back the hind of Mount

Ceryneia alive. Her hooves were of bronze and her horns of gold. Hercules chased her for an

entire year before he at last caught her on the banks of the Ladon.

The Stables of Augeias. Augeias, King of Elis, owned innumerable herds of cattle among which

were twelve white bulls sacred to Helios. One of them whose name was Phaethon was privileged

to shine like a star. Unhappily these magnificent animals lived in foul stables, heaped high with

manure of many years' accumulation. Hercules undertook to clean them out in one day on

condition that the king gave him a tenth part of the herd. In order to do this he breached the walls

of the building and, altering the course of the rivers Alpheus and Peneius, made them rush though

the cowsheds. When the job was done Augeias, under the pretext that Hercules was merely

executing the orders of Eurystheus, refused to fulfil his part of the bargain. Later the hero was to

punish this dishonesty.

The Cretan Bull. Poseidon had given Minos a bull, believing that Minos would offer it in sacrifice

to him. As the king did nothing

of the sort, Poseidon drove the animal mad. The country was terrorised and Minos appealed to

Hercules who at the time happened to be in Crete. The hero managed to capture the animal which

he carried on his back across the sea to Argolis.

The Mares of Diomedes. Diomedes, son of Ares and king of the Bistones, owned mares which he

fed on human flesh. Hercules, accompanied by a few volunteers, approached Thrace and captured

these terrible mares, having first killed their guardians. The alert was given, the Bistones rushed

upon him and the battle began. Hercules at last vanquished his assailants and Diomedes was

given to his own mares to eat.

The rescue of Alcestis is usually said to have taken place at this same time. Admetus, King of

Pherae, had obtained from the Fates, through the intermediary of Apollo, an assurance that he

would not die if someone consented to die in his stead. When the fatal moment arrived his wife,

Alcestis, took his place. They were about to bury the unhappy woman when Hercules passed by

and engaged in dreadful struggle with Thanatos - Death himself. Hercules succeeded in

wrenching Alcestis from death's grasp and returned her to her husband.

The Girdle of Hippolyte. Hippolyte, whom some call Melanippe, was the Queen of the Amazons

in Cappadocia. As a mark of her sovereignty she possessed a magnificent girdle given to her by

Ares. Admete, daughter of Eurystheus, greatly coveted this marvellous adornment, and Hercules

was therefore given orders to go and fetch it. Accompanied by several celebrated heroes - Theseus,

Telamon, Peleus - he embarked. His first port of call was Paros where he fought with the sons of

Minos. Next he reached Mariandyne in Mysia where he helped King Lycus to conquer the

Bebryces. In gratitude Lycus built the town of Heracles Pontica.

When at last he reached the country of the Amazons Hercules at first encountered no obstacle:

Hippolyte agreed to give him the girdle. But Hera was enraged and, disguising herself as an

Amazon, spread abroad the story that Hercules planned to abduct the queen. The Amazons seized

their weapons. Hercules, believing they had betrayed him, slaughtered the Amazons, together

with their queen. He took the girdle and then proceeded towards Troy.

The Cattle of Geryon. Geryon was a triple-bodied monster who reigned over the western coast of

Iberia or, according to others, over the Epirus. He owned a herd of red oxen which were guarded

by the herdsman Eurytion and the dog Orthrus. Hercules, on the orders of Eurystheus, took

possession of the oxen after killing Eurytion, Orthrus and finally Geryon. On his return journey he

had various adventures. He slew the sons of Poseidon who attempted to steal the oxen, and he

had to go to Eryx, king of the Elymans, in Sicily, to recapture an ox which had escaped and been

put in the stables of Eryx. Eryx refused to return the beast unless Hercules beat him in a series of

boxing and wrestling bouts. Hercules finally overthrew and killed him. In the hills of Thrace Hera

sent a gadfly which drove the animals mad; they dispersed through the mountains and Hercules

had great trouble in herding them together again. When he had done so he brought the cattle to

Eurystheus who sacrificed them to Hera.

It was in the course of this expedition that Hercules penetrated Gaul where he abolished human

sacrifice. He fought the Ligurians with the aid of stones which Zeus caused to rain down from the

sky and which covered the plain of the Crau. The river Strymon refused to let him cross and he

filled up its bed with stones.

The Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Eurystheus next commanded Hercules to bring to him the

golden apples which the Hesperides, daughters of Atlas and Hesperus, guarded in their fabulous

garden at the western extremities of the world. Hercules first travelled towards the north where,

on the banks of the Eridanus, the nymphs of the river advised him to consult Nereus about the

route. Hercules succeeded in capturing the prophetic god who told him how to reach the garden

of the Hesperides. Crossing Libya Hercules measured his strength with Antaeus, a monstrous

bandit who forced all travellers to wrestle with him. Antaeus was the son of Gaea, Mother Earth,

and had the power of regaining his strength by touching the earth with his feet. Hercules in the

end choked him to death by holding him high in the air in his arms. Hercules was next attacked

while asleep by the Pygmies. He sewed them up in his lion skin. Then he arrived in Egypt where

Busiris, the king, sacrificed a foreigner every year in order to put an end to a terrible famine.

Hercules was chosen as victim, put in chains and conducted

to the temple. But he threw off his chains suddenly and slew Busiris and his son Amphidamas

(Iphidamas). He then resumed his journey. He crossed Ethiopia where he killed Emathion, son of

Tithonus, and replaced him by Memnon. He crossed the sea in a golden barque which the Sun had

given him. In the Caucasus he slew with his arrows the eagle which gnawed the liver of

Prometheus and finally reached the garden of the Hesperides. He killed the dragon Ladon which

guarded the entrance, seized the apples and delivered them to Eurystheus. Eurystheus made him

a gift of them and Hercules in his turn presented them to Athene who returned them to the


It was also related that Hercules was aided by Atlas on this enterprise. He persuaded Atlas to pick

the apples while he, Hercules, meanwhile supported the world on his shoulders. When Atlas

returned with the apples he was reluctant to reassume his traditional burden and would have

refused to do so had not Hercules outwitted him.

Hercules' Journey to the Underworld. In despair of ever getting the better of Hercules, Eurystheus,

as a final labour, commanded him to fetch Cerberus, guardian of the infernal gates. Hercules first

had himself initiated into the infernal mysteries at Eleusis and then, guided by Hermes, he took

the subterranean passage which descended at Cape Taenarum. Everything fled before him except

Meleager and the Gorgon. Farther on Theseus and Peirithous, who had imprudently ventured into

the Underworld, implored his assistance. Hercules saved Theseus, but was prevented from

rescuing Peirithous by a sudden earthquake. He relieved Ascalaphus of the boulder which was

crushing him, overthrew Menoetes, or Men-oetius, the herdsman of Hades, wounded Hades

himself and finally obtained the permission of Hades to carry off Cerberus, provided that he could

conquer the monster without other weapons than his bare hands. Hercules leapt on Cerberus and

at last mastered him by strangulation. Then he dragged the brute -by the scruff of its neck back to

earth, showed him to Eurystheus, and sent him back to Hades again.

Other Exploits of Hercules. When he was at last freed from servitude Hercules, far from resting on

his laurels, set forth on new adventures.

When King Eurytus promised the hand of his daughter lole to him who vanquished him in an

archery contest, Hercules arrived and triumphed. The king refused to keep his word. Shortly

afterwards the king's son, Iphitus, asked Hercules to help him search for some stolen horses, and

Hercules, distraught with fury, killed him. For this crime Hercules went to Delphi to be purified.

The Pythia refused to answer him and Hercules made off with her tripod. A bitter quarrel with

Apollo ensued in which Z^us himself had to intervene. At last the oracle condemned Hercules to a

year's slavery, and obliged him to hand over his year's wages to Eurytus. It was Omphale, Queen

of Lydia, who bought the hero when he was offered for sale as a nameless slave, for three talents.

In spite of the tradition which showed Hercules during this period softened by pleasures and

dressed in a long oriental robe while he spun wool at the feet of his mistress, he did not remain

inactive. He captured the Cer-copes, evil and malicious demons who were, perhaps, only a horde

of brigands camped near Ephesus. He killed the king of Aulis, Syleus, who forced strangers to

work in his vineyards and then cut their throats. He rid the banks of the Sagaris of a gigantic

serpent which was ravaging the countryside, and finally threw the cruel Lityerses into the

Maeander. Lityerses had been in the habit of forcing strangers to help with his harvest and then of

cutting off their heads with a scythe. Omphale was overcome with admiration and restored the

hero's freedom.

Hercules then offered to rescue Hesione, daughter of Laomedon, King of Ilium. This unfortunate

princess had been chained to a rock, as an expiatory victim against an epidemic. A dragon had

come to devour her. Hercules prevented the tragedy, but Laomedon refused to give him the

reward which had been agreed upon. The hero returned to Ilium with six ships, besieged the

town, took it by assault, killed Laomedon and his sons, and gave Hesione in marriage to his friend

Telamon. On his return journey he was thrown onto the shores of the island of Cos by a storm

raised by Hera. The inhabitants received him badly and he avenged himself by sacking the island

and slaying its king, Eurypylus. Next, he took part at Phlegra in the battle between the gods and

the giants.

Hercules had not forgotten the dishonesty of Augeias in the matter of the Augeian Stables. He

marched against him and devastated his domain. He had on this occasion to fight the Molionids,

sons of Poseidon. It was said that they had been hatched from a silver egg and had but one body

with two heads, four arms and four legs.

While he was laying siege to Pylus Hercules did battle with Periclymenus who had the power of

metamorphosis. When Pericly-menus turned himself into an eagle Hercules destroyed him with a

blow of his club.

Hercules also restored Tyndareus to his throne after he had been deprived of it by Hippocoon and

his sons. Passing through Tegea in Arcadia Hercules seduced Auge, daughter of Aleus and a

priestess of Athene. She bore him a son Telephus, whom she hid in the temple of the goddess.

Athene, angered by this profanation, sent a plague to the country. Aleus discovered his daughter's

shame and drove her away. She took refuge with King Teuthras in Mysia and exposed her child

on Mount Parthenius. When Telephus grew to manhood he went in search of his mother. He

found her in Mysia and, not recognising her, was on the point of marrying her when Hercules

intervened and prevented the incest.

The last adventure of Hercules took place in Aetolia and in the land of Trachis. He obtained the

hand of Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus, king of the Aetolians, after having triumphed over

another suitor, the river-god Achelous. But shortly afterwards the accidental murder of young

Eunomus, who served at his father-in-law's table, obliged Hercules to fly from the country,

together with his wife. When he arrived at the river Evenus Hercules gave Deianeira to the

Centaur Nessus to carry across to the opposite bank. But halfway across Nessus attempted to

violate Deianeira. Hercules saw this and at once struck him with an arrow. As Nessus died he

gave his blood to Deianeira, telling her that it would preserve the love and fidelity of her husband.

Unfortunately Hercules then conceived the fateful idea of going back to punish Eurytus. He slew

Eurytus, together with his sons, and brought away lole whom he had never ceased to love. On his

return he stopped at Cenaeum in Euboea to offer a sacrifice to Zeus. Before doing so he sent his

companion Lichas to Deianeira in Trachis to fetch a white tunic. Deianeira was worried at the

thought that lole was with her husband and. remembering the words of Nessus, soaked the tunic

in the Centaur's blood before sending it to Hercules, hoping thus to regain his love. Scarcely had

Hercules put

on the tunic when he felt himself devoured by inner fire. Maddened with pain, he seized Lichas by

the feet and flung him into the sea; then, tearing up pine-trees by their roots he made himself a

funeral pyre, mounted it and ordered his companions to set it alight. All refused. Finally Poeas,

father of Philoctetes, lighted the pines and Hercules rewarded him by giving him his bow and


The flames crackled and rose around the hero. At the moment they reached his body a cloud

descended from the skies and in an apotheosis of thunder and lightning the son of Zeus

disappeared from the eyes of men. He was admitted to Olympus where he was reconciled with

Hera. He was married to her daughter Hebe and from then on lived the blissful and magnificent

life of the Immortals.

The Progeny of Hercules. Legend ascribes nearly eighty sons to Hercules; their fortunes varied.

Certain of them, more especially designated the Heraclids, distinguished themselves by

conquering the Peloponnese.

After their father's death the sons of Hercules, fearing Eurystheus' persecution, left Mycenae and

for a long time searched for refuge in vain. Finally Demophon, son of Theseus, received them in

Athens. This was sufficient pretext for war between Eurystheus and the

inhabitants of Attica. lolaus, a former companion of Hercules, killed Eurystheus. The Heraclids

then thought they could return to the Peloponnese. Their return was premature and caused an

outbreak of the plague, and again they had to exile themselves.

Afterwards they attempted five consecutive invasions. Only the last one was successful. Its leaders

were Temenus, Cresphontes and Aristodemus, great-grandsons of the hero. Allied with them

were Dymas and Pamphylus, sons of the king of the Dorians. They chose the sea route and

embarked at Naupactus to sail through the straits of Corinth. Before they left they had the

misfortune to kill a prophet of Apollo. In anger the god destroyed their fleet and struck the

expedition with famine. When the oracle of Delphi was consulted, it told the allies that they

required a guide with three eyes. In the end they discovered a one-eyed man. Oxylus, who rode

towait^ them on a horse and thus, with his mount, fulfilled the conditions of the oracle. Oxylus

became leader of the expedition.

Tisamenus, son of Orestes, who reigned in Argos, perished in battle against the Heraclids and

their Dorian allies, who then divided his country among themselves. Oxylus received Elis,

Temenus was given Argos, the sons of Aristodemus obtained Sparta and Cresphontes took



The Birth and Youth of Theseus. Theseus, like Hercules, was a great destroyer of monsters; and

like Hercules he perished tragically. His birth was also analogous to the Theban hero's. His mother

was Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, King of Troezen. She was loved at the same time by Aegeus,

King of Athens, and by Poseidon. Theseus, who was conceived by this double union, thus had two

fathers, a mortal and a god. Aegeus was obliged to return to Athens before the child was born and

he hid his sword and his sandals under a heavy rock. When Theseus had grown strong enough to

lift the rock and find these, he was to come to Athens and rejoin his father. So Theseus spent his

childhood with his mother. When he was sixteen years, old Aethra revealed the secret of his birth

and showed him the famous rock of his father. Theseus had already shown bravery. As a child he

had attacked, thinking it was alive, the body of the Nemean Lion which Hercules, visiting

Pittheus, had placed on a table. Theseus now lifted the mighty rock, took possession of his father's

sword and sandals and set forth for Athens.

His First Exploits. His first adventures occurred on his journey to Athens. Near Epidaurus, he

killed a dangerous bandit, Periphetes, son of Hephaestus, and took from him his terrible club. In

the forests of the Isthmus he inflicted on Sinis, son of Poseidon, the same torture which Sinis

imposed on others; namely, tearing them asunder by tying them to sprung pine-trees. He killed

the wild sow of Crom-myon, called Phaea. On the slopes of Megaris he dashed Sciron against a

boulder. Sciron had forced travellers to wash his feet and when they stooped to do so he would

kick them over the cliff into the sea where they were devoured by a monstrous turtle. At Eleusis

he vanquished Cercyon the Arcadian and, a little farther on, put an end to the criminal career of

the giant Polypemon, known as Procrustes, who forced his victims to lie on a bed too short for

them and then cut off whatever overlapped. Alternatively he would stretch them if the bed

proved too long. Theseus made him undergo the same treatment. When he had purified himself

after all these killings on the banks of the Cephissus, Theseus at last reached Athens.

He had donned a white robe and carefully arranged his beautiful fair hair. Hence, the workmen

building the temple of Apollo Delphinios mocked at his innocent air and foppish appearance.

Without deigning to reply Theseus picked up a heavy ox-cart and tossed it clean over the temple.

Then he arrived at his father's palace. Aegeus had meanwhile married Medea who was

instinctively jealous of the unknown newcomer and during the ensuing feast attempted to poison

him. When Theseus drew his sword, his father recognised it and him. Aegeus then drove Medea

and her children away and shared his throne with his son. From then on Theseus fought to

strengthen his father's authority. First he exterminated the Pallantids who were nephews of

Aegeus and had schemed to overthrow their uncle. Then he went in search of a wild bull which

was devastating Attica. He succeeded in capturing the beast near Marathon, brought it back to

Athens and sacrificed it to Apollo Delphinios.

Theseus and the Minotaur. In the midst of all this arrived ambassadors from Crete who for the

third time had come to collect the annual tribute - seven virgins and seven young men - which had

been imposed on Athens since the murder of Androgeus. These unfortunate young people were,

when they arrived in Crete, thrown as food to a monster called the Minotaur. Theseus embarked

with the victims with the intention of destroying the monster. He told his father that if he were

victorious the ship when it returned would carry a white sail; if he were vanquished the black sail

would be retained. When he arrived in Crete Theseus said that he was the son of Poseidon. Minos,

to test this boast, tossed a golden ring into the sea and requested the hero to bring it back to him.

Theseus dived in and returned not only with the ring but with a crown which Amphit-rite had

given him. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, fell in love with Theseus and furnished him with a

ball of string by means of which he could guide himself through the Labyrinth in which the

Minotaur was kept and, after killing him, return. When Theseus had slain the beast he left Crete

and took Ariadne and her sister Phaedra with him; but he abandoned Ariadne on the isle of

Naxos. We have already seen how she was consoled by Dionysus.

In the joy of victory Theseus forgot to change the black sail which his ship was carrying. Aegeus

saw it from the shore and, believing that his son was dead, threw himself into the sea. The ship

which had been used on this expedition was piously preserved by the Athenians and carefully

kept in a state of repair. It was named the Paralia and every year took gifts from Attica to Delos.

The Last Exploits of Theseus. At the death of his father Theseus became King of Attica and

endowed his people with wise institutions. He united them in a single group, built a communal

prytaneum in Athens, divided the citizens into three classes, erected temples and instituted the

Panathenaea. At the same time he continued his wandering life of adventure.

He accompanied Hercules on his expedition against the Amazons, took part in hunting the wild

boar of Calydon and sailed with the Argonauts. He was usually accompanied by his faithful

friend Peirithous who at first had been his enemy. With Peirithous he also attacked the Amazons

and abducted one of them, Antiope - which was the motive for an Amazonian invasion of Attica.

Antiope bore him a son, Hippolytus, but he repudiated her and instead married Phaedra. Again

with Peirithous he went to Sparta and carried off

resistance ana mey were nnany marneu, ineir son was /Acrimes. DUULMII ui a uiccn cup uy uic

young Helen. The two friends drew lots for her and she fell to Theseus. To console himself

Peirithous decided to abduct Persephone, and the two heroes set forth for the Underworld. They

succeeded in getting in, but they could not get out again and it required Hercules to rescue

Theseus. When he returned to Athens the king found his house in an uproar. The Dioscuri, as

Helen's brothers were called, had come to take their sister back; and Phaedra had conceived an

incestuous passion for her son-in-law Hippolytus, who, being consecrated to Artemis, had made a

vow of chastity and refused her. In chagrin Phaedra told Theseus that his son had made an

attempt on her honour, and Theseus, too credulous, banished Hippolytus and called down

Poseidon's wrath on the youth. The god summoned up a marine monster who terrified

Hippolytus' chariot horses, and Hippolytus was crushed to death. At Troezen his tomb could be

seen near the tomb of Phaedra. In the temple which was consecrated to him maidens, on the vigil

of their wedding, would hang up a lock of their hair.

Sorely stricken by these tragedies, Theseus left Athens and retired to Scyros, to the palace of King

Lycomedes. But Lycomedes was

jealous of his guest's great fame and treacherously threw him into the sea. The remains of Theseus

were interred at Scyros and later found by Cimon who brought them back to Athens and placed

them in the sacred enclosure of the Theseum.


Cecrops. Cecrops, who was called Autochthonus or 'born of the earth', was regarded as the

founder of Athens. It was during his reign that the dispute between Athene and Poseidon for the

possession of Attica took place.

Erichthonius. Erichthonius was the son of Hephaestus who had engendered him by Gaea, the

Earth, after being repulsed by Athene. In spite of this, Athene took charge of the infant, enclosed

him in a chest which she confided to Pandrosos, the eldest daughter of Cecrops, forbidding her to

open it. But the sisters of Pandrosos could not control their curiosity. When they saw that the

newly born child was entwined by a serpent they were seized with terror.

In their wild flight they fell from the top of the Acropolis and were killed.

Erichthonius was King of Athens; he introduced the worship of Athene and the use of silver. He

made war on Eumolpus and the Eleusinians. This Eumolpus, son of Poseidon, had come from

Thrace to Eleusis and there instituted the mysteries of Demeter. It was told how Eumolpus was

slain by Erichthonius and how, in expiation of the murder, Poseidon demanded the death of one

of the King of Athens' daughters. There were four of them and they decided to die together. As for

Erichthonius, Zeus struck him dead with a thunderbolt.

Descendants of Erichthonius. One of his daughters, Oreithyia, was seen one day by Boreas while

she was playing on the shore; he carried her off and married her. Another daughter, Creusa, was

loved by Apollo and by him had a son, Ion, whose adventure has been related in the chapter on


Pandion, son of Erichthonius, succeeded him to the throne of Athens. He had three daughters:

Procris, Philomela and Procne. All three had tragic fates. Procris was married to Cephalus and we

have already seen how the jealousy of Eos brought unhappiness to the couple.

Philomela and Procne. When Pandion made war on Labdacus, King of Thebes, he was assisted by

Tereus, King of Thrace, to whom he had given his daughter, Procne, in marriage. Procne bore

Tereus a son, Itys. But when Tereus laid eyes on Philomela, his sister-in-law, he fell in love with

her, violated her and, for fear that she would reveal the crime, cut out her tongue. Nevertheless

the wretched Philomela was able to tell her sister what had occurred by embroidering the

shocking story on a peplos. Procne, out of her mind with rage, killed Itys and served him to

Tereus for dinner. Then she and Philomela fled while the tyrant Tereus pursued them with drawn

sword. A benevolent deity intervened and turned Tereus into a hoopoe, Procne into a swallow

and Philomela into a nightingale. As for Itys, he was resuscitated and changed into a goldfinch.


Sisyphus. If Bellerophon was Corinth's most valiant hero, his grandfather, Sisyphus, was its most

cunning. Sisyphus 'was the son of Aeolus and founded Ephyra, the ancient name of Corinth. As

far back as Homeric times he was reputed to be the craftiest of men. Sometimes he was even

alleged to be the father of Odysseus, so great was their resemblance in this respect. It was

Sisyphus who told the river-god Asopus that his daughter Aegina had been abducted by Zeus.

Zeus in fury sent Thanatos for him, but the cunning Sisyphus succeeded in trapping the god of

death and it required Ares to set him free. This time Sisyphus had to submit to his destiny. But

before dying he advised his wife not to pay him funeral honours. He had scarcely arrived in the

Underworld when he went to Hades to complain of his wife's negligence and to ask for

permission to go back to earth for a moment in order to punish her. Permission was granted and

Sisyphus, back on earth again, refused to return to the Underworld. Hermes had to deal

personally with this recalcitrant shade. Sisyphus was punished for his bad faith by being

condemned eternally to roll up the slope of a mountain an enormous boulder which, each time it

nearly reached the summit, rolled down again.

Bellerophon. Sisyphus had a son, Glaucus, who offended Aphrodite and, in the course of funeral

games, was trampled and killed by his horses, whom the goddess had driven mad. Afterwards the

ghost of Glaucus continued to frighten horses. The son of Glaucus, Hipponous, was more

celebrated under the name of Bellerophon, which was given to him after he had murdered a

Corinthian named Bellerus. In expiation of the murder Bellerophon went to the palace of Proetus,

King of Tiryns. The King's wife, Stheneboea, at once fell in love with the young hero. Bellerophon

scorned her and she told her husband that he had attempted to seduce her. Proetus did not dare to

kill a man who was his guest and, instead, sent him to his father-in-law, lobates, with a sealed

message containing his death sentence. lobates imposed various tasks on Bellerophon, trusting

that in the attempt to accomplish them he would perish. First, he ordered Bellerophon to fight the

Chimaera. Now Bellerophon had a marvellous winged horse called Pegasus, born of the Gorgon's

blood, which he had succeeded in taming thanks to a golden bridle that Athene gave him.

Mounted on Pegasus, Bellerophon flew over the Chimaera and stuffed the monster's jaws with

lead. The lead melted in the flames which the Chimaera vomited forth and killed it. Bellerophon

next triumphed over the savage tribes of the Solymia and the Amazons. On his return he

successfully overcame an ambuscade which lobates had laid for him. lobates was so filled with

admiration that he gave the hero his daughter in marriage. The end of Bellerophon's life, however,

was tragic. His two children, Laodameia and Isandrus, were slain, the first by Artemis, the second

by Ares. According to Pindar Bellerophon himself attempted to reach Olympus on his flying

steed, but was flung to earth by Zeus and lamed by his fall. Odious to all the Immortals, Homer

says, Bellerophon wandered the earth, his heart consumed with misery, alone, fleeing the haunts

of men.


When lo, daughter of the river-god Inachus, arrived in Egypt after all her tribulations she brought

a son into the world, Epaphus. The great-grandsons of Epaphus were Aegyptus and Danaus. Both

married, and Aegyptus had fifty sons while Danaus had fifty daughters. A quarrel broke out

between the two brothers and on Athene's advice Danaus embarked with his fifty daughters and

sailed towards Greece. He landed on the Peloponnesian coast and was received at Argos by

Gelanor, the King, whose crown he shortly afterwards seized.

Some time later the sons of Aegyptus came to find their uncle, Danaus, and as a token of

reconciliation asked him for the hand of his daughters. Danaus consented, but his rancour still

seethed. On their wedding day he gave each of his daughters a dagger and ordered her to kill her

husband during the night. All obeyed with the exception of Hypermnestra. who fled with her

husband Lynceus. We have seen how the Danaids were condemned to everlasting torture in the

infernal regions.

The grandsons of Hypermnestra, Proetus and Acrisius, were also brother enemies. Proetus was

finally driven from Argos by his brother and retired to Lycia where he married the daughter of

lobates, Stheneboea. Then he laid claim to his share of Argolis and seized Tiryns where he settled,

after having made peace with his brother Acrisius.

Acrisius, who grieved at having no heir, learned from the oracle at Delphi that his daughter Danae

would have a son who would kill his grandfather, namely himself. In vain he shut Danae up in a

subterranean chamber. We have already seen how Zeus, in the guise of a shower of gold, reached

Danae and made her the mother of a son, Perseus. Again, in vain, Acrisius put mother and son

into a chest which he cast into the sea: they were washed ashore at Seriphos and taken in by

Polydectes, king of that country. Some years later Polydectes fell in love with Danae, but was

embarrassed by the presence of Perseus who had become a robust young warrior. He therefore

pretended that he wished to marry Hippodameia and asked his vassals to bring wedding gifts.

Each did his best and Perseus, anxious to distinguish himself, promised to bring back the Gorgon's

head. Polydectes was relieved to think he had seen the last of him.

Perseus then left Seriphos and reached the abode of the Graeae, frightening old shrews who

among them had but one tooth and one eye which all three used in turn. Perseus stole their single

tooth and only eye, and in this way persuaded them to tell him where the Gorgons lived. From

them he also stole a magic wallet and a dark

helmet which rendered its wearer invisible.

Thus equipped Perseus reached the westernmost extremities of the earth where, says Aeschylus,

'dwell monsters abhorred by mortals, with locks of serpents, whom none look upon without

perishing'. They were the three sisters Stheno, Euryale and Medusa, daughters of Phorcys and

Ceto. Instead of teeth they had the tusks of wild boars, their hands were of bronze, golden wings

were fixed to their shoulders, and whoever dared to look them in the face was instantly turned to

stone. Only one of them was mortal, Medusa. It was therefore she whom Perseus attacked. Armed

with a bronze

harpe which Hermes had given him, he averted his eyes and, letting Athene guide his arm, he

struck. Or, some say, he fixed his eyes on her reflection in the polished surface of his shield. Then

he cut off Medusa's head with one stroke of the sickle, and from her bleeding neck sprang Pegasus

and Chrysaor, father of the infamous Geryon. Perseus put the terrible head into his wallet and fled

on Pegasus' back while the other two Gorgons pursued him in vain.

Perseus reached Ethiopia to find the country in a state of desolation. Cassiopeia, wife of the king,

Cepheus, had offended the Nereids by proclaiming that she was more beautiful than they. In this

quarrel Poseidon had taken the part of the Ocean nymphs and sent a marine monster to devour

men and beasts. When the oracle of Ammon was consulted he answered that only Andromeda,

daughter of King Cepheus, could save the country by offering herself as a victim to the monster.

When Perseus arrived on the scene he found the unhappy Andromeda chained to a rock, awaiting

death. He fell in love with her at first sight. The sequel may be guessed: he killed the monster,

freed Andromeda and married her. He took her back with him to Seriphos, where he found that

his mother was being persecuted by Polydectes. He put an end to this and to Polydectes by

holding up the head of Medusa. Polydectes saw it and was turned to stone then and there.

Perseus returned the magic wallet and dark helmet to Hermes and presented Athene with the

head of the Gorgon which she placed on her shield. Then, with his mother and his wife, he set

forth for Argos. Acrisius, remembering what the oracle had said long ago, fled at the'approach of

his daughter's son. But fate ordained that one day while Perseus was throwing the discus during

funeral games Acrisius was present and the discus struck and killed him. Perseus did not wish to

succeed to his grandfather's throne and instead reigned only over Tiryns and Mycenae. He

founded the family of the Perseids of which one day "Hercules was to be such a glorious



The Pelopids. Although the race of Pelopids took their name from Pelops, they owed their origin

to Pelops' father, Tantalus. Tantalus was king of Phrygia or of Lydia. He was invited to dine

with the gods on Olympus and he stole their nectar and ambrosia. He returned their invitation,

and when they sat at his table he served to them, in order to test their divinity, the body of his own

son, Pelops. The guests immediately realised this; Demeter alone, more absent-minded or else

more hungry than the others, ate flesh from the shoulder. Zeus ordered that 'the child's remains

should be thrown into a magic cauldron and Clotho restored Pelops to life. Only one of his

shoulders was missing and had to be replaced in ivory.

For these crimes Tantalus was cast into the infernal regions. He stood waist-deep in the middle of

a lake in Tartarus surrounded by trees laden with delicious fruit. Thirst and hunger which he

could never satisfy tortured him; for when he reached out his hand the fruit evaded him, when he

leaned down to drink the water receded.

When he was grown up Pelops left Phrygia and went to Pisa in Elis where he competed for the

hand of Hippodameia. Her father, Oenomaus, had promised to give his daughter to the first suitor

who vanquished him in a chariot race. Fifteen suitors had already been defeated and killed. Pelops

bribed Myrtilus, Oenomaus' charioteer, to loosen one of his master's chariot wheels, and thus he

won the race and the hand of Hippodameia. Afterwards he killed Myrtilus in order to get rid of an

embarrassing accomplice. But the father of Myrtilus was Hermes, and Hermes avenged the death

of his son by laying a curse on Pelops and all his house.

By Hippodameia Pelops had several children, among them Atreus and Thyestes. By another wife

he had a son Chrysippus, whom he particularly loved. At Hippodameia's instigation Atreus and

Thyestes murdered Chrysippus and for this crime were forced to go into exile. They reached

Mycenae. At the death of Eurystheus, King of Mycenae, Atreus succeeded to the throne. His

brother Thyestes was jealous and seduced the wife of Atreus, Aerope, and in addition stole from

him a ram with a golden fleece which had been a present from Hermes. He was driven from

Mycenae but left Pleisthenes to avenge him. Now Pleisthenes was Atreus' son, who had been

brought up by Thyestes as his own son. Pleisthenes was on the point of striking down Atreus, but

Atreus killed him instead, realising too late that it was his son. To avenge himself Atreus

pretended to be reconciled with Thyestes and invited him and his children to return to Mycenae.

In the course of a feast he served to

Thyestes the bodies of two of his sons. The sun, it was said, hid in order not to cast light on such a

crime. Later Atreus was killed by Aegisthus, another son of Thyestes, whom Atreus had brought

up with his own children, Agamemnon and Menelaus.

The series of these revolting crimes did not stop at this point. Thyestes who had succeeded his

brother to the throne of Argos was driven from it by his nephews Agamemnon and Menelaus. On

his return from the Trojan War, Agamemnon, in his turn, was murdered by Aegisthus who was

living in adultery with Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra. Eight years later Aegisthus and

Clytemnestra perished by the hand of Clytemnestra's son, Orestes, who expiated this matricide by

a long period of suffering. Then only were the Furies satisfied and an end put to the atrocities

which had stained the family of Atreus with blood.


The Dioscuri. The founder of the Laconian dynasties was Lelex who, by his union with a Naiad,

had a son Eurotas, whose daughter Sparta married Lacedaemon. Lacedaemon reigned over Sparta

and gave his name to that city. The most famous of his descendants were Hippocoon, who was

killed by Hercules: Icarius. to whom Dionysus taught the secret of wine-making and who was

killed by drunken shepherds; and finally Tyndarcus. husband of Leda and father of Helen, of

Clytemnestra, and of the Dioscuri: Castor and Pollux. It was said that Zeus had played a certain

part in this paternity since, in the guise of a swan, he had visited Leda. Leda had been brought to

bed with two eggs from one of which issued Pollux and Helen, regarded as the children of Zeus,

and from the other Castor

and Clytemnestra, who were reputed to be the children of Tyndareus.

In spite of their different paternity Castor and Pollux were both qualified as Dioscuri, which

meant young sons of Zeus. They always lived on terms of close friendship.

The semi-divine character of the Dioscuri has been explained by A. H. Krappe as the superstition

which surrounds the birth of twins among most primitive peoples. The phenomenon, being not

common, was interpreted either as ill-omened - hence the persecutions often inflicted on twins

and their mother- or as fortunate. In either event the anomaly was justified by assuming that one

at least of the children was of divine origin; this was the case with Hercules and Iphicles, and also

with Castor and Pollux.

Among the exploits of the Dioscuri may be mentioned their expedition against Athens to rescue

their sister Helen from Theseus

who had abducted her. They also joined Jason on the Argonauts' expedition, and Zeus showed his

benevolence towards them during a storm which assailed the ship Argo in the sea of Colchis.

While Orpheus called upon the gods, two flames descended from the sky and hovered over the

heads of the Dioscuri. It was the origin of Saint Elmo's Fire which still today announces to sailors

the end of a storm.

Afterwards Castor and Pollux carried off the two daughters of Leudippus and married them. This

was the occasion of their quarrel with the Aphareids, Idas and Lynceus, who were also paying

court to the young women. This rivalry must have been unfortunate for the Dioscuri although no

one knows exactly how it turned out. According to Pindar the Dioscuri went on an expedition

with the Aphareids and cheated them out of their share of the booty. According

to other authors the four young men had a dispute over the division of a herd of oxen.

Idas quartered an ox and ruled that half the spoil should go to the man who ate his share first, the

other half going to the man who finished second. So saying he swallowed his own quarter and his

brother's quarter and drove off the whole herd.

The Dioscuri then led an expedition against the Aphareids and in the course of the battle Pollux

killed Lynceus while Castor was mortally wounded by Idas. Pollux wept over the body of his

brother; for being himself immortal he could not follow him to the kingdom of Hades. Zeus was

touched by this fraternal devotion and authorised Pollux to share with his brother the privilege of

immortality: thus the Dioscuri continued to live each on alternate days. Another tradition says that

Zeus placed them among the stars, in the constellation Gemini, The Twins.

Venerated at first in Achaia, the Dioscuri were afterwards honoured throughout Greece as the

tutelary divinities of sailors and as protectors of hospitality. Sometimes they can be seen, dressed

in white robes and purple mantles, starred bonnets on their heads, arriving in cities to test what

sort of welcome the inhabitants will give to strangers.

Helen. Their sister Helen was celebrated for her beauty. When she had scarcely reached the age of

ten Theseus carried her off, but the Dioscuri brought her home again. She was besieged by suitors.

Her father Tyndareus made each of them swear that he would in case of need come to the aid of

the lucky man who became Helen's husband. He then chose Menelaus. For three years the couple

lived happily together. Then Paris, son of the Trojan King Priam, visited the court of Menelaus, fell

in love with Helen and carried her off. This was the cause of the Trojan War. All the princes of

Greece, faithful to their oaths, took arms under the command of Agamemnon to avenge the

outrage done to Menelaus. For ten years the struggle raged before the wallsof Troy. Neither the

craft of Odysseus, the bravery of Diomedes, nor the dash of Achilles could conquer the resistance

of the Trojans, led by the valiant Hector. Finally the Greek warriors were able to enter the city by

hiding in the hollow

flanks of a huge wooden horse which the Trojans themselves dragged into the city. Troy was

taken and set on fire. Old Priam was slain and the rest of his family immolated or carried away as

slaves. Menelaus regained his wife and was reconciled with her. To be sure it was said that the

real Helen had always remained in Egypt where her husband later found her, and that Paris had

brought only the phantom of Helen back with him to Troy. However, it seems obvious that this

account was invented simply to save the self-esteem of the unfortunate Menelaus.

The end of Helen was variously reported. After her husband's death she was admitted among the

stars with the Dioscuri. Or else she was united to Achilles in the Islands of the Blessed. Or, again,

she was driven from Sparta and sought refuge in Rhodes where she was hanged from a tree on the

orders of the queen, Polyxo.

She was venerated on this island of Rhodes under the epithet Dendritis.

Clytemnestra. The second daughter of Tyndareus, Clytemnestra, was first married to Tantalus,

and subsequently to Agamemnon. She could never forgive Agamemnon for having sacrificed

their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, and on his return from Troy she slew him in his bath, with

the complicity of her lover Aegisthus. The two murderers were put to death by Orestes, the son of



Cadmus. The principal heroes of Thebes belonged to the family of the Labdacids whose founder

was Cadmus. He was the son of Agenor and Telephassa. Phoenix and Cilix were his brothers and

Europa his sister. When Europa was carried off by Zeus, the three brothers set out to find her.

Cilix and Phoenix soon tired of the search and settled down in the countries which were to be

known as Cilicia and Phoenicia. Cadmus was more persistent and consulted the oracle of Delphi

who advised him to abandon his search and when he came across a cow to let her guide him, and

where she stopped, there to build a city. In Phocis Cadmus found the fateful animal and

followed her into Boeotia where she stopped. There he founded the city of Thebes and constructed

the Cadmean Acropolis. He then decided to sacrifice the cow to Athene. In preparation for this

ceremony he sent servants to fetch water from the Spring of Ares; but at the spring they

encountered a dragon which devoured them. When Cadmus heard this he attacked the monster

and killed it. Athene had helped him and she now advised him to draw the teeth of the dragon

and sow them in a nearby furrow. The teeth at once began to sprout and from them sprang forth

warriors, the Sparti (from the Greek 'to sow'), who immediately began to fight among themselves

and kill each other. Only five survived and they became the ancestors of the Thebans.

Meanwhile in order to expiate the murder of the dragon who was a son of Ares, Cadmus had to

spend a few years serving as a slave. After this Athene recompensed him by awarding him the

crown of Thebes, while Zeus granted him the hand of the shining Virgin Harmonia, daughter of

Ares and Aphrodite, or perhaps, of Zeus and Electra.

The couple lived happily together. Their children were Semele, mother of Dionysus; Ino. mother

of Melicertes; Autonoe, mother of Actaeon; Agave, mother of Pentheus; and Polydorus, father of

Labdacus who was the ancestor of the Labdacids. Towards the

end of thefr lives Cadmus and Harmonia went to reign over Illyria, then were changed into

dragons and transported to the Islands of the Blessed.

In Greece Cadmus was considered to be a divine legislator and the.promoter of Boeotian

civilisation: to him were ascribed the discovery of casting metal and the invention or importation

of the alphabet.

Amphion and Zethus. Amphion and Zethus were twins, and the legends concerning them belong

to the earliest days of Theban royalty. They were sons of Zeus and Antiope. Persecuted by her

father, Antiope sought refuge with Epopeus at Sicyon. Epopeus married her, but her brother,

Lycus, marched on Sicyon, killed Epopeus and brought Antiope back a captive. On the return

journey, in a wayside thicket, Antiope brought her twins into the world. They were exposed on

Mount Cithaeron and taken in by shepherds. Antiope was long held prisoner, but one day her

chains fell from her of their own accord. She fled and rejoined her sons, Amphion and Zethus,

who then attacked Thebes where Lycus now reigned. They killed Lycus and also his wife, Dirce,

who was tied to the horns of a wild bull. The two brothers then fortified the city. Zethus carried

stones while Amphion, with the magic sounds of his lyre, caused the stones to move of their own

will and gently slide into the desired position in the walls.

Afterwards Zethus married Thebe and Amphion married Niobe who bore him twelve children.

Niobe was proud of her twelve children and unfortunately dared to scoff at Leto, who had only

had two. Apollo and Artemis punished this insult to their mother by shooting down all of Niobe's

children. The unhappy mother, prostrate with grief, was changed by Zeus into a rock on the

deserted summits of Mount Sipylus.

Oedipus. Laius, son of Labdacus, king of Thebes, had married Jocasta. Having been warned by an

oracle that his son would one day kill him Laius carried the child to which Jocasta had just given

birth to Mount Cithaeron. He pierced the infant's feet with a nail and tied them together solidly,

hoping thus to be rid of him. But a shepherd found the child and took him to Polybus, King of

Corinth, who adopted him and named him Oedipus because of his wounded foot. When Oedipus

had grown up he learned his destiny from an oracle who told him that he would kill his father and

marry his mother. Oedipus believed that he could escape this fate by exiling

himself for ever from Corinth, never again seeing Polybus and his wife whom he assumed to be

his true parents. This scruple was his own undoing. He went to Boeotia and on the road

quarrelled with an-unknown man whom he struck with his staff and killed. The victim was,

indeed, Laius, his own father. Oedipus continued on his journey without suspecting that the first

half of the oracle's prediction had been fulfilled. He arrived in Thebes where he learned that the

region was being devastated by a fabulous monster with the face and bust of a woman, the body

of a lion and the wings of a bird. Guarding the road to Thebes the Sphinx - as the monster was

called -would stop all travellers and propose enigmas to them; those who were unable to solve her

riddles she would devour. Creon, who had governed Thebes since the recent death of Laius,

promised the crown and the hand of Jocasta to the man who delivered-the city from this scourge.

Oedipus resolved to attempt the feat. He was successful. The Sphinx asked him: 'Which is the

animal that has four feet in the morning, two at midday and three in the evening?' He answered:

'Man, who in infancy crawls on all fours, who walks upright on two feet in maturity, and in his

old age supports himself with a stick.' The Sphinx was vanquished and threw herself into the sea.

And thus, still without realising it, Oedipus became the husband of his mother, Jocasta. From their

union two sons were born, Etepcles and Polyneices, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.

Oedipus, in spite of the-double crime he had innocently committed, was honoured as a sovereign

devoted to his people's welfare, and appeared to prosper. But the Erinnyes were waiting. A

terrible epidemic ravaged the land, decimating the population, and at the same time an incredible

drought brought with it famine. When consulted, the oracle of Delphi replied that these scourges

would not cease until the Thebans had driven the still unknown murderer of Laius out of the

country. Oedipus, after having offered ritual maledictions against the assassin, undertook to find

out who he was. His inquiries finally led to the discovery that the guilty man was none other than

himself, and that Jocasta whom he had married was his mother. Jocasta in shame and grief hanged

herself and Oedipus put outiis own eyes. Then he went into exile, accompanied by his faithful

daughter Antigone. He took refuge in the town of Colonus in Attica and, at last purified of his

abominable crimes, disappeared mysteriously from the earth.

As for his sons, victims of the paternal curse, they perished by each other's hand. They had agreed

to reign for alternate years. But when the time came Eteocles refused to hand over the crown.

Polyneices gathered together an army of Argives and laid siege to Thebes. It was during this siege

that the two brothers slew each other in the course of single combat. The senate of Thebes decreed

that the body of Polyneices should be left unburied, but Antigone nevertheless rendered her dead

brother funeral honours. For this she was condemned to be buried alive. Her sister Ismene shared

her fate. And thus the unhappy family came to an end.


The ancestor of the Aetolians was Aetolus, son of Endymion. Because of an accidental murder

Aetolus was forced to leave the land of his father and he established himself in the region of

Greece which afterwards took his name. Among his descendants was Oeneus, to whom Dionysus

made a gift of the first vinestock. Oeheus had by two different wives two sons, Meleager and


Meleager. Meleager's mother was Althaea, the first wife of Oeneus. When he was seven days old

the Fates appeared to his mother. Clotho predicted for the child great generosity; Lachesis,

extraordinary strength; Atropos declared that he would live only so long as a certain brand which

was burning on the hearth continued to exist. Althaea hastened to rescue the brand, extinguished

it and put it in a place of safety. Meanwhile Meleager became, as the Fates had foretold, a hero full

of valour. His father Oeneus once forgot to offer to Artemis the first fruits of his harvest and the

angry goddess sent a monstrous wild boar to ravage Aetolia. To hunt the monster Meleager

invited all the most celebrated heroes of Greece, among them a young Arcadian woman named

Atalanta. The hunt was cruel and hard. Many were killed by the wild boar. Atalanta was the first

to wound it with an arrow in the back and Meleager finished it off with his spear. A dispute arose

among the huntsmen over the monster's remains which Meleager had presented to Atalanta.

Meleager's uncles attempted to take it away from her and Meleager killed them. When she learned

how her brothers had been slain by her too quick-tempered son, Althaea, it was said, threw the

fatal brand into the fire and Meleager immediately died. Another tradition says that Althaea

merely dedicated her son to the Furies.

According to this latter version, war meanwhile broke out between the Aetolians and the Curetes

over whom Meleager's uncles had reigned. The hero fought valiantly at first, but when he learned

that his mother had cursed him he shut himself up in his house. The"Curetes thus gained the

advantage and broke into the town, setting fire to the houses. Stubbornly Meleager ignored the

entreaties of relations and friends and refused to fight. He gave in at last to the prayers of his wife,

Cleopatra, and resuming his place at the head of his troops put the enemy to flight. During the

battle he was killed, they said, by Apollo.

Atalanta. Atalanta, the unconscious cause of Meleager's troubles, was the daughter of the

Arcadian lasus. lasus had wanted a son and he exposed his infant daughter on Mount Parthenius

where she was suckled by a bear and taken in by hunters whose rough life she shared. When she

had grown up Atalanta continued to live in rural solitude, taking pleasure only in the chase and

despising the thought of marriage. She slew the Centaurs, Rhaecus and Hylaeus, who had tried to

ravish her. She took an illustrious part in Meleager's boar hunt, and vanquished Peleus in

wrestling at the funeral games held in honour of Pelias. Her father lasus finally recognised her and

decided to have her married. She declared that she would only marry the man who could beat her

in a foot race. More than one suitor had competed and been killed by Atalanta when a certain

Melanion thought of a trick. While he ran he dropped one by one three golden apples which

Aphrodite had given him. Atalanta paused to pick them up. She was thus beaten and married

Melanion. The couple were later turned into lions for having profaned a temple of Zeus.

Tydeus and Diomedes. Meleager's half-brother, Tydeus, killed his cousins who had plotted

against his father. He had to leave Aetolia and went to Argos where he married the daughter of

King Adrastus. He took part in the expedition of the seven chieftains against Thebes and

distinguished himself by various exploits, notably by killing fifty Thebans who had laid an

ambush for him. He fell, however, under the blows of the Theban Melanippus. Though grievously

wounded Athene brought him an elixir which would have cured and made him immortal. She

was about to offer it to him when the soothsayer Amphiaraus who was a personal enemy of

Tydeus. presented him with the head of Melanippus. In a transport of rage Tydeus split open his

recent enemy's skull and devoured his brain. Outraged by such savagery, Athene left him to his

fate and Tydeus died shortly afterwards.

His son Diomedes avenged him by sacking Thebes with the Epigoni. The same Diomedes was

renowned for his exploits before Troy: he wounded Aphrodite and even Ares. With Odysseus he

seized the Palladium on which the safety of Troy depended. After the war his return to Greece

was marked with adventures. He was tossed by a storm on to the coast of Lycia and very nearly

immolated to Ares by King Lycus, but was saved by the king's daughter, Callirrhoe, who loved

him and when he departed killed herself in despair. When he returned to Argos he learned that

his wife was unfaithful to him. He left Argos, which he later reconquered. He finished his

valorous career in Italy with King Daunus whose daughter he married.


Peleus. Although Peleus was one of the most famous heroes of Thessaly he was not a native of

that country. He was the son of Aeacus who reigned over the island of Aegina. Peleus with his

brother Telamon fled from Aegina after they killed their half-brother Phocus. Telemon established

himself in Salamis where he inherited the crown of Cychreus, the king. Peleus first went to Phthia

where he visited Euiytion. Unwilling to present himself without an escort, he prayed to Zeus who

changed certain ants into men who were henceforth called Myrmidons. Eurytion welcomed him

warmly and gave him a third of his estates, together with the

hand of his daughter Antigone. Unfortunately Peleus and Eurytion took part in Meleager's boar

hunt during which Peleus accidentally killed his father-in-law. He then took refuge in lolcus with

Acastus who purified him. The wife of Acastus conceived an amorous passion for Peleus, but was

repulsed by him. She avenged herself by falsely telling Antigone that Peleus had been unfaithful

to her. Antigone hanged herself in grief. She also told her husband the same story. The laws of

hospitality forbade Acastus to kill Peleus; instead he took his guest hunting on Mount Pelion,

hoping to see him killed. But Peleus vanquished the wildest and most dangerous beasts, thanks to

a fabulous dagger which had been made by Hephaestus. While Peleus was asleep Acastus stole

this dagger and hid it, thinking in this way to leave him without defence against the

ferocious Centaurs who peopled the mountain. The project nearly succeeded, but by luck Peleus

was saved by the Centaur Chiron who returned his dagger. Peleus used it to punish Acastus and

his treacherous wife, and himself became king of the land.

Shortly afterwards Peleus married the Nereid Thetis, not without resistance on the part of the

bride who, once courted by Poseidon and Zeus himself, considered marriage to a mortal to be an

insult to her dignity. Thanks to the advice of Chiron Peleus overcame the efforts of Thetis to elude

him and the marriage was sumptuously celebrated in the crests of Mount Pelion. From their union

Achilles was born. We have already seen how Thetis attempted to bestow immortality on her son.

The achievement of this work was interrupted by Peleus, and Thetis in vexation rejoined her

sisters, the Nereids.

Young Achilles was confided to the Centaur Chiron who fed him on the marrowbones of bears

and the entrails of lions.

Achilles. Thus Achilles grew in years and strength. He was nine when the seer Calchas predicted

that he alone would conquer Troy. Thetis, who knew that in Troy he would meet his death, tried

to avoid the peril by hiding him, disguised as a girl, in the palace of Lycomedes, King of Skyros.

But the Greeks, helped by Odysseus, discovered the so-called 'maiden' by an ingenious trick.

Odysseus one day came to Lycomedes' palace with gifts for the king's daughters.

Among them he slipped a shield and a spear. Then he and his companions gave battle cries

and sounded the trumpets. Achilles thinking they were being attacked, rushed for the weapons.

The Greeks then took him with them; for he could not escape his destiny. We know what valour

he displayed beneath the walls of Ilium; in single combat he killed the valiant Hector. But he

himself perished before Troy was taken, pierced in his vulnerable heel by an arrow, shot either by

Apollo or by Paris.

But to return to Peleus: while his son grew up his own adventurous life continued. He took part in

the voyage of the Argonauts. He

fought with the Lapiths against the Centaurs. He seconded Hercules during his own expedition

against Ilium. He outlived his son and had a listless old age. The circumstances of his death are


Jason and the Argonauts. The expedition of the Argonauts was celebrated in the annals not only of

Thessaly but of all Greece. Its object was the conquest of the Golden Fleece, the origin of which

was this: Phrixus and Helle, the two children of the Boeotian King Athamas, were hated by their

step-mother Ino. Their very lives were threatened and they fled, mounted on a fabulous ram

which was a gift of Hermes. This ram was endowed with reason and speech; had a fleece of gold

and could move through the air as well as it could over the earth. In the course of their flight Helle

fell into the sea and gave her name to the Hellespont. Phrixus was luckier and reached Colchis on

the Black Sea. There he sacrificed the ram to Zeus, and offered its fleece to the king of the country,

Aeetes, who hung it from a tree and set a dragon who never slept to guard it.

Meanwhile at lolcus in Thessaly reigned Pelias who had wrenched the throne from his brother,

Aeson. Aeson's son, Jason, had been confided to the care of the Centaur Chiron. When he reached

man's estate Jason went to his uncle and demanded his share of the kingdom. Pelias was sorely

disturbed, for an oracle had once told him to 'beware of the man who wears but one sandal', and

Jason had appeared before him with only one foot shod. He therefore told his nephew that he

would willingly comply with his demand on condition that Jason first brought him back the

Golden Fleece.

With the help of Hera or Athene Jason immediately built a ship with fifty oars, the Argo, in which

he had set a bough of the prophetic oak of Zeus at Dodona. He gathered together the most famous

heroes, among whom were Amphion, the Dioscuri, Hercules, Orpheus, Peleus, Theseus and

Meleager. Then the hardy adventurers set forth in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. Their

voyage was full of incident: they were forced to struggle against the elements as well as against

men. Finally they reached the mouth

of the Phasis and rowing up the river came to the kingdom of Aeetes. Aeetes consented to give up

the Golden Fleece, but imposed his own conditions. Jason had first to harness a plough with two

wild bulls whose hooves were of bronze and whose breath was of flame. With them he must

plough a field and plant it with dragons' teeth. Luckily for Jason the daughter of Aeetes, Medea,

fell in love with him and, as she was a skilled magician, showed him how to overcome these

fearful conditions. Then Aeetes refused to keep his word; Medea again helped Jason to vanquish

the dragon who guarded the Golden Fleece and to seize the precious trophy. Both left the country

in haste, pursued by Aeetes. In order to delay her father's pursuit Medea did not hesitate to scatter

the route with the dismembered body of her own brother whose throat she had cut. After a long

and perilous voyage which took them across the Danube, the Ocean, the Libyan deserts, the Red

Sea and the Mediterranean, the Argonauts finally returned to lolcus. During Jason's absence Pelias

had put Aeson to death. Others say that Aeson was still alive and was even rejuvenated by one of

Medea's magic philtres. In any case, Jason avenged himself on his uncle. Medea persuaded the

daughters of Pelias that she could with her charms rejuvenate their father, but that first they must

cut him up into pieces and cook him. They carried out these instructions and Medea left matters as

they were. After this atrocious murder Medea and Jason withdrew to Corinth. There they lived

happily for ten years, whereupon Jason fell in love with Creusa (or Glauce), daughter of King

Creon, and abandoned Medea. Medea avenged herself by sending a wedding present to the new

bride: a magnificent robe which consumed her with inextinguishable fire. Medea then cut the

throats of the children she had had by Jason and Hed to Athens where she married Aegeus. She

had to leave Athens when she tried to poison Theseus and went to her father at Colchis.

As for Jason, some say that he grew weary of life and killed himself. Others say that while resting

in the shade of the ship Argo, the poop fell on him and accidentally crushed him to death.


Orpheus, the great hero of Thrace, was very different in character from the other Greek heroes. He

was not distinguished for his warlike exploits. He was in origin perhaps a Thracian king, and he

owed his fame above all to his amazing musical talent. Son of Apollo, he sang and played the lyre

with such art that the savage beasts came running to listen and even trees would follow him. His

talent performed miracles during the voyage of the Argonauts. The ship Argo, high on the beach,

descended to the sea of its own accord at the sound of his singing. His songs arrested the Symplegades,

those terrible moving rocks which threatened to crush the ship, and sent them down to the

bottom of the sea. He lulled the dragon, guardian of the Golden Fleece, to sleep by singing, and

thus facilitated the Argonauts' escape.

Such was the power of his voice and the harmony of his lyre that even the infernal deities

submitted to them. He had married the nymph Eurydice whom he passionately loved. One day

when Eurydice was fleeing from Aristaeus she was mortally bitten by a snake hidden in the grass.

Orpheus was heartbroken at the death of his wife and resolved to descend into the Underworld to

reclaim her. He was able to charm Hades and Persephone who gave him permission to take

Eurydice back to earth on the sole condition that he should not turn to look at her during the

journey. The couple had almost reached the gates of Hades when Orpheus impatiently and

imprudently turned to look at his wife. At once she was whisked back into the sombre abode of

the dead and vanished, this time forever.

Orpheus was inconsolable and, some said, killed himself. But the more widely held opinion was

that he was torn in pieces by Thracian women who were infuriated at this single-minded love for

his wife. His head and his lyre were flung into the River Hebrus and carried as far as Lesbos. The

head of the divine singer was caught in a fissure of rock where for long it delivered oracles. In the

days of Lucian his lyre could still be seen in a temple at Lesbos and it was sacrilege to lay hands

on it. One day Neanthus, son of the Tyrant of Lesbos, tried to play the wondrous lyre and was

devoured by dogs who had been attracted by the sound. They also said that the head of Orpheus

was found by a shepherd on the banks of the Melas, and in the town of Libethra .in Macedonia

they pointed out his tomb.

Other Thracian Poets. Thrace took pride in other famous poets and musicians, such as Philammon,

also said to be a son of Apollo, and to whom was attributed the institution of choral dance in the

temple of Delphi.

Philammon's son, Thamyris, an equally celebrated musician, once dared to challenge the Muses.

For his presumption they deprived him of his voice and, into the bargain, blinded him.

To Thrace also belonged Eumolpus, son of Poseidon and Chione who was a daughter of Boreas.

Eumolpus was thrown into the sea by his mother who wished to conceal her shame. He was found

by Boreas who carried him to Ethiopia. From there Eumolpus went to the court of Tegyrius, King

of Thrace. He was killed by Erech-theus when he was fighting with the Eleusinians against

Athens. Some say that Eumolpus instituted the Eleusinian mysteries in honour of Demeter who

had taught him how to cultivate the vine and trees. He also taught Hercules to sing and play the



The ancient legends of Crete were early imported into Greece and were, as we have seen, a basis

of Hellenic mythology, taking on new aspects as they became adapted to continental traditions.

They centred for the most part around the figure of the fabulous King Minos. It seems, however,

that more personages than Minos were concerned, and we should distinguish at least two Minoses

of which one was the grandson of the other. But makers of myths are never worried about

chronology or verisimilitude and wove all their legends around the single figure of Minos.

Minos then with Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon was a son of Zeus and Europa. Europa after her

arrival in Crete married the king of the island, Asterius, who adopted her children. Minos

succeeded Asterius to the throne of Crete. He distinguished himself by the wisdom of his laws

and his sense of justice which, after his death, earned him promotion to the dignity of judge of the


Minos had married Pasiphac. She had already given him several children when Poseidon, angered

by Minos, inspired her with a monstrous passion for a bull. From this union was born the

Minotaur, a monster half-human, half-bull.

The Athenians had killed the son of Minos. Androgeus, and in consequence Minos laid siege to

Athens. Previously he had besieged Megara and vanquished the king Nisus. thanks to the treas'on

of Scylla, Nisus' daughter. Scylla was in love with Minos and had therefore cut a golden lock of

hair on which the safety of the city depended from her father's head. Minos took advantage of this

treacherous act, but punished its author. He had the infatuated Scylla drowned in the Saronic Sea.

where she was changed into a lark. Before Athens, however, Minos was less successful. The siege

dragged on. Minos implored the aid of Zeus who visited Athens with a plague. To rid themselves

of this plague the Athenians consented to send Minos an annual tribute of seven youths and seven

maidens who were to be fed to the Minotaur. We have already seen how Theseus freed his city

from this wretched servitude.

The Minotaur, who fed exclusively on human flesh, had been enclosed by Minos in an amazing

palace from which no one could find an exit: the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth had been constructed

by Daedalus, an Athenian distinguished for his ingenuity and cunning. To Daedalus was ascribed

the invention of the axe and the saw. It was he. they said, who first fixed arms and legs to the

xoana, the shapeless primitive statues of the gods. He killed his nephew who was a rival

craftsman and sought asylum with Minos. Daedalus helped Ariadne when she gave Theseus the

precious ball of thread which enabled the hero to find his way out of the Labyrinth. For this act of

treachery Minos had Daedalus and his son Icarus locked up in the Labyrinth for a while. They

flew to freedom by means of an ingenious pair of wings which Daedalus devised. In the course of

their flight Icarus was imprudent enough to approach too near the sun. The wax by which his

wings were attached melted and he plummeted into the sea which henceforth took his name, the

Icarian Sea. Daedalus landed in Curnae, and from there went to Sicily where he gained the favour

of King Cocalus. Thus when Minos pursuing Daedalus landed on the island, Cocalus refused to

hand over his guest. Indeed, he smothered Minos in a bath. Such was the end of this famous

monarch whose tomb was. nevertheless, shown in Crete.



The term Roman Mythology requires some explanation, even justification. The religious system

whose centre is placed for convenience in Rome was not in fact purely Roman; the elements which

composed it were numerous and varied. It was not monolithic, but a mosaic in which can be

recognised contributions which were Etruscan, Alban, Sabine, Greek, Syrian, Persian, Egyptian.

Obviously there were Roman elements too; but not to such a degree that they dominated the

system and gave it a specifically national character.

Roman mythology seems poor when compared with the poetic and spiritual richness of Greek and

Oriental mythologies. The Romans were a practical people with little imagination and they sought

to form a religion which corresponded to their needs. It was important to them to feel sheltered

from the perils which threatened the group or the individual; but they experienced no mystic

necessity to love and worship the superhuman powers to whom they had recourse. Their gods

were protectors for whose services they paid; and in case of failure their wages were withheld. Do

ut des: I give to thee so that thou givest to me; such was the cynical profession of faith that one

might inscribe above the entrance of the Roman Pantheon.

We use the term Roman pantheon inaccurately, for there was no genuinely Roman pantheon. The

term was a Greek importation of the third century B.C. Was there not, then, a hierarchy of

divinities worshipped in Rome? There was. But it was not at all like that great assembly of

splendid personages, all possessing their individual traits and each easily recognised, which

composed the Greek pantheon. It was something more abstract and utilitarian: a register, an actual

catalogue (Indigitamenta) in which those who were interested could find the names of protective

powers with special functions attributed to them and the rites which must be performed in order

to purchase their favours.

In the course of time, when the fortunes of war had given the Romans empire over the ancient

world, this utilitarian spirit which they had shown in constructing their own religious system led

them without effort to build on their own soil the temples of the peoples they had defeated. These

foreign gods whom they installed in the family circle, as it were, were new protectors who joined

those who already stood guard over the Roman family and city. Rome, capital of the Empire,

accepted within its walls gods who were formerly enemies but henceforth formed part of Roman

political organisation.


There were a certain number of purely Italic gods. It must not, however, be forgotten that foreign

influences, and above all Greek influence, were felt from very early times. To give a few dates: the

traditional foundation of Rome was 753 B.C. Now during the course of that century Greek

colonies were established in Sicily and in southern Italy which was, indeed, called Magna Graecia.

The Dorians founded Syracuse in 734 and Tarentum in 707. The Achaeans founded Sybaris in 721,

Metapontum and Croton. The Euboeans installed themselves on both sides of the Straits of

Messina, at Rhegium (Reggio) in Italy and at Messina in Sicily.

Mars, the most Roman of the gods, second in importance only to Jupiter himself. Originally an

agricultural deity his character changed with that of the Roman people and he became instead the

god of war of a conquering and warring nation, his agricultural functions devolving on to lesser

gods. Mars had numerous temples both in Italy and throughout the empire, his chief festivals

being in the spring. Roman marble.

Rome-according to tradition in 753 B.C. Koman altar discovered atUstia.

Relations obviously sprang up between these Greeks and the Italic tribes. In particular, Etruscan

towns like Tarquinii, Vulci and Caere were in regular touch with the Hellenic colonies. Now the

Etruscans were closely involved in the history of primitive Rome, which they perhaps conquered.

In any case, during the sixth century tradition speaks of the Etruscan kings of Rome: Tarquinius

the Elder - who was of Greek origin - Servius Tullius and Tarquinius Superbus. Hence it is evident

that the Romans, through the intermediary of the Etruscans, were very early exposed to Hellenic

influence, which explains why in these notes devoted to the Italic gods we shall encounter certain

details already observed in Greek mythology. This early hellenisation of the Roman pantheon

foreshadows the more complete assimilation which took place in the course of the third and

second centuries B.C.

We have seen that the Romans considered their gods as protectors. There were thus two chief

classes of Italic gods: those whose function it was to guard the State, and those who watched over

the family -the family being considered as an integral cell of the State.

We shall study first the gods of the State; but this does not imply that in the eyes of the Romans

these were in any way more important than the gods of the family. Indeed the cult rendered by

the Paterfamilias - who acted as an actual priest - to his lares, his penates and his manes was just

as important as the cult of Janus or Jupiter.


Janus. Janus is unique in that he was an essentially Italic god or, more precisely, Roman. He

appears in no other mythology.

The origin of his name is uncertain. Cicero tried to find it in the verb ire. Others preferred the root

div (dividere), and assumed that the first form of the name was Divanus. A third hypothesis

suggests a form Jana, sometimes employed for Diana, of which the root dius or dium evokes the

idea of the luminous sky.

This last etymology agrees with the established fact that Janus was in origin a solar deity. But his

functions were wide and important and derived one from another.

Janus was first the god of all doorways: of public gates (jani) through which roads passed, and of

private doors. His insignia were thus the key which opens and closes the door, and the stick

(virgd) which porters employed to drive away those who had no right to cross the threshold. His

two faces (Janus bifrons) allowed him to observe both the exterior and interior of the house, and

the entrance and exit of public buildings.

Being god of the gates he was naturally the god of departure and return and, by extension, the god

of all means of communication. Under the name Portunus he was the god of harbours; and since

travel can be either by land or sea, he was supposed to have invented navigation.

Janus was also the god of'beginnings'. As a solar god he presided over daybreak (Matutinus

Pater). He was soon considered as the promoter of all initiative and, in a general way, he was

placed at the head of all human enterprises. For this reason the Romans ascribed to him an

essential role in the creation of the world. He was the god of gods, Janus Pater. Ovid relates that

Janus was called Chaos at the time when air, fire, water and earth were all a formless

mass. When the elements separated. Chaos took on the form of Janus: his two faces represented

the confusion of his original state. Other legends made Janus a king of the golden age of Latium.

He was said to have welcomed Saturn driven from the sky by Jupiter.

The cult of Janus was established either by Romulus or by Numa and always remained popular

among the Romans. Janus appeared at the head of religious ceremonies and, in his quality of

father of the gods, was the first on the Romans' list, coming even before Jupiter. He was honoured

on the first day of every month and the first month of the year (Januarius) bore his name.

In the Forum he had a temple whose gates were open in times of war and closed in times of peace.

The reason for this custom is not certain. The gates of the temple of Janus were, however, rarely

closed: once under Numa, three times under Augustus, then under Nero, Marcus Aurelius,

Commodus, Gordius III, and in the fourth century.

It was told of this temple how, during an attack on Rome by the Sabine Tatius, a Roman woman

was bribed by jewels to show the enemy the path to the citadel. But Janus whose function it was to

open a channel for fountains caused a jet of boiling water to gush forth which stopped Tatius

short. On the spot where the water spurted the temple of Janus was erected.

We possess no statue or bust of Janus, but on coins his effigies arc numerous. He is normally

represented with a double face, or as an older man with a beard. The crown of laurel does not

appear on all his images.

Mars. Mars is without doubt the most Roman of the gods. His cult was more important than that

of Jupiter. This was due to the fact that Mars was very intimately concerned with Roman history,

first because tradition made him the father of Romulus, then because of his functions as an

agricultural god. and finally because he was the god of war. He thus corresponded to the two

successive conditions of the Roman citizen, who was himself first a farmer and then a conqueror.

The origin of his name is disputed. Some connect it with a root mar or max which signified the

generative force. Others give to the root mar the sense of 'to shine', which would imply that Mars

was at first a solar divinity.

The most ancient forms of his name are Maurs and Mavors which were contracted into the usual

form Mars. Other forms - Mar.spiter and Ma.ipiler -- were created by the addition of the word


The Latins believed that Mars was the son of Juno. Juno gave birth to him, not with the assistance

of Jupiter, but by means of

a mystic union with a fabulous flower. Mars was the husband of the vestal Rhea Silvia. He took

her by surprise while she was sound asleep, and he became the father of Romulus and Remus.

His functions were at first rustic. In ancient times he was the god of vegetation and fertility. Under

the name of Silvanux - who afterwards became a distinct divinity - he presided over the prosperity

of cattle. He lived in forests and in the mountains. In a general way he protected agriculture: in

this aspect he is found associated with Robigus who preserved corn from the blight (rohigo).

Several animals were sacred to him: the woodpecker, the horse and the wolf whose image

frequently appears in the sanctuaries of the god: it was a she-wolf who had suckled Romulus and

Remus. Among the plants and trees which were dedicated to him were the fig-tree, the oak, the

dog-wood, the laurel and the bean.

These details, together with the fact that Mars was the god of Spring, when his most important

festivals were celebrated, demonstrate that Mars was essentially an agricultural god. He was

called Mars Gmdivux, from grandiri, 'to become big, to grow'.

His warrior functions only came afterwards, but in the end they supplanted his former duties

which were then transferred to Ceres and Liber. Mars became the god of battle. Honour was paid

to him in his temple at Rome before setting out on military expeditions. Before combat sacrifices

were offered to him, and after victory he received his share of the booty. Moreover he sometimes

appeared on the field of battle, escorted by Bellona and Vacuna, warrior-goddesses, by Pavor and

Pallor, who inspired terror in the enemy ranks, and by Honos and Virtus, who instilled in the

Romans honour and courage. Mars still preserved his former title ofGradivus, but it had changed

in meaning and by corruption was now connected with the verb gradi 'to march'. Mars was now a

foot-soldier. After victory he was accompanied by Vitula and Victoria.

Mars was venerated in Etruria, in Umbria. among the Sabines who associated him with the

goddess Nerio,' in Samnium and among the Oscans and in Latium. His temples were very

numerous and the Romans erected more of them in the conquered territories.

At Rome where he was worshipped as Mars and as Quirinus he had a sacrarium on the Palatine

Hill in the Roma Quadrala of Romulus. It was there that the god's sacred spears were kept and the

twelve shields, Ancilia, which were objects of his cult. Wishing to bestow upon King Numa a

token of his benevolence Mars - or according to Ovid, Jupiter - caused a shield to fall from the sky.

to which the fate of Rome was thenceforth attached. In order to avoid all risk of theft or

destruction, Numa had eleven identical shields constructed and placed them under the

guardianship of

a special college of priests, called the Salii. Primitively the rites of the Salii were intended to

protect the growth of plants.

Mars appeared as a purely agricultural god in the festivals of the XmA"nY;//a which were

celebrated in Rome on the twenty-ninth of May. They were purification festivals. During them

Mars was offered the.wm'Mwn/M. in the course of which a pig. a ram and a bull were led around

before being immolated to the god.

Mars also figures in the chanting of the /#ri'"/". a college of priests who were responsible for the

cult of Dea Dia. a rural goddess, closely related to Ceres.

Representations of Mars almost all derive from Greek art. The most Roman image of him is

probably a bearded Mars, with cuirass and helmet, reproduced from a statue of Mars Ultor in the

temple constructed by Augustus. As for the numerous figures of Mars engraved on medals, they

are in the Greek style and copy the Arcs type.

Bellona, his companion - sister, wife or daughter - had a celebrated temple in Rome near the gate

of Carmenta. There the senate gave audience to ambassadors. In front of the temple rose the 'war

column' which the fetialis struck with his lance when war was declared.The pricstsof Bellona

werechosen fromamongthc gladiators.

Jupiter. In the name Jupiter can he found the root (//. r//i'. which corresponds to the idea of

brilliance, the celestial light.

The function of the Etruscan Jupiter, who was called 7YwM. was to warn men and. on occasion, to

punish them. For this purpose he possessed three thunderbolts. He could hurl the first whenever

he felt like it. as a warning: but to hurl the second, which was also premonitory, he had to obtain

the permission of twelve gods. roM.scM/M or mm/)//CM. The third thunderbolt was the one

which punished. It could only be released with the consent of superior or hidden gods - (///

.vH/"'nmv.s, wro/iv/. This primitive Jupiter can be compared with Summanus. another Etruscan

thunder-god who presided over the night sky.

The Latin Jupiter was first ofall the god of light - sun and moon -and of celestial phenomena:

wind. rain, thunder, tempest and lightning. His role was thus important to the agricultural

population. Several epithets correspond to his diverse duties: Jupiter Lucetius was the god of light:

Jupiter Elicius (f//MTf, to elicit, to draw forth) caused the rain to fall: Jupiter Liber was the god of

creative force: Jupiter Dapalis presided over sowing; Jupiter Terminus watched over the boundary

stones of fields.

Jupiter rapidly lost his rural functions and became the great protector of the city and the State. He

was a warrior-god (Jupiter Stator. Eeretrius. Victor). He symbolised the great virtues of justice,

good faith and honour: he protected youth. In short he was the great tutelary power of the Empire:

Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Solemn titles were reserved for him: Conservator orbis. Conservator

Augustorum. Propugnator, etc. A more prosaic title, Pistor 'baker' - recalled that Jupiter once

advised the Romans, who were besieged in the Capitol by the Gauls, to throw bread over the

walls in order to show the enemy that they were in no fear of starvation.

Jupiter was worshipped throughout Italy. On the Quirinal he had a very ancient temple, the

Capitolium vetus. where he formed a triad with Juno and Minerva. This temple was built on the

Capitoline Hill under the Tarquins and the three gods there formed the Capitoline Triad. There

Jupiter bore the name Optimus Maximus.

It was under the aegis of the Capitoline Jupiter that the senators assembled to declare war.

Generals appeared before him prior to setting out to war and after victory returned to offer him a

crown of gold and part of the booty.

The /"(// rowaw, annual games, were celebrated in the circus in his honour. Their foundation

was attributed to the Elder Tarquin. They consisted of athletic contests, especially chariot races.

As well as the ludi romani there were the /H(///j/c&V/ which consisted of foot races and

theatrical entertainments.

Images of Jupiter are practically all derived from Greek art. The Volscian Jupiter is, however,

curious in that it is beardless and the god is depicted as a young man.

Juno. Sister and consort of Jupiter. Juno was a very great Italic-goddess. In the remotest epochs she

was found among the Sabincs. the Oscans. the Latins, the Umhrians and the Etruscans.

Her oldest titles. Lucetia and Lucina. correspond to her chief functions.

Juno Lucetia was the feminine principle of the celestial light, of which Jupiter was the masculine

principle. Like Jupiter she was also a moon-goddess: in this latter aspect she was coupled with


Goddess of light, she was by derivation the goddess of childbirth, for the new-horn baby is

brought into the light. The goddess was then Juno Lucina.

In this aspect she occupied an important part in the ceremonies of marriage and afterwards. She

had many titles: Juno Pronuba watched over the arrangement of marriages: Juno Domiduca

conducted the bride to the house of her husband and saw that she crossed the threshold; Juno

Nuxia coated the doorposts with perfume; Cinxia unknotted the bride's girdle. Later Juno Lucina

protected the pregnant wife, strengthened the hones of the infant (Juno Ossipago) and assured the

mother's supply of milk (Juno Rumina). Juno Sospita received fervent invocations at the time of

labour and delivered the baby.

As a goddess of childbirth she was naturally invoked by wives who were barren. It was Juno

Lucina who rescued the Sabine women from the scourge of sterility with which they had been

stricken after their abduction.

To sum up, Juno Lucina was the goddess and symbol of the Roman matron - a logical

consequence of her own title of spouse of Jupiter, the supreme god.

Her role of goddess of childbirth was not confined to the protection of the Roman wife. Under the

name Populonia, Juno also watched over the multiplication of the race. Under the name Martialis,

mother of Mars, she was the goddess of birth and finally of fertility - Caprotina. This is what they

said of the origin of this epithet: taking advantage of Rome's weakness after the invasion of the

Gauls, the neighbouring tribes marched against the city under the leadership of Posthumius

Livius. They threatened to destroy Rome unless all the women and girls were turned over to them.

Some female slaves offered to go to the camp of Posthumius, disguised as free women. The

stratagem was successful. But that night, when the enemy was asleep, they unfurled from the top

of a wild fig-tree (cuprificus) a signal to the Romans who hastened to come and slaughter the

aggressors. The slaves were set free and rewarded by the State; and their act of heroism was


Juno Moneta, after having been the adviser of those about to be married, became the adviser of the

Roman people. When the Gauls attempted to scale the walls of the citadel of the Capitol it was

Juno's sacred animals, the geese, who warned (Latin momre, to warn) the defenders of the peril.

Later this epithet Moneta changed its meaning, due to the installation near the temple of Juno of

the mint where money was coined.

Juno Sospita, protectress of confinements, became in a broader sense she who was always willing

to help, the liberator. She had two temples at Rome. At Lanuvium, Juno Sospita had a temple

which was guarded by a serpent. Every year a maiden would offer cakes to the serpent. If it

accepted, this was a sign that the girl was a virgin. Its refusal was an evil omen and a year of

sterility was to be feared.

A temple to Juno Lucina was built on the Esquiline in 735 B.C. only a few years after the

foundation of Rome. In the temple of the Capitoline Triad, built by the Tarquins, Juno's title was

Regina. There she held the golden sceptre, the Patera and the thunderbolt. She then played the

role of august consort of Jupiter and protectress of the Roman people. Her cult was spread

throughout the Empire.

The festivals of Juno Lucina, the Matronalia, were celebrated by Roman matrons at the Kalends of

March. After a ceremony in the sacred grove of the Palatine it became a family festival. The

mistress of the house was its central figure; she received a present from her husband and served

her slaves at the table.

Juno Regina is almost always represented standing; her attributes are the sceptre, the patera, the

veil and the peacock.

Juno Sospita is armed with spear and shield.

Juno Lucina carries a child in her arms; there are two more at her feet. She is also represented with

a child in her arms and in her hand a flower which recalls the circumstances in which she

conceived the god Mars.

Vesta. Vesta is the most beautiful of Roman divinities, bright and pure like the flame which is her

symbol. Her name derives - like the name Hestia - from a Sanskrit root, vas, which expresses the

idea of'shining'.

The Latins had made Vesta a goddess who personified the earth and fire. The Romans kept only

the second of these personifications. Nor was Vesta the goddess of fire in its broadest sense, but

only of fire required for domestic use or in religious ceremonial.

In the beginning Vesta was associated with Janus Pater and Tellus Mater, and was the protectress

of sown fields. She was also a symbol of idealised maternity - although she was a virgin - because

fire nourishes.

As a goddess of fire she received both a private and a public cult.

Every hearth had its Vesta. With Jupiter Dapalis she presided over the preparation of meals; she

was offered the first food and drink. With the Lares and the Penates she held a pre-eminent

position in the house.

At Rome the centre of her cult, which was said to have been originated by Romulus, was in the

Regia. It lasted almost all the year, being interrupted only during the months of January and

November. The chief festivals of Vesta were the Vestalia which were celebrated on the seventh of

June. On that day her sanctuary (which normally no one except her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins,

entered) was accessible to mothers of families who brought plates of food. The Vestals officiated.

The ceremonies were simple and unsanguinary. The objects of the cult were essentially the hearth

fire and pure water drawn into a clay vase, handmade, and narrow at the base so that it could not

stand on the ground.

The Vestals, who played a role of first importance in Roman liturgy, enjoyed exceptional prestige.

When Numa first instituted them they were two in number; Servius increased them to six. They

were chosen by lot from patrician families and entered the college between.the ages of six to ten.

They remained there for thirty years. During the first ten years they received instruction in their

duties which they exercised for the following ten years. Then, in their turn, they taught the

younger Vestals.

They took vows of absolute chastity. Those who broke their vows were punished by death.

Originally they were whipped to death, but the Elder Tarquin modified this torture: they were

then whipped and walled-up alive in a tomb which was sealed after a few provisions had been

deposited in it. Vestals accused of impurity

sometimes managed to clear their reputation. It was told how Tuccia proved her virginity by

bringing back water from the Tiber in the sacred sieve. The accomplice of the guilty Vestal was

whipped to death in the Forum Boarium. During the course of eleven centuries only twenty

Vestals broke their vow and suffered punishment.

If a Vestal let the sacred fire go out she was whipped by order of Pontifex Maximus.

When the Vestals had finished the thirty years of their engagement they could marry. They rarely

took advantage of this right, however, preferring to maintain the privileges of their position.

Whenever they appeared in public they were preceded by a lictor, and if a man condemned to

death chanced to meet a Vestal he was immediately reprieved.

Statues of Vesta are not numerous. Her image is found on coins, mostly imitations of Greek art.

She is always veiled.

Vulcan. Vulcan was one of the oldest of Latin gods, ante-dating even Jupiter. Under the name

Volcanus, he was the first Jupiter of Rome whose foundation he protected. In his aspect of Jupiter

he formed a couple with Juno. He was also associated with Maia, an incarnation of the Earth

Mother, and with Vesta, considered as goddess of the earth. He was not allied with Venus who in

those remote times still played a small part in Roman mythology. Volcanus was the father of

Cacus, whose legend will be recounted later. To him was also attributed the paternity of Servius

Tullius, king of Rome.

A maiden in the neighbourhood of Praeneste was seated one day near the fire when a spark fell on

her; some months afterwards she gave birth to a son. She exposed him in the forest where some

girls found him beside a lighted fire. For this reason he was regarded as a son of Vulcan and

because of the smallness of his eyes they named him Coeculus. When he grew up he founded the

town of Praeneste, celebrating the occasion with public games. As some of those present cast

doubts on his paternity he invoked his father Vulcan and the crowd was immediately surrounded

by flames.

Vulcan was the god of the thunderbolt and of the sun, then the god of fires whose ravages he

could arrest, and finally became


the god who was associated with the attribute of life-giving warmth.

He was invoked as the divinity of the hearth and, as he was united with Maia, mother of springs,

he was considered the first god of the Tiber. He even possessed warlike functions and may have

preceded Mars as god of battles. In the early history of Rome, then, Volcanus was a more

important personage than the later Vulcan.

The Volcanalia were celebrated on the twenty-third of August. On the twenty-seventh of August

Vulcan was feted in the Vohurnulia in his role of god of the Tiber, Volturnus being one of this

river's religious names. The seventeenth of August was the festival of the Portunalia, also

consecrated to the Tiber. It is probable that in ancient times human sacrifices were offered to

Vulcan. His altar in the Forum was the Volcanal.

The Romans always represented him as bearded, sometimes with a slight facial deformity which

doubtless recalled his infirmity. Near him stand the hammer, tongs and anvil, attributes which

came from Greece. He wears a bonnet (pileus) and a short tunic which leaves his right arm and

shoulder free.

Saturn. Saturn was a very ancient agricultural divinity of Latin and Roman origin; he was of the

same rank as Janus and Jupiter. His name may be connected with satur (stuffed, gorged) or with

sator (a sower); in either case he is synonymous with abundance.

Saturn was a working god and a vine-grower (vitisator). Under the name Stercutius he saw to the

manuring of fields. He was associated with Ops, who was a personification of the earth's riches.

Saturn was supposed to have been king of Italy during the golden age. Driven from the sky by

Jupiter he hid himself (latuit) in the country since called Latium, and indeed beneath the Capitol at

Rome itself. His reign brought prosperity and abundance.

The Saturnalia, celebrated on the seventeenth of December, originally consisted of a series of rural

festivals, sementivae feriae, consualia larentalia, paganalia. The Saturnalia assumed their real

importance in 217 B.C., a time when the defeat at Lake Trasimene, a prelude to the disaster of

Cannae, caused a religious revival among the Romans.

The Saturnalia lasted seven days, from the seventeenth to the


twenty-third of December. It was a period of unrestrained festivity. After the religious ceremony

there was an immense feast: people even took the precaution of bathing in the morning in order to

remain all day at table. Encumbering togas were removed and they ate at ease in tunics. In

memory of the golden age the masters served the slaves whovduring the festivals, could say and

do what they liked. There was a general suspension of public activity. Law courts did not sit,

schools were closed, commercial and military operations were suspended.

In the temple of Saturn near the Capitol the State treasury was kept, as well as the standards of the

legions which were not on campaign. The god's effigy was bound with woollen strips which

prevented him from leaving Roman territory. His bands were untied during the Saturnalia.

In a painting from Pompeii Saturn is standing, his chest half bare, a sickle in his hand. On coins he

carries a sickle or ears of corn.

Minerva. The name Minerva is connected with the root manas or mens. She first appeared in

Etruria under the names of Menrva, Menrfa, Meneruva, Menarva, and was perhaps a goddess of

the thunderbolt. It seems that this Etruscan Minerva very early merged with the Greek Athene.

Minerva is hence the least Italic of the divinities with whom she formed the triad Jupiter-Juno-


The Roman Minerva was especially the protectress of commerce and industry and of schools. It

was only later that she assumed the character of a warrior-goddess.

According to Roman tradition the cult of Minerva originated in Falerii. When in 241 B.C. the

Romans took this town they carried Minerva off, built her a temple at the foot of Mount Coelius

and gave her the name Minerva Capta. There was, however, a temple already consecrated to

Minerva in Rome on the Aventine. In any case her cult was not ancient in Latium or among the


Minerva was honoured, in association with Mars, in the Qitin-quairus which lasted five days

during the Spring equinoxes.

Minerva was venerated throughout the Empire. Particularly homage was paid to her by

corporations of artisans, flute-players, doctors and so forth.

There was no purely Roman figure of Minerva. The Etruscans had represented her with wings,

holding a screech-owl in her hand. It will be remembered that this bird was sacred to Athene.

Mercury. The name Mercury is connected with the root merx (merchandise) and mercari (to deal,

trade). He is not very ancient for he does not appear in the Indigitamenta. The early Romans,

being above all countrymen, had no need for a god of commerce.

The Roman Mercury appeared only about the fifth century B.C. and was exclusively the god of

merchants. For long he was known only in this capacity, so that Plautus, in his prologue to

Amphitryon, reminds his audience that Mercury presided over messages and commerce. Like

certain other minor divinities - Pecunia, Aes-culanus, Argentinus - he watched over tradesmen's


Mercury had a temple on the Aventine. Among animals the cock was especially sacred to him.

To portray him Roman artists generally drew upon representations of Hermes. They gave

Mercury a beardless face and, for attributes, the caduceus and the winged petasus, with a purse in

his hand.


Faunus. Legend made Faunus the son of Picus and the grandson of Saturn. He was thought to

have been one of the first kings of Latium. He gave laws to the still barbarous tribes and invented

the shawm or rustic pipe. He deified his father Picus and his mother Canente who on the death of

her husband wasted away with grief until there was nothing left of her. Faunus was one of the

first Roman rustic divinities and, above all, a fertility god. He also possessed the gift of prophecy

and caused voices to be heard in the countryside. But to obtain oracular information from him he

had first to be bound, as King Numa succeeded in doing. Under the name Lupercus he had a

temple on the Palatine, the Lupercal -the name of the grotto where the she-wolf suckled the twins,

Romulus and Remus. The Lupercalia were celebrated on the fifteenth of February and were

among the most important festivals on the Roman calendar. Their function was purificatory. Goats

Mercury. Effigy on a Roman Coin. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

and he-goats were sacrificed, and perhaps dogs. After the animals were immolated two youths

were led to the altar. The priests touched their brows with the bloody knife and wiped them with

a wad of wool soaked in milk, after which the youths would burst out laughing. The priests of the

college of the Luperci, half naked, draped only in the skins of the sacrificed goats, would then

perform a ceremony during which women who wanted to become pregnant would hold out their

hands and turn their backs to be struck with a whip of goat's hide. Ovid gives a rather amusing

explanation of the nudity of the Luperci. One day Faunus surprised Hercules and Omphale asleep

in a grotto. Faunus wished to take advantage of the sleeping young woman, but the lovers had

playfully exchanged garments. In the darkness Faunus did not notice this and, deceived by the

softness of the robe Hercules was wearing, approached him instead of Omphale. He was, as can

be imagined, rudely repulsed. To avoid such misadventures in the future, Faunus insisted that his

priests should be naked when they celebrated his festivals. The Lupercalia were only suppressed

in 494 A.D. by Pope Gelasius who

Head of Minerva. To the Romans Minerva was above all the goddess of

handicrafts, learning and the arts and as such was particularly venerated by

the guilds of artisans, artists and professional men.

She later assumed Athene's other role as a warrior-goddess and

was worshipped in association with Mars in the Quinquatrus - a. festival

which finally came to be considered her own.

Statue after the Athene Parthenos of Phidias.

replaced them by a festival in honour of the ritual Purification of the Virgin.

With Faunus, god of fertility, was associated Fauna, who was his wife or daughter. Fauna was

invoked under the name of Bona Dea: women celebrated her cult at the beginning of December

with a mysterious festival which was forbidden to men and degenerated into an orgy. Also

associated with Faunus was Ops, a very ancient Sabine goddess whom Rome adopted. Ops was a

personification of creative force and agricultural fertility. She was venerated in the Opalia on the

nineteenth of December and invoked by sitting down and touching the earth with the hand.

Fauna, or Bona Dea, was also closely related to Maia who symbolised the earth's Spring fertility

and was honoured in May. Another goddess of Latium, Marica, was loved by Faunus who,

according to

Virgil's interpretation, made her the mother of the king, Latinus.

Census. Census was one of the most ancient gods of Rome. He presided over sowing. His

festivals, the Consualia, consisted of two distinct ceremonies. In the first, which took place on the

twenty-first of August after the harvest, Consus was associated with Ops. T,here were chariot

races and horse races, entertainments, dancing and a curious race on oxhides rubbed with oil. The

second ceremony of the Consualia took place on the fifteenth of December after the sowing.

Chariot races with mules were held in the circus. Consus had an altar near the Circus Maximus.

During the year this altar was covered with earth to evoke the idea of sowing. It was only swept

for the Consualia. It was during the festivals of Consus that the Romans abducted the Sabine


Pales. Pales was at first a masculine divinity attached to the person of Jupiter. Afterwards Pales

took on feminine form and became the protectress of flocks, giving vigour to the males and

fecundity to the females. Her festivals, the Palilia, were celebrated on the twenty-first of April, the

date of the foundation of Rome. On the eve of the festival a purification ceremony took place in

houses and stables in which a sacred mixture made by the Vestals was employed. Then the

livestock and stables were sprinkled with lustral water. Pales gave her name to the hill where

Roma Quadrata rose, the Palatine.

Liber Pater. This Italic god's first function was to preside over the fertility of the fields. He was

also a god of fecundity. He was honoured on the seventeenth of March in the Liberalia. This was

the day on which adolescents left off wearing the praetexta and assumed the apparel of a man (the

toga virilis). Liber Pater did not become the god of vine-growers until after he had been confused

with lacchus Dionysus. His consort was Libera, an ancient Italic goddess about whom there is

little information.

Silvanus. This Latin divinity was popular in Rome from very early days. As his name indicates

Silvanus was a forest god. He "was, they said, the son of a shepherd of Sybaris and a she-goat or

else a maiden named Valeria Tusculanaria. He watched chiefly over the work of clearing land and

making pastures in wooded country. His province extended to all arboriculture, as well as to

guarding herds and to the tilling of the soil. Domestic cattle were sacrificed to him. He was often

confused with Faunus or with Pan whose physical aspect he had. Silvanus was particularly feared

by children and by women in labour.

Tellus Mater. In the remotest times Tellus Mater was a goddess of fecundity in company with a

male divinity, Telluno. Afterwards she was associated with Jupiter. In her role of mother she

watched over marriage and the procreation of children. The bride would offer her a sacrifice when

she entered her husband's house. She had her part in the porca praecidanea, the sow immolated to

Ceres 'before the harvest'. As an agricultural deity she protected the fruitfulness of the soil and all

the states which the seed passes through when it is sown in the soil.

Flora. In primitive central Italy Flora was the goddess of budding springtime, of cereals, fruit

trees, the vine and flowers. With Robigus (or Robigo) she prevented wheat-rust. With Pomona she

watched over fruit trees. She had a temple on the Quirinal and another near the Circus Maximus.

Her festivals, the Floralia, lasted from the twenty-eighth of April to the third of May and were

rather licentious. On the twenty-third of May there was another festival in her honour, a rose

festival. The Sabines and the Latins venerated another goddess, Feronia, who shared some of

Flora's functions and watched over spring flowers and vegetation. It is possible that Feronia was

originally an underworld divinity. She was associated with Soranus, a Sabine divinity who

became a solar god after first having been a god of the underworld. In the course of a sacrifice

which mountaineers were offering on Mount Soracte wolves appeared and seized the offerings;

they then took refuge in a cave from which escaped pestilential vapours. The oracle declared thai

these wolves were under the protection of the god Soranus and instructed the mountaineers to

live by rapine, like the wolves. Whence arose the name Hirpi Sorani which was given to them. The

name was perpetuated in a Roman family, especially devoted to the cult of Soranus and Feronia.

During the festivals of Feronia members of this family, the Hirpini, would walk bare-footed over

glowing coals without burning themselves.

Divinities of the Waters. All stretches of water, all springs and all rivers were deified. The nymph

Juturna - or rather Diuturna - a native of Latium, was the goddess of still waters and of rivers over

which Jupiter gave her empire in reward for her love. She was venerated in the Juturnalia on the

eleventh of January by the college of the Fontani who were artisans assigned to aqueducts and


Neptunus was perhaps originally a water-god or a protector against drought. During the

Neptunalia on the twenty-third of July they would build huts of branches for shelter against the


As for the Nymphs, they were in a general way water divinities. Usually they were associated

with some superior deity like Jupiter, Diana or Ceres. Their cult originated in Latium. Their

springs were found near the Capena gate. The most famous was the fountain of the nymph Egeria

whom Numa, the king, would come to consult during the night. According to Ovid she married

Numa and after his death retired to the woods in the valley of Aricia where Diana changed her

into a fountain. She is reputed to have foretold the fate of new-bom babies.

Among the other nymphs may be mentioned the Camenae who were prophetic nymphs. One of

them, Antevorta, knew the past; another, Postvorta, the future. The most important of the

Camenae was Carmenta who first dwelt in Arcadia where she had a son by Mercury, Evander.

When Evander left his native land and came to Italy, where he founded the town of Pallantium,

Carmenta came

with him. She changed the fifteen Greek letters brought by Evander into Roman letters; she had

the gift of prophecy and lived until she was a hundred and ten. After her death she received

divine honours.

Ceres and Diana. In their aspect of Italic divinities Ceres and Diana offer no particular interest.

Ceres, who came from Campania, had a temple in Rome; but her rites, like the temple itself, were

Greek. Diana retained only briefly her primitive character as a goddess of light, mountains and

woods. She was rapidly hellenised. Among other sanctuaries Diana had a temple on the shores of

Lake Nemi whose priest was traditionally an escaped slave. In order to obtain this office he had

first to kill his predecessor in single combat. From then on he, too, was a target for any assassin

who might wish to supplant him.

Venus. Venus, too, in early days occupied a very modest position in the Roman pantheon. With

Feronia and Flora she symbolised spring and fruitfulness. She had her place in the Floralia

(twenty-eighth of April to the third of May) and in the Vinalia rustica on the ninth of August.

Vertumnus. It is not known whether Vertumnus was Etruscan or Latin. In any case the origin of

his name is clearly Latin: vertere, 'to change'. He was a god of fruit trees like Ceres and Pomona.

Pomona was courted by all the rural gods, but she yielded only to Vertumnus. In order to seduce

her he was forced to assume several different guises, appearing before her as a labourer, a

vinegrower and a harvester. In the end he overcame her suspicions by assuming the aspect of an

old woman. Vertumnus was also associated with Silvanus, and he was venerated with the god of

the Tiber, the course of which he was supposed to have altered. Tradition shows him revolving in

the assembly of gods, where he was constantly changing shape.


It was above all from primitive Etruria that the Romans borrowed their conception of the infernal

regions and its inhabitants. In the Etruscan underworld the naive and terrifying visions common

to all primitive religions mingle with the abstract conceptions of more developed systems. Both

were submitted to Greek influence while they retained their national characteristics. In the infernal

regions Eita or Ade (Hades) with his consort Persipnei (Persephone) reigned. The chief infernal

figures were Charun (Charon) and Tuchulcha, a female demon with ferocious eyes, the ears of an

ass. a beak in place of a mouth, two serpents twined around her head and a third around her arm.

At the moment of death the soul was seized by two groups of genii. The first were malevolent and

were led by Charun who carried a mallet or a torch. The second group were benevolent and were

led by Vanth. Their dispute symbolised the struggle between good and evil. The deceased

travelled to the afterworld either in a chariot, on horseback, or on foot. He is sometimes depicted

with two genii, one leading him by the hand and the other following him; sometimes

accompanied by a winged divinity who carries in his right hand a scroll on which is inscribed the

dead man's record. Another subterranean divinity, Tages, taught the Etruscans haruspicy - that is

to say the rules for foretelling the future by the examination of entrails and by the observation of

lightning. Tages in the guise of a child suddenly rose from a furrow before a certain labourer,

Tarchon, and revealed to him certain magic formulas which were afterwards gathered together in


The Romans had no great Underworld divinities. Those of whom we shall speak have a confused

personality which only developed under Hellenic influence. In the primitive epoch the real

infernal gods were the Manes.

Dis Pater. His name signified that he was the richest of all the gods - dis is a contraction of ditis,

'rich' - and indeed the number of his subjects continued ceaselessly to increase. In much the same

way the Greeks called the god of the dead Pluto, ploutos being 'riches'. Dis Pater was never

popular; his altars were rare. The Romans being superstitious did not care to worship a

personification of death; or perhaps they reserved their homage for the Manes.

Orcus. Orcus represented Death. His name was also applied to the Underworld. He carried off the

living by force and conducted them to the infernal regions. He was sometimes confused with


Februus. Februus was probably the Etruscan god who corresponded to Dis Pater. It seems that the

month of February was sacred to him; it was the month of the dead. In Etruria they also invoked a

certain Mancus who must have been another Dis Pater.

Libitina. Libitina was an ancient Roman divinity, originally perhaps an agricultural divinity, who

became the goddess of funerals and was identified by, some with Proserpina. Whenever anyone

died a piece of money had to be brought to her temple. Undertakers were called libitinurii.

Mania, Lara. These two divinities were probably one and the same person who was considered to

be the mother of the Lares and the Manes. Lara was a nymph who talked so much that Jupiter cut

out her tongue. For this reason she was called Mula or Tacila. Mania took part in the festivals of

the Compitalia and the Feralia; she became a kind of ogress who frightened small children.

Maniac were grotesque figurines which represented the dead; woollen dolls which were hung on

doors in honour of the Lares were also called maniac.

Lemures, Larvae. These were the ghosts of the dead whose activities were mischievous. They

returned to earth to torment the living. The Lemur ia on the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth of May

were instituted by Romulus in expiation of the murder of his brother; for Remus had appeared

after his death to the shepherd Faustulus and to Acca Larentia to demand reparation. Romulus

then created the Remuriu which by corruption of the first letter became the Lemur ia.

On this occasion every father of a family went through an extraordinary ritual: he arose, barefooted,

at midnight, he snapped his fingers to drive away the shades and washed his hands three

times. He filled his mouth with black beans, then tossed them behind him, saying: T throw away

these beans and with them I redeem myself and mine.' He repeated this invocation nine times.

Meanwhile the funerary spirits picked up the beans. The father then again purified his hands,

struck a brazen instrument and repeated nine times: 'Paternal manes, go.' After this he could

safely look behind him.

The Manes. They were called Di Parentes or Manes. The latter term derived from an archaic

adjective matins - 'good' - which was the opposite of immunis. Thus the Manes were, properly

speaking, the 'Good Ones'. They were the object of a public and a private cult. Whenever a town

was founded a round hole would first be dug. In the bottom of it a stone, lapis manalis, which

represented agate to the Underworld, would then be embedded. On the twenty-fourth of August,

the fifth of October and the eighth of November this stone would be removed to permit the Manes

to pass through. The object of the cult rendered to them was to appease their anger. Originally

they were offered blood sacrifices, and it is probable that the first gladiatorial combats were

instituted in their honour. Their festivals, the Parenlalia and the Feralia, were celebrated in

February. From the thirteenth to the twenty-sixth business ceased and temples were closed.

Tombs were decorated with violets, roses, lilies and myrtle and on them was deposited food of

various kinds.

Like the Greeks the Latins placed the Infernal Regions in the centre of the earth. It could be

reached by various openings - caves, lakes, marshes. One of the most celebrated of these was Lake

Avernus in Campania, a grim and deserted spot in the neighbourhood of Pozzuoli. The hills

which surrounded it were formerly covered with woods sacred to Hecate (luci averni) and pitted

with cavities through which, according to Cicero, one called forth the souls of the dead. Near

Avernus the cave called the Cave of the Cumaean Sibyl can still be seen.


Fortuna. Called Fors, then Fors Fortuna, she represented fate with all its unknown factors. Her

name derives from fero. She was from remotest antiquity venerated in many Italian provinces, but


most important cult was celebrated at Praeneste in Latium where a certain Numerius Suffustus,

digging in a cliff', discovered some tablets in oak inscribed with mysterious formulas, by means of

which oracles could be delivered.

At Praeneste Fortuna was called Primigenia - firstborn (of Jupiter) - and, with an inconsequence

which is not rare in the history of ancient myths, she was considered to be Jupiter's nurse and

daughter at the same time.

Fortuna Primigenia was introduced to Rome in 204 B.C. during the second Punic war. However,

the Romans already had a Fortuna who, they said, had favoured the astonishing political career of

Servius Tullius, the slave who became king. One legend makes Servius Tullius the son of Fortuna;

another said he was her lover. The godde^ , in order to visit him, would slip during the night

through the skylight. The Porta Fenesiella in Rome recalled this memory.

Fortuna was honoured under many names. In Rome she was Fortuna publica popu/i romani.

Fortuna Muliebris - protectress of matrons univirae namely, only once married - persuaded Coriolanus

to raise the siege of Rome at the prayers of his mother and the Roman wives. A golden

statuette of Fortuna had always to remain in the sleeping quarters of Roman Emperors. Citizens

who were distinguished by outstanding good or bad luck had a Fortuna. When overtaken at sea

by a storm Caesar said to the terrified pilot: 'What do you fear? You carry Caesar and his Fortuna.'

The countless representations of Fortuna show her chief attributes to be the wheel, the sphere, a

ship's rudder and prow, and a cornucopia. The goddess is sometimes seated, sometimes standing.

Occasionally she has wings.

Genius. The Genius was the anonymous deity who protected all groups of people and the places

of their group activities. The number of genii was unlimited. The most important genius was,

naturally, the Genius publicus populi romani who appeared on coins, sometimes with the features

of the reigning emperor. After this Genius came the genii of districts, of curia and decuria; then

those of towns, tribes and colonies. Every corporation had its Genius, as well as every house, gate,

street and so on. The Roman emperors subsequently instituted the public cult of their own

personal Genii for the entire duration of their term of office.

Lares and Penates. The public cult of the Lares was later than their private cuit. Their role in the

city was, however, identical to that which they played in the family.

Among the Latins, Sabines and Etruscans the public Lares or Compitales - were originally placed

where two fields joined, and as they were found at the intersections of roads there were two Lares

for the same compitum - or crossroads. This distinguished the public Lares from the family Lar

which was always single.

From the country they came into the towns. The Lures compiialex became national divinities.

When Decius Mus undertook to save the Roman army he first invoked the Lares (and the Manes)

as well as Janus, Jupiter and Mars. The public Lares kept Hannibal away from the walls of Rome.

In the end they represented the city's and even the Empire's illustrious dead. Alexander Severus

venerated the Lares of Orpheus, of Abraham, of Apollonius of Tyana and of Jesus Christ.

In the epoch of the kings the Penates already enjoyed a public cult. They were called Penates

popn/i' romaniand they were venerated in the Regia where the sacred fire burned and the penus

of Vesta stood. There were two of them and they carried spears. The objects of their cult - which

continued until the end of paganism were guarded by the Vestals and by the pontiffs.

Tiberinus. The god of the Tiber naturally received a particular cult at Rome. To prevent him from

overflowing the Vestals would on the fifteenth of May throw from the Sublicius bridge twentyfour

wicker manikins, without doubt images of former human sacrifices. On the seventeenth of

June the Liuli piscatorii the festival of fishermen and divers took place, and on the seventeenth of

August, the Tiherinalia. The Tiber was so venerated that in the first century the Senate rejected a

project for altering its course. Rhea Silvia, mother of the twins, was thrown into the Tiber and

became its spouse.

Angerona. Very little is known about the goddess Angerona who was depicted holding a finger to

her bound and sealed mouth. She may have been the goddess of Silence or, as some claim, the

hidden name of Rome, which it was forbidden to pronounce.

Terminus. Social life received the protection of several divinities such as Terminus. He played a

very important role, for he watched over property, which was a holy thing, and presided over the

fixing of boundaries and frontiers. Actually Terminus was at first only a title of Jupiter's; but a

legend gave him his own personality: it was told how Terminus and Juventas refused to make

way for Jupiter when Jupiter came to install himself on the Capitol. At first the god was

represented by a plain block of stone. Later he was depicted as a column surmounted by a human


Fides: Deus Fidius: Semo Sancus. These three divinities were responsible for the sincerity of public

and private transactions. Fides, who was of Sabine origin, personified good faith, especially in

verbal contracts: Aecles Field Populi Romani. Deus Fidius, also of Sabine origin, was the guardian

of hospitality. Scmo Sancus. a Latin god, was the god of oaths. Thus honest people found themselves

protected. The rest were not, however, without patrons. Lavcrna and Summanus accepted

the prayers of thieves and impostors.

Bonus Eventus. Success in enterprises was the responsibility of Bonus Eventus; he was at first a

rural god in charge of the harvest. Then his province spread to all kinds of initiative. He had a

temple in Rome and a statue on the Capitol.

Victoria. This Latin goddess was probably the same as the Sabine Vacuna. After having been the

protectress of fields and woods she became responsible for the Romans' success in arms. They

considered her as one of their most ancient divinities. With her they honoured Vica Pota and

Vitula or Vitellia who presided over victory celebrations.

After victory came Pax (Peace), but her cult was neither ancient nor widespread. She had a temple

in Rome only after A.D. 75 Concordia symbolised the union of citizens. A temple was erected to

her in 367 at the time when the plebeians won political equality. Felicitas personified happy

events. Laetilia and Annona were connected with incidents particularly desirable for the city of

Rome: namely, the arrival of corn.


Hercules (Greek, Heracles). In primitive times the functions of Hercules whom some people

merged with Semo Sancus, Deus Fidius and Silvanus - were rural. He assured the fruitfulness of

the countryside, watched over families and guarded their heritage. Certain authorities see in him

the particular Genius of man as Juno was of women.

He was linked with the history of Rome's very site. When he carried off the cattle of Geryon, the

triple-bodied monster who reigned over the western coast of Iberia, Hercules made a stop

between the Aventine and the Palatine hills under the hospitable roof of Evander. During the

night the brigand Cacus half man, half satyr, the son of Vulcan - stole some of his heifers. To hide

the theft Cacus dragged the animals by the tail to his den on the Aventine. The following morning

the stolen heifers bellowed in answer to the bulls which Hercules was preparing to drive on.

Guided by the sound, Hercules removed the boulder which concealed the den of Cacus and after a

terrible struggle slew the bandit in spite of the flames which he belched forth. The scene of this

battle was later called the Forum Boarium.

Romulus and Remus. Romulus and Remus were sons of Mars. Mars had surprised the Vestal,

Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, King of Alba, while she was asleep and lain with her. The

resulting twins were placed in a winnowing basket and set afloat on the Tiber. The river

overflowed and deposited the basket before the grotto Lupercal, under the fig-tree Ruminal. There

a she-wolf came to suckle the infants who were sheltered and brought up by the shepherd

Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia.

When the twin brothers decided to found a new city they first

carefully studied the flight of birds. In that section of the sky which the Augur's wand had

apportioned to Romulus he saw twelve vultures. In Remus' section only six could be seen.

Romulus proceeded, with a plough harnessed to a white cow and a white bull, to draw a furrow

which should mark the boundary of the new city's walls. Remus jumped over this shallow furrow

in derision and his brother killed him. It is possible that this rivalry between the two brothers was

a symbol of the rivalry between the two districts of ancient Rome - the Cermalus (or the Aventine)

and the Palatine.

In order to people his town, which was more or less in the shape of a square - the Roma Quadrata

- Romulus founded a place of asylum beyond the ramparts. The neighbours refused to marry such

outlaws and Romulus took advantage of the rustic festival called the Consualia to abduct the

daughters of the Sabine tribe whom he had invited to the ceremonies. The mysterious death of

Romulus and his disappearance during a storm are the invention of the poet Ennius. Afterwards

Romulus was identified with Qui-rinus and worshipped under that name.

Acca Larentia, wife of the shepherd Faustulus and the foster-mother of Romulus, had another

legend according to which she was a notorious courtesan in the days of Romulus and Ancus.

Hercules played dice with the guardian of her temple. He won and in consequence ordered her to

unite with a certain rich Tuscan named Tarrutius who left her a large fortune. Acca Larentia left it

to the Roman people who in her honour instituted the Larentalia.

Castor and Pollux. At the battle of Lake Regillus in 496 B.C. during the war with Latium, the

Roman dictator Aulus Posthumius made a vow to erect a temple to Castor and Pollux who were

honoured atTusculum, a town which was an enemy of Rome's. A few seconds later Castor and

Pollux were seen at the head of the Roman cavalry leading it to victory. That same evening the

inhabitants of Rome saw two young men, dressed in purple chlamydes. watering their white

horses at the fountain of Juturna in the Forum. They were Castor and Pollux who had come to

announce the victory and, incidentally, to become part of the religion of Rome. They were of

Greek origin and had arrived via Etruria where they were called Kastur and Pultuke by the

Etruscans; but they rapidly became altogether Roman. A magnificent temple was erected to them

in the Forum. They accompanied the Roman army on its campaigns and during battles appeared

in the midst of the cavalry. They also protected sailors and travellers at sea. At Ostia they calmed a

storm which was preventing ships loaded with corn from entering port. In their quality of marine

gods they naturally presided over commerce. In the second century A.D. they were incorporated

in funeral rituals and their popularity was so great that even Christians did not deny that they

were symbols of life and death.

Aeneas. Although he afterwards became the national hero of Rome, Aeneas was of foreign origin.

He was the son of Anchises and Aphrodite, son-in-law of Priam and chief of the Dardanians. In

the///arfhe figures among the allies of Troy and appears as a warrior both intrepid and full of

wisdom. There are various traditions about him. According to one he valiantly defended the

citadel of Ilium; according to another he delivered the town to the Greeks and succeeded Priam.

But the most accredited story is that which -according to Stesichorus, Timaeus and Lycophron -

relates how Aeneas left Troy after its fall with his warriors and the remaining Trojans in search of

a new fatherland. After vain attempts to establish himself in Thrace, in Crete and in Sicily, he

finally reached the banks of the Tiber. There he helped the king of the Aborigines, Latinus, in his

struggle with the Rutuli. He married the daughter of Latinus, Lavinia, and built a town which was

called Lavinium. Later he succeeded Latinus and after a four years' reign perished rather

mysteriously in a battle with the Rutuli. Long before Virgil made him the hero of the Aeneid

Aeneas was venerated by the Romans - under the name Jupiter indiges - as the founder of their

race. Many of the great Roman families, notably that of the Julii, boasted that they descended from


Connected with the cult of Aeneas was that of Anna Perenna, sister of Dido, who had sought

asylum with Aeneas and, persecuted by Lavinia's jealousy, drowned herself in the river Numicus.

When the plebeians took refuge on the Mons Sacer, Anna Perenna, in the guise of an old woman,

brought them food to eat and for this reason was honoured with a temple in Rome.

The Emperors. The deification of sovereigns was not a Roman invention: in eastern countries

kings had for a long time been the objects of religious worship. In Rome it was the Senate that

awarded the honour of apotheosis. An immense pyre was erected on top of which an image of the

new god was placed. From the midst of the flames an eagle would carry the soul of the emperor to

his celestial abode.

Even before the Empire Julius Caesar had, after his death, achieved apotheosis. Augustus was the

first emperor to be deified. Then Claudius, then still others and finally even empresses. These

honours were the logical consequence of those which they received during their lifetime. Even

before death raised them to the rank of divinities people spoke of their numen and of their

aeternitas. Some of the emperors were aware of the irony of these excessive homages. When

Vespasian was dying he announced that he felt himself becoming a god. Referring to his brother,

Geta, whom he caused

to be put to death by centurions, the emperor Caracalla declared that Geta would be a god

provided he was not living. The triumph of Christianity did not immediately put an end to the

custom of deification.

Allegories. The Romans deified numerous virtues and devoted cults to them. Aequitas, scale in

one hand and in the other a rod which corresponded to a unit of measurement, was equity.

Pudicitia watched over the chastity of matrons and only accepted homage from wives who were

univirae. The Aeternitas and Clementia of the emperors were venerated and the Fecunditas of

empresses. The latter were created in order to celebrate the birth of a daughter to Poppaea, the

wife of the emperor Nero. Veneration was also paid to Spes (Hope), Libertas, Virtus (Courage),

Pietas (Piety), etc. These cults are merely a random selection mentioned to give some idea of the

incalculable number which then existed.


Genius. The Genius was by definition the creative force which engendered the individual; it

watched over his development and remained with him until the hour of his destruction. It

presided over his marriage and over the nuptial bed, for this reason being entitled genialis. It

appeared at the birth of the being whose function it was to protect. It formed the infant's

personality. The power of the child's Genius depended on luck. If it was a boy its tutelary spirit

was a Genius; if a girl it would be a Juno.

The Genius and the Juno did not accomplish their protective mission unassisted. They had many

auxiliaries. Nundina presided over the infant's purification. Vaticanus made it utter its first cry.

Educa and Potina taught it to eat and drink. Cuba kept it quiet in its cradle. Ossipago and Carna

saw to the development of its bones and flesh. Abeona and Adeona taught it to walk. Sentinus

saw to

the awakening of the infant's intellectual faculties, and such like. In a word, the Genius fostered

the growth and all the intellectual and moral faculties of the individual of whom it was a kind of

abstract double. The cult rendered to the Genius was very simple: on the day of birth it was

offered wine and flowers, after which there was dancing. The Genius was first represented as a

serpent. Later the Genius of the head of the family was depicted as a man in a toga. He was

installed between the Penates and the Lar. With him sometimes appeared the Juno of the wife.

The Penates. Their name derives from penus, the larder or room where food was stored. Their first

function was to see to the preservation of food and drink. Indeed, they were closely bound to the

life of the family and shared its joys and sorrows. Their role was so important that they received

the epithet of dii or divi which was not accorded, in fact, to either the Genius or to the Lar.

The Penates were always two in number. Their altar was the hearth which they shared with Vesta.

Their images were placed before that of the Genius, at the back of the atrium. At every meal they

were put between the plates and offered the first helping of food.

These simple practices dated back to the remotest times. In later days they were observed only in

rural districts. To the Penates were often added gods who exercised a particular protection over

the particular family: Mercury appeared among the Penates of a merchant, Vesta in the house of a

baker, Vulcan in the house of a blacksmith. When the family moved the Penates moved with it. In

the same way, when the family became extinct they disappeared.

The Lar. The term Lar was Etruscan and signified chief or prince. The Lares found among the

Latins, the Sabines and the Etruscans belong to the most ancient Italic mythology.

First they were protectors of agriculture, associated with Census and the agricultural Mars. They

played the role of guardians -custodes agri. Their image was crudely sculptured from a treestump

and was usually situated at the approaches of the farmhouse.

Their functions and their cult did not greatly differ from those of the Penates. Actually they were

frequently confused. Their altar was also the hearth and they received similar homage. On festive

occasions they were decorated with garlands and offered incense, fruit and libations of wine.

Unlike the Penates there was only one family Lar. He symbolised the house. The phrase: ad larem

suum reverti meant to come home. He was invoked on all important occasions of family life:

departures, marriages, funerals. The bride when she crossed the threshold of her new house

offered the Lar a sacrifice and gave him a coin. After funerals two rams were immolated to him in

order to purify the house. The family Lar was habitually represented in a juvenile aspect with

curly hair, a short tunic and in a dancing posture. Above his head he raises the rhyton from which

wine flows into a patera.

Numerous divinities were concerned with family life. We have already mentioned some of the

ones who watched over the child's birth and first footsteps. In discussing the epithets of Juno we

have alluded to certain divinities who presided over various aspects of marriage. In addition to all

these there were Orbona, the goddess

who protected orphans: Viriplaca, who soothed quarrels between husband and wife; Deverra,

Intercidona, Pilumnus were divinities of the broom, the axe and the mortar, whose intervention at

the moment of childbirth drove away rustic evil spirits. In the conjugal chamber there was even a

bed made for Pilumnus and his twin brother Picumnus who were both responsible for looking

after the new-born baby. The list of such divinities could still be extended.


In the third century B.C. the poet Ennius enumerated the twelve great gods of the Graeco-Roman

pantheon: Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, Mercurius, Jove, Neptunus, Volcanus,


Janus and Saturn, purely Italic divinities, officially lost their pre-eminence although they

continued to receive an important cult. The other great gods found their functions augmented by

those they possessed under other names in the Greek pantheon. At the same time they changed

their nature, ceased to be abstractions and took on human shape. Certain secondary divinities

were promoted to the first rank: Ceres, Diana and Venus acquired their full stature by joining

forces with Demeter, Artemis and Aphrodite. Neptune, a rather slight personage with ill-defined

duties, inherited the maritime empire of Poseidon. Liber Pater, a modest Italian peasant, was

attached to the fortunes of lacchus-Dionysus.

Apollo sprang in all his novelty into the midst of the Roman gods and won for himself a position

of great eminence. It was, indeed, Apollo who opened the road for his Greek compatriots. In the

fifth century the Sibyl of Cumae, a priestess of Apollo, offered to sell King Tarquin nine books of

prophecy. Twice the king refused, finding the price too high. Each time the priestess tossed three

books into the fire and doubled the price of those remaining. Tarquin finally bought the last three

which were preserved in the

temple of the Capitol and called the Sibylline Books. They contained instructions for gaining the

favours of foreign gods, Greek and Oriental. This was how Apollo made his entrance into Rome,

following an epidemic in 431. For the same reason an appeal was made in 293 to the god of

Epidaurus, who was the serpent-god Aesculapius.

In succession all the great gods of Greece were introduced into Roman religion, some reinforcing

already established deities, others bringing with them entirely new cults. At the same time the

Hellenic ritual and manner of praying appeared, including the rites of lectislernia and

supplicaiiones. To celebrate a lectisternium beds were set up for pairs of deities; their effigies were

laid on the beds and before them a meal was set. The first lectisternium was celebrated in 399 11. r.

The supplications consisted of public processions which began at the temple of Apollo and visited

different sanctuaries in the city.

The hellenisation of Roman mythology began at an early date and continued steadily and rapidly.

It was complete between the third and the second centuries. Livy attributed this retreat of old

Roman tradition before foreign influence to the political and moral crisis which attended the Punic


THE ORIENTAL CONTRIBUTION. Divinities from the Orient were introduced into Italy with all

their functions and all their rites. They retained their personalities unaltered. They underwent not

an adaptation, but simply a physical transfer.

Asia Minor. The great goddess of Phrygia, Cybele, first penetrated Italy with her spouse Attis

under the name of Magna Mater daum Idaea. In 205 B.C. the Romans, terrified by a shower of

stones, consulted the Sibylline Books. These promised that Hannibal, who was still established in

Bruttium, would be driven from Italy by the presence of the Great Mother of Ida. The Senate sent

ambassadors to King Attalus from whom they received the black meteoric stone which was

supposed to be the throne of the goddess. This sacred object was received at Ostia by Scipio

Nasica, 'the best citizen of Rome', and carried by matrons to the Palatine and placed in the temple

of Victory (April, 204). In 202 Hannibal was defeated at Zama by Scipio Africanus. A temple was

then built for Cybele on the summit of the Palatine and games were instituted in her honour. The

cult of Cybele assumed its full importance at the beginning of the Empire.

Another divinity from Asia Minor was Ma, a personification of fruitfulness. Ma was introduced

into Rome by the dictator Sulla in about 85 B.C.

Egypt. The cult of Isis and of Serapis penetrated Italy by way of Sicily and the south of the

Peninsula. It was at first practised by slaves and freed men during the second century. The Senate

tried in vain to arrest its progress, but was unable to prevent its spreading

to the centre and north of Italy. Caligula installed it solemnly in Rome and in the Field of Mars

erected a temple of Isis Campestris. Caracalla built another one on the Quirinal.

The Egyptian gods who never lost their character remained for long popular in Rome. Their

greatest popularity dated from the third century. At the end of the fourth century there were still

processions in honour of Isis.

Syria. Alargalis, known under the name of Dea Syria, first entered Latin territory as far back as the

second century B.C. She was at first worshipped by slaves.

A consequence of Rome's various annexations was the introduction and assimilation of various

foreign cults. The numerous Syrian Baals and the goddess Baltic were brought to Rome by Syrian

recruits, excellent troops which the Emperors incorporated into the Roman army.

Their cults were established by the first century and reached the apogee of their importance in the

third. The Emperor Heliogabalus

attempted to have the Baal of Ephesus recognised as the principal god of the Empire.

Persia. The cult of Mithras was the last to appear in Rome, during the course of the first century

B.C. It became very important and persisted until the end of paganism. It was practised by the

functionaries and by the Emperors themselves. Commodus had himself initiated into its

mysteries. In 307 Diocletian consecrated at Car-nuntum on the Danube a temple to Mithras,

'Protector of the Empire'.

We have come far from the humble and rustic divinities whom in primitive days the peasants of

Latium worshipped. Most of them were forced to give way before the more brilliant gods, or else,

in order not to disappear completely, to combine with them. Those who, thanks to the persistent

devotion of country folk still survived, had a faded air and appeared like poor relations in the

sumptuous pantheon which Rome, mistress of the world, erected as a measure of her glory.



The mythology of the Celts which has been preserved in written form since the early Middle Ages

contains evidence of their beliefs in pre-Christian times. During the period of Rome's expansion

into north-west Europe references to Celtic beliefs were made in the writings of classical authors.

Similarly, in those parts of the Empire which had been predominantly Celtic in the time of their

independence native deities continued to be worshipped alongside the gods of the Roman

pantheon. A considerable body of evidence exists in the form of inscriptions to Celtic deities in

France, southern Britain and, to a lesser extent, in Spain and other parts of the Roman Empire in

which Celtic influence had existed. It might be assumed that it would be possible to correlate

closely the literary and epi-graphic evidence of the pre-Roman and Roman period with the myths

themselves but, with few exceptions, this is not possible. This apparent dichotomy, however, may

be resolved after an examination of both the mythology proper and the evidence, literary and

archaeological. From a study of any of the main sources alone it would be possible to be misled as

to the nature of Celtic Mythology. By considering evidence other than the purely mythological the

chance of error is minimised, although complete certainty of interpretation is not possible in the

study of any mythology remote in time.


The Celtic tradition is preserved in a large number of texts both of prose and of poetry, the earliest

of which in its present form dates to the eighth century A.D., although most belong to the

centuries following. Most important and valuable are those from Ireland, for example the Books of

Eeinster, of the Dun Cow, of Ballymote, and the Yellow Book of Eecan. Of less value in the present

context, although important in its own right, is the literature of the Welsh tradition, for example

the Mabinogion preserved in the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest dating

from the fourteenth century A.D. It may be seen that their compilation dates to the Christian

period but much of their contents. Irish and Welsh alike, dates from internal evidence to a much

earlier period. In using this Celtic literature as a source for mythology it has always to be

remembered that even the earliest extant texts date to the Christian period and that in all

probability they were written by monks. For this reason one must expect Christian accretions and

the possibility that certain important evidence may have been suppressed so as to conform with

the Christian ethic. Any such suppressions have, of course, been irretrievably lost and could never

be reconstructed. In the Irish literature the native gods are hardly, if at all, disguised and are

therefore immediately recognisable. The Welsh literature tends to disguise deities as kings or

knights, or even clerics, but they are, nevertheless, of some value when used in conjunction with

Irish evidence.


Modern scholars have classified much of the mythology of the Celts into Cycles. The Mythological

Cycle is important in that it gives something of the early history of Ireland in the form of myths or,

as has been said with some justification, it treats some of the native myths as history, even fixing

definite dates to what must

surely have been mythical events. The Lcbor Gabala, the 'Book of Conquests', tells of successive

invaders of Ireland, an account slightly modified by suitable obeisances to orthodox Christianity

but retaining much of the flavour of pre-Christian times. The first race which inhabited Ireland

perished in the biblical Flood. It was followed two-hundred and sixty-eight years later, on the first

of May, by a group of twenty-four males and twenty-four females led by Partholon. At that time

there were in Ireland only one treeless and grassless plain, three lakes and nine rivers, but during

Partholon's time four plains were cleared and seven new lakes were formed. Before his time there

had been no tilling of the soil. After three centuries the population had grown to five thousand but

on the tercentenary of Partholon's landing his people were wiped out by an epidemic, gathering

together to die on the original plain in Ireland. Although there were no survivors the knowledge

brought and augmented by Partholon's people did not perish, the knowledge and working of

gold, the first brewing of beer, the first cauldron and the introduction of domesticated cattle. To

this period are also attributed some of the less tangible assets of civilisation, law-giving and ritual

practices. As did their successors, so did the people of Partholon fight against and defeat the

Fomorians. These latter were a race of demons, generally monstrous and hideous, who fought

against Partholon with supernatural powers.

After an interval of thirty years the people of Nemed came into Ireland and in their time the face

of the countryside was again changed by the clearance of twelve new plains and the formation of

four new lakes. Decimated by the same epidemic which had annihilated Partholon they were

unable to defend themselves adequately against the Fomorians and became their vassals. Part of

their tribute was the delivery on the first of November of two-thirds of the children born to them

each year, two-thirds of their corn and their milk. After a battle with the Fomorians in which

Conann and many Fomorian followers were killed, the remnants of the people of Nemed fled

from the country.

Next followed on the first of August the Fir Bolg together with the Fir Gaileoin and Fir Domnann.

The similarity of these names to those of the Belgae, the Dumnonii and Gauls, has suggested

that this 'invasion' refers to the arrival of certain tribes of the proto-historic period. Whether or not

these are to be in any way connected with the Celtic people is uncertain, but their mythical

contribution to the cumulative wealth of the country lies in the warlike sphere of their armament

and the aristocratic notion of monarchy. Their rule did not remain undisputed for long although

they were not attacked by the Fomorians, but they were soon dispossessed by the Tuatha De

Danann, the People of the Goddess Danu.

The Tuatha ><?' Danann landed on the first of May and after some unsuccessful negotiations

with the Fir Bolg battle was joined at Mag Tuireadh. The Tuaiha were victorious and allowed the

conquered to retain the Province of Connacht while they took possession of the remainder of the

island, building their capital at Tara. Still unconquered the Fomorians disputed the ownership of

the land of Ireland but the Tuaiha, perhaps recognising the strength of their ancient powers,

attempted an alliance. During the battle of Mag Tuireadh Nuada, king of the Tuaiha, had lost his

right hand and, as a king had to be without physical blemish, he was obliged to abdicate. In his

place Bres, the son of a Fomorian father and a mother from the Tuatha De Danann, was elected

and the alliance further strengthered by dynastic marriages including that of Bres to Brigit, the

daughter of the Dagda, one of the chieftains of the Tuatha. Despite these precautions the alliance

was uneasy, aggravated by the lack in Bres of the generosity demanded of a king of the Tuatha

and his imposition of excessive taxes. Eventually Bres in his turn lost his eligibility for the

kingship having been satirised so successfully by Cairbre, the principal bard of the Tuatha, that

boils appeared on his face. His enforced abdication resulted in formal war between the Tuatha and

the Fomorians, a war fought after seven years of preparation with the help of magical weapons.

The Fomorians were defeated at the second battle of Mag Tuireadh, or Moytura the Northern,

used to distinguish it from the earlier battle of the same name.

The Tuatha themselves, however, were destined in turn to be dispossessed by the last race to take

possession of Ireland, the Sons of Mil, the Milesians. The latter's arrival on May the first and the

subsequent battle for supremacy of the island was attended by formal and ritual observances,

similar to those noticed in the conflict between the Tualha and the Fomorians. Similarly, magical

powers were used by both sides but in two successive battles the Tuatha were defeated and,

according to popular tradition, made terms with their conquerors. The Lebor Gabdla states that

they were expelled from the island but this is in contradiction to the remainder of Irish tradition.

The Tuatha became the gods of the Celts and the majority retired to the side, the prehistoric burial

mounds of the country.

This, then, is the mythological history of Ireland and a somewhat similar history may be found in

the Welsh literature for the island of Britain although this is far less clearly denned than that of the

neighbouring island. It is obvious that this sequence of invasions cannot be accepted as an entirely

factual account of the arrival of successive peoples into Ireland. The reference to the Fir Bolg,

however, may suggest that the later invasions refer to the arrival of peoples who are historically

attested. The arrival of the Sons of Mil may have been added in Christian times to provide the

ruling families with a genealogy respectable in the eyes of the Church. It would have been

inappropriate for them to have claimed descent from the superhuman Tuatha De Danann. There

seems little doubt that the Tuatha were the gods of the Celts in pre-Christian Ireland and the myth

of their dispossession refers to the eventual conversion of the human Milesians to Christianity. Of

the other invasions it may be suggested that these refer to the struggles of successive colonists to

give their cult-practices pre-eminence over those of the previous inhabitants. It would be unwise

to attempt a correlation of such events with known prehistoric migrations, but the internal

evidence of some of the myths suggests that they may refer to a period as early as the Bronze Age.

The complete annihilation of Partholon and his followers may refer to the complete eclipse of one

cult by its successor, whereas the attempts at a modus vivendi discernible in the relations between

the Fir Bolg and the Tualha

suggest a form of compromise. Within the Tuatha itself the functions of the Dagda and Lug appear

to overlap to considerable extent and this may refer to some such compromise. The Fomorians

whose presence underlies so much of the mythological history are best interpreted as a reference

to some of the ritual practices of very early inhabitants who had not accepted either the culture or

the cults of newcomers. Material evidence of such people exists in the archaeological record in



Outstanding in the invasion myths are superhuman figures who are thinly disguised deities. Of

the invasions prior to that of the Tuatha De Danann it is not possible to be certain of much more

than the names of their leaders. Partholon may symbolise the whole group of his people, all of

whom may have possessed superhuman attributes. Among their several functions appears to have

been, as one would expect at any early date, some concern with the fertility of the soil, the role of a

vegetation god. Among the Fir Bolg their king Eochaid mac Eire appears to represent some form

of benevolent father-figure. In his time the country witnessed an extended period of happiness

and wealth, probably as a result of his marriage with Tailtiu who was evidently an earth goddess.


It is among the Tuatha De Danann, however, that the gods of Celtic Mythology may be

recognised. As a group they watched over the whole of human activity but as individuals some

had their special functions. The most important deities were skilled in many spheres and attempts

made by scholars to equate them with the specialised gods of other pantheons have been

unsuccessful. Foremost were the Dagda and Lug.

The Dagda. By his epithet, Eochaid Ollathair, 'father of all', and RUM/ Ro-fhessci, "lord of perfect

knowledge', the Dagda may be recognised as one of the omnicompetent deities of the Celts. He is

father of all, neither in the sense that he was the progenitor of all the gods nor that he was given

special honours, but that he was omni-competent, a true father-figure. In appearance he was

pictured as gross and ugly, pot-bellied and coarse, and wearing the short tunic and hood of the

peasant with rawhide sandals. Among his attributes was a club so large that it would have needed

eight men to carry it and was therefore mounted on wheels. When dragged along the ground it

left a furrow like a frontier dyke. Under the club the bones of his people's enemies were like

hailstones under horses' hooves. With one end he could kill nine men at a time and with the other

restore them to life. He was therefore lord of life and death. His other great possession was his

cauldron which could never be emptied and from which no one ever went away unsatisfied. This

symbolises his role of nourisher of his people, perhaps that of a fertility god, and this

interpretation is strengthened by the myths of his union with the Morrigan by the River Unius in

Connacht on the first of November and with the Boann, the goddess of the River Boyne, also on

the first of November. During the time of the domination of the Tualha by the Fomorians the

Dagda was able to display his skill as a builder in constructing fortresses. It was at this time, too,

that he appears to have undergone a ritual ordeal on the first of November when he was obliged

to eat a gargantuan meal of porridge, which was produced from out of a huge hole in the ground.

After this feast he had intercourse with one of the daughters of the Fomorians.

The whole episode is redolent of the ritual acts imposed on the chiefs of primitive tribes at specific

times of the year in order to increase the fertility of the land and the well-being of the people.

Although gross in essence it was a necessary ritual act and the myth may be referring to the actual

ordeals imposed on Celtic chieftains at the most important feast of the year. If the Dagda is to be

regarded as a personification of the ideal leader of a people this interpretation is quite apposite.

Certainly the practice of ritual offerings in pits in the ground is well known in European


Not all the attributes of the Dagda were so fundamentally gross. As a harpist he was able to call

into existence the seasons of the Celtic year, again, perhaps, indicative of his guardianship of the

fertility of the earth.

Lug. Similar in function to the Dagda was Lug, known as Ldmfhada, 'of the long arm', and

Samilddnach, 'many skilled'. The myth of his arrival to join the Tualha under Nuada underlies his

omnicom-petence. When asked by the guard at the gate of the royal palace of Tara to state his craft

he replied that he was a carpenter. On being told that the Tualha already had a carpenter Lug

retorted that he was a smith, and learning further that there was also a smith went on to state that

he was also a warrior, a harper, a poet, a historian, hero, sorcerer and so forth. All these posts were

filled but Lug demanded that Nuada should be asked whether or not he had in his court any

single person who was master of all these skills. There was not and Lug was admitted to

membership of the Tuatha De Danann.

Despite this overlap of function with the Dagda, Lug in his person and in his attributes was in

complete contrast. In place of the crude club Lug was armed with spear and sling, weapons more

highly specialised and which were capable of accurate aim beyond the immediate reach of a man's

arm. With his sling Lug killed Balor, the champion of the Fomorians at the battle of Mag Tuireadh

(Moytura the Northern) by hurling a slingstone into his one enormous eye. This was the final

defeat of the Fomorians and Lug was cast as the hero of the Tuatha.

It has been suggested that this myth tells of the replacement of one form of solar worship, as

represented by the single eye of Balor, by the radiant Lug. If Lug was a solar deity, which has been

doubted, it was but one of his functions and his appearance as a young and handsome man with

his superior weapons is more in keeping with the Celtic ideal of an all-efficient deity. He appears

to have replaced the Dagda but without any of the violence attendant on the dispossession of the

gods of earlier people. Perhaps the Celts prior to their arrival in Ireland had retained one of the

older deities of their continental homeland, or even adopted some older deity en mule and

granted him admission to the ranks of the Tuatha. for the grossness of the Dagda is not in keeping

with the more refined arts of the remainder of the Tuatha. There is nothing to suggest that their

number had always been limited as the arrival of Lug shows.

Other Gods. The remaining male deities of the Tuatha are less easily understood. The functions of

some of them appear to have duplicated those of Dagda and Lug whereas others were clearly the

gods of specialised skills. Nuada, the king of the Tualha, had attributes which place him in a

category similar to that of the Dagda and Lug, a type of chieftain-god. He is a shadowy figure,

known as Nuada Argatlam, Nuada of the Silver Hand, after the first battle of Moytura in which he

lost a hand subsequently replaced by one of silver by Dian Cecht, the leech of the Tuatha. In his

keeping was one of the treasures of the Tuatha, the sword of Nuada which, when unsheathed, was

so powerful that no enemy could escape it. He was killed in the second battle of Moytura after

which the territory allotted to them by the victors, the Milesians, was apportioned by the Dagda.

The other leading figures among the Tuatha De Danann were deities with somewhat more

particular functions, Ogma the champion, Gobniu the smith and brewer of beer, and Dian Cecht

the leech. These, together with the Dagda, Lug and Nuada, did not comprise the whole of the

people of the Goddess Danu, but the Celts visualised their gods living in a society similar to their

own, aristocratic and warlike, in which they were served by their inferiors, craftsman and peasant.

The gods referred to in this section were the chieftain-gods and it is important to understand that

the ideal of the Celts was not to be found in the simple agrarian deities of earlier times but it was

appropriate to the advanced and more secure economy of the Celtic Iron Age. This interpretation

is supported by the available archaeological evidence. The chieftain-gods of the Tuatha were

expected through the agency of the supernatural powers which they possessed and with the aid of

their four magical treasures, the cauldron of the Dagda, the spear of Lug, the sword of Nuada and

the Stone of Fal which cried out aloud when stepped on by the lawful king of Ireland, to secure

the general well-being of their people and increase their prosperity.

The position of the Tuatha DC Danann has been emphasised not because they were the sole deities

of the Celts even in Ireland, but because from the literature it is possible to make some attempt at a

reconstruction of their meaning as deities. There also existed other gods, sometimes more localised

deities such as the chieftain-gods Midir of Bri Leith Bodb of Sid ar Femen, or minor deities,


the offspring of the major chieftain-gods, such as Angus Og, the son of the Dagda and Boanna.

The heroes of the Celts such as Cu Chulainn and Finn, although of divine ancestry, are in a

different category and are discussed separately. Finally, the sea-gods of the Celts in Ireland

although, in the case of Manannan mac Lir, included among the chieftain-gods of the Tuatha

should be considered apart from their terrestrial counterparts. Manannan was lord of the sea

beyond and under which lay Tir na nOc, the Celtic otherworld. One of the most colourful of the

Tuatha in his invulnerable mail, a helmet which shone like the sun and armed with his sword

which never failed to kill, he sailed in his boat which needed neither sail nor oars but went

wherever he willed it. His pigs were important for the well-being of the Tuatha. Killed and eaten

daily, they returned to life the following day and provided the Tuatha with some of their

supernatural food. Manannan in fact appears to have been a fertility deity, sharing at least some of

the functions of the mother-goddess, but, as in the case of the preceding sea-gods whom he

supplanted, it is extremely difficult to fit him into any exact classification.


The gods of the Celts emerge from mythology as little occupied specifically with the fertility of the

earth. In this they differed from, and perhaps complemented, the functions of the goddesses who.

in their turn, appear to have retained the concept of the Mother-Goddess which had evolved in

much earlier times and which persisted through and beyond the Celtic period. Whereas the Celticgods

were specifically Celtic in that they could have existed only in the climate engendered by the

warrior-aristocratic society of their period, the goddesses were restatements of an age-old theme.

Danu: Anu and Brigit. The gods of the Celts in Ireland are frequently called the People of the

Goddess Danu, but this does not mean that she actually gave birth to all of them. The Dagda, for

example, was sometimes referred to as her father. The only direct descendants of Danu who

appear in mythology are Brian, luchar and lucharba, probably an example of the triple concept of

one deity which is common in Celtic iconography. With Danu was confused Anu or Ana after

whom were called the hills, the Paps of Anu in Co. Kerry.

Similarly confused was Brigit who again was frequently regarded as a triple goddess. Her worship

appears to have been more widespread than that of either Danu or Anu and she survives in

Christianity as Saint Brigid (or Bride). It seems probable that all these deities are different concepts

of the same mother-goddess figure. All were goddesses of plenty and should find their place in

the concept of fertility-cults. Brigit, however, had additional functions as a tutelary deity of

learning, culture and skills.

Macha. Macha, the eponymous deity of the capital of Ulster, Emain Macha, was a more complex

deity. The mythology suggests that she was perhaps a survival of a mother-goddess worshipped

in parts of Ireland prior to the arrival of the Celts. Her earlier functions are obscure but appear to

have been appropriate to those of a fertility goddess. She was, for example, the wife of Nemed, a

leader in one of the earlier invasion myths. In the Ulster Cycle she was the wife of Crunnchu, a

peasant farmer, and this close association with the soil is in contrast with the more exalted role of

the male deities. Against her will and although pregnant she was forced to race against the horses

of Conchobor at Emain Macha. She was successful but died giving birth to twins. In dying she put

a curse on the warriors of Ulster which subjected them for nine generations to the pangs of

childbirth for five days and four nights in the hour of their greatest need. It has been thought that

this myth refers to some

collective ritual practised at one of the feasts of Ulster in honour of Macha, the mother-goddess,

and in times of national distress. Macha is here again a fertility deity, concerned not only with the

fertility of the earth but also man's fertility.

In another myth Macha appears as a warrior-queen in her own right, forcing the sons of her

enemies to build the fortifications of her capital, Emain Macha. Here she had acquired a more

warlike role which is paralleled in the myths of other goddesses. It might be expected that tutelary

deities, male or female, would have been expected to fight for their devotees and, as in Celtic

society in the pre-Christian period it was not unusual for women to fight in battle, there is no need

to feel that the Celts were being unethical in casting their goddesses in warlike roles. The historic

queens. Boudicca and Cartimandua, are evidence of this and the mythical queen, Medb of

Connacht. is in the same tradition. Macha was sometimes associated with the Morrigan and the

Badb to form a triad of warrior goddesses who presided over battle. As such they did not fight

with mortal weapons but used their supernatural powers, for example the Morrigan in fighting

against Cii Chulainn. They frequently resorted to shape-shifting and it is evident that many Celtic

goddesses undertook personal transformations at different times.

The other female deities that are discernible in Celtic mythology are variations on the theme of the

Mother-Goddess who not only

saw to the fertility of the earth, animals and men, but who would have aided with supernatural

powers their devotees in their distress. There were many local deities fulfilling much the same

functions as those more fully documented in the literature, and some had local festivals dedicated

in their honour similar in intent, if not in size, to that of Tailtiu. That Tailtiu had been the daughter

of one of the Fir Bolg but subsequently married the Tuatha De Danann is another instance of the

continuity of the mother-goddess figure.


Due to the nature of Welsh mythology and the stronger influences of Christianity imposed on it

before the production of the earliest extant manuscripts it is more difficult to reconstruct the main

features of the gods and goddesses of Britain. In the Four Branches of the Mabinogi it is possible to

trace a mythological history of Britain, similar to that of Ireland in that there is the dispossession of

gods by those of newcomers. It is, however, by no means as complete as the Irish Mythological

Cycle but this lacuna may be filled by reference to other parts of the Welsh literature.

The Children of Don. Some of the Irish deities reappear in Wales in the native tradition but this

may have been the result of Irish immigration into Britain in the late Roman period. Parallel to the

Tuatha De Danann, although by no means identical in every respect, are the Children of Don.

Among them was Govannan, the smith and brewer, who was the British equivalent of Gobniu.

Ludd or Nudd was the analogue of Nuada, both being credited in

their respective myths with silver hands. Hrcint, 'silver hand', being the epithet of Ludd, and

both having been rulers.

Perhaps the greatest of the Children of Don was Gwydion who was more of an omnipotent god

such as the Dagda and Lug. He was skilled in the arts of war and peace and underwent trials at

the hands of hostile powers, much in the way that the Dagda suffered ordeals when subject to the

Komorians. In this case, as with the Dagda. this myth probably represents a ritual ordeal imposed

on the Celtic chieftains. He possessed magical powers and was skilled in poetry and eloquence.

Despite his strongly defined attributes in the literature his worship was apparently restricted to

north-west of Wales.

Among the Children of Don was Arianrod. a goddess, after whom the Corona Borcalis was

sometimes named. She was the mother of Llew. again a somewhat indistinct figure who has been

compared not very satisfactorily with the Irish Lug. Llew was known as Z,/nr A/mi (Vi//('s.

'Llew of the strong hand', perhaps similar in intent to the Am/7;(/ of Lug. Like Lug he had a

spear and u sling after which the rainbow was called. He appears to have been another

manifestation ofthc chieftain-god idea. It is interesting to note that many of the Children of Don

gave their names to constellations, such as Cassiopeia Llys Don ('the Court of Don'), the Milky

Way - Ca;r Gwydion. Corona Borealis C;cr Arianrod. However, this does not imply they were

necccssarily part of a sky myth.

The Children of Llyr. As in Irish literature Manannan was more renowned than his father, Lir, so

in the Welsh is Manawyddan more clearly denned than was his father, Llyr. The attributes of

Manawyddan ah Llyr were less clearly defined than his counterpart, and sometimes even

contradictor), hut he appears to have been a god of fertility and craftsmanship. The m\th of his

fortress in Gower, built from human hones, may hide some reference to sacrifice.

His brother Bran the Blessed. M'/fr/r^c/? gnm. is more clearly defined. Of enormous siy.c and

commensurate strength he possessed those supernatural powers attributed to their deities by the

Celts in Ireland. He had a cauldron which would restore to life the dead but without the power of

speech. This cauldron had originally come from Ireland and was returned there as a gilt to

Matholwch. king of Ireland. Bran was later forced to fight Matholwch and in the episode of this

war his superhuman powers were emphasised. He waded across the Irish Sea. his body like a

mountain, his two eyes lakes on either side of a ridge which was his nose. When he laid himself

down across a river a whole army could march across his back. In addition he was a skilled

harpist and poet. At the final battle with Matholwch Bran was wounded in the foot with a

poisoned arrow. Realising he was dying he ordered his head to be cut off and he taken to the

White Hill in London facing the continent as a protection against invaders. Thus Bran appears as

yet another omnipotent god who watched over his people, fighting for them, and ultimately

sacrificing himself for them.

It has been suggested that the Children of Llyr were deities of the underworld as opposed to the

Children of Don who were sky deities. This is disputable, hut the two groups appear to have

represented successive groups of gods worshipped in Britain. As in the case of the 7'H//i Dt'

D;i and the Fomorians in Ireland there was intermarriage suggesting some form of



between contending groups. British archaeological evidence shows that in the highland /one

where most of the myths were preserved the remains of earlier cultures lingered and prospered

long after the newer cultures had become dominant in the lowland zone. It would not be

surprising if remnants of pre-Celtic beliefs had become incorporated into the purely Celtic

tradition. The interpretation of the Welsh tradition is complicated by many factors including the

Irish influences which must have been strong in parts of Wales in the sub-Roman period, the

possibility of still later Scandinavian influences, and the late date of the extant British literary

sources. The Christian Church appears to have been less generous to its pagan forerunners in

Britain and the Celtic gods in Welsh mythology were much more mutilated than their Irish


Other British Deities. Deities who did not strictly belong to either the Children of Don or of Llyr

included a counterpart in Welsh myth of the Irish Morrigan, a goddess appearing in battle in

changing horrid guises. Pwyll appears in the first branch of the Mabinogi to have become the lord

of the underworld in a myth which tells of how he changed places for a year and a day with

Arawn, prince of Annwn. the British Hades. Henceforth he was known as Pwyll Pen Annwn,

Head of Annwn. He married Rhiannon who was an earlier fertility-goddess and they produced

Pryderi. a later lord of the underworld and around whose exploits the myths enshrined in the four

branches of the Mabinogi were woven. The large number of supernatural beings who appear in

Welsh mythology remain indistinct but the central theme which recurs frequently is that of strife,

all of which should point to a struggle between beliefs in conflicting deities, but centred mainly on

that between the Children of Llyr and the Children of Don and their various allies.

Arthur. Some considerable difficulty impedes a completely satisfactory interpretation of Arthur.

As the legends surrounding him took shape in the literature of the Middle Ages writers borrowed

material from different sources and confused what they did not understand in an attempt to

produce a coherent narrative. There seems little reason to doubt that a historic Arthur existed in

the person of Ambrosius Aurelianus who lived in the turbulent century following the collapse of

Roman rule in Britain. He appears to have been a Romanised Briton who successfully commanded

a mobile force of cavalry against Saxon invaders. It is not improbable that the accounts of his

exploits would have been cherished and magnified by the Celtic population.

Behind the historic Arthur was a mythical person who has been variously interpreted as a god.

Artor, the ploughman, and a bear god, neither of whom are entirely convincing. By the time the

Welsh myths were written down the mythical Arthur had become as indistinct as the majority of

other Welsh deities. In the story of Culhwch and Olwen Arthur appears most strongly in his

mythological aspect, surrounded by other mythical persons. He appears to have been yet another

chieftain-god with his consort, Gwcnhwyfar, perhaps originally a fertility goddess. To the early

relatively simple conception of Arthur had been attracted myths belonging to other deities and the

exaggerated exploits of the historic Arthur. Despite the strong influence of Christianity in the later

versions it is possible to detect the Celtic myth in which the Grail is the thinly disguised cauldron

of plenty and the opponents of Arthur and his Knights are the last echoes of various longdisplaced



Distinct from the full-scale gods who were divine were the heroes of the Celts who, although

basically human, possessed superhuman powers which they used for the benefit of their people.

Foremost in the extant literature is the life and death of Cu Chulainn whose exploits figure so

largely and in great detail in the Ulster Cycle. Cu Chulainn is the epitome of the Celtic hero who

was the defender of his tribe, a mortal endowed with superhuman faculties which he exercised

solely for the good of his people. From his birth to his early death the epics centred on Cu

Chulainn are probably representative of similar stories woven around the heroes of lesser tribes

and which have been lost. In the story of Culhwch and Olwen some of Culhwch's exploits

resemble Cu Chulainn's and the former suggests the existence of similar hero-figures among the

British Celts.

In the story of Cu Chulainn's birth there is an clement of myster; and doubt. In one version it

appears that he was the son of at leas one divine being. Lug, and in another version that he was

bon three times, a further instance of Celtic triplication. His origina name was Setanta and this is

connected with the British tribe, tin Selanti, whose tribal hero he may originally have been. His

name Cu Chulainn, 'the Hound of Culann', was given him at the age o seven after he had been

forced to kill the watch-dog of Culann, thi smith. In recompense Cu Chulainn undertook to guard

the king dom of Ulster and thus became the champion of his people. In hi: childhood he is

pictured as bearing typically human attributes ant was brought up in circumstances appropriate

to those of the sor of any high-born Celt. Following custom he was sent away to foster parents,

although his education from Sencha, Fergus and Cathbac who taught him wisdom, warfare and

magic, in addition to thi more normal fosterage given by Amairgin the poet, was to fit hiir for his

special role in society. He later received further tuition fron: the sorceress, Scathach, who taught

him much of the art of magic This over-emphasis of human attributes and needs was typical ol all

things surrounding the person of the hero but essential humanity was never obscured. Similarly,

Cu Chulainn came to full manhood at an earlier age than his contemporaries and won his position

by force. Violence to gain his objective is typical of the hero. Cu Chulainn's entry into the court of

Conchobor was violent and his disturbance of the king's chessboard was as ill-mannered as the

Welsh hero Culhwch's entry on horseback into Arthur's court. Later on he was similarly required

to win his bride by force after undergoing violent and dangerous ordeals in foreign lands.

After undergoing his ritual ordeals, one of which was to fight the hound of Culann, Cu Chulainn

received his warrior's armour, again by a form of trickery. Now he was a full warrior but before

he could become the full protector of his people he had to prove himself in further exploits. Once

completed he was able to take his place at courts as the full champion of his people, fully

equipped and skilled in the arts of war and culture. He was the exaggerated ideal of Celtic

nobility, proud, brave and skilled in magic and the arts. The Celtic warrior was no uncouth soldier

but was able to converse on equal terms with poets and druids.

In his normal state Cu Chulainn is pictured as a young man with well-defined physical attributes,

lie had seven pupils in each eye, seven fingers on each hand and seven toes on each foot. His

cheeks were multi-coloured, yellow, blue, green and red. His long dark hair was of three tints,

dark close to the roots, red in the middle and lighter in colour towards the tips, suggestive of the

practice of the Celts of smearing their hair with a thick wash of lime. Rich and gorgeous jewellery

adorned him, a hundred strings of jewels on his head, a hundred golden breast ornaments. Far

different was Cu Chulainn in his battle-frenzy when his body was seized by contortions. He

turned round in his skin so that his feet and knees were to the rear and his calves and buttocks to

the front. His long hair stood on end and on the tip of each hair was a spot of blood or a spark of

fire. From his open mouth spurted fire and from the top of his head a jet of black blood rose mast

high. One eye receded far back into his skull while the other protruded onto his cheek. Finally, on

his forehead appeared the 'hero's moon', a strange inexplicable sign. When in this state Cu

Chulainn's fury was uncontrollable and he needed to be plunged into three vats of cold water

before he could be pacified.

Thus endowed he was well-nigh invincible in battle and was able to defend Ulster single-handed

against the four provinces of Ireland during the time when the men of Ulster were laid prostrate

with the curse of Macha. This is the great central action in the story of Cu Chulainn, the Cattle

Raid of Cualnge, which in itself is full of significance. Although invincible he was not invulnerable

and his body was sorely wounded on a number of occasions. To the Celts their hero had to suffer

as a mortal else he would have been lessened

in their eyes. Similarly, he had to die without descendants yet die unconquered, and this was

brought about by supernatural means against which he was powerless.

During his life-time Cu Chulainn had made enemies who, if he spared them, plotted for revenge.

Among them was Queen Medb who had intitiated the Cattle Raid of Cualnge in her attempt to

steal the brown bull of Cualnge. She had trained sorcerers from childhood as part of her plan to

bring about Cu Chulainn's downfall. Again Ulster was invaded by the four provinces and again

Cu Chulainn hastened to its defence. This time he realised that he was fighting against

supernatural powers which had been carefully organised against him. In Irish mythology there is

the frequent occurrence of the geis which was a ritual injunction to avoid certain actions in some

circumstances and to perform others in the appropriate circumstances. Cu Chulainn was

burdened with several gcasci and in his last battle, the 'Great Carnage of Mag Muirthemne'. he

realised that he had been 'overtaken' by his gcasa.

Before the actual battle Cu Chulainn was thus overtaken by his gea.ia. Three of the sorceresses of

Medb were roasting a dog at a hearth as he passed. It was one of his geasa not to pass a hearth

without tasting the food being prepared but it was also another geis for him to eat dog. By taking

the dog's shoulder offered to him his powers were diminished. Another series of demands were

made on him by a poet who threatened to satirise him if he refused. This succeeded in disarming

and mortally wounding him. Washing himself in a lake he killed an otter which came to drink the

bloodstained water. He realised that his end was near as it had been foretold that his first and last

exploits would be the killing of a dog - the first was the Hound of Culann and the last a water-dog,

the otter. In his death agony he bound himself to a pillar-stone and defied his enemies until the

end. And so he died with his honour unimpaired.

All the features which distinguish the Celtic hero are discernible in the C'ii Chulainn story and all

tribal heroes must have followed this pattern to a greater or lesser extent. Cu Chulainn, however.

was a hero within the tribe, fighting for his people. Beyond the minutely ordered social life of the

tribe existed another hero-figure best typified by Finn. Finn shared the more important of the

personal qualities of Cii Chulainn but he and his peers were conceived of as extra-tribal heroes.

The exact meaning of the myths centred on the fiana, the bands of young warriors in the Ossianic

Cycle, has brought forth a number of interpretations. The background of this cycle differs in

externals from that of the Ulster Cycle in that it clearly relates to a later period. It would be a

mistake to regard the fiana as groups of deities, for Finn and his band were not gods but heroes,

mortal yet endowed with superhuman attributes. They were frequently in close contact with the

otherworld. The fiana of mythology, such as that of Finn mac Cumal and his band, apparently had

purely human prototypes in Celtic society. They were groups of young warriors who, for a variety

of reasons, were unable to fit comfortably within the precisely defined pattern of tribal life. As

such they were free of the normal obligations due to their respective tribes. A great part of their

activities was devoted to hunting and mercenary warfare. They were, in fact, a form of mobile

army whose allegiance could be granted temporarily to any ruler who had immediate need of

their services. In this way they have sometimes been conceived of as defenders of Ireland against

Norse attacks, but this is clearly a later interpolation. The human fiana may very well have taken

part in the historically attested Irish raids on Roman Britain.

As the hero of the tribe was basically human but was a magnified ideal so were the mythological

fiana bands of human warriors whose exploits were similarly magnified. Many of their hunting

and fighting expeditions were set in magical environments. Frequently they ventured into the

Celtic otherworld, into the sid of one of the gods and across the sea to the Isles of the Blessed. They

fought on the side of the gods, particularly as allies of the Tuatha De Danann, against their

enemies. Their genealogy often included ancestors among the gods, Finn, for example, having

ancestors among both the Tuatha De Danann and the Fir Bolg. In their persons they possessed the

attributes expected of the tribal hero, bravery and loyalty, skill in fighting and the more cultured

arts, particularly poetry. Ossian, the son of Finn, after whom the Ossianic Cycle is named, was

perhaps the greatest poet of them all.

The hero, therefore, was human. He had superhuman powers but not enough to prevent his being

wounded in his encounters with enemies. Being mortal the hero had to die although, as in the case

of Finn who lived to be two hundred and thirty, his life-span was sometimes superhuman. In sum,

the hero was the magnified ideal of the Celtic warrior aristocracy.


After their defeat the Tuatha De Danann in popular tradition left the land of Ireland. Some of the

survivors went underground

to take possession of the side, natural mounds and tumuli of prehistoric Ireland. Within a sid a

whole supernatural world could be encompassed. Other gods went under the sea where lay Tlr jo

Thuinn. The Land under the Waves'. Others voyaged westwards over the sea to Tir na nOc, the

'Land of Youth', or Mag Mell, the 'Field of Happiness', imaginary islands towards the setting sun.

However it was conceived, the otherworld of the Celts was a place of supreme happiness. All the

yearning of the Celtic soul for a Golden Age seems to have inspired the poets in their descriptions

of Tir na nOc, or the side. Time ceased to have terrestrial meaning, a minute in a sid might be the

equivalent of several mortal years, a period of days in a sid might be only as long as a minute in

the human world. As soon as one of Bran's companions, in returning to look at their homeland

after a sojourn in the otherworld, set foot on land he turned to ashes. To them it seemed that they

had been away for only a year, yet it had really been centuries.

In the otherworld the Celtic vision1 of mortal perfection is idealised. The land was rich in food

and the delights of nature. No unpleasantness existed, neither in nature nor in man. Music,

feasting, love-making and, proper to the ideal of a warrior-aristocracy, even fighting were

unlimited and devoid of any sense of satiety. All were immortal and if wounds and death resulted

from battle, on the following day the wounds were healed and the dead restored to life. And so it

continued into eternity.

This was a land of magic, ruled over by the dispossessed gods

and inhabited by supernatural beings. In the myths, however, man is sometimes pictured as

entering this world either on the invitation of a god or goddess or by force. In particular, the Celtic

heroes were invited to help perhaps the ruler of a sid against an enemy in return for the love of a

divine woman. Again, there are stories of men forcing their way into the side to steal the treasures

of the gods for the benefit of man. There several such stories woven around the theft of a magic

cauldron of plenty or of magic cattle. As in many Celtic myths the ideal is magnified and this is

clearly .the significance of the idealised picture of the Celtic otherworld.

In contrast with the delights of Tir na nOc, there was also an otherworld in which' fear rather than

bliss was predominant. The domain of giants, such as that of Ysbaddaden in the tale of Culhwch

and Olwen, or the kingdom of Scathach surrounded by phantoms and horrors in the Cii Chulainn

epic may be cited. It is difficult to reconcile these two apparently contradictory concepts of the

other-world but a simple explanation is possible. If a Celtic hero was pictured as proving his

valour against supernatural forces the myth would tend to exaggerate the horror in his difficulties.

If he was invited into the world of the Tuatha De Danann as a guest or as an ally the supernatural

delights of that world would also be emphasised. Clearly a hero could not have proved his valour

in a land of plenty peopled by divine and gracious beings, but he could have done so in a land of


The Feasts of the Celtic Year. There were lour main feasts in the Celtic year. The year began on

what is now the first of November with the least of Samhain. Three months later on the first of

February was Imbolc followed by the (east of Beltain or Cetshamain on the lirst of May. The fourth

least was that of Lughnassah on the first of August. Of these four Samhain and Beltain were the

more important and in the myths many important events took place on those days.

The beginning of the Celtic New Year was a particularly important event and the mythological

cycle contains in its many references to Samain evidence of ritual acts which took place at this

time. On the eve of the least, time appeared to belong neither to the old year nor to the new. There

was a feeling that this lack of distinction in time was matched by a similar indistinct boundary

between the world of man and that of his gods. Although man had taken possession of the land

after their defeat the Tuatha de Dannan were still powerful and could affect man's welfare.

Whereas the mythical heroes of the Celts could venture bravely into sidhe to meet their gods

either as allies or enemies, the ordinary people felt less sanguine about the possibility that on the

eve of Samhain the people of the sidhe left their domain and wandered in the world of man.

Furthermore the beginning of the year was a solemn event, coming as it did at the beginning of

winter, to a people whose agricultural economy was still liable to failure.

The origins of the feast may remount in time to the pre-Celtic period. In the Mythological Cycle

the people of Nemed were forced to render to the Fomorians on this day two-thirds of their milk,

their corn and children. Allowing for exaggeration this seems to refer to a distant memory of a

considerable offering of agricultural produce and perhaps of human sacrifice too. Similarly, there

is an echo in the Dindshenchas the mythological geography of Ireland, of human sacrifices to

Crom Cruaich and hideous and terrifying ritual at Samhain in Celtic times. There are references,

too. to ordeals by fire and water, which are probably myths of human sacrifice. Filtering the

darkness and insecurity of winter the Celts, in common with other primitive peoples, felt at this

time of the year their insecurity in the face of the supernatural. The stories of attacks by hostile

supernatural powers and of sacrifices arc indicative of this insecurity and the need for


There is less fear in those myths of .Samhain centered on the union of male deities with a mothergoddess

figure. Such is the myth of the Dagda's union with the Morrigan by the River Unius and

with Boann. the goddess of the River Boyne. Possibly at this feast, too. there were rites performed

to ensure the fertility of the land during the coming year.

The feast of Beltain, possibly dedicated to the god Belenus. was

a happier festival. On the first of May both the races of Partholon and the Tuatha de Dannan

landed in Ireland. On this day fires were lit and the cattle were driven between them for ritual

protection. The people danced, probably in a sunwise direction and carried burning torches

around the fields, a form of sympathetic magic to aid the sun in his all-important role in an

agricultural economy. At this time of renewed hope and delight at the end of the winter there

were also fertility rites, possibly in honour of the Mother-Goddess.

The feasts of Imbolc and Lughnassah are less easy to interpret, Imbolc, on the first of February, has

been connected with the lactation of ewes, and. although the sheep appears to have had little

significance in Celtic mythology, its place in the economy of the Celts is well attested. It would

have been appropriate to celebrate a feast at a point half-way though the Celtic winter. In later

times this became the feast of Saint Brigid, a Christianised retention of a Celtic goddess of fertility.

Brigit. Lughnassah on the first of August, appears to have been connected with the god Lug. but it

was also in some way connected with fertility as shown by the association of mother-goddesses,

such as Macha, in the celebrations held on this day.

That the feasts of Samhain and Beltain were of considerable antiquity is suggested by the strongly

pastoral basis of the Celtic economy. Although the sun appears to have been invoked at Beltain,

the Celtic year had no solar orientation. There is nothing here of the solstice or equinox and one is

reminded of Caesar's comment that the Celts measured time by nights instead of days. The feast

of.Lughnassah with its more agrarian bias should, on this supposition, be later in its inception. Its

association with Lug. who. in turn, appears to have been introduced at a later date than, for

example, the Dagda, supports this hypothesis. It is possible that Lugnasad replaced an earlier

feast, possibly more simply a fertility festival. Although crop-raising figures little in the myths of a

predominantly pastoral society, it has to be remembered that primitive corn-growing had been

practised in Ireland as early as the Neolithic period. Perhaps the ordinary peasant farmer was

disregarded in the cult-practices which were primarily devoted to the well-being of a warrior

aristocracy. (brenna note: Boy this person knows little or nothing about the festivals)


Celtic Mythology contains invaluable evidence as to the beliefs of the Celts in the pre-Christian

period. At its greatest extent Celtic influence covered much of Western Europe and penetrated as

far as Asia Minor, but the mythology is strictly relevant only to the

Celts of the British Isles. There was an undoubted basis of common belief shared by all Celtic

peoples, and to obtain any evidence as to the beliefs of the continental Celts it is necessary to

consider both the opinions of Greek and Roman writers and the archaeological record. The

evidence of the classical writers is particularly valuable because, although fragmentary, it is a

contemporary record. Set against this, however, was their inability to view beliefs of other peoples

against anything but a classical background. They constantly sought parallels within the

framework of their own religious experience. Allowing for this their evidence is valuable, if at

times apparently in conflict with that derived from mythology.

Caesar spent ten years in Gaul at a time when that part of Europe was being brought fully into the

Empire. Before his time Greek and Roman influences had been entering the country and the

attitudes of the Celts, particularly among the aristocracy, may well have been modified as much

by classical belief as by the material imports. Caesar's evidence is, nevertheless, of considerable

value. He said that the whole people were devoted to their beliefs and stated that Mercury was

worshipped more than any of their other gods. This is supported by the archaeological evidence

from Roman Gaul whence over four hundred inscriptions and more than three hundred statues

survive. After Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter and Minerva were worshipped and the Celts held

beliefs similar to those of other people; Apollo was a healing god, Minerva a goddess of

craftsmanship, Jupiter a heavenly ruler and Mars a war-god. Mercury emerges as a chieftain-type

god, the inventor of all (hearts, the presiding deity of commerce and guardian of travellers. Caesar

also referred to Celtic belief in descent from Dis Pater.

It would be easy to dismiss Caesar's evidence as inaccurate, but remembering his long stay in Gaul

and the accuracy of so much of his Gallic War it is obvious that his opinions are not so obviously

incorrect. In the first place he did not concern himself with the native name for Celtic deities but

equated them as closely as possible with his own gods. It is unlikely that Mercury and the other

Roman gods were worshipped by name in pre-Roman Gaul and Britain and it would appear that

reference was being made to Celtic deities. It is unnecessary to attempt a complete identification of

Roman with Celtic gods. Irish mythology shows that the male gods were regarded as

omnicompetent, father-figures, warriors and poets. It would have been easy for a Roman to have

interpreted any of these individual functions in terms of a single god of his own pantheon. It is

possible that different tribes would have emphasised some particular attribute of their tribal gods

at different times according to their ritual needs. Caesar could have equally misinterpreted the

function of the Celtic goddess, although it is inexplicable how he could have completely

overlooked the cult centre-d on Celtic fertility-goddesses whose existence is so well attested in

epigraphy. Perhaps Caesar was drawing his evidence from those tribes who had received the

greatest classical influence. What might have been true in the time of the C'elts in southern Gaul in

the first century BC would not necessarily have been applicable to the insular Celts.

Lucan in his Phursalia refers to three deities. Telltales, Esus and Taranis to whom sacrifice

respectively was offered by drowning, hanging and burning. Attempts have been made to equate

these deities with Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Dis Pater. It has also been suggested that in prc-

Roman Gaul the C'elts worshipped a single omnicompetent god who, after contact with classical

influences, was conceived of as a number of specialised deities. This appears to oversimplify the

problem. In Roman Gaul, Spain and Britain the equations belween Celtic and Roman gods was not

always consistent. A Celtic Cocidius might be equated with both Mars and Silvanus at the same

Roman fort and does not suggest the existence of specialised Celtic divinities. In discussing the

Celtic gods in the insular mythology it has been shown thai, with few exceptions, Celtic gods were

omnicompetent deities with little of the specialist in their make-up. It is probable also that wilh a

few specific exceptions such as Lug. worship of individual deities was confined to restricted areas,

probably coterminous with some tribal or other area. Archaeological evidence shows that Esus

was worshipped in northeastern Gaul and although similar evidence for the worship of the Gallo-

Rornan Telltales and Taranis is not great it is more widespread. Undue prominence has sometimes

been given to Lucan's reference and it is now obvious that the triad, Esus, Taranis, and Teutates

were either manifestations of a tribal deity or simply a local triad. The name Taranis means

'thunder' and Teutates is cognate with Tuatha, 'people', epithets which might have applied to

almost any tribal god. In another passage Lucan describes the Gaulish Ogmios from whom may

have been derived Ogma, the champion of Irish mythology.

The setting for worship is sometimes referred to in Greek and Roman writers. During the Roman

period worship was formally organised in properly constructed temples and although there is

evidence to suggest that some form of built 'temple' may have been used in the period of Celtic

independence the main ritual activity of the Celts was conducted in the open air, in woodland

clearings or by lakes, rivers, streams and springs. A writer in the fourth century B.C. refers to the

existence in Britain of a magnificent circular temple dedicated to Apollo. It is difficult to

understand this reference. Perhaps Stonehenge or Avebury is intended but the original use of

these sites dates to the Early Bronze Age, at least one thousand years earlier, and the allusion to

the sky-god is obscure. The barbarism of certain Celtic rites is brought out in their writings by

Caesar, Tacitus, Lucan and others. Caesar states that human sacrifices were made by burning, the

victims placed in huge images, and other writers frequently refer to blood-stained altars and the

like. Allowing for literary licence there seems to be no doubt that the Celts practised human

sacrifice, perhaps not as a frequent part of their ceremonial, but certainly in times of trouble and

possibly, in the earlier period at least, at certain annual ritual gatherings. This helps in the

interpretation of various myths involving death by fire or burning. Similarly, there are many

references to the offering of human heads to the gods, and both the archaeological and

mythological evidence provide comparable evidence. The head of Bran and Cu Chulainn's

juggling with human heads may be cited. More frequent were the

animal sacrifices, some of which were substitutes for earlier human sacrifices.

It is from Latin writers, particularly from Caesar, that most of present-day knowledge of Druids is

derived. The Druids were the holy men of the Celts. In them was vested the responsibility for the

ritual welfare of their people. As the dividing line between ritual and secular was finely drawn

and sometimes indefinably drawn, the Druids held considerable power in most spheres of Celtic

life. In addition to their priestly duties they were also judges and teachers. As judges they were

able to enforce their decisions by excommunication of the guilty and the resultant deprivation of

tribal protection. As teachers their influence was strong among the aristocracy whom they


Powerful in their organisation, their secular influence was immense but in the present context

reference to their ritual functions is more apt. All ceremonial observances were naturally under

their control. In them, too, rested the ritual lore of the Celts. This was not written down but had to

be learned by rote during the long training of the Druid. In Ireland, at least, it appears that regular

colleges of Druids existed. They were so well organised and the training given extensive enough

to include non-ritual accomplishments that it was possible in the early days of Christianity for

their conversion to Christian monastic establishments. In them the traditional love of learning

continued and aided the preservation of Celtic Mythology which was ultimately committed to


In the discussion of the mythology of the insular Celts an attempt has been made to indicate the

nature of belief in the deities worshipped. Some amplification of the full nature of Celtic belief

may be obtained from a study of Greek and Latin writers. According to Caesar the Druids taught

that their souls did not die but passed at death into other bodies. Their belief in personal

immortality was so strong that the Celts had no fear of death in battle. But this

Druidical teaching of the after-life led some classical writers to connect it with the Pythagorean

doctrine of metempsychosis, Diodorus Siculus writing, 'the Pythagorean doctrine prevails among

them, teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years

inhabited in another body'. The imputation of such a sophisticated concept to the Celts is one

which cannot stand careful study. It is likely that the Romans could easily have confused true

metempsychosis with Druidic teaching. Lucan recognised the profound differences of belief

between Romans and Celts, but neither he nor any other ancient writer mentioned the basis of

metempsychosis common to Pythagoreanism and other beliefs, the expiation of sin in other bodies

after death until complete perfection is attained. Indeed there seems to be no evidence for a Celtic

belief in retributive justice in the next world, no Hell, only an indeterminate land of the blessed.

These remarks by Diodorus Siculus and others cannot be completely rejected and, although

imperfectly understood today, some belief, no matter how vaguely it resembled true

metempsychosis, may have been held. Some such similar belief may be hidden in the myths which

tell of shape-shifting, such as those centred on Badb Catha, the Raven of Battle. Finally, there are

frequent allusions to the Celts' use of representations of their deities. It is shown below that very

few Celtic anthropomorphic representations are known prior to the assimilation of classical

influences. Caesar speaks of images to Mercury and other writers mention crude figures, generally

of wood. References of this type date to as early as the third century B.C.


In this section an attempt is made to interpret the archaeological evidence derived from Celtic

Europe in prehistoric and Roman times in terms of Celtic mythology.

Pre-Roman Evidence

Although in pre-Roman times the Celts, with the exception of those subject to strong classical

influences, appear to have worshipped in sacred places as opposed to formal buildings there are a

number of sites dating from the Celtic Iron Age both on the continent and in the British Isles. In

Britain a wooden-built 'temple', similar in plan to the later stone-built Romano-Celtic temples was

discovered at Heathrow in Middlesex and is believed to date from the third century B.C. Under

the Romano-Celtic temple at Frilford in Berkshire a small Iron Age shrine appears to have had

affinities with earlier British Bronze Age ritual sites and cannot, on present evidence, be accepted

as typical of Celtic practice. Continental sites have also revealed wooden-built structures, such as

the first century B.C. circular roofed building at St. Margarethen-am-Silberberg. An open-air ritual

site surrounded by an earthwork in the Kobener Wald contained at the centre a very tall wooden

post set at the centre of a raised area. This site, known as the Coloring, appears to date from the

sixth century B.C. and would have served as a ritual centre in which a large congregation could

have been accommodated with room for such activities as ritual games and the like. It has been

suggested that some of the sites at Tara and elsewhere in Ireland may have resembled the

Coloring in function as well as in physical appearance. In this connection the reference to a

circular temple in Britain to Apollo by a writer of the fourth century B.C. is apposite.

Zoomorphic Representation

In the art of the Celts in pre-Roman times there is frequent reference to animal motives and much

of this can only have been ritual in intent. Among the animals which are well represented in the

metal-work of Iron Age Britain is the boar, as for example on the Witham shield, the boar's head

from Banffshire and the helmet crests and numerous small votive boars. On the continent large

stone sculptures of boars are known from Iberia and generally associated with hill-forts of the

Celtic period. The bull figures in similar environments and the fine sacrificial bull on the base

plate of the Gundestrup bowl may be cited as examples of the use of this animal in Celtic

inconography. The importance of the bull in the predominantly pastoral economy of pre-Roman

times is immediately obvious and the participation of cattle in the ceremonies of Beltine, at the

election of a king at Tara and in their sacrifice at Bron Trograin, the August festival, links the

archaeological with the mythological evidence. More obviously ritual are the three-horned bulls

such as that from Maiden Castle. Dorset,

and the Tarvos Trigaranus of Roman Gaul, paralleled by the three-horned Gaulish boar.

The White Horse at Uffington in Berkshire, cut into the chalk of the hillside and probably dating to

the Iron Age, is perhaps the most dramatic representation of the horse in Celtic times. This animal

is closely connected with the cult of Epona, a horse-goddess, shown in some Gaulish statuary as

seated on a horse. In time there may have been some confusion between the goddess and her

horse and the deity equated with the animal. Inscriptions in the Roman period show that the cult

of Epona was widespread and stretched from Spain to Eastern Europe and Northern Italy to

Britain. A similar goddess may be identified in some aspects of Irish goddesses such as Macha of

Ulster and Medb of Connacht and Rhiannon of the Welsh tradition. In Ulster there is evidence of a

symbolic union of a new king with a mare representing the fertility of earth. The horse-goddess

emerges as another manifestation of the mother-goddess, a protectress of the dead no less than the

living as is suggested by the embossed horses on the Aylesford funerary bucket in the

archaeological record and in the three red horsemen from the kingdom of Donn, lord of the dead

in Irish Mythology.

Anthropomorphic Representation

It has been sometimes suggested that the Celts were incapable of satisfactory anthropomorphic

representation and this has been held to account for the apparent lack of human figures in pre-

Roman iconography. The literary evidence tells of images, such as Caesar's reference to the many

images of Mercury. The transitional period between the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the

British Isles and Northern Europe has revealed a number of cult-figures, some quite small but

others more than life-size. That wooden figures were perhaps frequently used in Celtic times is

possible as the literary evidence suggests and as is shown sparingly in the archaeological

evidence. The pre-Roman sculptures of Gaul and Ireland, the coin evidence and a limited corpus

of bronzes, proves that the Celts were able to portray the human - or divine - figure. Any apparent

paucity of such representation in pre-Roman times might possibly be attributed to a reluctance to

portray any deity in the same way that gods were rarely mentioned by name in swearing oaths.

Much of the sculpture from Gaul was influenced by foreign traditions, Greek and Etruscan. In the

Rhineland anthropomorphic figures are pictured on pillars and wearing 'leaf-crowns', similar in

some respects to the head-dress on the head of the Aylesford bucket. Cruder figurines are also

known such as the stone figure from Stackach, Wiirttcmberg, and a small clay figurine from Co.

Antrim. Iberia and Ireland have both produced small bronze figurines wearing crescentic headdresses.

The three-faced head of stone from Corleck, Co. Cavan, has parallels in Roman Gaul and

is another example of the Celtic devotion to its triads.

It is difficult to equate the majority of the anthropomorphic figures of the pre-Roman period with

individual deities. The hillside figure of a naked man wielding a club at Cerne Abbas in Dorset

may represent a deity, perhaps the Dagda himself. An important exception is Cernunnos, the

horned god, who is pictured with other deities on the Gundestrup bowl. Squatting in a pose

known from south Gaulish sculpture, he is pictured holding a tore in his right hand and grasps a

ram-headed serpent in his left. He wears breeches and a tunic and a tore around his neck. His

horns are identical to those of a deer standing close by him. Perhaps the ritual significance here is

connected in some way with the cycle of fertility symbolised by the shedding of antlers. Whatever

the significance of this deity his cult was widespread in tune, from a fourth-century B.C. rockengraving

in Northern Italy to Romano-Celtic sculptures such as the serpent-legged Cernunnos in

Cirencester Museum and elsewhere. In Ireland this horned god appears carved on a sandstone

block at Tara.

The other deities pictured on the Gundestrup bowl include the god with the wheel who may

perhaps be equated with Taranis. In Roman times his cult was wide-spread in Gaul and appeared

in Britain. Also represented on the bowl are scenes in which sacrifices are being made and ritual

processions are taking place. There is a contrast to be drawn between the large, tore-wearing busts

of the deities and the smaller human figures and animals, some of which can be interpreted as

sacrificial. The whole bowl, although Celtic, was found in Jutland and had been dismantled

and deposited in a bog as an offering, and presumably was itself an important cult-object.

Other Artifacts

In addition to human and animal sacrifice the Celts are known to have made other offerings to

their deities. Throughout the area of Celtic influence in Europe there is ample evidence of the

deposition in streams, rivers and lakes of valuable objects. The Gundestrup bowl has been

mentioned as a single offering but at Llyn Cerrig Bach in Anglesey deposits of valuable metal

objects were made over a period of time. The close connection of the Druids with Mona is

significant. It is known from contemporary sources that the Celts on the continent dedicated to


gods the spoils of war and evidence similar to that of Llyn Cerrig Bach is known from La Tene and


The tore appears on the Gundestrup cauldron and on several Romano-Celtic sculptures as well as

being mentioned in Irish mythology. There exist many splendid tores of bronze and gold,

including the beautiful examples from Broighter, Co. Derry and Snettisham, Norfolk. They appear

to have been some form of amulet, perhaps serving a purpose similar to that of the votive wheels

of Britain and Gaul.

Objects accompanying burials are proof that the Celts believed in some form of personal

immortality. Grave furniture was provided according to the status of the deceased and varied


the elaborate chariot burials of the Marne and Yorkshire to the simple peasant burials with their

frugal joints of pork. In between, the members of an intermediate class were provided with the

armament and finery appropriate to their rank. The strong Celtic belief in a future life as shown in

contemporary literature is supported by the ample evidence of Iron Age burial rites.

Romano-Celtic Evidence

Archaeological evidence dating from the period of Roman occupation of Celtic areas must be used

sparingly to amplify that of mythology and pre-Roman archaeology. It is immediately obvious

that Roman influence would have been strong and, although the basic beliefs of the Celts in their

deities may not have changed significantly, there is no doubt that they

would have been modified to a degree commensurate with the degree of Romanisation absorbed.

This can be seen in the proliferation of Romano-Celtic altars, inscriptions and sculptures and of

Romano-Celtic temples. The change is well epitomised in the replacement by the Gallo-Roman

'Jupiter-Column' of the simpler wooden ritual posts which once stood at the Coloring.

The epigraphic evidence is valuable even though the bulk of it might appear to be negative. It is

seldom possible to equate the dedications with the figures of mythology. An exception is Mabon

who is the Maponus of dedications and classical reference. Among the large numbers of

inscriptions there is a high proportion of single dedications and of very small groups of

dedications restricted to one place. Many of the inscriptions and altars must have been

dedicated to very minor deities, genii loci, rather than to full-scale tribal gods or mothergoddesses.

The dedications to Coventina in Northern Britain, spirit of a sacred well, and to similar

presiding deities of streams, rivers, mountains and other natural features in Britain and the

continent do not so much offer proof of a pre-Roman deification of such natural features as the

adoption in Roman times of the Roman trappings of a popular cult. It is not necessary to assume

that such popular cults were so highly organised before the adoption of such elaborate aids to

devotion, although the basic elements of reverence must have existed hitherto in a vaguer form.

On the other hand the distribution of Romano-Celtic inscriptions within a limited area, such as

those to Belatucadrus or Cocidius in Northern Britain, is suggestive of the cult of a tribal god. In

an area of military occupation, however, the existence of troops from other parts of the Empire

complicates to a degree not so evident in the more civilised provinces the interpretation of the

epigraphic evidence. On the whole a study of the inscriptions supports the

belief that the Celts worshipped their local tribal gods. Local goddesses were also worshipped but

it has been shown that Epona enjoyed a more widespread devotion. More apparent is the large

corpus of inscriptions dedicated to the Matres, the triad of fertility-goddesses whose cult

embraced most of Gaul and Britain.

A further complication in the interpretation of the Romano-Celtic evidence is apparent when the

inscriptions include dedications to Celtic linked with Roman gods. This interpretatio romana is

seldom consistent as a single Celtic god appears to have been identified with several Roman, even

in the same place. The bulk of epi-graphic evidence is to be found in the Romanised parts of the

Celtic areas, either in civilised Gaul and Spain or in the military areas of Northern Britain and the

Rhineland where dedications to Celtic gods were made by soldiers, the majority of whom were

not natives of the region in which they served. In making their dedications they may well have

misunderstood the local deities whom they wished to honor. The Celts of Gaul, too, were

obviously influenced by Roman cult-practices as may be seen in the sculptures of their gods who,

although bearing Celtic names, frequently assume the trappings of a Mercury or a Mars.

The rapid spread and use of the Romano-Celtic temple was another symptom of Romanisation

applied to the ceremonial of native cults. It is not known whether or not this was a result of

Roman policy for, although native cults were allowed to continue provided that they were not in

conflict with Roman law, the Druids were suppressed in Britain as being a potential political

menace. Instead of being permitted to practise their ritual observances in secret woodland groves

the Celts may well have been encouraged to build a Romano-Celtic temple in a town or the open

countryside. This, together with the novelty of Roman trappings, could have accounted for their

spread. Although substantially built of stone and decorated in the Roman manner these temples,

with their central cella, either square, circular or polygonal in plan, with surrounding portico,

were not based on the classical temple. They sometimes attracted to themselves the classical

additions of a theatre and baths. At Lydney in Gloucestershire the temple-complex dedicated to

Nodens included a temple of basilica plan, together with baths, an inn and a long building in

which sick devotees slept in the hope of a nocturnal visit by the god. Dating to the first century

A.D. it exhibits the interesting amalgam of classical and Celtic ideas, more particularly as it was

probably the zeal of Irish immigrants into the region which made it possible. Nodens himself may

be equated with Nuada of Irish mythology and Nudd of the Welsh. The archaeological evidence

from this last phase of Roman influence in Britain is particularly valuable for, in addition to the

strong possibility of an identification of Nodens with Nuada and Nudd, there is ample evidence

that the devotees of Nodens accepted him as an omnicompetent god. He was a healing god, a

protector of fishermen on the River Severn and was associated with a fertility deity. In his temple

was a triple shrine, perhaps another instance of the triplication of a deity.


There is little doubt that Celtic mythology, particularly that of Ireland, tells of the gods of the

Celts. The myths themselves speak of Celtic belief in their deities and, although it is impossible to

be certain how strong was Christian belief at the time they were written down, it is possible that a

good proportion of this mythology is directly derived from the sacred lore of the Druids. In no

way do either the references to Celtic beliefs by Greek and Roman writers or the archaeological

evidence conflict with modern interpretations of the mythology. Provided that too rigid a

rapprochement is avoided all three sources may be made to provide material for the study of the

beliefs of the Celts. All the evidence points to the existence of comparatively localised cults and it

is rare to find deities worshipped over wide areas. The cult of Lug is exceptional. Place and tribal

names hint at his cult in Spain, Switzerland and Gaul as well as in Ireland. The restricted

distribution of Romano-Celtic inscriptions and the existence of eponymous tribal deities suggest

local tribal interpretations of chieftain-gods and mother-goddesses, although the latter frequently

enjoyed a wider distribution than those of male gods. The mythology itself cannot be taken as

evidence that there was a widespread belief in specific gods. This is not to say that similar gods

were not worshipped under different names among different tribal groups.

The strongly marked aristocratic nature of Celtic society in the days of independence suggests that

the mythology relates to the gods of the aristocracy and it is not certain either how far the ordinary

peasant shared in these beliefs, or how far he was allowed to participate in ritual observances. The

sorceress, Mongfhinn, to whom 'the women and common people addressed their prayers' is the

only figure in mythology who appears to have been definitely worshipped by the ordinary people.

The large number of single inscriptions from Romano-Celtic times may refer to similar popular

cults centred on very localised genii loci who were frequently associated with a more primitive

worship of minor natural features. Among the common people, too, there were many of pre-Celtic

descent to whom the cult-practices of earlier times may have proved adequate. To such people the

aristocratic gods of the Tuatha De Danann may have been too unapproachable, even if access had

been allowed them. It seems likely that the secret lore of the Druids would have been denied to

such people. Even the Celtic aristocracy seems to have been impressed by the burial places of

earlier inhabitants, so much so that they were brought into their myths. To the peasantry in close

contact with the soil such relics of earlier cults, in which their ancestors perhaps participated, may

have seemed more potent than the gods of their newly arrived overlords.

As part of the earliest European literature after Greek and Latin, Celtic mythology has a value

over, and above that of a source for ancient beliefs. In it is a rich store of priceless evidence for the

way of life of the Celtic aristocracy, their hopes and fears. It is an important part of the record of a

people who have made no small contribution to the European heritage, in no way diminished by

its lack of general recognition.



Three or four centuries before the Christian era the Teutons were established in the south of the

Scandinavian peninsula, in the islands of the Baltic sea, and on the great Hat plain of north

Germany between the Rhine and the Vistula. They formed a fairly populous group of tribes who

were not politically united and indeed frequently fought each other, but they nevertheless spoke

the same language, had a certain community of culture, and very probably shared the same

religious beliefs. Some of these beliefs were inherited from their Indo-European ancestors; for the

language and cultural structure of the Teutons was derived, some thousand years earlier, from the

great Indo-European complex, and their distant kinship with the Latins. Celts, Greeks, Slavs and

certain other peoples may explain the similarity of some of their general conceptions, and even of

certain of their legends, with those of Greece, Rome and the Orient. The Teutons, however, had

lived so long separated from other Indo-European peoples that in the end they had devised an

original religion.

Lacking monumental illustrations and written documents, we shall never know the exact nature

of this religion in the days when it was still more or less the same for all the German peoples. We

only know it in the relatively developed form it had taken towards the beginning of the Christian

era, and in the course of the ensuing centuries among the brunches of the ancient Teutonic nation.

In the historical epoch the Teutons were divided into three great groups: those of the East, or

Goths, who. at first establishing themselves between the Oder and the Vistula, left this region

towards the end of the second century A.I), and emigrated in great numbers towards the Black

Sea: then the Teutons of the North, who occupied the Scandinavian countries: and finally the West

Germans, ancestors of the present Germans and the Anglo-Saxons, who were at first confined to

North Germany and little by little spread towards the Rhine and the Danube where they were

soon to clash with the Romans. Meanwhile certain of their tribes prepared to cross the sea and

establish themselves in Britain. This dispersion of the Germanic peoples was not without influence

on their culture and. consequently, on their religious conceptions.

On their contact with Byzantine civilisation great numbers of the Goths were in the fourth century

converted to Christianity. The only examples of their language which have survived are

translations of the Bible and commentaries on sacred texts. The rare ancient historians who speak

of the Goths tell us practically nothing of their pagan traditions. We must therefore abstain from

speaking of the religion of the Eastern Germans. Teutonic mythology is known to us only through

the literary products of the North and West Germans, as well as through certain works in Latin or

Greek. Now at the period when historians of classical antiquity and authors who wrote in

German, Anglo-Saxon or Norse began to note the religious traditions of the various Germanic

tribes their mythology was very far from everywhere presenting the same features. The cult of

certain divinities was very developed on one shore of the Baltic while it was neglected or even

unknown on the opposite shore. The same gods did not enjoy equal prestige among neighbouring

tribes. Also. Christian influences were already beginning to be felt.

The Anglo-Saxons of Britain were converted to Christianity from the commencement of the

seventh century. Anglo-Saxon mission-aries soon began the evangelisation of Germany.

CharJemagne completed by force the work which they had undertaken peaceably. The

Scandinavian countries in their turn adopted the new faith between the ninth and the eleventh

centuries. With the exception of certain Greek and Latin historians and a few Scandinavian poets,

the writers from whom we derive our information about German mythology were themselves

Christians. They arc apt to give a Christian tone to the old pagan myths. They lived, moreover, at

quite different epochs and the traditions they collected at a remove of several centuries do not

often agree very satisfactorily.

For the Germanic tribes of the West, the ancestors of the Germans and the Anglo-Saxons,

documentary sources of information are sparse. Latin historians like Caesar and Tacitus had at

their disposal only second-hand information and they attempted to explain Teutonic religion in

terms of Roman religion. For instance. Donar. the thunder-god, became for them Jupiter tonans.

Woden received the name Mercury and Tiw was called Mars. The missionaries, monks and clerks

who. from the eighth century, pursued their work of conversion and were at the same time the

first to write the German language could, had they wished to, have given us a complete picture of

German mythology in the early centuries. But their chief concern was to save souls. Hence they

scarcely alluded to pagan myths except to condemn them. We should know practically nothing of

the old German beliefs if'popular' tales and epics had not preserved much that pertains to

secondary divinities, demons, giants and spirits of all sorts.

The Scandinavians alone had the heart to save and perpetuate the memory of ancient beliefs. Their

poets and scholars, even when they belonged to the Christian church, piously noted down the

legends of the pagan gods. The old collection of anonymous poems known as the Eddas, one

section of which dates from before the introduction of Christianity into Scandinavia - the songs of

the skalds, the sages, the manuals of poetry, the works of history and erudition which medieval

Iceland. Norway, Denmark and Sweden have left us, bring to life with much vigour and colour

the ancient gods of the Teutonic pantheon and their cohorts of innumerable secondary divinities.

It is almost entirely through the literature of Scandinavia that we know the legends of the great

gods like Woden-Odin and Donar-Thor. It is. then, these legends especially which will be quoted

in the following sections. But it does not therefore follow that these gods were exclusively

Scandinavian. On the contrary they were, under various names, revered by the majority of the

Teutons. Almost without exception the legends which were told among the ancestors of the

Germans and the Anglo-Saxons have not been handed down to us. Hence in any account of

Teutonic mythology the Scandinavian traditions must of necessity form a major part.


At the dawn of time, say the old bards and poets of Iceland, there was neither sand nor icy waves.

The earth did not exist, nor the sky which to-day covers it. Nowhere did grass grow. Only a

yawning abyss stretched through space. But. long before the sea was created, Niflheim, a world of

clouds and shadows, formed in the regions to the North of the abyss. In the midst of Niflheim

surged the fountain Hvergelmir, from which spread the glacial waters of twelve rivers. To the

South lay the land of fire, Muspell-shcim. From there poured rivers whose waters contained a

bitter poison which little by little set and became^ solid. On contact with the ice coming from the

North this first deposit became covered with thick coatings of hoar-frost which partly filled up the

abyss. But warm air blowing from the South began to make the ice melt; and from the tepid drops

which thus formed was bom a giant in human form. Ymir - the first of all living beings.

Ymir was the lather of all the giants. Once while he was asleep it happened that he became

completely bathed in sweat: under his left arm were then born a man and a woman, both giants

like him. At the same time the ice, continuing to melt gave forth a cow. Audumla, the wet-nurse of

the giants. Ymir quenched his thirst at her udders from which flowed four streams of milk. The

cow herself licked the blocks of ice and was nourished by the salt which

they contained. Now. in thus licking the ice which melted under her warm tongue, she brought to

light first the hair, then the head, and finally the entire body of a living being whose name was

Buri. Burl had a son Bor, who married one of the giant's daughters. Bestla. With her he fathered

the three gods Odin. Vili and Ve.

These three sons of the Giants' race at once began a struggle against the Giants which ceased only

with their annihilation. At first they killed the aged Ymir. So much blood flowed from his body

that the yawning abyss was filled with it, and in it all the Giants were drowned with the sole

exception of Bergclmir who had launched a small boat on the stormy waves and with his wife

succeeded in escaping. It was from this couple that the new race of giants issued.

Meanwhile the sons of Bor raised the inert body of Ymir from the sea and with it formed the earth

which was given the name Midgard. or the 'middle abode', for it was situated halfway between

Nifheim and Muspellsheim. The flesh of Ymir became the land and his blood the resounding sea.

From his bones the gods made mountains and from his hair the trees. Then they took his skull and

placing it on four raised pillars they made it into the vault of the heavens. In the vault they placed

the haphazard sparks which escaped from the kingdom of fire. Muspellsheim. Thus they created

the sun. the moon and the countless stars. The gods regulated their course and determined the

succession of days and nights, as well as the duration of the year. The sun. travelling across the

southern sky, threw its light and warmth over the vast stretches of the earth. And soon there

appeared the first blades of green grass.

Other gods, during this time, had come to join the sons of Bor. Where they came from and

whether they too were sons of giants the old Scandinavian authors do not say. In association with

Odin these new gods worked to build their celestial dwelling-place. In this vast abode which, was

called Asgard. 'the abode of the Aesir'. each of them had his own mansion. The North Germans

thought that these divine palaces were exactly like the great farms of their petty nobility: the chief

part was a large room, the hall, where one received visitors and gave banquets.

Between their place of residence and that of mankind the gods built a vast bridge to which they

gave the name Bifrost, which was the rainbow.

Then they assembled and deliberated on the manner in which the earth might best be peopled. In

the rotting corpse of the giant

Ymir whom Odin and his brothers had killed grubs were beginning to form. From these grubs the

gods made dwarfs to whom they gave human form and whom they endowed with reason.

Because the d,warfs were born of the flesh of Ymir, the gods decided that they should continue to

live in what had formerly been this flesh and since become earth and stone. For this reason the

dwarfs led a subterranean existence. There were no women among them and hence they had no

children. But. as and when they disappeared, two princes whom the gods had given them

replaced them by other dwarfs, moulded from their natal earth. Thus the race of dwarfs endlessly


As for men, they sprang directly from the vegetable world. Such at least was the general tradition

among the North Teutons. Three gods. Odin, Hoenir and Lodur. one day were travelling together

on the still deserted earth. On the way they came across two trees with inert and lifeless trunks.

The gods resolved to make mortals of them. Odin gave them breath. Hoenir a soul and reasoning

faculties. Lodur gave them warmth and the fresh colours of life. The man was called Ask ('Ash')

and his wife was Embla ('Vine'?). From them proceeded the entire race of man.

Tacitus in his Germanic attributes to the West Germans the ancestors of the Germans of to-day - a

different tradition. The first man, according to these tribes, was called Mannus. and his lather was

a god or a giant, bom of the earth, whose name was Tuisto. Mannus had three sons each of whom

later lathered one of the three principal groups of the German tribes. This relationship was

perhaps invented by some kind of primitive philosopher: for the names Tuisto and Mannus arc

probably not without significance. The first seems to mean 'the two-sexcd being', and the second

apparently means Man as a creature endowed with thought and will.

In the imagination of the North Teutons the earth on which man lived had the shape of a vast

circumference, surrounded everywhere by water. In the circular ocean which thus bordered the

inhabited world, and was itself only limited by the primitive abyss, there lived an immense

reptile, the Serpent of Midgard, whose countless coils encircled the earth.

Beneath Midgard there was a third world, which was not without similarities to the infernal

regions imagined by the Greeks and other peoples in antiquity. It was the abode of the dead and

the Scandinavians gave it the name of Nifheim ('Mist-world') or Neifhel. This underworld was

represented as a sombre, damp and

glacial place. In it lived giants and dwarfs whom the poets sometimes described as being covered

with snow and hoar-frost. This subterranean kingdom was the domain of the goddess Hel. Its

entrance was guarded by a monstrous dog named Garm who saw that no living person

penetrated into the world of the dead.

This division of the universe into three super-imposed worlds does not correspond to the very

oldest north Teutonic conceptions. We have already seen that their poets, explaining the origin of

the world, placed Niflheim to the north of the immense abyss from which the world was soon to

emerge. It is not impossible that in remote times the Teutons had conceived the universe merely as

a kind of vast plane: in the centre stretched the earth and beyond the ocean and the original abyss

lay vague countries inhabited by giants. Doubtless it was only later, and perhaps under the

influence of Greek or Oriental cosmogonies, that they began to represent the world of the gods,

the world of men and the world of the dead as situated one on top of the other.

Thus there is some uncertainty and even contradiction in the tales which have come down to us.

There is still another tradition which ill-accords with those just given, but which is nevertheless

familiar to all Norse poets: namely, the tradition that depicts the entire world as a tree of

prodigious dimensions. This tree whose foliage was always green was the ash tree Yggdrasil. One

of its roots reached down into the depths of the subterranean kingdom and its mighty boughs rose

to the heights of the sky. In the poetic language of the skalds Yggdrasil signified the 'Steed of the

Redoubtable' (Odin) and the gigantic tree received its name because, they said, Odin's charger was

in the habit of browsing in its foliage. Near the root which plunged into Niflhel, the underworld,

gushed forth the fountain Hvergelmir, the bubbling source of the primitive rivers. Beside the

second root, which penetrated the land of giants, covered with frost and ice, flowed the fountain

of Mimir, in which all wisdom dwelt and from which Odin himself desired to drink even though

the price demanded for a few draughts was the loss of an eye. Finally under the third root of

Yggdrasil - which according

to one tradition was in the very heavens - was the fountain of the wisest of the Norns, Urd. Every

day the Norns drew water from the well with which they sprinkled the ash tree so that it should

not wither and rot away.

In the highest branches of the tree was perched a golden cock which surveyed the horizon and

warned the gods whenever their ancient enemies, the Giants, prepared to attack them. Under the

ash tree the horn of the god Heimdall was hidden. One day this trumpet would sound to

announce the final battle of the Aesir against all those who wished to cause their downfall. Near

the vigorous trunk of the tree there was a consecrated space, a place of peace where the gods met

daily to render justice. In its branches the goat Heidrun browsed; she gave Odin's warriors the

milk with which they were nourished.

Malevolent demons continually schemed to destroy the ash Yggdrasil. A cunning monster, the

serpent Nidhogg, lurked under the third root and gnawed at it ceaselessly. Four stags wandered

among its foliage and nibbled off all the young buds. Thanks however to the care and attention of

the Norns the tree continued to put forth green shoots and rear its indestructible trunk in the

centre of the earth.

The Germans also, it seems, believed that the universe was supported by a gigantic tree. Doubtless

the architecture of their own dwellings suggested this idea: it was their habit to support the

framework of their houses by a huge tree trunk. Some German tribes set up pillars made of a

single tree-trunk on hilltops. These apparently represented the tree of the universe and such

monuments were called Irmensul, which means 'giant column". In 772 during an expedition

against the Saxons, Charlemagne, in what is now Westphalia, had one of these pillars, which was

an object of great veneration, destroyed.

This world was not eternal. In the end it would perish, and in its ruin the gods themselves would

be involved. A day would come when the Giants and the demons of evil who lived in remote or

subterranean regions of the universe would attempt to overthrow

the order established and maintained by the gods. Nor would their uprising be in vain; it would

be the Twilight of the Gods and the collapse of the universe. But before relating the death of the

gods we must describe what they had been, what their functions were, their powers and their



The Teutonic pantheon never contained a strictly defined number of divinities. The number

varied, growing or diminishing according to tribes and epochs. Certain divinities who for a time

were powerful gradually in the course of centuries lost the prestige they had once enjoyed. Others,

on the contrary, grew in power and dignity. For the Germanic gods were never thought of as more

than men of superior essence; and like men they were mortal and subject to the vicissitudes of


Three of them seem to have been the object of a cult which extended throughout the lands

inhabited by the Teutons. These were Woden, whom the Northern Teutons called Odin; Donar,

whose Scandinavian name was Thor; and Tiw - or as the Southern Germans said, Ziu - and who in

Scandinavia was named Tyr. These three gods and a few others who will be discussed later

belonged to the race of the Aesir. Besides the Aesir the Teutons - or at least the Scandinavians -

considered that there was a second race of gods, the Vanir. The most important and best known of

the Vanir was Frey. Between the Aesir and the Vanir a terrible struggle once took place which

ended in a compromise; and Frey became, like Odin and Thor, an inhabitant of Asgard. When the

great rising of the Giants took place the Aesir and the Vanir went into battle side by side, and side

by side succumbed. Conceived by a warlike people, the Teutonic gods were nearly all

distinguished for their warlike virtues. Even the goddesses, though few in number, reveal

themselves on the occasion to be fearful in battle.

The basic structure of the Teutonic pantheon is a concept shared by all the Indo-European peoples,

who are to be distinguished from all other cultural groups by a certain close correspondence

between their social and religious structure. A comparison between the religions of the most

conservative of the Indo-European groups, notably the Germans, Romans and Indo-Aryans,

reveals a tripar-tition of their society, reflected in a tripartition of their religion. This history of the

Indian caste system reveals three original groupings: a royal and priestly caste, a warrior caste,

and a caste of agricultural workers. To these correspond three types of gods: those connected with

the government of the world, both in its regular and its mysterious aspect; those connected with

force and physical strength, largely but not entirely warlike; those connected with fecundity and

all related concepts, such as peace.

health, pleasure, and the well-being of the 'plebs'. Early religious writers had seen the

correspondence between this triple division and the division of the universe into heaven,

atmosphere and earth. In India, we have the grouping of Mitra and Varuna for the first function,

Indra for the second, and the Asvin twins for the third; at Rome, there is the ancient trinity of the

ftamines ma/ores, Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus. Among the Germanic peoples, the Indo-European

inheritance is represented by Woden and Tiw in the first position, Donar in the second, and the

Vanir in the third. The representation of the first function by two divinities is a feature which the

Teutons share with the Indian peoples, and which derives from the double aspect of the

sovereignty as conceived by primitive peoples; firstly, there is the ruler who is the priest king, who

works by the incalculable and terrifying means of magic, and secondly, the king who reflects the

order of the world and of society, the constitutional monarch, as it were, who incarnates Law. The

Indian Varuna and the Germanic Woden represent the first type, Mitra and Tiw the other.

Similarly, the representation of the third function, that of fecundity, has, by the very nature of the

concept, a tendency to split up into plurality, and among the various Indo-European peoples may

be expressed, not only by a single divinity, but by twins, by a pair of gods reinforced by a goddess

or by any other large grouping. It is, therefore, only with special reservations that we can refer to

Indo-European gods as 'sky-gods' or 'storm-gods' or the like. To take one simple example: the

name of the Indian god Varuna has been identified etymologically with that of the Graeco-Roman

god Uranus (Greek, Ouranos), also a common noun for 'heaven'. This does not mean that Varuna's

- or Uranus' -original function was the personification of the sky; for the name comes from some

conception like 'master of the bond', a reference to the magical activities of the terrible master of

the world whose powers are likened to those of a bond which renders his opponents powerless

rather than to those resulting from physical force.

Woden-Odin. Woden is supposed to be the principal god of the Teutonic peoples and has been

regarded as such for centuries, especially among the ancestors of the Germans. At the time when

Tacitus described the customs of the Germans, that is to say towards the beginning of the second

century A.D., the cult of Woden prevailed over all others. When in the fifth century the Angles

and the Saxons invaded Great Britain they invoked Woden before setting out; and Woden was

regarded by them as the ancestor of their kings. The fourth day of the week still bears his name,

Wednesday, which is a direct transposition of the Eatin Mercurii dies, which in Erench became


For some time, scholars have regarded Woden as a 'jumped-up' god; originally a minor demon, he

has managed to oust the more

important divinities such as Donar. 'storm-god' or Tiw, 'sky-god'. Recent researches have shown

that this is not the case, that Woden is a prolongation of an Indo-European type. The old theory

ran as follows: In all Germanic lands the belief was widespread that on certain stormy nights the

tumultuous gallop of a mysterious troop of riders could be heard in the sky. They were believed to

be the phantoms of dead warriors. This was the 'furious army' or the 'savage hunt'. This raging

army had a leader whose name was derived from the very word which in all Germanic languages

expresses frenzy and fury (in modern German wuten,'to rage); his name was Wode. The name was

transformed as the divinity assumed more definite character in the imagination of believers;

among the ancestors of the Germans it became Woden or Wotan, among the ancestors of the

Scandinavians Odin. In the beginning this

god of nocturnal storms was represented as a horseman who, in a flowing mantle, a widebrimmed

hat and mounted on a horse, sometimes black, sometimes white, would range the sky in

pursuit of fantastic game. But as he rose in dignity he ceased to be a divinity of the night. He

became the god who granted heroism and victory and who, from on high, decided man's fate.

Furthermore he was regarded as the god of spiritual life which is doubtless why the Latins

compared him to Mercury. There is no evidence to suggest that leading the wild hunt was

Woden's original function; on the other hand, these activities concord well with Woden's position

as the magician-god of the Other World. There is no evidence, either, to suggest that the name

Wode precedes Woden', both may be synchronous, Woden signifying 'master of the Wode, or

fury', the fury which is the sign of the unchaining of all the brute forces of

this side of the stone represent, in cipher, the name of the god Thor.

the world, as distinct from its organised forces. Like Varuna, Woden rules principally by magic

and notably takes an interest in the wider universe, not only in the world of living men, but also in

the 'Other World'. Germanic mythology, and this is but a reflection of social conditions, has been

noticeably militarised, and if Woden seems to take an undue interest in battle and warriors it is

because the old 'royal' caste was more interested in war than anything else. But his shamanic

origin is more than once stressed: in spite of his patronage of battles, he does not fight in them, but

intervenes magically, making use of his Herjjoturr, his army-fetter, a paralysing panic. The fury

over which he presides, like other magician-gods, has been turned towards war; consequently he

has in a certain way become the god of war, but only by being the sovereign god and the master of

the most powerful weapon, magic.

The ancient Germans certainly provided this god - who for them surpassed all others - with

legends. But for lack of literary works in their language, none of these legends is known to us. We

only know - thanks to an old magic formula which has come down to us - that they appealed to

Woden to cure cases of sprains and dislocations. We also know that warriors invoked him in battle

and prayed to him to give them victory. But only in Scandinavian countries have legends about

his person and adventures survived.

In the North Woden was called Odin. He was the god of war and of intelligence. He was

handsome. He spoke with such ease

and eloquence that all he said seemed true to those who heard him. He liked to express himself in

verse, cadenced according to the rules laid down by the skalds. He had the power to change

himself instantly into whatever shape he wished; he would in turn become a fish or a bull, a bird,

a snake or a monster. When he advanced in battle his very approach would suddenly strike his

enemies deaf, blind and impotent.

It was Odin who ordained the laws which ruled human society. It was on his command that dead

warriors were burned with all that belonged to them on funeral pyres. For by thus taking with

him all his worldly possessions the dead warrior would find them again when he reached


Odin was armed with a shining breastplate and a golden helmet. In his hand he grasped the spear

Gungnir which had been forged by the dwarfs and which nothing could deflect from its mark. His

horse, Sleipnir, was the best and swiftest of all stallions. It had eight hooves and no obstacle

existed which it could not overcome.

One day Odin was riding in the land of the Giants. One of the inhabitants of the country, a certain

Hrungnir, admired this horseman in the golden helmet who cleaved the air and waters so

effortlessly, and began to praise the qualities of his steed. 'But,' he added. 'I myself have a stallion

which is even stronger and swifter.' Odin challenged him. Both raced across the vast plain.

Hrungnir dug his spurs into his horse, but in vain. In his wild race whenever he reached

the crest of a hill he saw Odin in front of him flying on Sleipnir towards the next crest. On another

occasion Odin wished to rescue one of his proteges, Hadding, from the pitiless enemies who were

chasing him. He took up Hadding, wrapped him in the folds of a broad cloak and placed him on

the saddle before him. Then he took him home. Now while the horse galloped the astonished

young man became curious and glanced out through a hole in the cloak. Stupefied, he saw

Sleipnir's hooves pound the waves of the sea as though the road had been paved with stone.

Odin held court in a vast hall glittering with gold which was called Valhalla. Here he summoned

to his presence the heroes whom it pleased him to distinguish among those warriors who had

fallen on the field of battle. The framework of the huge chamber was formed by spears. The roof

was covered not by tiles but by gleaming shields. Breastplates lay on the benches. In the evening

this immense hall was lighted by the flash of swords which reflected the huge fires burning in the

midst of the festive tables. There were five hundred and forty doors, each wide enough to admit

eight hundred soldiers abreast.

In this palace dead heroes passed their time in warlike games and feasts. Odin presided at their

libations. On his shoulders perched two crows who whispered in his ear all that they had heard

said and all that they had seen with their eyes. Their names were Hugin and Munin (that is,

'thought' and 'memory'). Every morning Odin sent them far and wide; they ranged all the

inhabited world, questioned the living and the dead, and returned before breakfast to bring to

their master news of the great world.

With Odin in Valhalla lived supernatural women called Valkyries. They acted as both guardians

and servants. They brought to Odin's guests beer and mead and attended to the plates and

drinking vessels needed during feasts. But their role was not only domestic;

they had more martial duties. When there was a battle on earth Odin sent them to mingle with the

combatants; it was their task to determine which warriors should fall, and they awarded victory to

the side or to the chieftain who gained their favour. They rushed ceaselessly through space on

their fiery chargers. Their appearance even was that of warriors; they wore breastplates, helmets

and shields and brandished in their hands spears of gleaming steel. They were invisible except to

those heroes who were fated to die. To him whom they had chosen to become a companion of

Odin they would appear suddenly and make his imminent fate known. Then they would return to

Valhalla and announce to Odin the impending arrival of those warriors who were about to join the

countless band of his followers.

Odin often mingled in the affairs of men, though he rarely appeared to them in the splendour of

his divinity. More often he assumed the disguise of a simple traveller. Among men he had his

favourites and to them he always awarded victory. His favour, however, was inconstant and

sometimes it happened that he himself would cause the death of a hero whom he had long

protected. But even this could be a form of benevolence since such a dead warrior was

immediately admitted to the joys of Valhalla.

There was one family to which Odin had been especially prodigal of his favours; the Volsungs. It

was said that the founder of this family, one Sigi, was one of his sons. Thanks to the protection of

his omnipotent father Sigi had been able to escape all dangers and to conquer a kingdom. He had

a son, Rerir. Rerir himself for long remained without posterity. He addressed urgent prayers to

Odin who heard him and sent his wife an apple. Rerir's wife ate the apple, and in due course gave

birth to Volsung, who became a mighty warrior. Volsung's son was Sigmund. Now one evening

when Sigmund and other warriors were seated around the great fires in a vast hall, whose centre

was supported by a huge tree-trunk, an unknown man entered. He was tall, already old, and blind

in one eye. His head was covered with a broad-brimmed hat, his body was wrapped in a wide

cloak. In his hand he carried a naked sword which he thrust up to the hilt into the tree-trunk. The

sword, he declared, should belong to him who proved strong enough to draw it out again. Then

he vanished.

Every man present attempted to wrench the sword from the tree-trunk. Only the last to try

succeeded. This was Sigmund himself, who from then on won many a victory with the aid of the

divine sword. But the day came when Sigmund grewjald. He was struggling with an adversary

when suddenly he saw before him a one-eyed man, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and wrapped

in a wide cloak. The unknown man did not speak. He simply pointed with his lance in Sigmund's

direction. Sigmund's sword broke in two pieces on the wooden shaft of the lance. The unknown

man was Odin himself who had decided that his favourite should die, and thus disarmed him

after having furnished him with the weapon of his former triumphs. Sigmund fell dying beneath

his opponent's blows. When Hjordis, his wife, heard, she hastened to the battlefield to tend his

wounds and, if possible, to save his life. But Sigmund refused all assistance: Odin desired his

death and he insisted on submitting to the god's will. He made only one dying wish: he asked that

the two fragments of his broken sword be kept so that one day they should be welded together

again. The reforged sword was, in the hands of Sigmund's son, to accomplish further glorious

exploits. This son was Sigurd - the legendary Siegfried of German tradition, the hero whom

Wagner's operas have made celebrated.

Odin was the hero of many an amorous adventure. Although he was the husband of the most

revered of the goddesses, Frigg - in German, Frija - he was no more faithful to her than she was to

him. We often find him seeking the favours of mortal women, of female giants, or of supernatural


He was not only a warlike and an amorous god, but also a god of wisdom and poetry. Many

poems recount the wise counsels he offered men and the rules of conduct which he taught them.

He was helpful and benevolent. He knew the magic formulas which cured illness, those which

rendered the weapons of the enemy powerless, those which would break a prisoner's chains,

rouse or calm the waves, make the dead speak, or gain women's love. He was naturally the lord of

the runes, since runes - those characters carved on stones or wood - always had a magic meaning

and power.

Odin had not been born with this science. He had acquired it little by little, by questioning

everybody he met in the wide world,

giants, elves, water-sprites and wood-sprites. The wisest counsellor whom he consulted was his

maternal uncle Mimir whose fountain was situated near one of the roots of the ash tree Yggdrasil.

Mimir - 'he who thinks' - was a water demon known and revered by all the Teutons. In the

fountain which bore his name all wisdom and knowledge were hidden. Odin, with his thirst to

know everything, desired to drink from this fountain, but Mimir only permitted him to do so after

he had handed over an eye as a pledge. Mimir perished during the war between the Aesir and the

Vanir. But Odin embalmed his head and pronounced magic formulas over it so that it retained the

power to answer him and tell him of things which were hidden from others.

If Odin was the god of poetry this was because he had had the skill and cunning to steal the 'mead

of the poets', the hydromel, from the giants who had it. This hydromel was of divine origin. When,

after their prolonged struggle, the Aesir and the Vanir finally concluded peace they met and spat

in turn into the same vase. From their mingled saliva they formed a man, Kvasir, who surpassed

all other men in wisdom. But two dwarfs secretly killed Kvasir and mixed his blood with honey.

They kept this mixture in two pitchers and in the cauldron Odrerir. This was how the famous

hydromel was made. It, too, received the name of Odrerir. Whoever drank of it became both a

poet and a sage.

Now, as it happened, the same two dwarfs killed the father of the giant Suttung, and Suttung

avenged himself by forcing them to give to him the precious draught. He hid it in a huge

underground chamber closed by heavy rocks and set his daughter Gunn-lod to guard it. Odin

resolved to get hold of the hydromel by stratagem. Having won the friendship of Suttung's

brother, the giant Baugi, whom he had served for a time in the capacity of valet. Odin persuaded

him to pierce a hole through the rocks which concealed Suttung's underground dwelling. He then

changed himself into a snake and glided through the hole and into the great hall. There he

reassumed his divine form and introduced himself to Suttung and Gunnlod under a false name.

His conversation was so skilful and persuasive that he succeeded in winning the father's

confidence and the daughter's love. He passed three nights at Gunnlod's side and the enamoured

giantess each night let him drink a few mouthfuls of hydromel. In three goes Odin emptied the

two pitchers and the cauldron Odrerir. Then he changed himself into an eagle and flew swiftly

away. Suttung also changed himself into an eagle and attempted to catch him in flight, but

perished in the attempt. When Odin regained Asgard he spat out the hydromel he had swallowed

into large vases, and thus jt was that he got possession of the magic beverage which, later, he

dispensed to the poets whom it pleased him to favour. A few drops which he had let escape

during his flight fell to earth; with this inferior residue bad poets had to content themselves.

One of the most extraordinary episodes in the life of Odin is the one which concerns his voluntary

self-sacrifice and resurrection. 'For nine nights,' he says in an old poem, 'wounded by my own

spear, consecrated to Odin, myself consecrated to myself. I remained hanging from the tree shaken

by the wind, from the mighty tree whose roots men know not.' The tree was the ash Yggdrasil. By

wounding and hanging himself from the branches of the world tree Odin was accomplishing a

magic rite, the purpose of which was his own rejuvenation. For the gods themselves, like men,

were doomed to decrepitude. During the nine days and nine nights that this voluntary sacrifice

lasted Odin waited in vain for someone to bring him food and drink. But, attentively observing

what lay beneath him, he perceived some runes. With an effort which made him groan aloud with

pain he managed to lift the runes, and was immediately set free by their magic power. He

dropped to the ground and discovered that he was filled with new vigour and youth. Mimir gave

him a few sips of hydromel and again Odin became wise in word and fruitful in deed. Thus was

his resurrection accomplished.

This myth of Odin's voluntary self-sacrifice has sometimes been compared to the death of Christ

on the Cross. Since legends about Germanic gods were, generally speaking, formed during the

course of the first centuries of our era one cannot automatically rule out the possibility of Christian

influence. This influence, however, was slight and the myth of Odin's resurrection appears in

strictly pagan form. Later we shall see, moreover, that Odin was never considered to be an

immortal god. The time would come when he was to perish

and disappear tor ever. This myth of Odin's self-sacrifice has very strict parallels in certain

shamanic practices from Central Asia, where initiations have as their usual scenario apparent

forms of death, including fasting, cataleptic immobility or feigned executions.

Donar-Thor. The god of thunder, whose name in old German was Donar, had been revered by all

the Teutonic tribes. Some of them even considered him as the first and most powerful of all the

gods, and Roman authors often identified him with Jupiter. Moreover, in imitation of the Romans

who dedicated one of the days of the week to Jupiter - Thursday, Jovis dies, 'jeudi' in French - the

Germans in all the lands where they became established have named Thursday after Donar (or

Thor, which is only another form of the same name). Thus the Germans still say Donnerstag and

the English Thursday.

We know, however, very little of the characteristics and attributes which the Germans of the first

centuries ascribed to this god. The very limited information which is furnished by the historians of

antiquity, the clerks of the Middle Ages, and by certain Latin inscriptions carved on votive

monuments by German soldiers in the service of Rome, scarcely permit us more than a glimpse of

the rites of the cult rendered to Donar. His appearance, adventures and functions remain obscure.

He was a much feared divinity. When the thunder rolled people believed they heard the wheels of

Donar's chariot on the vault of heaven. When the thunderbolt struck they said the god had cast his

fiery weapon from on high. This weapon was represented, it would seem, as a missile axe, or

perhaps simply as a stone hammer made to be thrown at an enemy's head. It was a form of

defence and attack which the Teutons had used from remote times, and in Northern lands this

hammer was regarded as Thor's habitual attribute.

Donar was not only the god of thunder. He was to a certain extent the god of war, since -

according to Tacitus - the Germans invoked him and chanted his glory when marching into battle.

In Germany, it seems, Donar did not enjoy a prestige equal to that ot Woden. But in certain

Northern countries, and particularly in Norway, Thor - the German Donar - finally prevailed over

all the other gods. In temples it was to Thor that the most richly ornamented altars were

consecrated. Temples were even erected to his exclusive cult and many Norwegian peasants gave

their children the name Thor in order to place them under his protection.

This distinction is understandable if we take into account the two kinds of societies. Germany,

especially at the times of the migrations, still reflected a primitive society of the religiousmonarchic

type; Scandinavia of the Eddie and saga time, in particular Norway and to an even

greater extent its colony Iceland, shows the resistance of a great number of chieftains against the

establishment of a unified monarchy of the 'Odinic' type. While kingly society looked to Woden as

its principal god, a society composed of independent warriors, relying more on physical force than

on cunning or birth, looked to Donar.

Norse poets have drawn Thor very vividly. In him they saw the very apotheosis of the warrior,

rude, simple and noble, always ready to face combat and danger, a tireless adversary of giants and

demons, a hero without fear, who disdained repose. In one of the poems of the Edda he confronts

Odin, and the poet not without humour shows Thor's gaucherie and, in spite of the nobility of his

character, something of his brutality.

In the course of his travels across the world Thor one day reached the shore of a sea inlet which he

could not cross. He hailed the ferryman on the opposite bank. Now this ferryman, who had

disguised himself and taken the name Harbard, or 'Grey Beard', was none other than Odin

himself. 'Take me to the other side,' Thor shouted to him, 'and I'll give you a share of the good

things in my sack, my oatmeal porridge and my herrings.' 'Peasant!' replied Odin. 'You are only a

penniless vagabond, a barefooted beggar, a brigand and a horse-thief. My ferry is not made for the

likes of you.' Thor then explained who he was and enumerated some of his mighty deeds. 'It was

I,' he said, 'who killed Hrungnir, the giant with a head like a rock. And what, pray, were you up to

at that time?' 'Me?' the false Harbard answered mockingly, 'I, for five years running, helped a king

to fight his enemies and I took advantage of the occasion to win the love and favours of his

daughter. Isn't that an exploit quite as glorious as yours?' 'I have also vanquished women,' said

Thor, 'and I have exterminated malevolent giants. A

thing very necessary to do, for otherwise the race of giants would increase too fast,' 'Quite,' said

Odin, 'but you also once hid yourself in terror in the glove of the giant Skrymir!' Odin was

alluding to an adventure (which will be related shortly) in which Thor had cut a rather ridiculous

figure. Less skilled than the ferryman in finding words and in marshalling his arguments, Thor

decided not to defend his reputation; instead he continued to recount the victories he had gained

against the giants of the East. 'And I, too,' Odin interrupted banteringly, 'I have been in these

Eastern parts. There I met a beautiful maiden, clad in white linen and adorned with golden jewels.

She responded to my caresses and yielded to me.' In vain Thor attempted to boast of past

triumphs; Odin continued to mock him and, refusing to take him in the ferry, sent him away. On

this occasion Thor appeared awkward and oafish. This poem reflects a distinctly Odinic attitude,

and defines clearly, though with satirical exaggeration, the distinction between the two divine

functions. 'Odin has the nobles who fall in battle, while Thor has the race of peasants.'

He was none the less the favourite god of many tribes. He was the fearless and invincible warrior

of imposing stature whose protection one hoped to obtain. His face was adorned with a long red

beard. His powerful voice rose above the tumult of battle and filled the enemy with terror.

Following his example, the Teutons would go into battle hoping to frighten their opponents with

shouts and protracted bellows. Thor's normal weapon was the stone hammer already mentioned,

which the Latins compared with the club of Hercules.

In origin this hammer was doubtless a meteorite which, they imagined, had fallen with a

thunderbolt during a storm. Afterwards a legend sprang up and it was said that this hammer was

the work of a dwarf, skilled in iron work. Never did this dreaded weapon -which was thrown -

miss its mark. Afterwards it would return of its own accord to Thor's hand and, when necessary,

become so small that he could easily hide it under his garments. It had a name.

Mjolnir, which meant The Destroyer'. A magic object, the hammer Mjolnir not only served to fight

the enemy but also to give solemn consecration to public or private treaties, and more especially to

marriage contracts. Hence Thor was for long considered in Norway as the patron of nuptials and

the protector of married couples.

In addition to this miraculous hammer Thor possessed two other talismans. One was a girdle

which doubled the strength of his limbs as soon as he belted it around his waist; and the other a

pair of iron gloves which he needed in order to grasp and hold the shaft of his hammer.

Like the other gods Thor had his own dwelling in Asgard; it was called the palace of Bilskirnir and

was situated in the region named Thrudvang, 'the field of Strength'. Bilskirnir had no fewer than

five hundred and forty rooms; it was the largest palace anyone had ever heard of. When he left it

Thor loved to roam the world in a vehicle drawn by two he-goats. This singular means of

transport on occasion took him as far as the kingdom of the dead. If, in the course of his travels,

Thor was overtaken by hunger he would kill and cook the goats. The following day he had merely

to place his sacred hammer on the hide of the dead beasts for them to leap to their feet again, alive

and ready for the road.

A certain tradition makes Thor Odin's son. But this story was only believed in those regions where

Odin was regarded as the supreme lord of all the gods. His mother, they said, was the goddess

Jord, that is to say 'the Earth'. Thor had a wife, Sif, who was the personification of conjugal fidelity.

He was the father of several children who were, like himself, distinguished for prodigious bodily

strength. His two sons Magni (Strength) and Modi (Anger) would one day inherit his hammer and

in a new-made world replace him.

As the idealised image of the Germanic warrior Thor was an immensely popular god and the hero

of numerous legends. The old bards usually took pleasure in telling how he got the better of evil

giants. It sometimes happened that Thor, who was a little lacking in finesse, would let himself be

hoodwinked by demons more subtle than himself; but as soon as it came to blows there was no

one capable of withstanding him.

One morning Thor woke up to find that his hammer was missing. Worried and not knowing what

to do, he went to ask the advice of Loki, whose wits were sharp and who was full of wile. 'The

precious hammer,' said Loki, 'has no doubt been stolen by some giant." And he offered to go

himself in search of the talisman. From the goddess Freyja he borrowed the magic robe of feathers

which enabled its wearer to fly through the air, and swiftly he reached the abode of the giants.

There he soon ran into the giant Thrym, questioned him and discovered that he was the thief. The

hammer had been hidden underground at a depth of eight fathoms. Thrym consented to return it

only if he were given the goddess Freyja as a wife. When this reply was brought back the Aesir

were thrown into a state of consternation. They assembled and deliberated but could find no way

of avoiding Thrym's demand. Then they resigned themselves to asking Freyja to accept the

proposed bargain. But Freyja refused in indignation. Her fury was so great that the veins in her

neck swelled until they burst her golden necklace which rolled to the ground. Embarrassed, the

Aesir then resolved on a stratagem. They would dress up Thor himself in women's clothes, cover

him with a bridal veil and adorn his neck with Freyja's necklace.

At first hesitating, Thor finally agreed to the scheme. Dressed as a woman he went to the land of

Thrym. Loki, disguised as a servant, accompanied him. The two Aesir were given a magnificent

welcome in the giant's palace, and Thrym immediately gave orders for the wedding banquet to be

prepared. The alleged bride ate with an appetite which astonished one and all. 'She' devoured

everything which had been reserved for the women of the palace, namely: one entire ox, eight

large salmon and numerous side-dishes. In addition 'she' drank three barrels of mead. The giant

marvelled at such voracity. The wily Loki was quick to offer an explanation. For eight days

running, he said, Freyja had refused all food and drink, so eager had she been to come to the land

of the giants.

Thrym was reassured and more smitten with love than ever. Lecherously he eyed his fiancee and

raised her veil to snatch a kiss. But when he saw the goddess's ruddy face and the lightning which

flashed from her eyes he leapt away as though he had been stung. Loki again reassured him. For

the last eight nights, he explained, Freyja had been unable to sleep, so excited was she, and so

feverish with longing to depart for the land of the giants. That was why her

eyes flashed fire. Thrym by now was impatient to make his union with Freyja legal and to give it

ritual consecration. He therefore sent for the hammer Mjolnir and ordered that it be placed,

according to the custom, on the bride's knees. Thor's heart laughed in his bosom. His hand closed

firmly on the weapon. Then throwing off his veil he brandished Mjolnir joyfully, struck down

Thrym and all Thrym's band of giants. Then contentedly he returned to the other Aesir.

Thor loved to fight not only giants but also monsters. In youth he had resolved to slay the great

serpent of Midgard whose innumerable coils caused such violent tempests in the ocean which

surrounded the earth. He travelled to distant lands where one day he asked shelter from a giant

named Hymir. The next morning Hymir was preparing to go fishing when Thor begged to come

along and help. The giant was contemptuous of the suggestion: what possible aid could be

expected from a man so young and puny? Thor was annoyed by these insulting words and with

difficulty restrained himself from letting Hymir feel the weight of his hammer then and there. But

he put off his vengeance for later. 'What sort of bait?' he asked the giant, 'ought one to take along?'

'If you don't know,' Hymir answered rudely, 'it's none of my business to tell you.' Calmly Thor

grabbed hold of one of the giant's bulls, wrenched off its head and tossed it into the boat. Then he

took the oars and began to row. Hymir who at first had regarded him sarcastically was soon

forced to admit that his guest was a first-class seaman. Some time later they reached the spot

where it was the giant's habit to fish. He had never, he said, dared row out any farther, and he

ordered Thor to ship the oars. But Thor ignored him and continued to row towards the region

where he supposed the great serpent of Midgard to be.

Then he prepared his tackle, fixed the bull's head to his hook and cast it into the sea. The serpent

immediately plunged for the bait and swallowed it greedily. It had scarcely felt the prick of the

hook before it began to thrash about wildly. It tugged on the line with such violence that Thor's

two fists were dragged and banged against the gunwales. Thor stiffened and propped his knees

against the inner boards of the boat. The boards gave way and he suddenly found himself

standing on the bottom of the sea. Thanks to this firm foothold he succeeded in lifting the serpent

and half-hoisting it into the boat. One cannot, says the old Icelandic bard, imagine a spectacle

more terrifying than Thor fixing the monster with eyes which flashed like lightning while, from

the bottom of the boat, the monster stared back at him, spitting venom. Hymir was seized with

fright. Taking advantage of a moment when Thor reached out for his hammer he approached,

knife in hand, and cut the line. The serpent wriggled free and fell back into the water. In haste

Thor threw his hammer, but he was too late: the monster had already vanished into the depths of

the sea.

A long time was to elapse before the two adversaries again found themselves face to face. Only at

the moment of the great struggle between the gods and the coalition of all their enemies did the

serpent of Midgard finally perish beneath Thor's blows. As for the giant whose cowardice had

permitted the serpent to escape, Thor struck him so roughly on the head that the blow sent him

rolling into the ocean waves where he was drowned. Then Thor peacefully regained the shore by

walking across the bottom of the sea.

It happened only once that Thor believed himself vanquished by a giant. But this was merely an

illusion; an adroit magician had succeeded in hoodwinking him. One day, accompanied by Loki

and two young peasants, Thor crossed the sea and landed in the country of the giants. The four

travellers soon arrived in a forest so vast that even after marching all day they had not reached the

end of it. When evening fell they looked for shelter and were delighted to see in the midst of the

forest a large empty house. True, it was a rather odd construction and they noted with

astonishment that the front door was as wide as the house itself. But they were travel-weary and

did not pause to examine it further. They entered, made themselves comfortable and fell asleep.

At midnight there was a sudden and violent earthquake. The floor pitched like a ship tossed by

the waves. Our travellers woke with a start, fled from the house and took refuge in a small

adjoining shed. Thor took up a position before the door, hammer in hand, prepared to repel all

enemies. All night long they heard dull sounds and rumblings in the surrounding darkness. No

one, however, made an appearance.

At dawn Thor ventured out into the forest. Soon he came upon a man of vast stature stretched on

the ground and snoring loudly. He now understood the origin of the nocturnal rumblings. In

anger he was on the point of striking the noisy sleeper with his hammer when the fellow woke up.

He jumped to his feet and introduced himself. He was a giant and his name was Skrymir. 'As for

you,' said Skrymir to the silent god, 'there's no need to ask your name. You are Thor, the As. But

tell me, where have you dragged my glove?' Stupefied, Thor then realised that he and his three

companions had spent the night in the giant's glove which they had mistaken for a house. The

small shed in which they had afterwards taken refuge was the thumb of the glove.

Skrymir joined Thor's little group and even politely offered to carry the sack in which they kept

their food on his own back. All day the five companions continued the journey together and when

night came they halted beneath an oak. Skrymir, saying he was exhausted, stretched out on the

ground and immediately fell asleep.

Meanwhile Thor, Loki and the two young peasants, who were dying of hunger, began to loosen

the knots of the sack which contained the food they had brought; but discovered that they could

not. The giant had tightened the knots in such a fashion that all efforts to untie them failed. Thor

was seized with rage. He grasped his hammer and brought it down smartly on Skrymir's head.

The giant half woke up. 'It seemed to me', he yawned, 'that a leaf fluttered down on my head.'

Then he dropped off to sleep again.

Some hours later Thor, whose irritation had only increased, again struck the giant. This time he

put such strength behind the blow that the head of the hammer sank deep into the giant's skull. 'It

felt,' murmured the giant, waking up, 'almost as though an acorn dropped on my head.' And he

closed his eyes again.

By daybreak Thor was unable to control himself and he landed Skrymir such a blow on the temple

that the hammer disappeared up to the shaft. The giant sat up and rubbed his cheek. 'Birds,' he

said, 'probably perched up there in the tree. Some of their droppings

seem to have fallen on me.'Then, turning towards Thor, he inquired: 'Are you awake? It's time to

be off. You're not far from Utgard where you're going. There you'll find fellows much stronger

than I.' And buckling up his sack he disappeared into the forest.

Thor, Loki and their two companions continued the journey alone and towards midday arrived in

front of a great fortified castle. Its walls were so high that the travellers had to throw back their

heads to see the battlements. The entrance was barred by a heavy grille. In vain the gods

attempted to open it. In the end they had to slide through the bars. They then walked forward and

entered a huge hall where numerous giants were assembled. King Utgardaloki, lord of the castle,

scarcely bothered to return their salute. He shrugged contemptuously and ironically inquired if it

could be true that the puny weakling he beheld was the celebrated god Thor. He added that no

one was authorised to enter the castle without first proving by some noble deed that he was

worthy to approach those who lived there. It would thus be necessary that each of the newcomers

measure his prowess, in the art he best understood, with one of the giants here present.

Loki first stepped forward. He boasted of his prowess in eating, much and quickly. The king gave

him the giant Logi for an opponent. The two contestants were served with vast quarters of meat

on plates as big as vats. In a brief space of time Loki had eaten all his meat, leaving behind nothing

but the bones. But his adversary had, in the meantime, gulped down both meat and bones, and the

plate as well.

Then came the turn of the young peasant Thjalfi. He claimed to be able to outrun any man or any

giant. For an opponent he was given Hugi. Thjalfi ran as quickly as lightning itself, but in vain:

Hugi left him far behind.

At last it was Thor's turn to show his skill. No one, he declared with complete assurance, could

drink as much or as quickly as he. Utgardaloki then sent for the horn which the warriors of his

establishment were accustomed to empty in one, or at the most, two

draughts. Thor seized the drinking horn and once, twice, thrice took long, deep draughts. But,

when he put it down again, the level of the liquid was scarcely lower than when he had begun.

Thor was covered with confusion and, in order to regain the company's esteem, willingly accepted

a second test of his valour. They invited him to lift a certain cat from the ground where he was

sitting. Thor bent down and seized the animal. With all his might he struggled to lift it, but the cat

was immovable. At most one of its paws rose an inch or two from the ground. 'Would you,'

Utgardaloki then suggested, 'care to wrestle with Elli, my nurse? She is only a poor old woman.'

Thor accepted the challenge, but the more he struggled the more unshakable his adversary

appeared to become. In the end it was Thor himself who fell on one knee.

Bitterly humiliated, the Aesir next morning prepared to take their departure. But before they left

their host, Utgardaloki, suddenly decided to explain what had actually occurred the day before.

'Never,' he told Thor, 'would I have dared admit you to my castle had I known that your strength

was so terrifying. It was 1 myself whom you met in the forest. I called myself Skrymir. The blows

of your hammer would infallibly have killed me had I not protected my head with solid

mountains.' And he showed Thor the chain of mountains nearby and pointed out the deep valleys

which Thor's hammer had dug.

Then he explained why the gods had been vanquished in the tests he had proposed. If Loki had

been unable to equal his opponent, it was because that opponent had been fire itself - for such is

the meaning of the word Logi. If Thjalfi had been outrun by Hugi, it was because Hugi was none

other than 'thought'. Finally Thor had been unable to empty the drinking-horn because the end of

the horn was plunged into the inexhaustible sea. Thor had, however, actually succeeded in

slightly lowering the sea-level and had thus produced the first ocean tides. The beast whom he

thought was a cat, was in reality the serpent of Midgard whose coils surrounded the earth itself

and when he lifted its paw earthquakes had shaken the world. As for the old woman with whom

Thor had wrestled in vain, she was Elli, old age itself, which no one could ever conquer.

When he learned how he had been made a fool of Thor seized up his hammer to kill Utgardaloki,

but the enchanter had already vanished and with him the castle. Around him Thor saw only the

great deserted plain and the grass which grew there.

Thus, even though Thor sometimes appeared rather simple and even a little slow-witted, he never

failed to win the Teutons' admiration for the might of his arm and his physical courage. He is

found again in many a legend; for in the end he took part in the career of practically every other


Tiw-Tyr. This god, in spite of many scholars who have claimed him as the original great god of the

Germanic peoples, belongs to the same stratum as Donar and Woden. The South Germans gave

him the name Ziu, the North Germans Tiuz. The Scandinavians called him Tyr, the Anglo-Saxons

Tiw. It is generally admitted that all these Germanic appellations correspond to the Sanskrit

dyaus, the Greek Zeus and the Latin Deux. If this is the case, then the Germanic names for the god

must derive from a common Indo-European name which began by simply signifying 'divinity'.

Later the name in many countries designated the sky god. Originally Tiw had been a god

corresponding to the Indian Mitra, who was patron of the legal side of government, but with the

gradual militarisation of Germanic society, he had gradually been restricted to the field of rules

governing battle, at which time the Romans identified him with their Mars, and the Latin Marl/s

dies (French Mardi) by transposition became the day of Tiw, or Tuesday; and finally he was

relegated to a position of very minor importance. In German the same god had a second name

which was Things, and from which the German Tuesday, Dienslag, is derived.

Perhaps it is Tiw who is alluded to in a curious Latin inscription on a Roman altar discovered at

Housesteads in Northumberland, near to Hadrian's Wall. This altar dates from the third century

and was erected by German soldiers serving with the Roman legions. It bears this Latin

inscription: 'Deo Marti Thincso el duabus Alaisiagis Bede el Fimmiline el numini Augusti Germani

cives Tuihanti v. s. 1. m. (volum solverunl libenler memo).' That is: To the god Mars Thincsus and

to the two goddesses Alaisiages Beda and Fimmilina and to the majesty of the divine Augustus

the German citizens ofTwenthe address this merited homage. (The province

of Twenthe was north of the Rhine on the present frontiers of Holland and Germany.)

The epithet Thincsus shows that Tiw was seen as a Mars, who presided over the thing, the

assembly where discussions of the community are regulated according to law. It has been pointed

out that Tiw's spear is less a weapon than a sign of juridical power.

The two goddesses Beda and Fimmilina are quite unknown. The interpretation of their names and

also of the term Alaisiages which applies to them both presents the greatest difficulties. But it is

agreed that they were probably Teutonic goddesses.

Since Donar very early pushed Tiw into the background, Tiw occupies a very small place in

German legend. Traditions about him are scarcely more abundant in the North. The name Tyr,

however, occurs fairly often in Norse poetry. The skalds attempted to bring Tyr into the great

family of Teutonic divinities. Some made him son of the giant Hymir, others said that he was the

son of Odin. He was supposed to be extremely brave and enterprising. It was often he who

awarded victory to one of the sides engaged in combat. Thus it was prudent to invoke him when

going into battle.

In one legend the poets give him the leading role, a tale which bears witness to the energy of his

character. An oracle had warned the gods that the giant wolf Fenrir was one of their most

dangerous enemies whom it would be wise to reduce to a state in which it could do no harm. They

decided not to kill it - for that would be to soil consecrated ground - but instead to chain it up.

Twice they had chains forged, but the wolf Fenrir had only to stretch himself in order to break

them. Then they begged the dwarfs to fashion a chain which nothing could break.

Soon the dwarfs brought them a wonderous chain composed of six ingredients: the miaul of a cat,

the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the tendons of a bear, the breath of a fish and the

spittle of a bird. This chain was supple and soft as a silk ribbon and yet of a solidity which passed

every test. The gods, now confident that they could bind Fenrir, threw him a challenge. Each of

them, they said, had tried to break the chain and none had succeeded. They proposed that the

wolf should have a try in order to show his strength.

But Fenrir was full of suspicion, fearing a trap. He did not wish to appear a coward, however, and

consented to make the attempt, but on one condition: one of the gods must, he insisted, place a

hand in his jaws. In case of trickery the hand would be bitten off. The Aesir exchanged glances.

Knowing full well the trickery which had been planned, none was prepared to sacrifice a hand.

Tyr then calmly extended his right hand and placed it between the wolf's jaws. The other gods

bound Fenrir who then attempted to break the chain. But the more he struggled the tighter the

bonds became. When they saw that his efforts were vain the gods began to laugh. Only Tyre

refrained from laughter; for he knew what was coming. And indeed the wolf, understanding that

he had been outwitted, bit off the god's right hand at the wrist. Thenceforth Tyr was one-handed.

It is significant that Tiw's most important appearance in mythology is in a matter of legal contract.

With Woden, he forms a couple which is found elsewhere among the Indo-European peoples, the

one-handed and the one-eyed, the man of law and the man of magical fury.

Loki. Loki is not one of the oldest gods in the Germanic pantheon, but in Scandinavian legend his

name appears as often, if not more often, than those of Odin or Thor. It seems certain that he was

at first regarded as a benevolent divinity; but little by little they preferred to represent Loki as a

kind of superior demon, almost always occupied with making mischief. Among the gods he was a

sort of enfant terrible. He shared their lives and on many occasions zealously served them, and yet

he almost never ceased working to undermine their power. It was he in the end who brought

about their downfall. Thus we should know something about him as a prelude to an account of

the 'Twilight of the Gods'. He was, however, a creation of Scandinavian imagination only. He

belonged in no way to the communal tradition of the whole Germanic peoples. It is above all the

skalds of the ninth and tenth centuries whose poems have preserved the story of his adventures.

Loki was first conceived as a fire demon. His name is related to a Germanic root which signifies

'flame'. His father was Farbauti, 'who by striking gave birth to fire'. His mother was Laufey, 'the

wooded isle', who furnished material for lighting the fire. Popular

locutions still current in Scandinavian countries frequently associate his name with phenomena in

which fire plays a part. In Norway, for example, when a fire is heard crackling on the hearth they

say that Loki is thrashing his children.

This former demon slowly grew in dignity. In the legends in which he plays a part he always

appears as one of the Aesir. At the beginning of time Loki and Odin exchanged vows of friendship

which, consecrated by ritual practices honoured among the Germans, made the two gods 'blood

brothers'. Loki was handsome, attractive and very attentive to the goddesses who rarely resisted

him. There was something of the diabolic about him; and as the legends concerning him are of

rather late invention it is not impossible that he was attributed with certain traits borrowed from

the medieval Christian conception of the Devil. v

We have already seen how Loki helped Thor to recapture the hammer which the giant Thrym had

stolen. Loki was not always so helpful. When his own interests were at stake he did not hesitate to

betray this same Thor. One day he borrowed from the goddess Freyja her falcon-plumed robe, put

it on and flew through the air. Soon he reached the house of the giant Geirrod and landed on the

roof. The giant perceived this singular bird, caught it and put it into a cage. For three months Loki

thus remained a prisoner. Geirrod, not content with depriving him of his liberty, also refused to

feed him. At the end of the three months Geirrod had the captive bird brought before him, and

only then did Loki decide to explain who he was. He begged the giant to release him.

Geirrod consented to do so only on condition that Loki undertook to deliver to him the most

powerful and redoubtable of all the Aesir: Thor himself. He also insisted that Thor should be

turned over to him without the attributes which rendered him invincible; that is, without his

hammer, his iron gloves and the girdle which lent him supernatural strength. Loki accepted all

these conditions and seemed to find it quite natural to betray one of the Aesir in order to get

himself out of a scrape. He was then set at liberty and returned to Asgard where by means of

specious arguments and illusory promises he persuaded Thor to depart for Geirrod's abode,

leaving behind his girdle, gloves and hammer. Thor would have been irretrievably lost had he not

on the road met the giantess Grid who was devoted to him and who had borne him a child, the As

Vidar. Grid put him on his guard against the wily Geirrod and lent him her own gloves, girdle

and magic wand. Thanks to these talismans Thor succeeded in avoiding Geirrod's cunningly laid

traps and, indeed, in killing the giant and all his followers. But it was not Loki's fault that Thor did

not fall into the power of one of the enemies of the gods.

On another occasion it was a goddess whom Loki was ready to sacrifice. He was wandering the

earth one day with Odin and Hoenir. The three gods were famished and they had stopped to roast

an ox. But an eagle, perched in a tree above them, cast a spell which prevented the meat from

cooking - unless the gods promised to accept him as their table-mate. After the gods had acceded

to this demand, the eagle claimed the best cuts of the roast. Annoyed by this Loki grabbed a rod

and struck the intruder. The eagle flew away, carrying with it the rod which remained fixed to its

body, together with Loki himself who was unable to let go. Dragged across the ground, bruised

and bleeding, Loki begged for mercy.

Now the eagle was a giant named Thjazi. Delighted to have captured a god, Thjazi immediately

imposed conditions. Loki should recover his liberty only if he swore a solemn oath to deliver to

Thjazi the goddess Idun and the apples she possessed, miraculous apples which had the power of

preserving youth. Idun was one of the inhabitants of Asgard and it was thanks to her magic

apples that the gods never grew old. Ignoring the harm he would cause the Aesir, Loki at once

agreed to Thjazi's demands. He lured Idun into the forest on the pretext of showing apples to her

that were even more beautiful than those she normally offered to the gods. Thjazi, arriving as

arranged, seized the goddess and dragged her off to his abode.

The Aesir were not long in noticing the absence of Idun. Deprived of the apples to which they

owed their imperishable vigour they began to grow old. They turned on Loki with such threats

that he had no alternative but to promise to bring Idun back again. He assumed the form of a

hawk and flew towards the kingdom of the giants. He found Idun, changed her into a nut and

carried her back towards Asgard. But Thjazi at once realised what had occurred and,

changing himself into an eagle, sped through the air after Loki. He might have overtaken him had

the gods not hastily built a huge bonfire in which the eagle, as it reached Asgard, burned its

wings, fell and was consumed.

Thor's wife, Sif, also suffered from Loki's malice. One day he craftily cut off her lovely tresses.

When Thor discovered this he seized Loki in his powerful grip and began industriously to break

his bones. Loki cried for mercy and swore an oath that he would persuade the dwarfs to fashion

for Sif tresses of pure gold which would grow of their own accord like natural hair. Thor calmed

down and Loki visited the forges of the dwarfs, sons of Ivaldir. They promised to make not only

the golden tresses but a ship, Skidbladnir, which as soon as its sails were hoisted would speed

straight towards the desired destination, and also a spear, Gungnir, which would never stop in

flight. The two latter talismans were intended for Odin.

Next the imprudent Loki bet a dwarf named Brokk that his brother Sindri, in spite of the great

reputation of his skill, would not be able to make such marvels as those which the sons of Ivaldir

made. Brokk and Sindri at once set to work. Fearing that they might win the bet - in which his

own head was at stake - Loki assumed the form of a gadfly and began to sting and harass them in

order to distract them from their work and thus prevent them from finishing it. The two brothers

nevertheless succeeded in fashioning the ring Draupnir, which had the virtue of making its owner

constantly richer; the golden boar which later belonged to the god Frey, and Thor's famous


The Aesir were chosen to arbitrate. They declared that Thor's hammer surpassed anything that

any dwarf had yet made and that such a treasure would for ever be Asgard's chief protection. The

dwarfs Brokk and Sindri had thus won the wager - and Loki's head therefore belonged to them.

Loki at first tried to arrange a compromise. Brokk refused it. 'I am yours, then,' said Loki, 'take

me.' But as the dwarf was about to seize him Loki vanished. Loki, as it happened, was the owner

of shoes which could, at will, immediately carry him beyond the earth and the sea.

The dwarf then went to Thor and complained. Thor lost no time in recapturing the fugitive and

handing him over to Brokk. Brokk assured of his rights, announced his intention of cutting Loki's

head off. But Loki's resources were not yet exhausted and he began to discuss the matter with

vivacity. It was, he admitted, quite true that Brokk had a right to his head, but in the wager

nothing had been said about his neck. The dwarf must not, then, remove the slightest part of his

neck. Brokk, whose mind was less fertile in such quibbles, did not know what to reply to this fine

point. In his embarrassment he resolved at the very least to sew the deceiver's lips together so that

he could no longer take advantage of people. He pierced Loki's lips with an awl, and threading

stout cord through the holes, knotted it firmly. The precaution was in vain. Loki succeeded in

tearing the cord away and thus lightly escaped from a dangerous adventure.

In the end Loki's treachery and love of intrigue got him into trouble with all the other gods. A

curious scene in one of the poems of the Eddas shows him insulting all the gods of Asgard one

after another. A giant, Aegir, lord of the seas, had invited all the gods and

all the goddesses to a great feast. Only Thor, who was then travelling in Eastern lands, was absent.

A good time was had by all and Aegir's guests were enjoying the simple pleasures of the banquet

when suddenly Loki forced open the door of the hall.

Loki had not been invited to the feast, for there was no one against whom he had not played some

shabby trick. At the sight of him everyone fell silent. But this frigid welcome did not alter Loki's

plans. He began modestly, almost with humility. He was, he explained, only a thirsty traveller.

Surely the gods would not refuse him the cup which was given, unasked for, to all passers-by,

even strangers. No one answered him. He continued, with affected moderation: let them at least

offer him a chair, according to the laws of hospitality; or else let them at least say in so many

words that they refused to welcome him.

The gods discussed the matter among themselves and, wishing to respect custom, were inclined to

make a place for him among them. Only Bragi, the god of poetry, whose duty it was to welcome

the newly arrived, insisted on refusing Loki the seat which he desired. Loki, without yet

abandoning his courteous manners, turned towards Odin and reminded him how in the old days

they had sworn to be blood brothers. Odin was touched by the memory and ordered Vidar to give

up his seat to Loki. A cup was brought and filled according to usage.

Loki began by drinking the health of all the gods present. He added, however, that his good

wishes did not extend to Bragi. Bragi, wti, wished to restore peace, apologised for the wounding

words he had spoken. He did even more: he offered a horse, a sword and some rings as a mark of

reconciliation. But Loki, far from accepting the apology, assumed a haughty tone. Bragi, he said,

was a coward; he fled from combat and, while the others exposed themselves to danger, lolled

shamelessly on the benches. Bragi, indignant, was about to reply, but his wife Idun begged him

not to answer such calculated calumnies.

The contempt which Idun's words betrayed merely fanned Loki's anger. He then attacked all the

gods in the hall. In pitiless detail he reminded each of them of the most scandalous episodes in his

past life. Nor did he spare the goddesses. There was not one whom he did not accuse of being

unfaithful to her husband; he boasted that he himself had enjoyed the favours of many of them.

And he named them. With savage delight he confessed to the gods the crimes of which he was

voluntarily guilty against each of them. In vain Aegir's guests attempted to return insult for insult.

Not one of them could stand up to Loki. Even Odin, who was always praised for his presence of

mind and eloquent tongue, was disconcerted by the flood of mockery and abuse which flowed

from Loki's lips. Sif approached him and held out a cup of mead, begging him to put an end to the

dispute. Loki's response was a further string of insults. He boasted that he had held her in his

arms, happy and consenting. she, the wife of the great Thor.

But scarcely had the name of the storm-god been pronounced when in the distance a long

rumbling was heard in the mountains. It was Thor who rode in his chariot in the midst of the

sounding tempest. He entered the hall, majestic and terrible, commanding

silence. In a final outbreak of vituperation, Loki risked reminding the most powerful of all the

gods of the humiliating role he had once played in the castle of the enchanter Utgardaloki. Thor

brandished his hammer and looked as though he were about to smash in the insulter's skull. Loki

was for the first time intimidated: he retreated, but before he left the hall he issued a final threat.

Never again, he said to the giant Aegir, would he be able to give a feast like tonight's; for very

soon his palace and all that he possessed would be destroyed by flame.

In these words the vindictive Loki announced not only the fate of Aegir's palace, but the burning

of the entire world. We shall see later what grim events followed Loki's menacing words.

Heimdall. Among the great Aesir must be counted Heimdall. But of this god who certainly held

an important place in Germanic mythology almost nothing is known. He is familiar to us only

through the allusions which the poets make to his person, role and power.

He was a god of light. His name probably signifies 'he who casts bright rays'. He may in particular

represent the morning light, the dawn of day. He may also personify the rainbow.

In the Indo-European perspective, he occupies a particularly important position, corresponding to

that of the Indian Vayu and the Roman Janus. He is the god who presides over the ambiguous

beginnings of things, over the prima as distinct from the summa. Like the guardian Janus, he is

guardian of the gods, installed on the threshold of the world of the gods, born in the most ancient

times and ancestor of gods and men, considered in their social classes. In the divine assembly, it is

he who speaks first, and eschatologically it is he who opens the final phase of the world at the

Twilight of the Gods.

The Scandinavians, who are the only Teutons by whom he is mentioned, depict him as tall and

handsome. His teeth are of pure gold. He was armed with a sword and mounted on a charger

with a glittering mane. He was normally to be found near the great bridge Bifrost (the rainbow)

which led from the dwelling-place of men to that of the gods. He was the guardian of this road,

the divine sentinel, who warned the Aesir of the approach of their enemies. He required less sleep

than a bird. He could see at night as easily as during the day. He could hear the grass growing on

earth and the wool on the backs of sheep. He owned a trumpet the sound of which could be heard

throughout the world.

He was the sworn enemy of Loki. Loki had only contemptuous laughter for the monotonous

sentinel-duty which Heimdall performed, and for the long periods during which he was obliged

to remain at the gates of Asgard. Since the beginning of time, as Loki ironically remarked,

Heimdall had had to sit, getting his back wet, at his post. But this modest and noble god was able,

on occasion, to chastise the diabolical Loki. One day Loki happened to steal the goddess Freyja's

necklace. He went to hide it under a reef situated in the far-off Western sea. But Heimdall in the

guise of a seal also slipped under this reef and after a fierce struggle with Loki - who had also

turned himself into a seal - succeeded in taking possession of the necklace and restoring it to


In the final struggle in which the gods fought for their very existence it was, as we shall later see,

Heimdall who struck Loki the fatal blow. But he, too, fell beneath his adversary's blows.

Balder. Balder, like Heimdall, was a god of the light. He was the son of Odin and the goddess

Frigg. He was so beautiful that he shed radiance around him. None of the Aesir was his equal in

wisdom. It was enough to see or hear him to love him. He was the favourite of the gods.

Balder was not only revered in Scandinavia. He was equally popular in Germany. One celebrated

magic formula in old German shows him riding with the god Woden. While trotting, his horse

sprains a foot, but with a few words filled with esoteric virtue Woden cures it. It is only, however,

in the Northern lands that legends of Balder have been preserved. These legends are mainly

connected with the history of his death, which was brought about by Loki's malice.

Balder's life had for long been filled with harmony and happiness. But a time came when he was

troubled by dreams and presentiments of evil. He explained his disquietude to the other Aesir.

Since they were all immensely fond of him they made an effort to forestall the

obscure dangers which seemed to threaten. The goddess Frigg begged every being and thing on

earth - fire, metal, water, stones and minerals, plants and trees, illnesses, beasts, birds and

venomous creatures - to swear an oath never to harm Balder. All undertook this solemn

engagement. Balder from then on was invulnerable and the Aesir, as a game, submitted him to

various tests. They placed him in the midst of their assembly and shot arrows at him, threw stones

or struck him with their weapons. But no projectile, no blow caused him the slightest damage. He

remained unwounded and unhurt, to the hilarious mirth of the company.

Loki watched the spectacle and in secret his heart was full of loathing. He assumed the appearance

of an old woman and went to see Frigg in her palace. Feigning ignorance, he asked why the gods

were so amused. She told him what she had done and how everything on earth had promised to

spare Balder. 'Everything? Really everything?' said Loki. 'Have you forgotten nothing?' 'I only

overlooked one small plant,' said Frigg. 'It grows to the west of Valhalla and is called Misteltein

(mistletoe). It seemed too young to ask it to take an oath.'

Without further inquiries Loki left Frigg and, reassuming his normal shape, hastened to gather the

mistletoe from the place indicated. Then he returned to the great field where the gods continued to

hurl inoffensive objects at Balder. He turned to one of them, Hod, who held back from the sport

because he was blind. 'Why are you not taking part in the game?' Loki asked. 'Why do you not

throw something at Balder?' 'It is because I cannot see,' Hod said. 'Besides, I have no weapon.' 'In

that case,' said Loki, 'try this wand. Throw it. I will direct you.' Hod took the branch of mistletoe

and flung it towards Balder. It pierced him and Balder fell dead. The Aesir, aghast, wept bitterly at

the loss of their fair companion. Willingly would they have punished Loki's crime then and there,

but the place where they were assembled was consecrated to peace. There it'was forbidden to spill

blood and no one dared infringe the law.

When they had recovered from their first shock of grief they began to deliberate. Frigg asked if

there was not among them one who was prepared to descend into the kingdom of Hel (that is, the

kingdom of the dead) to rescue Balder. To him who dared, no matter who he was, she promised

her favours in advance. One of Odin's sons, Hermod, at once leapt astride Sleipnir, his father's

famous charger, and set forth.

Meanwhile the gods bore the body of Balder to the sea and built the funeral pyre on the boat

which had once belonged to him. On it they placed the dead god. Thor, raising his hammer

solemnly in the air, gave the pyre its ritual consecration, and then it was set on fire. Balder's horse,

fully accoutred, was led to the pyre and the flame consumed him at the same time that it

consumed the body of his master. Almost all the gods attended the funeral and even many giants

were present, come from their lands of ice and mountains.

While Balder was paid this final tribute Hermod continued his journey through deep and

shadowy valleys. For nine days he never left the saddle. He finally reached the river Gjoll at the

edge of the underworld. It was crossed by a bridge covered with gold. From the guard he learned

that Balder had travelled this way last night with five hundred men. Hermod pursued his way

and at last reached the barred gates of the Kingdom of Hel.

There for an instant he dismounted, tightened his saddle-girth, then remounting dug spurs into

his steed which leapt the gates at a bound, without even brushing them with its hooves. He

penetrated Hel's palace and in the great hall, occupying the seat of honour, he saw the object of his

search, his brother Balder. As it was already late he let the night pass before approaching Hel. But

early the next morning he explained to the goddess of the infernal regions why the Aesir had sent

him here. He beseeched her to allow Balder to return with him to Asgard. Hel was not without

pity. If, she said, it was truly the desire of every being and thing in the world that Balder should

return to Asgard, then she would willingly set him free. If, on the other hand, there was a single

being in the universe who refused to weep for Balder, then she would be obliged to keep him with


Hermod returned with this reply to the Aesir. The Aesir then sent forth messengers throughout

the world, begging everyone and everything to display his or its grief. At the gods' request the

entire world, men and beasts, earth and stones, wood and metal, began to weep for Balder. But

when the messengers, delighted with the

success of their mission, were returning to Asgard they perceived in a mountain cavern a certain

giantess named Thokk who, in spite of their supplications, refused to shed a single tear. 'Neither

during his life nor after his death,' she said, 'has Balder rendered me the slightest service. Let Hel

keep what is hers.'

Now this elderly giantess was Loki himself who, thus disguised, had found a means of making

sure that Balder never returned.

The Vanir: Njord and Frey. The Aesir were not the only Teutonic gods. In Scandinavia, and

especially in Sweden, they also believed in the existence of another race of gods, the Vanir. While

the Aesir were above all regarded as warrior gods, the Vanir were pacific and benevolent. They

provided the fields and pastures and forests with sunlight and life-giving rain. Plants, animals and

men themselves multiplied under their guardianship. It was in Spring and Summer that men

enjoyed the abundance of their gifts. From them came the harvests, game, and all kinds of riches

in general. The Vanir were also the protectors of commerce and navigation.

One Nordic tradition reports that war broke out one day between the belligerent Aesir and the

peace-loving Vanir. For some time, scholars imagined that this is a symbolic and poetic account of

a conflict which took place in the Scandinavian area between the worshippers of Odin and those

of Frey, based on the assumption that the cult of Odin was not introduced into Northern lands

until that of Frey was already widespread. But recent investigation has shown that this is not the

case, and the war of the Aesir and the Vanir is the continuation of an Indo-European myth

represented in India by the struggle of the Nasatya to enter divine society, and at Rome in the

mythical history of the war of the Romans and the Sabines. The Vanir have, in fact, no existence

apart from those who were sent to Asgard in order to complete the divine society in its triple

function of sovereignty, force and fecundity.

However this may be, the following is what the Scandinavian poets and scholars told:

One day the Vanir sent to the Aesir - on a mission which is not explained - a goddess by the name

of Gullveig. This goddess was highly skilled in all the practices of sorcery and by her art had

acquired much gold. When, alone, she reached the Aesir they were, it is supposed, tempted by her

riches. They seized her and submitted her to savage torture. The Vanir demanded satisfaction.

They insisted that either a large sum in money should be paid in reparation, or else that their rank

should be recognised as equal to that of the Aesir so that they henceforward would receive an

equal right to the sacrifices made by the faithful. After taking counsel the Aesir decided to settle

the question by fighting. But in the long and cruel war which followed they were very often

defeated by their adversaries. They therefore came to an understanding and resigned themselves

to treating the Vanir as their equals. On both sides hostages were exchanged. The Aesir turned

over the robust Hoenir and the wise Mimir. The Vanir sent their former enemies the mighty Njord

and his son Frey who, from then on, lived in Asgard and were often confused with the Aesir.

The relationship between the three Vanir, Njord, Frey and Freyja, is a complex one. Tacitus

mentions a female deity Nerthus who personified the maternal earth, but says nothing about a

male consort. In historical times, the Scandinavian Njord is a male divinity accompanied by a son

and a daughter. Three theories have been put forward to account for the difference in sex between

Nerthus and Njord: the first, which is the stranger but the more widely accepted is that a change

in grammatical gender in nouns brought about the change in sex in the divinity; the second, which

follows on from the first, is that this grammatical change was aided by the fact that Nerthus was,

in fact, a bisexual deity; the third suggests a mistake on the part of Tacitus, who assumed that the

major fertility deity of the Teutons would be an earth mother, as in Mediterranean lands. However

this may be, the whole of the representation of the fertility function among the Scandinavians has

been rearranged; it should be noted that Frey and Freyja are not properly speaking names, but

epithets meaning Lord and Lady, and could perhaps have displaced some earlier proper names

like Nerthus-Njord.

Tradition does not ascribe to this father and son functions which are noticeably different. Both are

dispensers of wealth, the guarantors of oaths and the protectors of navigation.

Njord's favourite place of residence was at Noatun, on the shores

of the sea. He almost always remained there whereas his wife, Skadi, preferred the mountains.

Skadi was the daughter of the giant Thjazi. We have already seen how Thjazi with Loki's

complicity, succeeded in getting possession of the goddess Idun and how he perished as an eagle

in the flames when he attempted to recapture her. His daughter Skadi undertook to avenge him

and armed herself to attack the Aesir. But the gods did not care to fight with a woman and in

reparation offered her the choice of one of themselves for a husband. They all stood behind a

curtain, leaving only their bare feet visible. Skadi studied the god's feet at length, trying to guess

by their shape and instep to whom they belonged. She was burning with desire to obtain Balder

for a husband: he was the noblest, most handsome and desirable of all the Aesir. Finally she made

her choice: the god she pointed out was so well made that surely he could be none other than

Balder. But it was Njord.

Faithful to the arrangement she had made with the gods Skadi married him. But she wanted to

continue living where her ancestors had dwelt, which was among the high rocky uplands. After

passing several days with her in these rude surroundings Njord returned to a more smiling land,

explaining: 'The song of the swan seems sweeter to me than the howling of wolves.' To this Skadi

replied: 'Here at the seashore the sharp cry of the birds disturbs my sleep. Every morning I am

wakened by gulls.' And she returned to the mountains of her birth. She was an indefatigable

huntress who on her snow-shoes constantly roved the icy slopes and who always came home

laden with game.

Frey was the son of this ill-assorted couple. He was the only Van who in some regions achieved a

popularity equal to that of the Aesir, Odin and Thor. In Sweden especially, at Uppsala, his cult

was practised. The largest and most splendid of all his temples was erected there. Animals were

sacrificed to him and sometimes human beings. His festivals were marked by great rejoicing,

dances and games.

Like Odin and Thor he possessed valued servants and wonderworking talismans. He had a horse

which crossed mountains and torrents in spate like wind and did not draw back even when faced

with flame. He owned a sword which flashed through the air of its own accord: unhappily he

gave away this sword and he had sore need of it during the great struggle between the gods and

their enemies the giants and demons. If Thor had two he-goats to draw his chariot, Frey had a

golden boar, armed with redoubtable tusks. This boar had been forged by the dwarfs Brokk and

Sindri. It sped through the air or across the earth more quickly than a galloping horse. As soon as

it appeared the night would be illuminated. Other dwarfs built for Frey the ship Skidbladnir

which no other boat was capable of following at sea. As soon as its sails were hoisted it made

straight for the desired port of destination. This ship was large enough to take all the Aesir,

together with their weapons and equipment. On the other hand, when it was not in use at sea Frey

could easily fold it up and carry it in one of his pockets.

Prey's wife, like his mother, belonged to the race of giants. He was drawn to her by irresistible

love. One day while sitting on Odin's throne he amused himself by contemplating from on high

that which was taking place on earth. In the kingdom of the giants he suddenly observed a

maiden of incomparable beauty coming out of her father's house. She was Gerda, daughter of the

giant Gymir. The gleam of her white arms filled the sky and the broad sea with light. Prey's heart

was at once inflamed with vehement love; never had man felt such violent passion for a girl. But

profound melancholy began to weigh on Prey's soul; for he knew not how to win his beloved.

When his parents, old Njord and the beautiful Skadi, saw the change that had come over him they

hastened to send Skirnir to him. Skirnir was both friend and servant, and they asked him to

discover the secret of Prey's unhappiness.

Skirnir did not take long to find out what the trouble was, and he offered to go to the young

maiden on his friend's behalf and ask for her hand. He only begged of Frey to lend him the

famous sword which moved through the air of its own accord and the horse which was not

frightened of the red flames stirred up by the enchanters. Through the sombre night, past rocks

shining in the mountain torrents, Skirnir rode until he reached the land of the giants. At the door

of Gymir's dwelling ferocious dogs were chained. On a nearby hill a herdsman sat and kept watch

on the roads. Great flames surrounded the giant's palace with their fiery tongues. But Skirnir did

not let himself be frightened. He passed the foaming jowls of

the dogs, he ignored the shout of the guard who tried to stop him. He spurred his horse which

bounded through the magic flames, and penetrated the palace walls.

Attracted by the noise, Gerda approached. Skirnir gave her the message he had come to deliver.

At the same time he offered her eleven apples made of pure gold and the ring Draupnir, which

had belonged to Odin. But Gerda refused to listen to him. Then Skirnir brandished the thin

gleaming blade of his sword and looked as though he would kill Gerda and her father too. The

threat was in vain; Gerda remained unimpressed. Despairing of success, Skirnir had recourse to

spells and conjurations; he had found, he told her, a magic wand in the forest. He threatened to

carve the most terrifying runes on it unless she accepted the gifts in token of agreement to the

proposed marriage. He would bring it about, by means of these runes, that she should lead a

solitary existence, far from men, at the opposite end of the world where in the icy depths she

would dry up like a thistle.

This time Gerda was indeed terrified and no longer resisted. In sign of conciliation she offered

Skirnir the cup of welcome, filled with mead. Skirnir pressed her to make a rendezvous with Frey

then and there, for Frey was consumed with impatience. This Gerda refused to do, but she

promised to meet the god, after nine nights had elapsed, in a sacred grove which she named.

Frey meanwhile waited in agony for news. When Skirnir brought him Gerda's reply his heart was

again filled with joy. Only the delay imposed by her caused him pain. 'A night is long, but how

much longer are two nights! How can I be patient for three nights! A month has often seemed

shorter to me than half a night of this waiting.'

This love story, retold in a beautiful Norse poem of the beginning of the tenth century, was

doubtless completed by other legends which have not come down to us. Probably Frey was only

able finally to win Gerda after a desperate fight with the giants. In the course of the battle he must

have lost his precious sword. For, when the great war between the gods and the giants - the

prelude to the end of the world - began, Frey was to find himself without the weapon which

rendered him invincible and succumbed to the blows of his adversary.

The great Germanic gods are known to us above all through the prose tales of the Eddas and

through the Eddie poems. These documents are relatively late, being roughly of the tenth to the

thirteenth centuries. But by a lucky chance excavations in Denmark and Sweden have yielded

objects on which many of these gods are represented with the features given to them by certain

Teutons of the first centuries of our era. In the seventeenth century at Gallehus in the island of

Seeland a golden horn was found on which could be distinguished personages and animals in

curious attitudes. A hundred years later in the same place a second golden horn was discovered

which was, perhaps, the work of the same artist, or at least was closely related to it in style. These

two horns were of the fifth century approximately. They were not properly cared for and were

stolen by thieves who melted them down. We therefore know them only through eighteenthcentury

drawings made of them. The figures depicted have long seemed enigmatic and have been

interpreted in various ways. The most satisfactory explan ,'ion has been given by the eminent

Danish scholar Axel Olrik and is here relied on.

The personage who can be seen in the middle of the upper band of the shorter of the two horns is

the god Odin. He holds a spear in his right hand and in his left a circle and a staff, which is

perhaps a sceptre. He wears a helmet surmounted by two horns. The stag and the two wolves on

his left are animals which are often associated with Odin's adventures. The god on the extreme

right of this band and who, like Odin, wears a head-dress with two horns, holds in his left hand a

sceptre and in his right a sickle: he is Frey, god of fertility. Thor, the third of the great Germanic

gods, is represented on the second band as a personage with three heads. In his right hand he

holds an axe and in his left a rope attached to a goat. The other figures represent lesser divinities,

who are impossible to identify. The two warriors on the left of the upper band seem to be twin

gods: they may be the same as the two warriors, similarly dressed and armed, which are

represented on one of the very ancient bronze plaques found on Swedish territory, in the Isle of

Oland. A personage, on the lower band, who is armed with two daggers may be the god who is

seen, on one of the bronze plaques from Oland, occupied in a struggle with two savage beasts.

The Secondary Gods: Hoenir, Bragi, Vidar, Vali, Ull. Around the great Aesir revolved gods whose

roles were much more limited, and whose cult was doubtless far from being practised by all the

Germanic peoples. These gods, moreover, only appear in Scandinavian legends. Nothing leads us

to believe that they were known or revered by the Germans of the South.

The name Hoenir has already occurred in more than one legend. He was one of the usual

companions of Odin and Loki during their journeys across the world. In the dawn of time Hoenir

played a part in the creation of men, since it was he who breathed a soul into the first couple. But

it was not normally his qualities of spirit which distinguished him. He was strong and handsome,

in warfare he was intrepid, but his intelligence was considered rather limited. When the Aesir

delivered him as a hostage to the Vanir - after the great war between the two races of gods - they

were careful to give him the wise Mimir for a companion.

Generally Hoenir occupies a minor role in the legends of which Odin and Loki are the principal

actors. The following tale is another example of this.

One day a giant forced a peasant to play a game of draughts with him; the loser was to lose his

own life as well. It was the peasant who won. To save his head the giant immediately proposed a

bargain: he undertook in a single night to build for the peasant a magnificent house, filled with

provisions of all kinds. At this price he should recover his liberty. The following day the peasant

did, in fact, find himself the owner of a truly seigniorial estate and with his wife and children

happily moved in.

His new life of opulence, however, did not last. The giant found means of making him play

another game of draughts, and this time the giant won. Now, according to the agreement between

the two players, the peasant would have to turn over his son to the giant, at least unless he could

somehow manage to conceal him from the eyes of his subtle enemy. But by what sorcery could he

hoodwink the giant? In his distress the peasant first appealed to the king of the Aesir, Odin.

During the night Odin caused a field of barley to spring up and he changed the child into a single

grain of barley concealed in one of the ripened ears. But the giant scythed the entire field and in

order to find the child struck each ear of barley with his sharp sword. The grain he was looking

for, however, slipped from his hand and Odin was able to return the child to its parents. But he

confessed his inability to do more.

The peasant then appealed to Hoenir. He hastened with the child to the edge of the sea. At that

moment seven swans happened to swim past; two of them came ashore. Hoenir at once

commanded the child to become one of the feathers which grew on the head of one of the swans.

But the giant suddenly appeared, seized the bird and wrung its neck. He did not, however, notice

that the feather he was looking for had floated away. Hoenir, restoring the child to its natural

form, was able to return him to his parents safe and sound.

The peasant finally called on Loki to help him. Loki turned the boy into one of the eggs contained

in the roe of a turbot. The giant fished for the turbot and succeeded in catching it. Then he began

to count its eggs one by one; the one he sought, however, slipped between his fingers. The boy

reassumed his normal form and fled across the sand of the beach. The giant clumsily pursued him

and stupidly blundered into the trap which Loki had prepared. There he died and the child was


Here, too, Hoenir plays only a secondary role - which is his normal fate. Other gods appear in the

legends even less frequently than he. Such is the case with Bragi, god of poetry, who was in fact a

late creation of Scandinavian imagination. In the ninth century there lived a skald of great renown;

his name was Bragi Boddason and he was the inventor of a celebrated type of strophe. It seems

probable that after his death he was deified and made one of the Aesir. Until then Odin himself

was attributed with the honour of having taught men the art of song and learned rhyme. During

the final two centuries of paganism it was Bragi who became the master of the skalds. He was

distinguished for wisdom and the noble ease of his speech. It was said that runes were engraved

on his tongue -which is a poetic manner of saying that his skill in composing poems was


He married the goddess Idun. The poets imagined him as an old man with a long beard. He was

Odin's skald. In Valhalla it was his duty to offer newcomers the cup of welcome and to receive

them with words of courtesy. During feasts he would relate fascinating

stories to Odin's guests, tales of limes long past, the origin of the bardic art, or the adventures of

the gods in love and war.

There were two divine personages to whom the poets tried to give a certain significance, but who

nevertheless remain somewhat vague: Vidar and Vali.

Vidar was a son of Odin's. He was called the 'Silent As' because he rarely spoke in the assembly of

the gods. He was even called a little slow-witted. He was one of tnose heroes whose great

simplicity or even stupidity does not prevent them from succeeding where more subtle heroes fail.

The greatest exploit in his life was, as we shall see later, when he surpassed Odin himself in

courage and killed the wolf Fenrir. He was, indeed, to survive the merciless war between the gods

and the giants, and to be one of the gods of a regenerated world.

Vali, like Vidar, was a god of secondary importance. He is scarcely known except for the part he

played in the struggle which preceded the 'Twilight of the Gods'. He too was a son of Odin's. He

was scarcely one day old when he undertook to avenge Balder's death on Hod. The wish to kill

and with his own hands to place the murderer of the favourite of the gods on the funeral pyre was

so ardent in his heart that he did not even pause to wash his hands or comb his hair. The day of

his birth was also that of his most valiant exploit.

Neither Vali nor Vidar are very ancient gods. They were invented in order to serve the greater

gods as avengers or replacements. They were not genuinely popular, but simply creations of the

poets. It is not certain that they were objects of an actual cult.

Ull, on the other hand, was long worshipped in some parts of Scandinavia. It even seems that in

the eyes of some of the faithful he was counted among the most important gods of the North. But

he must, at an early period, have been put in the background by younger divinities. Without

doubt he was already hdlf forgotten in the days of the skalds, and in their poems he occupies a

very minor position.

He was, they said, the son of Sif - Thor's wife - and consequently Thor's stepson. His name meant

the 'Magnificent'. Ull was a handsome huntsman, skilled in crossing vast frozen stretches on

snowshoes and winging game with his arrows. There was so much nobility and majesty about

him that the Aesir, it was said, once chose him for a while to replace Odin. Odin had been accused

of employing unworthy methods in overcoming the resistance of a maiden he coveted and had

been banished from the skies by the other gods. In his absence it was Ull, with the consent of all,

who took over the command of the Aesir. But at the end of ten years Odin reappeared and drove

Ull away. Ull took refuge in Sweden where he acquired the reputation of a powerful enchanter.

He owned a bone on which he had engraved magic formulas which were so powerful that he

could use it as a ship to cross the seas.

The Goddesses. Scandinavian bards, story-tellers and learned men have spoken less of the

goddesses than of the gods. This is perhaps because Teutonic literature was made more for men

than for women. It was above all at the end of banquets, when warriors reposed after battle or

distant campaigns, that the bards recited their poems filled with mythological allusions. The wives

of the gods remain practically always in the background. The number of goddesses seems to have

been great enough, but of many of them we know scarcely more than the name. Their cult,

moreover, was rarely practised by the majority of the Germanic peoples. Only one seems to have

been revered by all the tribes: she who in old German was called Frija, in Anglo-Saxon Frig, and in

old Norse Frigg.

Indeed the very name Frija is only a former adjective, raised little by little to the dignity of a

proper name. It meant the 'well-beloved', or 'spouse'. This meaning was undoubtedly known to

the Romans since they identified Frija with Venus. And the Roman interpretation was accepted

without difficulty by the Germans themselves who translated the name Veneris dies (Friday, in

French Vendredi) by Frija's day (in modern German: Freitag). But we know nothing of the

character or role which the ancestors of the Germans ascribed to this goddess. It is extremely

probable that she was regarded as Woden's wife. But we have no genuinely German legend about


On the contrary the Scandinavians show Frija-Frigg taking part in various adventures. The wife of

Odin, she shared his wisdom and foresight. It would seem that she did not always agree in all

matters with her husband. Sometimes she protected warriors whom

Odin tried to harm; and in the resulting quarrels it was not always she who got the worst of it. Her

stratagems often succeeded in defeating Odin's will.

She protected men's marriage and made them fruitful. But she personally did not always remain

faithful to her own marriage vows, and from time to time, through coquetry or self-interest, she

bestowed her favours on various gods, not to mention personages of inferior rank.

Frigg is often confused with Freyja whose origin is, however, different, in spite of the similarity of

their names. Originally Freyja did not belong to the race of the Aesir but to that of their rivals, the

Vanir. She was the sister of the god Frey and certain Norwegian and Icelandic writers have taken

great care to distinguish her from Frigg. But in many cases she was completely confused with

Frigg and like her is described as Odin's wife. In the sky she had a rich dwelling, called Folkvang.

There she received deceased heroes and assigned them seats in her great banqueting hall. For

every time she accompanied Odin to a field of battle she had the right to bring back to her palace

half the warriors who had fallen, weapon in hand. She was, in fact, the first of the Valkyries and

their supreme commander. Sometimes it even happened that in Valhalla she would pour out the

beer and the mead for Odin's warriors, like an ordinary Valkyrie.

Like Frigg, Freyja loved ornaments and jewellery. Not far from her palace, in a grotto which

served as their workshop, lived four dwarfs, celebrated for their skill in working metal. One day

when she was visiting them she noticed on their table a marvellous golden necklace which they

were on the point of finishing. She was seized with an irresistible desire to possess it and offered

the dwarfs gold, silver and other precious objects. But the dwarfs, lords of all metals buried in the

earth, merely laughed at her offer. To obtain the trinket, they said, she must pay a quite different

price: in brief, she must pass one night with each of them. The goddess did not hesitate and did as

the dwarfs desired. The necklace then belonged to her.

But the treacherous Loki lost no time in reporting to Odin what had occurred. Odin ordered him

to steal the necklace so ill-acquired. Loki then proceeded towards Freyja's bed-chamber, but the

door was locked. He turned himself into a fly and buzzed around for some time seeking a crack

through which he could slip. Finally in the roof he perceived a hole, the size of the eye of a needle.

By this hole he entered the bed-chamber. Freyja, wearing the necklace, was asleep, but she was

lying in such a position that it was impossible to reach the clasp. Loki changed himself from a fly

into a flea and bit the goddess on the cheek. Freyja stirred in her sleep and turned over so that

Loki was finally able to steal the necklace. He then unlatched the door and walked calmly away.

When she woke up Freyja discovered the theft and easily guessed who had committed it. She

went to Odin and demanded that he return her property. Odin reproached her bitterly for the

manner in which she had obtained it and only consented to give her back the necklace on strict


To obtain his pardon Odin insisted that Freyja should provoke a war between two kings, each of

whom commanded twenty kings less powerful than himself. At nightfall all the heroes who had

fallen in the battle must be resuscitated in order to renew the struggle on the following day. At

this point of the Norse narrative is inserted a passage evidently of Christian inspiration which can

only be considered an interpolation. This war should not end until a Christian came in his turn to

fight and vanquish all these pagans. Then only should the dead earn repose. Freyja gave her

promise to arrange this and ;egained possession of her necklace.

Freyja was so lovely that often the giants tried to obtain her favours freely or by for,e. We have

already seen how the giant Thrym demanded her from Loki as the price of returning Thor's

hammer. The following story was also told: a giant promised to build the gods a magnificent

palace in the course of a single winter. The only condition he imposed was that they give him

Freyja for a wife and, into the bargain, present him with the sun and the moon. The gods agreed.

He would have finished the palace just in time had not Loki intervened. Loki turned himself into a

mare and in this guise lured away the stallion on which the giant relied for the transport of his

building materials. Freyja was thus narrowly saved from the humiliating fate which awaited her.

It is sometimes difficult to tell the Germanic goddesses apart.

Freyja, who is often confused with Frigg, is also frequently identified with Gefjon, 'the Giver'.

Gefjon was a fertility giddess who was particularly honoured in the island of Seeland. A legend

explains the origin of the cult which she enjoyed on this island. In olden days there reigned over

the land which to-day is called Sweden a king named Gylfi. An unknown woman who wandered

about the country gave the king such pleasure by magic arts of which she knew the secrets that he

offered to give her as much land as she could mark out in the space of a day and a night with a

plough drawn by four bullocks. Now this unknown woman was the goddess Gefjon and she had

learned her magic from the Vanir. The four bullocks with which she harnessed the plough were in

reality her four sons whom she had by a giant who lived far off in the icy regions of the North.

Drawn by these giant bullocks the ploughshare dug so deeply into the ground that it tore away

the entire crust of the earth. The bullocks dragged the immense amount of earth thus detached

from its native habitat as far as the sea, where, filling in the sea-bottom, it became the island of

Seeland. In the place where Gefjon's bullocks had torn away the soil there remained a vast stretch

of water, to-day known in Sweden as Lake Malar.

The Scandinavian poets often cite the names of the wives of the great gods, but they rarely make

them the chief characters in their poems. They have already been mentioned in the preceding

pages and here it will be sufficient to recall their names. These are - apart from Freyja- Sif, the wife

of Thor; Idun, the wife of Bragi; Skadi, the wife cf Njord; Gerda, the wife of Frey.

The ancestors of the Germans revered, in addition to Frija, the goddess Nerthus of whom Tacitus

gives a few details in Chapter XL of his Germania. She was perhaps the personified Earth or a

fertility goddess. Her festival was celebrated in the spring. On an island in the Ocean a grove was

sacred to her: here was preserved her chariot which only the priest could approach. By mysterious

signs the priest could recognise the moment when the goddess was present in her sanctuary. Oxen

were then hitched tc her chariot and, with solemn ritual, the invisible goddess was carried around

the whole island. When Nerthus was in this way present in the midst of her people all swords

remained in their scabbards and no one dared to break the peace. It continued thus until the

moment when the priest, advised that the goddess no longer cared to sojourn among men,

reconducted her to her sanctuary. The chariot, the

veils which adorned it and the goddess herself were then plunged into sea water to purify them.

Immediately afterwards the slaves who had taken part in the ceremony of purification were

drowned; for no living person, the priest excepted, must be able to boast that he had penetrated

the mysteries of the sanctuary.

Now Nerthus, who among the Germans was of the feminine sex, became among the

Scandinavians a masculine divinity; namely, Njord, of whom we have already spoken. It is

possible that the deity who preceded both Nerthus and Njord was considered among the

primitive Germanic tribes as possessing both sexes. This ancient divinity, whom we can only

glimpse, probably personified fecundity. As well as the goddesses who inhabited the luminous

regions of the sky, there was the goddess of the underworld. Like the Greeks and the Romans the

Germanic peoples believed in the existence of a subterranean world where the souls of the dead

dwelt after separation from their bodies. They called it by a word which corresponds to the

modern German Nolle and to which they early gave the sense of the 'infernal regions'. The

Teutons, however, at least before their conversion to Christianity, did not consider this

underworld to be a place of punishment; it was simply the residence of those who had ceased to


We do not know whether the Germans personified the underworld in the form of a god or

goddess. But we do know that the Scandinavians accomplished the personification. Their word

Hel, which at first merely meant the place where the dead went, finally became the name of a

goddess who was considered to be the sovereign of the underworld.

Legends about the goddess Hel are few. They date from a time when the Northern countries were

already converted and bear the evident imprint of Christianity. As Lucifer, for the Christians, was

inseparable from Hell and Loki was often identified with Lucifer, it was said that Hel was the

daughter of Loki. The tendency was. to make her the companion of fearful monsters. She was said

to have been brought up in the land of the giants with the wolf Fenrir and the great serpent of

Midgard. She was even made the sister of these evil demons. It was told that in her subterranean

kingdom she offered asylum to the monster Nidhogg who night and day gnawed at the roots of

the ash tree Yggdrasil. She was not supposed to be, however, a divinity of perverse or malevolent

character. It was Odin himself who had assigned her to Niflheim; he gave her power over nine

different worlds so that she could fix in each the place of her abode. About her appearance there

was something strange and even terrifying. Her head hung forward. Half of her face was like that

of a human being, but the other half was totally blank. In the depths of Niflheim she possessed a

vast palace where she received, each according to his rank, the heroes and even the gods who

descended into her kingdom. There life was not very different from that led in the great houses of

the Scandinavian chieftains. It was a sort of underground replica of Odin's celestial palace,

Valhalla. When the god Balder, after being killed by Hod, appeared before the goddess of the

underworld the great reception hall was resplendent with gold, and servants hastened to put cups

of bright mead on the tables for Balder and his retinue.

Hel herself had scarcely any other role except to preside at these receptions. She was much more

the creation of erudite poets than the object of a genuine popular cult. She never took part in the

lives of the other gods and, queen of the shadows, remained herself a vague and shadowy figure.



The Teutons did not believe that the world would endure for ever nor even that the gods were

immortal. Like men the gods had ceaselessly to struggle against enemies who were full of envy

and deceit. To maintain their pre-eminence over these demons they had incessantly to remain on

the alert. We have already seen how one of them, Heimdall, was appointed to stand guard night

and day before the bridge, Bifrost, which gave access to Asgard. But in spite of the precautions

taken and in spite of their warlike virtues the Aesir were to finish by succumbing to their enemies.

And the world which they had sustained and protected was to crumble in ruins with them.

To this grandiose catastrophe - which is recounted with power and brevity in the Voluspa, one of

the best poems in the Eddas -

the name Gotterdammerung or the 'Twilight of the Gods' has been given. This name, which

Wagner's opera has made universally familiar, in point of fact arises from a misunderstanding and

even a contradiction. The Icelandic term employed by the oldest bards was ragna rok, which

simply means 'the fatal destiny, the end of the gods'. But from the twelfth or thirteenth century

Norse writers substituted for this expression the words ragna rokkr which roughly amounted to

the same thing and doubtless had in their opinion the advantage of containing a more striking

metaphor: rokkr meaning, in effect, 'obscurity, shadows, twilight'. From then on the phrase

'twilight of the gods' became habitual.

In the dawn of time the gods in their palaces in Asgard had led a peaceful and industrious life.

They had taken pleasure in building temples, erecting altars, working in gold and forging tools

with hammer and anvil, or in playing draughts together. Had they only been able to dominate

their passions this golden age of peace would never have come to an end. But the gods brought

down the blows of destiny on their own heads. That day in Valhalla when they tortured Gullveig,

the envoy from the Vanir, in order to extract her gold, they committed a crime from which the first

wars resulted. Later they broke their word to a giant who had reconstructed their celestial

dwelling. As the price of his labour they had promised him the goddess Freyja, the sun and the

moon. But when the time came to pay they permitted Loki to deceive the giant by a dishonest

trick. From that moment all the oaths, all treaties concluded in the world began to lose their force

and validity. A new era opened, characterised by perjury, violence and warfare. Men, giants and

gods were swayed by hatred and anger. The Valkyries ranged the world continually, flying from

one battle to another. Evil dreams began to trouble the sleep of the Aesir. Odin uneasily watched

the sinister portents accumulate. He understood that the supreme struggle was being prepared.

Calmly and resolutely he made ready to face it.

It was the murder of Balder which marked the beginning of the great ordeal. Before his body the

Aesir swore an oath to avenge him bitterly. They were not unaware that it was Loki who had

armed and guided the hand of the blind murderer. They seized him at once and put him in irons.

This ignominious treatment only served further to envenom the wicked god. He broke his chains

and joined the Aesir's irreconcilable enemies, the demons and the giants, and with them fought

against his former companions.

Meanwhile the baleful omens redoubled. In a distant forest in the East an aged giantess brought

into the world a whole brood of young wolves whose father was Fenrir. One of these monsters

chased the sun to take possession of it. The chase was for long in vain, but each season the wolf

grew in strength, and at last he reached the sun. Its bright rays were one by one extinguished. It

took on a blood red hue, then entirely disappeared. For the space of several years the world was

enveloped in hideous winter. Snowstorms descended from all points of the horizon. War broke

out all over the earth. Brother slew brother, children no longer respected the ties of blood. It was a

time when men were no better than wolves, eager to destroy each other. Soon the world was

going to sink into the abyss of nothingness.

Everywhere people armed themselves and spied on the enemy. At the frontier of the kingdom of

the giants a watchman, Eggther, a redoubtable warrior and a fine harpist, sat on an eminence and

kept watch on the kingdoms of men and gods alike. Near the river which bordered the

underworld, Garm, the terrible dog, howled furiously, calling all who were confined to his

guardianship to battle. In the South, where the land of the fire giants began, Surt, the lord of those

countries, had already raised his flaming sword.

On the edge of the sky Heimdall, watchman of the gods, was posted. No one in the world had an

eye more piercing or an ear more acute than Heimdall, and yet he allowed his sword to be stolen

by Loki and only began to sound his horn when the giants were already on the march. The wolf

Fenrir, whom the gods had so carefully chained up, broke his bonds and escaped. As he shook

them from him he made the whole earth tremble. The aged ash tree Yggdrasil was shaken from its

roots to its topmost branches. Mountains crumbled or split from top to bottom, and the dwarfs

who had their subterranean dwellings in them sought desperately and in vain for entrances so

long familiar but now disappeared.

From the West, in a ship manned by a phantom crew, approached the giant Hrym. He held

himself proudly erect, ready for battle;

in his left hand he raised his shield, in his right he grasped the tiller. His ship rode forward on the

giant waves which the serpent Midgard stirred up as it swam. In its unbridled rage the monster

thrashed the waters with its enormous tail and advanced at a furious pace.

Another ship came from the North. Its sails bellied in the wind and it carried the inhabitants of the

underworld: Loki sat at the helm. The wolf Fenrir accompanied him. Fire spurted from the beast's

eyes and nostrils; from his gaping jaws dripped blood. His upper jaw touched the heavens and his

lower jaw brushed the earth.

From the South appeared Surt, followed by innumerable fire giants. Lightning flashed from his

sword and all around him flames sprang from the cracking earth. As he drew near rocks crumbled

away and men collapsed lifeless. The vault of the heavens was shaken by the tumult of this army

in march and, scorched by the breathing furnace beneath, suddenly cracked in two. And when the

sons of the fire giants drove their steeds across the rainbow bridge stretched between earth and

Asgard, it burst into flames and caved in.

Following the ancient Germanic custom the opposing armies had by agreement fixed the field for

their encounter. This was the field of Vigrid, which stretched before Valhalla and was a square

which measured a thousand leagues on each side. Here gods and giants, together with warriors

whose numbers were countless, pitilessly butchered each other.

Odin wore a golden helmet, plumed with vast eagles' wings. In his hand he grasped the good

spear Gungnir. Like a hurricane he flew in the forefront of his warriors who swarmed endlessly

from the gates of Valhalla. Around him, like a winged host, flew the Valkyries on their dazzling

chargers. Odin caught sight of the wolf Fenrir and, sword raised, fell upon him. But the monster's

gaping jowls were so vast that they swallowed up the father of the gods then and there. Thus

Odin perished, the first casualty of this titanic battle. At the sight Frigg, his wife, was on the point

of fainting with grief.

But vengeance was near. Vidar, the son of Odin, advanced fearlessly towards Fenrir. He placed

one foot on the monster's lower jaw and kept it thus fixed to the ground. His shoe was made of

indestructible leather which the wolfs sharp teeth could not penetrate. Vidar's right hand raised

the beast's upper jaw towards the sky and into the yawning gullet he thrust his sword - so deep

that it pierced Fenrir's very heart.

Meanwhile Frey, the dazzling Van, and Surt, chief of the fire giants, found themselves face to face.

Frey would have made short work of his adversary if he had still possessed the wondrous sword

which the dwarfs had forged for him. But he had lost it while seeking the hand of his wife Gerda.

Now this weapon which none could resist was in the hands of the giant Surt - and it was the god

who succumbed.

Thor saw before him the monster which once long before he had attempted to kill: the great

serpent of Midgard. Since that day when the god had almost torn him from the water the serpent

had kept itself hidden in the bottom of the sea. To-day it had emerged for the first time and it

crawled towards the thunder-god, spitting out so much venom that sea and air alike were

poisoned. With his terrible hammer Thor crushed the monster's skull and it fell back, dying. But

Thor himself had breathed in so much poison that his strength failed. He tried to stagger away;

but at the ninth step he fell to the ground, dead.

Loki in the old days had already found in Heimdall an adversary to be feared; Heimdall had o(*ce

forced him to restore the necklace he had maliciously stolen from Freyja. Hatred had filled Loki's

heart ever since. He now sought out Heimdall, found him and killed him; but lost his own life in

doing so.

Only one of the great Aesir was still alive: Tyr. With vast strides Tyr ranged the battlefield, hoping

to find and slay the wolf Fenrir who had once bitten off his right hand. He was too late, for Vidar

had already killed Fenrir. Suddenly, however, Tyr heard a fearful howling; it was Garm, the dog

of the infernal regions. Tyr flung himself on the creature and with his left hand sank his sword

deep into its heart. But he himself was so badly mauled that in his turn he, too, died.

All the great gods were dead. And now that Thor, protector of mankind, had disappeared, men

were abandoned. They were driven from their hearths and the human race was swept from the

surface of the earth. The earth itself was beginning to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming

adrift from the sky and falling into the gaping void. They were like swallows, weary from too long

a voyage, who drop and sink into the waves. The giant Surt set the entire earth on fire; the

universe was no longer more than an immense furnace. Flames spurted from fissures in the rocks;

everywhere there was the hissing of steam. All living things, all plant life, were blotted out. Only

the naked soil remained, but like the sky itself the earth was no more than cracks and crevasses.

And now all the rivers, all the seas rose and overflowed. From every side waves lashed against

waves. They swelled and boiled and slowly covered all things. The earth sank beneath the sea,

and the vast field of battle where the lords of the universe had faced each other was no longer


All was finished.

And now all was about to begin again. From the wreckage of the ancient world a new world was

born. Slowly the earth emerged from the waves. Mountains rose anew and from them sprang

cataracts of singing waters. Above the torrent the eagle again began to hover, ready to swoop

suddenly down on the fish which played in the waters. As of old the fields became covered with

verdure. Ears of corn grew where no human hand had scattered seed. A new sun - the son of that

which a wolf had once devoured - shone serenely in the sky.

And a new generation of gods appeared. On the field of peace where formerly the Aesir had

assembled the new gods gathered in their turn. Who were these new gods? Had they no

connection with the gods of olden days? None at all. They had already been in existence, but

having never shared the passions, or quarrels, of the former gods, having committed neither

perjury nor crime, they had not perished. To them it was reserved to renew the world.

There was even one resurrection: Balder, the fairest and most beloved of the gods of former days,

was reborn; and, accompanied by his brother, Hod, he occupied the great festival hall where Odin

had once sat. Odin himself would never return, but two of his sons,

Vidar and Vali, and two of his brothers' sons, Vili and Ve, now lived in the sky. Hoenir, who was

Odin's faithful companion, survived. Hoenir now studied the runes engraved on magic wands

and, thus penetrating the secrets of the future, was able to tell the new race what happiness

awaited them. Two sons of Thor, Magni and Modi, completed the new Teutonic pantheon.

Men also reappeared. For all of them had not perished in the great catastrophe. Enclosed in the

wood itself of the ash tree Yggdrasil -which the devouring flames of the universal conflagration

had been unable to consume - the ancestors of a future race of men had escaped death. In the

asylum they had found, their only nourishment had been the morning dew.


In the belief of the Teutons the earth was peopled by countless creatures of superhuman nature.

Here we shall enumerate only the principal categories of these mysterious beings.

Spirits. Everywhere in Germanic lands the souls of the dead were held in fear and reverence. It

was believed that they were able to exercise magic powers. Hence the Teutons sometimes buried

their dead under the actual threshold of the house. They thought that the soul of the deceased

always remained near its place of burial and could act as a protective spirit to the house of the

survivors. They believed that souls on occasion even assumed bodily form and appeared either as

they had been during their lifetime or in the guise of an animal. Sometimes it happened, they said,

that these souls made the living expiate an ancient crime. For instance everyone knew the legend

of the wicked bishop Hatto who, in punishment for his misdeeds, was pursued by an army of

mice. He took refuge in a tower built on an islet in the middle of the Rhine, but the mice swam

across the river and devoured the bishop alive. These mice were the souls of the poor folk whom

the bishop had had burned to death.

In certain lands they believed, on the contrary, that the souls of the dead gathered together in

places far removed from human habitation. This was how the idea of the 'Savage Hunt' originated.

Thousands of phantoms - who were the souls of the dead - on aerial mounts would in a wild chase

follow their leader, the demon Wode, a degenerate form of the god Woden. It was their furious

ride which could sometimes be perceived among storm clouds.

In Scandinavia the souls of dead warriors were generally assigned to Valhalla or to the other

palaces of the gods. In Germany it was sometimes thought that the abode of souls was in the West,

towards the place where the sun sank into the sea. Certain German tribes even specifically named

Great Britain as the final refuge of the dead. The historian Procopius recounts that on the coast

facing Great Britain there were many villages whose inhabitants, though submitted to Prankish

authority, paid no tribute because it had always been their painful duty to carry the souls of the

dead across the Channel. Towards midnight an invisible being would knock on their doors and

summon them to work. They would rise at once and, as though moved by some strange

compulsion, go down to the shore. There they would find mysterious ships waiting, ready to sail.

The ships belonged to no one in the village and appeared to be empty. As soon as they embarked

and grasped the oars, however, they would realise that the boats were so heavily laden that they

sank into the water nearly to the gunwales. It took them only an hour to reach the opposite shore

whereas in an ordinary boat the crossing required a day and a night. Scarcely would they touch

the far shore when the boat would suddenly seem to empty and ride high in the water.'Neither

during the voyage nor at the moment of unloading could the sailors see whom they had ferried,

but they would hear a voice distinctly proclaim the name, condition and place of origin of each

new arrival.

Even the souls of the living were supposed to be able to leave the body and lead a semiindependent

existence. The distinction which the Germans made between soul and body did not

altogether correspond to the Christian conception of these two elements in human nature. While,

for Christians, the soul was entirely immaterial and impalpable, the second 'ego' which the

Germans believed all men to possess could exercise bodily functions, speak, move, act, even

appear in the'form of a human being or of an animal.

The Scandinavians called this half-material 'ego', the fylgja,

which means roughly 'the follower, the second'. The following story was told of the Prankish king

Gontran, ^on of Clotaire. One day when he returned from hunting he was overwhelmed with

fatigue. He sat down under a tree and, propping his head on the knees of a faithful servant who

was with him, closed his eyes and fell asleep. Suddenly the servant saw a little creature emerge

from the king's mouth. It resembled a snake and crawled until it reached a neighbouring stream

where it stopped, as though embarrassed by this unexpected obstacle. The servant drew his sword

from its scabbard and laid it across the water; and on this improvised bridge the mysterious

creature crossed the stream. It then reached a mountain nearby and disappeared into a hole in the

ground. At the end of a few hours it reappeared, again crossed the stream by means of the naked

sword and re-entered the king's mouth. Gontran at once woke up and said to his companion: 'I

have had a strange dream which I should like to tell you. Before me stretched a great river which I

crossed on an iron bridge. I soon reached a cavern situated under a high mountain. In this cavern I

beheld a prodigious treasure in gold and silver coinsT collected there by our forefathers.' The

servant then related to the king what had occurred during his sleep and both were astonished by a

dream which so resembled reality. Excavations were made in the mountain, where an immense

treasure was discovered which had lain there for many long years.

Although the fylgja could leave the body it nevertheless shared the body's fate. Any damage

sustained by one of these parts of the individual was immediately felt by the other. If one were

killed the other also died. This belief persisted even, after the end of paganism. In the Middle Ages

they would tell how witches could, without their bodies leaving the house, wander abroad in the

guise of an animal; but if someone happened to wound or kill this animal the witch would be

found in her house bleeding or dead.

Belief in the existence in every man of a spirit capable of leaving the body to take on a non-human

shape gave rise among the Teutons, as among many other peoples, to the conviction that certain

men could at will change themselves into animals. All Teutons have believed in the existence of

the werewolf; that is of a man who has the power to turn himself into a wolf, in order either to

attack other men or to ravish their flocks. It was also admitted that in certain cases the

metamorphosis was involuntary and resulted from a spell cast by an enemy skilled in the practice

of sorcery.

A Norse story relates that Sigmund and Sinfjoth, wandering through a forest, once found two men

in a cabin sound asleep. Above them hung the hides of two wolves. The two unknown men had

formerly been turned into wolves by the malevolence of a sorcerer; but he had granted them

permission to leave their wolfskins every ten days and for a period of twenty-four hours to

resume their human form. It was during one of these periods that they were sleeping in the cabin.

Sigmund and Sinfjoth decided to slip into the empty skins, but the moment they did so they found

it impossible to take them off again. It was now they who were, victims of the enchantment. They

at once began to howl like wolves. They sprang on the sleeping men and even bit each other.

When they went home they waited for the tenth day. The wolfskins then automatically fell from

their shoulders and the two warriors reassumed their normal appearance. They hastened to burn

the skins and the spell was broken.

Little by little the Teutons came to consider the fylgja as an independent being, as a demon that

had no connection with any specific individual. Ultimately it was supposed to be able to incarnate

the soul of ancestors or even the soul of a religion. In appearance it was an armed woman, a sort of

goddess riding through the air. Though originally protective spirits, the fylgjur (plural of fylgja)

began, with the introduction of Christianity, to be feared as noxious demons. In a saga about some

of the chieftains who converted Scandinavia it was told how a certain Thidrandi, an Icelander by

birth, one clear night heard a knock on the door of his house. Although he had been warned never

in such a case to go out he had the imprudence to cross the threshold, sword in hand, ready to face

the enemies whom he expected to find outside. He saw nine women dressed in black, mounted on

dark steeds, naked swords in their hands, riding towards him from the North. Turning, he beheld

in the South nine other women on white steeds and dressed in white also bearing down on him. In

haste he tried to regain his house, but it was too late. The women in black had fallen upon him and

mortally wounded him. They found him next day

lying on the ground. He had only time enough to relate what had happened and then he died. His

contemporaries explained this strange occurrence in the following way: the women were all

protective spirits, fylgjur of the race. The black fylgjur were those who had remained faithful to

paganism. The white were those who were already inclined to accept Christianity. But before

being converted the pagan fylgjur had demanded a last sacrifice and the unfortunate Thidrandi

had been the victim.


Other spirits frequently intervened in the life of men and could alter their destiny. They were often

women known for their great wisdom. In Scandinavia these female spirits, mistresses of fate, were

called Norns. This was the name under which they were universally known; for it was not only

the Scandinavians but all the Germanic peoples who believed in their existence. They were

thought of as spinners who held the threads of destiny in their hands. They were learned in the

old customs, the ancient precepts of right and wrong, and could judge the fate each man merited.

They even pronounced the fate of the gods, for the Aesir could no more escape their destiny than

could men.

It is possible that at one time they believed in only one dispenser of fate. The word which

designated fate (ward in Low German, wyrd in Anglo-Saxon, urdr in Old Norse) was little by little

transformed into a proper name, which was that of a kind of goddess who was both just and

inexorable. But this first Norn was soon provided with sisters. It was eventually considered that

some of them exerted themselves in the cause of man's happiness while others did everything in

their malignant power to render him disservice. It is without doubt from these ancient deities of

destiny that the fairies were derived, the fairies which in story appeared at the child's cradle to

offer him magic gifts or, on the contrary, to utter maledictions which would shadow him the

whole of his life.

The Scandinavian legend of Nornagest relates that at the hero's birth women endowed with the

gift of prophecy appeared at his cradle. Beside the baby two candles were burning. The first two

women bestowed on the newly born child virtues of all kinds and announced that he would be the

happiest man of all his race. But the third woman rose up in fury, because the people crowding

around the cradle had elbowed her and even pushed her to the floor. She decided to punish the

infant for this affront to her dignity and cried out: 'I foretell that he will cease to live on the day

that candle beside him ceases to burn!' Immediately the oldest of the three women seized the

candle, extinguished it and warned the mother never to light it again until her son's last day had

arrived. That was why the child was baptised Nornagest, 'the guest, the protected of the Norns'.

In Scandinavian countries the Norns became - though it is

difficult to say exactly when - three in number. The first among them was the aged Urd (that is to

say, Destiny). There was a fountain which bore her name near one of the roots of the ash tree

Yggdrasil. It was here that the three Norns could usually be found. Every day they sprinkled the

giant tree with water from the fountain so that it should not wither. Urd's two companions were in

some documents called Verdandi and Skuld, names which medieval Icelandic scholars interpreted

as signifying the Present and the Future; from which it followed that Urd was the Norn of the

Past. But this interpretation was only the late invention of the erudite. Even the fact that the Norns

were reduced to three in number betrays a classical influence: they wished to have three Norns

just as there had been three Fates.

The Valkyries were also dispensers of destiny. But their power extended to only one class of men,

namely warriors. It was they who, on the field of battle, gave victory to one or Jie other side,

decided which heroes must perish, and chose which among them should be admitted to Valhalla

to drink beer and mead at Odin's feasts. They themselves took part in the fighting. Belief in these

warrior goddesses was common to all Germanic people. But the name by which they were

designated varied among different tribes. The Germans in general called them idisi. The name

which has become customary is the Norse valkyrja (in Anglo-Saxon waelcyrie). Its meaning is

clear: the Valkyrie is 'she who chooses warriors destined to die in battle'.

The poets normally described the Valkyries as helmeted goddesses, grasping spears crowned with

flame, and mounted on flying steeds from whose manes the dew falls in the valleys or hail

descends on the forests. But they were also sometimes depicted as maidens in swans' plumage

who could fly through the air. Every swan-maiden was not necessarily a Valkyrie; but a Valkyrie

always had the power to turn herself into a swan-maiden. These strange and gracious creatures

delighted in haunting the lakes and pools of lonely forests. They could, when it pleased them to

do so, cast their plumage aside and appear in human form. But if a man succeeded in stealing

their plumage they could never escape from him and were forced to obey his will.

The great medieval German epic, the Nibelungenlied, gives us a characteristic example. The fierce

Hagen, seeking for a place to cross the Danube, suddenly heard a slight plash of water in a nearby

pool. He crept silently through the shaded woods to the water's edge and there he saw two

maidens who had slipped out of their swans' plumage and were bathing in the limpid water. He

immediately seized their plumage and refused to restore it until he had learned from their lips

what fate the future held for the army of the Burgundians who were marching towards the land of

the Huns.

It was because she had allowed herself to be surprised by a man that the Valkyrie Brynhild -

heroine of Wagner's musical drama -incurred the wrath of Odin. One day she and eight of her


were flying far from Valhalla. They landed on earth and removed their plumage. King Agnar

approached, seized the discarded apparel and hid it under an oak. From then on the nine

Valkyries were in his power. He demanded that Brynhild should help him in the war which he

was waging against his old adversary Hjalm-gunnar, and that she should make sure that

Hjalmgunnar perished. She had no alternative but to agree. Now Hjalmgunnar was Odin's

protege and Odin had decided to give him the victory. Angered at having his will thwarted Odin

pricked Brynhild with a magic thorn which had the quality of plunging all whom it touched into

profound slumber. Then he enclosed her in a dwelling encircled by a wall of flame.

Thenceforward Brynhild would return no more to Valhalla; she had ceased to be a Valkyrie; she

was stripped of her divine privileges and condemned to lead a terrestrial life. The only man who

could marry her would be the fearless hero who dared ride his horse through the flames which

separated her from the world. This hero was to be Sigurd - the German Siegfried.

Valkyries and swan-maidens could become the mistresses and wives of men. In Iceland they told

the touching history of Helgi who was united by an ardent and faithful love to the Valkyrie Kara.

She would accompany him to war, dressed in her swan's plumage; flying above the battlefield she

would sing a song of such charm and sweetness that the enemy would lose all ambition to defend

himself. One day while she was hovering above Helgi he raised his sword to strike his adversary,

but instead struck Kara in flight and fatally wounded her. It was the end of Helgi's happiness.

Elves and Dwarfs. In the world of nature there was not a spot which was not inhabited by some

spirit. Some of these sprites were small, or at least no larger than men. They may be called by the

general term of elves. The others, who played an important part in mythology, were giants.

To-day the word 'elf in all Germanic languages- and consequently in other languages which have

borrowed the word - has a more restricted meaning than it formerly had. It once served to

designate all spirits or demons associated with nature, who were supposed to inhabit the waters,

the woods or the mountains. Elves were sometimes helpful, but at other times they were full of

malice. In English poetry of the Middle Ages they were above all celebrated as aerial and

luminous beings, full of benevolence and kindness, and that is how they are normally thought of

to-day. But the ancient Teutons felt a certain fear of them.

Ordinarily the elves were thought of as beings handsomer and better made than men, although

smaller. They were organised in societies in the manner of men with kings whom they faithfully

served. They loved games and dancing. Often they passed the entire night tirelessly dancing,

interrupted only by the crowing of the first cock; for they feared the sunlight and avoided the eyes

of men. If, while they danced by moonlight, a man chanced to pass the clearing where they

frolicked he would be unable to tear his eyes from the faces of the young female elves. He would

be bewitched by their beauty. If he allowed himself to take part in their dance he was lost: either

he would never be seen again, or only his body would be found. Usually their dancing was

without witnesses, but in the morning traces of their feet could be discovered in the moist grass.

They were wise and subtle creatures to whom the future was known.

Dwarfs may be considered as a special class of elves. They too were of small stature, lived in secret

places, usually underground, and were endowed with supernatural intelligence and foresight.

They were, however, very far from being beautiful. They were almost always deformed; they were

hunchbacked or twisted, they had big heads, pale faces and long beards.

Although they were rather wild and shy they would sometimes come into men's dwellings. One

night a troop of dwarfs gathered in the great hall of Eilenburg castle in Saxony to celebrate a

wedding. The noise wakened the Count, lord of the castle, who rose and entered the hall.

Immediately a dwarf herald stepped forward and invited him, in the most courteous terms, to

take part in the festivities. The Count willingly accepted the invitation. When morning came the

little folk vanished, but not without first warmly thanking the Count for his hospitality, as

politeness required.

Miners, they said, frequently met dwarfs in the galleries they dug in the flanks of mountains. It

was said that these dwarfs were themselves often dressed as miners and wore leather aprons,

carried lanterns, picks and hammers. More ingenious and learned than

men they only frequented places where useful and precious metals abounded; hence to come

across them forehadowed the discovery of rich booty. They were considered to be the rightful

owners of buried treasure. One of these treasures is celebrated in German epic poetry: the treasure

which belonged to the king Nibelung, of which the dwarf Alberich was the guardian. Siegfried,

the hero of the Nibelungenlied, appropriated it after he had vanquished the dwarf Alberich and

demanded an oath of fidelity from him. And it was to gain possession of the fabulous treasure for

his master King Gunther that Hagen later treacherously slew the noble Siegfried.

This form of the famous legend of the Nibelungen is, however, peculiar to the German epic. In

Norse poetry the matter occurred in another fashion. There, too, it concerned a hidden treasure,

but the treasure belonged to a dwarf, one Andvari, who had the power to change himself into a

fish and live in the water. One day Loki succeeded in capturing him with the aid of a magic net

and only consented to set him free in exchange for the treasure. The dwarf was forced to agree and

turned over all the gold he possessed to his enemy. He attempted, meanwhile, to conceal in the

hollow of his hand a certain magic ring which had the property of creating further treasure and

making it accumulate indefinitely. But Loki saw him and, deaf to the dwarfs piteous appeals,

made him hand over the ring. Andvari thereupon laid a solemn curse upon the gold and the ring

which had been extorted from him: they should cause the death of all who successively possessed

them. Andvari's prophecy was fulfilled. Later the giant Fafnir, who had gained possession of the

treasure by murdering his own father, changed himself into a dragon to guard it; but he fell

beneath the blows of Sigurd, who himself perished not long afterwards.

Proprietors of the gold and precious stones buried in the ground, the dwarfs were cunning

goldsmiths and incomparable blacksmiths. The weapons of the gods and the jewellery of the

goddesses were their work. To them Odin owed his spear Gungnir whose flight nothing could

arrest, and the ring Draupnir which, like the ring of Andvari, had the power of indefinitely

augmenting the riches of its possessor. It was from the dwarfs that Thor acquired his hammer,

Frey his golden boar and magic boat, Sif her golden locks and Freyja her beautiful necklace.

Others, not dwarfs in the strict sense of the word, were elves of a particular sort who peopled

springs and rivers. In the eyes of the German peoples water-sprites usually took on human

appearance. The best known of these were called 'nixies'. Though commonly supposed to be

feminine the early German Nix, the undine, the water-sprite, could be masculine and was also

called Wassermann, waterman. The water-sprites were apt to appear to men, though frequently to

men's undoing. The nixie women were supposed to be dazzlingly beautiful. They loved to sit in

the sun on the river bank and comb their long golden hair. They sometimes fell in love with

handsome young men whom they dragged down to the bottom of the water and who were never

seen again. Some who had seen them, or heard their melodious songs, lost their wits. They were,

by and large, cruel spirits who delighted in doing harm to men.

There were, on the other hand, others who installed themselves in people's houses and became

familiar spirits. They were then called 'kobolds'. They were in appearance not unlike men; of aged

aspect, their faces were all wrinkles, and they wore pointed hoods on their heads. Normally they

frequented the barns and stables and cellars; and they liked to make themselves useful about the

house. They would go and fetch water, chop wood, feed the cattle, currycomb the horses, remove

the manure. A kobold brought good luck to the house which sheltered him. He demanded very

little for the services he rendered: a little milk and what was left over from the dinner table. But

the servant must take good care not to forget his share. Otherwise the little creature could be

vindictive and see that she scalded her fingers in the hot water, broke a pot or upset the dishes.

When such mishaps occurred she would hear in a corner the malicious chuckle of the kobold.

Finally, the fields and forests were inhabited by innumerable spirits. The appearance of those who

dwelt among the trees -'men and women of the woods' - recalled the environment in which they

lived: their bodies were hairy and seemed to be covered with moss; their faces were as wrinkled

and gnarled as the bark of the trees. Hunters and woodcutters sometimes saw them in thickets.

They were as a rule not unhelpful. They knew the secret virtues


of herbs which they made use of in stopping outbreaks of disease. They were, however,

sometimes accused of assuming the form of insects, moths and worms, in order to spread illness

among men.

The spirits of the fields were generally believed to have animal forms. The ruffling of a field of

ripe wheat by the wind was attributed to the passage of an invisible animal, the 'corn-wolf or the

'rye-dog'. The grain itself was sometimes thought of as the body of this invisible spirit, just as the

tree was the body of the tree-sprite. During the harvest the corn-wolf would, they said, try to

escape from the harvesters. He would take refuge in that part of the field where the grain still

stood; but they would take him prisoner with the final sheaf. When that happened they would

make the gesture of killing him with scythe or flail, or - in other parts of the country - take him

respectfully home in the sheaf knotted like a scarecrow and piled on top of the other sheaves.

Giants. In many ways the power and the role ascribed to the giants resembled those exercised by

various kinds of elves or dwarfs. Often the only difference between them was their size. Like the

dwarfs the giants were sometimes hostile, sometimes benevolent. On the whole, however, they

inspired fear; and the surly, not to say evil character which the Teutons were apt to attribute to

them was explained by their origin. They were, indeed, simply the personification of great natural

phenomena, such as hurricanes, winter, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and so on.

We have already seen that of all living creatures the giants were supposed to be the first to appear

on the earth. They ante-dated even the gods. They retained in their appearance and vast bodies

something of the rudeness and brutality of those days when the earth first emerged from the icy

void. The names by which they were known varied with the country. One name has been adopted

in other languages: the Scandinavian troll.

Like the dwarfs they were scattered throughout nature. It was thought that they could be

glimpsed in the black clouds driven before the storm winds. They were accused of causing hail to

fall on the harvest. It was believed that their voices could be heard when thunder rolled through

the valley or echoed in the mountains. It was said, when clouds whipped by the wind sped by,

that such and such a giant was chasing a pretty girl whom he hoped to seize by force. In this

respect the giant resembled Woden.

These giants, so close to the gods, did not hesitate to defy them. We remember the audacity with

which Thrym stole Thor's hammer. Another giant, Geirrod, having succeeded in luring Thor to his

castle, challenged the god to a singular sort of duel, hoping to reduce him to his mercy. From one

of the gigantic fires which burned in the middle of the great hall Geirrod drew forth a lump of

incandescent iron by means of vast tongs. The two adversaries were to hurl it at each other in turn.

The giant began. Without flinching or dodging the blow Thor caught the molten mass in flight in

his iron gloves. The giant, who had expected to kill Thor outright, now only thought of his own

skin. With a bound he-hid behind an iron column. But Thor flung the glowing missile with such

force that the entire edifice was shaken. The monstrous object first pierced the iron column, then

the giant's body and the castle wall before plunging into the ground. The symbolism is obvious:

demon and god in turn hurled the thunderbolt at each other; but despite his power the giant

cannot overthrow the thunder-god.

Other giants lived in the mountains. In Germany the Nibelung-enlied preserved the memory of

twelve giants who lived in the midst of wild mountains and took their orders from the kings

Nigelung and Schilbung. The grumbling which can sometimes be heard in the depths of gorges,

the crumbling of cliffs and the sudden overflowing of torrents were produced by angered giants.

Finally in the sea there were giants, just as there were nixies in the rivers. Scandinavian legend

made a special place for the giant Aegir, lord of the sea. His rank was not quite that of a god but

his relations with the Aesir were friendly. He was readily welcomed to their feasts and in his turn

received them in his marine palace. He had no need for fire to illuminate his great hall; the gold

which adorned it spread a brilliant light. The Teutons doubtless imagined that treasures

swallowed up by the sea during shipwrecks were piled high in Aegir's palace.

Aegir had a wife whose name was Ran, that is, 'the ravisher'. She owned a vast net in which she

tried to capture and draw to her side every man who ventured on the sea. It was she who stirred

up the waves and caused them to lash violently together in the hope of imperilling ships. The

terror which she inspired was so great that in the end she rose in popular imagination from the

rank of a simple demon to that of a veritable goddess. Moreover she welcomed the drowned

magnificently in her great hall and served them with the delicate flesh of fish. Nine daughters

were born of her marriage to Aegir. The names which the skalds gave them show that they were

merely personifications of the waves. They were temptresses who reached out seductive arms to

young men and, if they responded, dragged them to the bottom of the sea.

The wise Mimir, who so often appears in Scandinavian legends and whom Odin willingly

consulted, was himself a water giant. But his domain was limited to springs, to pools and inland

lakes; it did not extend to the sea. Mimir moreover lived in such close communion with the gods

that he was often considered one of them.

The belief in dwarfs, giants and demons of all kinds persisted in Germanic lands for many

centuries after the introduction of Christianity, as is witnessed by certain twelfth and thirteenth

century epics, tales and countless popular locutions. Some superstitions have persisted even to our

days. There was a period - roughly between the ninth and thirteenth centuries - when pagan

legends were sometimes amalgamated with Christian legends. It was told, for instance, that Olaf

Tryggvason, one of the most energetic converters of Norway, forced a troll - in other words a giant

- to build a church. This legend belongs to a well-known type of story in which the role of the

hoaxed demon is often played by the devil: the giant - or the devil - offers to erect a building in a

given time. He demands, as the price of his labour, either the sacrifice of a human being or else the

possession of his soul. At the last minute the endangered man's partner always finds a way of

outwitting the demon: the edifice remains while the demon retires in vexation.

There were also cases cited of demons who desired to be accepted into the bosom of the Church.

Two children were playing one day on the banks of a river which flowed past their father's house.

A water-sprite suddenly rose to the surface of the river and, taking his harp, began to play in

wondrous fashion. One of the children interrupted him. 'What good does it do you to play like

that?' the child asked. 'You will never attain eternal salvation.' At these words the water-sprite

began to weep bitterly; then, tossing his harp away, he plunged back into the waters. When the

two children returned to the house they told their father, who was a pastor, what had taken place.

He censured them harshly for having filled an inoffensive being with such despair, and sent them

back to the river-bank with orders to promise the 'man of the waters' the remission of his sins and

his eternal salvation. When they reached the bank the two children saw the water-sprite sitting on

the surface of the water. He was still weeping. They said to him: 'Water-sprite, do not grieve like

that. Our father says that for you, too, the Saviour came to earth.' Immediately the water-sprite

dried his tears, took up his harp again and again broke into sweet melody.

The mingling of Christian and pagan elements, which is not rare, can be easily explained: more

than one Germanic tribe had accepted Christianity without thereby rejecting traditional beliefs.

Among the Vikings who in the ninth century settled in Great Britain and Ireland there were many

who spontaneously adopted the religion of the country they had colonised, but felt no obligation

to stop believing in their own Germanic gods. They simply super-imposed one religion on the

other, and were, perhaps, not enthusiastically attached to either. More or less the same thing

happened with the first colonists in Iceland. In Norway, pious and energetic chieftains had,

towards the year One Thousand, forced the whole population to adopt Christianity. But more than

one petty prince only acceptsd the situation for political reasons. Actually it took paganism many

centuries to die out, nor can one even say that it is totally dead to-day. The great gods have

doubtless been without devotees for many years. The same is not, however, true of the familiar

demons by whom the people still have a tendency to believe themselves surrounded. There are

spirits in country districts who have not lost all credit, spirits to whom the peasants, either by

invoking their aid, attempting to allay their anger, or by associating their name with the practice of

witchcraft, still render, without realising it, a certain sort of cult.


We have very few precise data on the Slavonic world in the days of paganism. A few scraps of

information provided by Roman historians and Greek 'chroniclers', some vague observations on

the part of Arab geographers, and, above all, the frequently erroneous details appearing in the

chronicles of Orthodox monks: these are all the material documents which we have available to

reconstruct the history of the pagan Slavs and of their religious beliefs.

As, however, the material and spiritual evolution of the Slavs was much later and slower than that

of the Latin and Germanic peoples of Western Europe we sometimes find in the more recent

history of the Slavonic races vestiges and memories of bygone periods, a fact which allows us to

utilise the present in order to reconstruct the past.

The mythological background can still be discovered in folklore -in legends, tales, songs, proverbs

and, above all, in exorcisms. For in certain Slavonic countries exorcism of pagan origin is still

currently practised.

It was only in the sixth century A.D. that the Slavonic world began to emerge distinctly from the

varied and mobile ethnographic mass which peopled the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe.

Very probably it was from the Carpathians that the Slavonic tribes dispersed in various directions

to form the three great groups which still exist, namely the Southern Slavs, the Western Slavs and

those of the East.

The countries which the Slavs penetrated and colonised were almost everywhere characterised by

immense spaces covered with forests and cut up by marshes, lakes and rivers. They lived by

fishing and hunting, tended cattle in forest clearings and natural meadows, and planted a little

corn in the ground they cleared. The forest provided wood for the construction of their crude


Living in small groups of families, they would feel isolated and defenceless before the powerful

forces of nature, before the mystery of day and night, the change of the seasons, the storms and

tempests, the flooding rivers, and the irregular succession of good and bad crops.

To rid themselves of perpetual fear before the mysterious manifestations of nature the ancient

Slavs needed to find explanations. This imperious necessity to explain natural phenomena found

expression in their mythology which constituted their cosmogony and all their science in general.

The ancient Slav was physically incapable of fighting the forces of nature and could only aspire to

moderating the evil for which they were responsible. It was therefore necessary for him to find out

whom to address himself to. Compelled to submit himself to the domination of these mysterious

forces of nature, he submitted them, too, to the domination of other powers which were

personified by the numerous divinities with whom he peopled the clouds and the earth, the

forests and the rivers, his own field of corn, the stable where his cattle slept, and the house which

sheltered his family.

Thus little by little a mythology common to all the Slavonic tribes was formed, an extremely rustic

mythology, but perfectly adapted to the general conditions of primitive life. It was only in the

outposts of the Slavonic world - where they encountered other peoples - that more complex beliefs

were created and a less rustic mythology developed. Only at Kiev and on the littoral of the Baltic

Sea (in the island of Rugen) do we find among the Slavs traces of a more or less fixed hierarchy of

superior divinities, with a few crude idols, priests and rites.

In general, however, Slavonic mythology found no material expression definite enough to present

its divinities in precise form. It remained vague and amorphous like the landscape of most of the

countries inhabited by the Slavonic race.


Byelobog and Chernobog. (The White God and the Black God.) At the basis of Slavonic mythology

we find a primitive dualism which had its source in the opposition between light, the creative

force, and darkness, the destructive force. This elemental opposition gave birth to two divine

images which are found among the peoples of the Western branch of the Slavonic world: Byelobog

and Chernobog.

The composition of their names reveals their character. Byelobog is made up of the adjective

'byely' which means 'white', and the noun 'bog' which means 'god'. The adjective 'cherny' on the

other hand means 'black'. Thus there is a white god, god of light and day, and a black god, god of

the shadows and of night: a god of good and a god of evil, opposed one to the other.

The volkhvy, half priests, half sorcerers, of the pagan Slavs would say, according to certain written

testimony: 'There are two gods, one above and the other below.'

The Ukrainians still say: 'May the black god exterminate you!'

In White Russia they believed in the existence of Byelun (derived from 'byely' - 'white'). In popular

legends this divinity appeared as an old man with a white beard, dressed in white. He only

showed himself during the daytime. His actions were always benevolent:

he saved from harm those who had lost their way and helped unfortunate peasants with their

work in the fields.

The simple opposition of Byelobog and Chernobog being insufficient to explain the great variety

of natural phenomena, other visions began to take shape against the black-white background of

primitive mythology.


When the pagan Slav addressed his prayer to the sky and said: 'Sky, thou seest me! Sky, thou

hearest me!' he was not using a metaphorical expression. He thought of the sky as a god, as a

supreme being.

Later, when anthropomorphic elements had penetrated the primitive religion of the pagan Slavs,

they personified the sky as the god Svarog. The root of this name (svar means bright, clear) is

related to the Sanskrit.

The sky (Svarog) gave birth to two children: the Sun, called Dazhbog, and Fire, which was called

Svarogich, meaning 'son of Svarog'.

John Malala, a Byzantine chronicler, sums up the mythological cosmogony of the pagan Slavs in

these terms:

'After Svarog reigned his son, named Sun who was also called Dazhbog... The Sun is the king and

son of Svarog; he is named Dazhbog, for he was a mighty lord.'

The other son of Svarog, IFire (or ogon which can be compared to the Sanskrit agni) is mentioned

in the work of a very ancient author called 'Unknown Admirer of Christ' who said of the pagan


'They also address prayers to Fire, calling him Svarogich.'

Svarog (the Sky) is thus the father of all other gods.

According to an old Slavonic myth Svarog, after reigning over the universe, transmitted his

creative sovereign power to his children.

In many Slavonic countries rural folk still retain a mystic respect for fire, which has always had a

sacred character. The old forbade the young to swear or shout at the moment when the fire was

being lighted in the house.

Legends and folk stories still retain poetic traces of the ancient myths when they speak of the 'Fire

Serpent', a winged monster who breathed flames from his mouth.

The Russian savant Afanasiev says of Svarog's other son, Dazhbog, the sun:

'Svarog, as a personification of the sky, sometimes lighted by the sun's rays, sometimes covered

with clouds and brilliant with lightning, was considered to be the father of the Sun and of Fire. In

the shadows of the clouds he would kindle the lightning's flame and thus he appeared as the

creator of celestial fire. As for terrestrial fire, it was a divine gift brought to earth in the form of

lightning. Hence it will be understood why the Slav worshipped Fire as a son of Svarog.

Afterwards, splitting the clouds with flashing arrows, Svarog would cause the sun to appear, or,

in the metaphorical language of antiquity, he would light the torch of the sun which had been

extinguished by demons of the shadows. This noetic

conception was also applied to the morning sun emerging from the veils of night. With the sunrise

and the renewal of its flame the idea of its rebirth was connected. Svarog was thus a divinity who

gave life to the Sun and birth to Dazhbog.'

According to Slavonic myths and legends the Sun lived in the East, in a land of eternal summer

and abundance. There he had his golden palace from which he emerged every morning in his

luminous chariot, drawn by white horses who breathed fire, to cross the celestial vault.

In a popular Polish tale the sun rode in a two-wheeled diamond chariot harnessed to twelve white

horses with golden manes.

In another legend the sun lived in a golden palace in the East. He made his journey in a car drawn

by three horses, one silver, one golden and the third diamond.

Among the Serbs the Sun was a young and handsome king. He lived in a kingdom of light and sat

on a throne of gold and purple. At his side stood two beautiful virgins, Aurora of the Morning and

Aurora of the Evening, seven judges (the planets) and seven 'messengers' who flew across the

universe in the guise of 'stars with tails' (comets). Also present was the Sun's 'bald uncle, old

Myesyats' (or the moon).

In Russian folklore the Sun possessed twelve kingdoms - the twelve months or signs of the Zodiac.

He lived in the solar disk and his children on the stars. They were served by the 'solar daughters'

who bathed them, looked after them and sang to them.

The daily movement of the Sun across the celestial sphere was represented in certain Slavonic

myths as a change in his age: the Sun was bom every morning, appeared as a handsome child,

reached maturity towards midday and died in the evening as an old man. The annual movement

of the Sun was explained in an analogous fashirvn

Certain Slavonic myths and legends give an anthropomorphic interpretation to the relationship

between the Sun and the Moon. Though the name of the Moon - Myesyats - is masculine many

legends represent Myesyats as a young beauty whom the Sun marries at the beginning of summer,

abandons in winter, and returns to in spring.

The divine couple of the Sun and the Moon gave birth to the stars. When the pair were in a bad

mood and not getting on well together an earthquake would result.

In other myths Myesyats is, on the contrary, the husband, and the Sun is his wife. A Ukrainian

song speaks of the heavenly vault, 'the great palace whose lord is bright Myesyats with his wife

the bright Sun and their children the bright Stars.'

Even to-day certain Slavonic exorcisms are addressed to 'pretty little moon' and beseech her to

cure illness etc. The hero of a Ukrainian song-legend speaks to 'little Sun: God, help me, man!'

The Sun-god Dazhbog, great divinity of day and the light of day, conqueror of the shadows, of

cold and of misery became synonymous with happiness. Men's destiny depended on him. He was

just. He punished the wicked and rewarded the virtuous.

The Slav of Galicia still says, when he wishes ill to a person: 'May the Sun make you perish!' And

the Croatian peasant says: 'May the Sun avenge me on you!'

We have referred above to a legend according to which the two 'solar daughters', the Auroras,

stood at the Sun's side. The dawn -in Slavonic Zorya or Zarya - was also believed to be a divinity.

Aurora of the Morning (Zorya Utrennyaya - utro meaning 'morning') opened the gates of the

celestial palace when the Sun set forth on his daily journey across the heavens. Aurora of the

Evening (Zorya Vechernyaya - vecher meaning 'evening') closed them again when the Sun came


A myth of a later period attributes a special mission to the Zorya. 'There are in the sky,' it says,

'three little sisters, three little Zorya: she of the Evening, she of Midnight, and she of Morning.

Their duty is to guard a dog which is tied by an iron chain to the constellation of the Little Bear.

When the chain breaks it will be the end of the world.'

The three little Zorya are thus the great protectresses of the entire universe.

In some myths the two sister Auroras (Zorya) are accompanied by two sister Stars, the morning

star Zvezda Dennitsa and the evening star Vechernyaya Zvezda. They share the work of the Zorya

and tend the Sun's white horses.

One of them, Dennitsa, in some legends replaces the Sun as wife of Myesyats (the male Moon). In

a Serbian song-legend Myesyats reproaches Dennitsa: 'Where hast thou been, star Dennitsa, where

hast thou been? Where hast thou wasted thy days? Where hast thou wasted thy days, three bright


In an old Russian exorcism Dennitsa appears as a divinity almost equal to the greatest of the gods.

'In the morning let us arise and pray to God and Dennitsa,' says this exorcism.

In another exorcism the Evening Star is addressed: 'My mother, Vechernyaya Zvezda, to Thee I

complain of twelve daughters, twelve wicked girls.' i.e. fevers.

Pagan Slavs also believed in the god or the gods of the winds. A trace of this belief survives in a

curious exorcism: 'On the sea, the ocean, on the isle of Buyan, live three brothers, the Winds: one is

of the North, the second of the East, the third of the West. Blow, ye Winds, blow unbearable

sadness to ... (such and such a girl) so that she cannot live a single day, a single hour without

thinking of me!'

The West Wind, soft and caressing, was named Dogoda.

In certain legends there were as many as seven Winds.

Among several Slavonic tribes we find the worship of a god of the Winds named Stribog. They

also spoke of a Wind-god named Varpulis who formed part of the retinue of the god Perun and

caused the noise of the storm. Erisvorsh was the god of the holy tempest. But the sound of these

last names suggests a Lithuanian or Teutonic origin.


The pagan Slavs worshipped the Earth as a special divinity, but we have little information about

either her appearance or her cult. We only know that among the Russians she was called Mati-

Syra-Zemlya which means 'Moist Mother Earth'.

Mythological and ritual memories of belief in the Moist-Mother-Earth can be found in various

customs and practices of the Slav peasants.

In certain regions in the month of August the peasants arrive in the fields at dawn with jars filled

with hemp oil. Turning towards the east they say: 'Moist Mother Earth, subdue every evil and

unclean being so that he may not cast a spell on us nor do us any harm.' While they pronounce

this prayer they pour the oil on the ground. Then they turn towards the west and say: 'Moist

Mother Earth, engulf the unclean power in thy boiling pits, in thy burning fires.' Turning to the

south they pronounce these words: 'Moist Mother Earth, calm the Winds coming from the South

and all bad weather. Calm the moving sands and whirlwinds.' And finally turning towards the

north they say: 'Moist Mother Earth, calm the North Winds and the clouds, subdue the

snowstorms and the cold.' After each invocation oil is poured out and finally the jar which

contained it is thrown to the ground.

The Earth was a supreme being, sentient and just. She could predict the future if one knew how to

understand her mysterious language. In certain parts of Russia the peasant would dig in the earth

with a stock or simply with his fingers, apply his ear to the hole and listen to what the Earth said.

If he heard a sound which reminded him of the sound made by a well-filled sleigh gliding over

the snow his crop would be good. If, on the contrary, the sound was that of an empty sleigh his

crop would be bad.

The Earth was just and one must not deceive her. For centuries Slav peasants settled legal disputes

relating to landed property by calling on the Earth as a witness. If someone swore an oath while

placing a clod of earth on his head the oath was considered binding and incontestable.

Traces of the ancient worship of the Earth could still be found in Russia on the eve of the first

world war in an odd rite to which the peasants had recourse when they wished to preserve their

village against an epidemic of plague or cholera. At midnight the old women would perambulate

the village, secretly summoning the other women so that the men knew nothing about it. They

would choose nine virgins and three widows who would be led out of the village. There they

would all undress down to their shifts. The virgins would let down their hair, the widows would

cover their heads with white shawls. They would then hitch one of the widows to a plough which

was driven by another widow. The nine virgins would seize scythes while the other women

grasped various objects of terrifying appearance including the skulls of animals. The procession

would then march around the village, howling and shrieking, while they ploughed a furrow to

permit the powerful spirits of the Earth to emerge, and so to annihilate the germs of evil. Any man

who had the bad luck to meet the procession was felled without mercy.


Christianity attacked pagan Slavonic mythology before it had completely bloomed. It was nipped,

as it were, in the bud.

With the victory of Christianity the great divinities vanished. But the dii minores, the little

divinities, were able to escape the massacre. The Slavs, though Christians, preserved many pagan

beliefs well into the twentieth century and peopled their material and spiritual world with a

countless crowd of little gods and goddesses, of spirits good and evil.

Domovoi. The Domovoi - derived from the word dom meaning 'house' - was the divinity or spirit

of the-house. From superstition the Slav peasant avoided calling him by his official name: some

designated him by the word 'grandfather' or 'master of the house' while others spoke of'him' or


The outward aspect of the Domovoi was vague. Usually he was a being in human shape, but

hairy; he was covered with silky fur even to the palms of his hands which, otherwise, resembled a

man's. Sometimes he had horns and a tail. On occasion he had the aspect of a domestic animal or

even of an ordinary bundle of hay.

It was difficult, not to say dangerous, for a person actually to see the Domovoi. His voice,

however, was often heard and his groans and stifled sobs; his speech, while ordinarily soft and

caressing, could also be abrupt or gloomy.

This is how they explained the origin of the Domovoi and certain other little divinities: when the

supreme god created heaven and earth one party of the spirits who surrounded him revolted. He

drove these rebellious spirits from the sky and cast them to earth. Some fell onto the roofs of

people's houses or into their yards. Unlike others who fell into the water or forests and remained

wicked, these, through their association with men, became benevolent.

The Domovoi would become so much at home in the house where he lived that he would be

reluctant to leave it. When a Russian peasant built a new izba, his wife, before moving in, would

cut a slice of bread and put it under the stove in order to attract the Domovoi to the new house.

The Domovoi loved to live near the stove or under the threshold of the front door. As for his wife,

called Do-mania or Domovikha, she preferred to live in the cellar.

The Domovoi forewarned the inhabitants of the house of the troubles which threatened them.

Before the death of someone in the family he wept. He would pull the wife's hair to warn her that

her husband was going to beat her.

The Domovoi appeared among the Slavs only after the family group became distinct from the

tribal group. Previously there had been a spirit of the tribe itself, called Rod or Chur, terms which

are impossible to translate but which signified ancestor or forefather.


In the neighbourhood of the Domovoi there were other spirits who may be considered as his near


Such were, for example, the Dvorovoi (from the word dvor or yard) who was the spirit of the

yard; the Bannik (from the word banya or bath) who was the spirit of the baths and who lived in

the little outhouse situated beside the izba, where the peasants took their baths; the Ovinnik (from

the word ovin or barn) who was the spirit of the barn.

A little farther removed from human company than the Domovoi, they were less friendly than he,

without, however, being as fierce as the forest and water spirits.

The Dvorovoi particularly detested all animals with white fur, such as white cats, dogs or horses.

Only white chickens had no fear of the Dvorovoi because they were protected by a special

divinity, the god of the chickens who was represented by a round stone with a hole in it which is

sometimes found in the fields.

To appease a Dvorovoi one could put a little sheep's wool in the stable, some small glittering

objects and a slice of bread. When making this offering one had to say: 'Tsar Dvorovoi, master,

friendly little neighbour, I offer thee this gift in sign of gratitude. Be kind to the cattle, look after

them and feed them well.' If the Dvorovoi behaved too badly one could punish him by sticking a

pitchfork into the wooden fence around the yard, or by beating the demon with a whip in which

must be woven a thread drawn from a winding-sheet. The Dvorovoi also dreaded the dead body

of a magpie hung up in the yard.

Sometimes the Dvorovoi would fall in love with a woman. One of them conceived a passion for a

girl and lived with her for several years. He plaited her hair and forbade her to unplait it. When

she was thirty-five years old she decided to marry a man and on the even of her wedding she

combed out her hair. Next morning she was found dead; she had been strangled in her bed by the


The Bannik lived in the washhouse. He would permit three groups of bathers to enter, but the

fourth turn was his. He would invite devils and forest-spirits to visit him. If he were disturbed

while he himself was washing he would pour boiling water over the intruder and sometimes even

strangle him. When leaving the bath it was necessary to leave a little water behind for the Bannik.

The Bannik could be interrogated about the future. To do this you put your naked back through

the half-open door of the wash-house and waited patiently. If the Bannik struck you with his

claws it was a bad omen; if he caressed your back tenderly with the soft palm of his hand then the

future was rosy.

The Ovinnik (spirit of the barns) lived habitually in a corner of the barn. He generally had the

aspect of a large dishevelled black cat. He could bark like a dog and laugh his head off. His eyes

shone like burning coals. He was so ill-behaved that he was capable of setting the barn on fire.

Only one domestic spirit was feminine. This was Kikimora who,

in some regions, passed for the Domovoi's wife. The numerous myths, tales and legends about the

Kikimora give no precise picture of her. Sometimes her sole duty was to look after the poultry;

sometimes she took part in all household tasks, though only if the mistress of the house was

herself diligent and hardworking. If she was lazy, the Kikimora gave her much trouble and tickled

the children during the night. The only way to make friends with the Kikimora again was to go

into the forest, gather ferns and prepare a fern-tea with which all the pots and pans in the kitchen

must then be washed.

The belief, still living, in all these domestic spirits is no more than a survival of the cult which the

primitive Slavs rendered to divinities who protected their homes.

We shall limit ourselves to listing in addition: Peseias and Krukis who protected the domestic

animals (Krukis was also the patron of blacksmiths); Ratainitsa who watched over the stables; Prigirstitis

whose hearing was so acute that he distinguished the faintest murmurs and loathed

shouting; Giwoitis who could be recognised in the shape of a lizard and who was given milk to

drink. Among feminine divinities there were: Matergabia who directed the housekeeping and to

whom one offered the first piece of bread from the kneading trough; Dugnai who prevented the

dough from spoiling; Krimba, a goddess of the house who was worshipped principally in

Bohemia. These names again sound Lithuanian, Scandinavian and Germanic.


The lands which the ancient Slavs colonised and peopled were densely wooded. The colonisers

had to cut their way across enormous forests, filled with dangers and the unexpected. It was

natural that they should have run into the Leshy. Leshy, whose name is derived from the word

les, the forest, was the spirit of the forest.

Popular legends ascribed a human aspect to Leshy, but his cheeks were of a bluish hue because his

blood was blue. His green eyes often popped out of their sockets, his eyebrows were tufted and he

wore a long green beard. His hair was like a priest's. Sometimes popular imagination dressed him

in a special costume: he wore a red sash and his left shoe on his right foot. He also buttoned his

'kaftan' the wrong way round. The Leshy threw no shadow. Even his stature was unstable; when

he walked in the depths of the forest his head reached the tops of the tallest trees. When he walked

on the forest's edge, through small bushes and grass, he turned into a tiny dwarf and could hide

himself under a leaf.

He avoided trespassing on his neighbour's land, but he jealously guarded his own kingdom.

When a solitary traveller crossed the forest, or a peasant came to gather mushrooms or berries, or

a hunter ventured too deep into the woods, then the Leshy would not fail to lead him astray, to

make him blunder in every direction through the undergrowth, only to bring him back to the

same spot again.

He was, however, good-natured and almost always ended by releasing his victim, especially if the

victim knew how to escape his spells. In order to do this, the wanderer must sit down under a

tree-trunk, remove his clothes and put them on again backwards. Nor must he forget to put his

left shoe on his right foot.

The Leshy was not mortal although, according to certain legends, he was the offspring of a demon

and a mortal woman.

On the other hand 'Leshies' had at the beginning of every October to disappear or temporarily die

- until the following spring. In spring they were wild and particularly dangerous. Full of anger

and anguish - no doubt at the thought of their next disappearance -they would range the forest,

whistling and shouting, imitating the strident laughter of over-excited women, sobbing in a

human voice, and crying out like birds of prey and savage beasts.

Some legends say that the Leshy had family instincts and give him a wife, the Leshachikha, and

children, the Leshonki. They lived in the depths of the woods and committed their misdeeds in



If every forest was inhabited by a Leshy every field was ruled by a Polevoi or Polevik. Pole meant


The outward appearance of the Polevik varied according to region. Sometimes he was simply

someone 'dressed in white". Sometimes the Polevik had a body as black as earth and two eyes of

different colours. Instead of hair, long green grass grew on his head. At times he would appear in

the guise of a deformed dwarf who spoke a human language.

The Polevik liked to amuse himself in the same fashion as the Leshy by misguiding belated

travellers. It could happen that he would strangle a drunkard who had gone to sleep in his field

instead of working in it. When this occurred the Polevik was often helped by his children who

would run along the furrows, catching birds, which they would give to their parents to eat.

To earn the good will of the Polevik one could make him an offering by placing in a ditch two

eggs and an elderly cockerel who could no longer crow. But this must be done so that no one was

present at the sacrifice.

In the north of Russia the Polevik was sometimes replaced by the Poludnitsa (Poluden or polden

means noon.) She was a beautiful girl, tall in stature and dressed entirely in white. In summer, at

harvest time, she would walk in the fields and if she found a man or a woman working at midday

she would seize him by the hair and pull it mercilessly. She would lure little children into the

fields of corn and lose them.

Other rustic divinities did not survive the victory of Christianity. We shall limit ourselves to

mentioning only a few of them.

Among the Poles the prosperity of the fields was the business of the gods Datan, Tawals,

Lawkapatim, who especially presided over tilling the soil, and of the goddess Marzanna who

fostered the growth of fruit. Modeina and Siliniets were gods of the forest. Cattle were placed

under the protection of Walgino. Kurwaichin was especially responsible for lambs and Kremara

for pigs. He was offered beer, poured into the fireplace. Priparchis weaned sucking pigs from their


Among other Slavs, divinities like Kricco were honoured. He protected the fruits of the field.

Kirnis saw that the cherries ripened successfully. Mokosh was the god of small domestic animals

and had an altar at Kiev. Zosim was the tutelary god of bees. Zuttibur was god of the forest. Sicksa

was a forest sprite, a teasing, mischievous genie who could assume any form.

The Vodyanoi was a water sprite, as his name suggests; for it comes from the word voda which

means water.

He was a malevolent and dangerous divinity who inhabited lakes, pools, streams and rivers. His

favourite haunt was in the neighbourhood of mill-dams. Under the great mill-wheel many

Vodyanoi would sometimes forgather.

In appearance the Vodyany-ye were extremely varied.

Some had a human face, but were furnished with outlandish big toes, paws instead of hands, long

horns, a tail and eyes like burning coals.

Others resembled men of vast stature and were covered with grass and moss. They could be quite

black with enormous red eyes and a nose as long as a fisherman's boot. Often the Vodyanoi had

the aspect of an old man with green hair and beard, but the beard changed colour and became

white when the moon was waning.

The Vodyanoi could also sometimes appear in the guise of a naked woman sitting in the water on

the roots of a tree while she combed the streaming water from her hair.

The Vodyanoi was also seen in the aspect of a huge fish covered with moss and again as an

ordinary tree-trunk furnished with little wings and flying along the surface of the water.

The Vodyanoi were immortal, but they grew younger or older with the phases of the moon.

The Vodyanoi did not like human beings and lay in wait for the imprudent in order to drag them

into the water. The drowned who fell into their deep and watery kingdom became their slaves.

They lived in a crystal palace, ornamented with gold and silver which came from boats which had

sunk, and lighted by a magic stone which shone more brightly than the sun.

During the day a Vodyanoi would take his rest in the depths of his palace. In the evening he

would come out and amuse himself by striking the water with his paws, making a noise which

could be heard at a great distance. If he caught men or women bathing after sunset he would seize


Whenever he approached the dam of a mill he would try to destroy it in order to let the water flow

freely. In Russia not many decades ago millers, hoping to win the good will of the Vodyanoi, went

so far as to push a belated passer-by into the millrace.

In a lake in the region of Olonets in north Russia there lived a Vodyanoi who had a large family.

To feed his many relations he required the corpses of animals and men, but the folk who lived

around the lake were much too prudent to fetch water from it or bathe in it. The Vodyanoi at last

fled to another lake by way of a river.


When a maiden drowned - either by accident or on purpose -she became a Rusalka. This belief

was common to all Slavonic

peoples. But the image of this water-divinity was not everywhere the same. One could say that she

varied according to climate and the colour of the sky and the waters.

Among the Slavs of the 'blue' Danube the Rusalka - who in this case was called Vila - was a

gracious being who retained some of her maidenly charm. Among the northern Russians the

gracious, gay and charming Rusalki (plural of Rusalka) of the Danube and the Dnieper were

transformed into wicked girls, of unattractive appearance, with uncombed and dishevelled hair.

The facial pallor of the southern Rusalka resembled moonlight. Her northern sisters were wan and

cadaverous, like the bodies of the drowned, and their eyes shone with an evil green fire. The

Rusalki of the south often appeared in light robes of mist; those of the north were always crudely

naked. The Rusalki of the Danube and the Dnieper sang delicious songs which were unknown to

their sisters of the northern lakes and rivers. The southern Rusalki bewitched the passers-by with

their beauty and their sweet voices. Those of the north thought only of brutally seizing the

imprudent man or woman who late at night chanced to walk along the water's edge, to push him

in and drown him. Death in the arms of a Rusalka from the land of sunshine and blue sky was

almost agreeable, a kind of euthanasia. The Rusalki of the northern lands, on the contrary,

submitted their victims to cruel and refined tortures.

Slavonic legends attribute to the Rusalki a double existence, aquatic and silvan. Until the

beginning of summer - until, in fact, 'Rusalki Week' - they lived in the water. During Rusalki Week

they emerged from the water and went into the forest. They would choose a weeping willow or a

birch with long slim branches which leaned over the river and climb up into it. At night in the

moonlight they would swing in the branches, call out to each other, slip down from the trees and

dance in the clearings. The southern Slavs believed that where the Rusalki trod when dancing,

there the grass grew thicker and the wheat more abundant.

But their behaviour could also be harmful. When they frolicked in the water they would climb

onto the millwheel and stop it, they would break millstones, damage dikes and tear fishermen's

nets. They could also send storms and torrential rains down on the fields, steal linen and thread

from sleeping women. Luckily there was a sure method for thwarting the wickedness of the

Rusalki: one need only hold in one's hand a leaf of absinth, 'the accursed herb'.

Myths concerning the Rusalki reflect the general beliefs of the Slavs on the subject of death and the

dead. Green trees, according to these beliefs, were the abode of the dead. When the sun had not

yet 'entered the road of summer' the Rusalki, souls of the dead, could remain in the dark and

chilly waters. But when these waters were warmed by the rays of the life-giving sun the Rusalki

could no longer stay there. And they returned to the trees, the abode of the dead.


We have already seen that on the edges of the Slavonic world where the Slavs came in contact

with other peoples, such as the Germans and the Scandinavians, their mythology lost its primitive

and rustic character, found fresh inspiration and took on new and less naive forms.

Certain Russian scholars are even inclined to distinguish two mythologies - and almost two

religions - among the pagan Slavs: the one that we have just described, which was common to the

great masses composed of peasants, hunters, and fishermen and a second which was the

mythology of the upper classes, of town dwellers and those who lived in fortified castles.

In any case it is certain that the Slavs of the Baltic coast and those of Kiev had a more highly

developed mythology than that which was based on the mere worship of elemental forces and the

phenomena of nature.

The Baltic Slavs - those of the Isle of Riigen, the mouth of the Elbe, etc. - worshipped a divinity

named Svantovit. Some of the old chroniclers - Helmgolf, Saxo Grammaticus, etc. - have left us

almost contemporary descriptions of Svantovit. In addition a statue of Svantovit was discovered

in 1857 in Galicia on the banks of the river Zbruch. It was a crude and simplified copy of the statue

which once occupied his principal temple at Arcona.

The statue of Svantovit at Arcona, placed in a richly ornamented temple, was of great size. It had

four heads facing in four directions.

Svantovit held in his right hand a bull's horn filled with wine. Beside him hung an enormous

sword, a saddle and bridle. In the temple there was a white horse.

Each year the high priest would solemnly examine the contents of the bull's horn which Svantovit

held in his hand; if much wine remained in it, that was a good omen - the year would be fruitful

and happy. But if the quantity of wine in the horn had considerably diminished a year of famine

and trouble must be expected.

The white horse of Svantovit, maintained at the expense of the temple and venerated like its

divine master, also served to reveal the future. The priests would fix in the ground several rows of

spears and drive the horse of Svantovit through them. If it made the course smoothly without

catching any of the spears with its hooves the future promised well.

A flag - a war banner - was kept in the temple. The priests would show it to Svantovit's

worshippers before they went to war. Besides the priests, an armed detachment of three hundred

men was assigned to the temple of Svantovit.

As well as Svantovit, the old chroniclers mention, among the peoples of the western branch of the

Slavonic world, certain other divinities whose attributes were warlike: Rugievit, who was armed

with eight swords, seven hanging from his girdle and the eighth in his right hand: Yarovit, who

had a great golden shield which was venerated as a holy object. He also had his own banners, and

the faithful would carry them and the shield when they went into battle.


Then there was Radigast, who grasped in his hand a double-edged axe. On his chest he wore a

bull's head and on his curly head a swan with outstretched wings. He was a sure counsellor, god

of strength and honour.

It is difficult to say if these gods were identical with Svantovit or if they were distinct and

individual divinities. All at least had traits in common from which arose their character of gods of

warfare and the city.

According to the testimony of an old chronicler, Svantovit was considered to be the 'god of gods'

and beside him all others were no more than demi-gods. Like Svarog he was the father of the sun

and of fire. At the same time - as can be seen by his emblem, the bull's horn filled with wine - he

was the god of plenty. Above all, however, he was a warrior and in war he always had his share of

the booty.

At the opposite end of the Slavonic world we find a divinity analogous to Svantovit, namely the

god Pyerun. The origin of this name goes back to remotest Aryan times. Among the Hindus the

god Indra was surnamed Parjanya, a word which has the same root as Pyerun. The word Pyerun

is known in many Slavonic languages: Pyerun in Russian, Piorun in Polish, Perun in Czech, Peron

in Slovak. Among the Lithuanians we often find the name Perkaunas. In the Mater Verborum

(1202) the name Pyerun is translated by the name Jupiter.

In the popular language of Poland we discover not only the semantic origin of the name Pyerun

but also an explanation of his mythological character. For in Polish piorun means 'thunder'.

Neither history nor tradition has preserved anything exact on the subject of Pyerun's divine

image. We only know that there was in Kiev until the end of the tenth century a wooden idol of

Pyerun. He was incontestably the god of war. For not only was the thunderbolt considered by the

pagan Slavs to be the most redoubtable divine weapon but old Russian chronicles explicitly state

that there was a direct connection between war and Pyerun. When the first princes of Kiev

brought a war with the Greeks to a conclusion by an honourable peace their troops pledged their

word by their weapons and invoked the name of Pyerun.

We read in an old chronicle that Olga, one of the first sovereigns of Kiev, 'led her warriors into

batlle; and according to the Russian law they swore by their arms and invoked Pyerun. Igor,

prince of Kiev, climbed the hill where the image of Pyerun stood and there placed his arms, his

shield and his god

In Procopius, the sixth century Greek historian, we find a curious detail about Slavonic religion; it

probably refers to Pyerun and permits us to place his position among the other gods.

'He is the god who wields the thunderbolt and they, the Slavs, recognise him as the sole lord of the


This warlike mythology in which foreign elements were mingled -for we must not forget that the

'principality' of Kiev had been founded by Varyags, or Scandinavian warriors - was not without its

influence on the rustic mythology from which originally it profoundly differed.

As an example of this influence the god Volos or Vyelyes may be cited. Volos, 'god of cattle', who

was of rustic origin and character, was afterwards associated with Pyerun's warlike exploits. The

monk Nestor, author of the celebrated Chronicle, relates how the warriors of the Princess Olga

'swore by their arms and invoked their god Pyerun and Volos, god of the beasts'. In a treaty

concluded between the Greeks, and Prince Svyatoslav, the prince and his fighting men declared:

'Let us be bound by our oath before the god in whom we believe - Pyerun - and before Volos, god

of the beasts.'

Another no less curious example is the transformation undergone by the image of the Zorya

(Aurora) whom we have already mentioned. As long as she remained beside the Sun, god of light,

she was only a simple guardian of the gates of his golden palace. But when she was found with

Pyerun, god of war, the gentle Zorya assumed the aspect of a well-armed virgin warrior,

patroness of warriors whom she protected with her long veil. When asking for her protection one

repeated an exorcism which was still used in the nineteenth century:

'Unsheath, O Virgin, the sacred sword of thy father, take up the breastplate of thy ancestors, thy

doughty helmet, bring out thy black horse. Fly to the open field. In the open field there is a mighty

host with numberless weapons. Cover me, O Virgin, with thy veil and protect me against the

power of the enemy, against blunderbuss

and arrow, against all adversaries and all arms, against weapons of wood, of bone, of iron, of steel,

of copper.'

In the same way the winds - 'grandchildren of Stribog, god of winds' - took on a warlike character

and 'from the direction of the sea let arrows fly'.

The Slavs of certain countries such as Lusatia, Bohemia and Poland - in other words the Slavs who

were in contact with Teutonic races - did not confine themselves to peopling their forests with

Leshye and Rusalki. They created a goddess of the hunt. Young and fair, mounted on a swift steed

and accompanied by a pack of hounds, she galloped through the forests of the Elbe and the

Carpathians, weapon in hand. Even her name - Diiwica among the Serbians of Lusatia, Devana

among the Czechs, Dziewona among the Poles - connects her with Diana.

It may be pointed out that although Svantovit had a temple and priests at Arcona the Slavs of

other lands knew neither temples nor a priestly caste. At Kiev the idol of Pyerun was erected on a

hill, under the open sky, and the functions of the priest were performed by the Kniaz, or prince,

military chieftain of the 'city'. And it sufficed that the prince changed his religion for all his

officials and soldiers, and all the ruling class of the city, to feel obliged to imitate his example.

When in 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to become converted to Byzantine Orthodoxy he

ordered all his soldiers to be baptised. Pyerun's idol was torn down and thrown into the Dnieper

and history has retained not so much as a hint of any kind of effort on the part of Pyerun's

worshippers to defend their god. This can have only one explanation: the divinity and his cult

formed no part of popular belief, but only that of the dominant military group. When this group

renounced its faith there was no one left to defend it.

In the rare cases when the rural population retained a vague memory of the warrior and city

dweller's mythology it was touched up to suit peasant taste. The White Russians left Pyerun his

weapon, the bow, but instead of a war chariot they gave him a simple millstone on which he

roamed the sky.

As for Volos, 'god of the beasts', when he left Kiev, now under triumphant Christian occupation,

he returned to his rural habitat, stripped of his military functions and attributes. And even when

Christianity invaded the Slavonic countryside Volos was able to retain the sympathy of the

peasantry. In the nineteenth century Russian peasants still kept the custom of 'curling Volos' hair'.

During the harvest they would leave one sheaf of corn in the field and 'curl' its ears - undoubtedly

the survival of a pagan sacrifice.

Little by little, deprived of his warlike accessories, Volos again became a simple shepherd, who

watched faithfully over the flocks. And if Pyerun himself was remembered by the Slavs long after

the days of the Principality of Kiev he was venerated as a divine and mighty labourer tracing

furrows in a copper sky with his miraculous plough.


In addition to the divinities already described, Slavonic mythology offers a pair of extremely

interesting and picturesque gods who might be called gods of joy. Their names were Yarilo and


The origin of the name Yarilo, transcribed as Erilo, may - it has been suggested - be found in the

Greek Eros. If this explanation were plausible it would considerably simplify mythological

research; for Yarilo was a god of carnal love. But Yarilo probably derives from the adjective yary,

which means 'ardent, passionate, uncontrolled'. On the other hand the word yarovoi is used in

speaking of corn sown in springtime as against ozimoi which signifies that which is sown in the


Thus in the name Yarilo we find linked the idea of spring regeneration and that of sexual passion.

The cult of Yarilo was so widespread and deeply rooted among certain Slavonic peoples that even

as late as the eighteenth century the orthodox bishop of Voronezh had to take very strict measures

against the people of his diocese who were given to it. From his sermons we learn that the pagan

Slavs venerated an ancient idol, Yarilo; and in his honour they organised festivities and 'satanic

games' which went on for days.

Popular legends from White Russia have preserved a curious description of the outward

appearance of the god Yarilo. He was

young and fair. He rode a white horse and was dressed in a white cloak. On his head he wore a

crown of wild flowers. In his left hand he held a bunch of wheat ears. His feet were bare.

Two elements entered into the pagan rites consecrated to Yarilo, and also into the popular festivals

which were in Christian times celebrated in his honour. As a god of springtime and fecundity he

was honoured in certain Slavonic countries in spring, during the days of the first sowing. In White

Russia in the nineteenth century the village maidens would get together and elect the most

beautiful of their number who would be dressed in the white garments of Yarilo, crowned with

flowers and mounted on a white horse. Around her gathered a khorovod (a curious Slavonic

derivative of the antique Greek 'chorus'). This was a long circle of dancing girls crowned with

freshly gathered flowers. The festival was celebrated on the newly sown fields in the presence of

the old men and women of the village. The khorovod would chant a song which glorified the

blessings of the god.

'Where he sets his foot, The corn grows in mountains; Wherever he glances, The grain flourishes.'

In summer they celebrated the 'funeral' rites of Yarilo. This solemnity was very widespread among

Slavs of the east and west alike and for centuries resisted all assaults by Christian preachers -

above all in Russia.

During these festivals the men, women and girls would gather together to eat, drink and dance. At

sunset a straw idol of Yarilo would be brought to the place where the festival was being held. It

was the image of the dead god. The women, intoxicated with drink and dancing, would approach

the idol and sob: 'He's dead, he's dead!' The men would come running and seize the idol. Shaking

it they would cry: 'Yes, the women do not lie. They know him well, they know that he is sweeter

than honey.' Lamentations


and prayers would continue, after which the idol, accompanied by the women, would be carried

to his place of burial. They would then all begin to eat, drink and dance again.

Like Yarilo Kupala was also a divinity of joy.

The name Kupala has the same root as the verb kupati which means to bathe. This is explained by

the fact that during the festivals of Kupala, which were celebrated in June, they bathed in the

rivers and washed themselves with the 'dew of Kupala', dew which was gathered during the night

of the festival. The worship of water and the belief in its mystic powers were one of the elements

which composed the cult of Kupala.

This belief was very general among pagan Slavs. Their folk tales often speak of 'dead water' and

'live water', each of which had its miraculous power. When a legendary hero perished by the

sword of his enemy and his body lay stretched on the ground, cut to pieces, the fairy sprinkled it

with 'dead water' which allowed the severed members to come together again. Then she sprinkled

it with 'live water' and the hero was resuscitated.

The ancient Slavs venerated sacred springs, near which were often found places of prayer and

sacrifice. Some countries retained until the end of the nineteenth century the odd custom of

'begging the water's pardon'. In order to cure sickness the person begging the water's pardon

would throw a piece of bread into the water, greet the water and three times pronounce this

ancient exorcism:

'I come to thee, little water-mother, with head bowed and repentant. Forgive me, pardon me - and

ye, too, ancestors and forefathers of the water.'

We may remark in passing that the great rivers which watered Slavonic lands - the Danube, the

Dnieper, the Don, the Volga -were glorified, personified and almost deified in the Russian byliny

(or epic poems) under the aspect of legendary heroes, half men, half gods.

The veneration of water was closely connected with the cult of Kupala: bathing, ablutions, and

throwing floral crowns into the water, constituted an important part of the ritual.

No less important was the part played by the worship of fire. The holy fires of the holy night of

Kupala possessed a purificatory virtue. Kupala's worshippers formed khorovods around these

fires and jumped over them.

After the official end of paganism we still find the straw idol of Kupala, dressed in a woman's

gown, adorned with ribbons, women's necklaces, etc. In places the straw idol was supplied with

wooden arms from which hung floral garlands and various feminine ornaments.

At sunset the idol was