Page images

§ 66. Juno's Best Gift. — What the queen of heaven deemed the greatest blessing reserved for mortals is narrated in the beautiful myth of Biton and Cleobis. One Cydippe, an ancient priestess of the white-armed goddess, had desired to behold the famous new statue of Hera at Argos. Her sons testified their affection for their mother, by yoking themselves, since no oxen were at hand, to her chariot, and so dragging her through heat and dust many a weary league till they reached the temple, where stood the gold and ivory master-work of Polyclitus. With admiration the devoted priestess and her pious sons were received by the populace crowding round the statue. The priest officiating in the solemn rites thought meet that so reverend a worshipper should herself approach the goddess, — ay, should ask of Hera some blessing on her faithful sons : —

. . . Slowly old Cydippe rose and cried:

'Hera, whose priestess I have been and am,
Virgin and matron, at whose angry eyes
Zeus trembles, and the windless plain of heaven
With hyperborean echoes rings and roars,
Remembering thy dread nuptials, a wise god,
Golden and white in thy new-carven shape,
Hear me! and grant for these my pious sons,
Who saw my tears, and wound their tender arms
Around me, and kissed me calm, and since no steer
Stayed in the byre, dragged out the chariot old,
And wore themselves the galling yoke, and brought
Their mother to the feast of her desire,
Grant them, O Hera, thy best gift of gifts!'

Whereat the statue from its jewelled eyes

Lightened, and thunder ran from cloud to cloud

In Heaven, and the vast company was hushed.

But when they sought for Cleobis, behold,

He lay there still, and by his brother's side

Lay Biton, smiling through ambrosial curls,

And when the people touched them they were dead.1

1 From the Sons of Cydippe, by Edmund Gosse: On Viol and Flute.

2. Myths Of Minerva.

§ 67. The Contest with Neptune. —Minerva, as we have seen,1 presided over the useful and ornamental arts, both those of men — such as agriculture and navigation — and those of women — spinning, weaving, and needle-work. She was also a warlike divinity, but favored only defensive warfare. With Mars' savage love of violence and bloodshed she, therefore, had no sympathy. Athens, her chosen seat, her own city, was awarded to her as the prize of a peaceful contest with Neptune, who also aspired to it.


In the reign of Cecrops, the first king of Athens, the two deities had contended for the possession of the city. The gods decreed that it should be awarded to the one who produced the gift most useful to mortals. Neptune gave the horse; Minerva produced the olive. The gods awarded the city to the goddess, and after her Greek appellation it was named.

Arachne. — In another contest, a mortal dared to come into competition with the gray-eyed daughter of Jove. This was Arachne, a maiden who had attained such skill in the arts of carding and spinning, of weaving and embroidery, that the Nymphs themselves would leave their groves and fountains to come and

1 35 and Commentary.

gaze upon her work. It was not only beautiful when it was done, but beautiful also in the doing. To watch her one would have •said that Minerva herself had taught her. But this she denied, and could not bear to be thought a pupil even of a goddess. "Let Minerva try her skill with mine," said she. "If beaten, I will pay the penalty." Minerva heard this, and was displeased. Assuming the form of an old woman, she appeared to Arachne, and kindly advised her to challenge her fellow-mortals if she would, but at once to ask forgiveness of the goddess. Arachne bade the old dame to keep her counsel for others. "I am not afraid of the goddess; let her try her skill, if she dare venture." "She comes," said Minerva, and dropping her disguise, stood confessed. The Nymphs bent low in homage, and all the bystanders paid reverence. Arachne alone was unterrified. A sudden color dyed her cheek, and then she grew pale; but she stood to her resolve, and rushed on her fate. They proceed to the contest. Each takes her station, and attaches the web to the beam. Then the slender shuttle is passed in and out among the threads. The reed with its fine teeth strikes up the woof into its place, and compacts the web. Wool of Tyrian dye is contrasted with that of other colors, shaded off into one another so adroitly that the joining deceives the eye. And the effect is like the bow whose long arch tinges the heavens, formed by sunbeams reflected from the shower,1 in which, where the colors meet they seem as one, but at a little distance from the point of contact are wholly different.

Minerva wrought on her web the scene of her contest with Neptune. Twelve of the heavenly powers were represented, Jupiter, with august gravity, sitting in the midst. Neptune, the ruler of the sea, held his trident, and appeared to have just smitten the Earth, from which a horse had leaped forth. The bright-eyed goddess depicted herself with helmed head, her aegis covering her breast, as when she had created the olive-tree, with its berries and its dark green leaves.

1 From Ovid.

Amongst these leaves she made a Butterfly,
With excellent device and wondrous slight,

Fluttering among the olives wantonly,
That seemed to live, so like it was in sight;

The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie,
The silken down with which his back is dight,

His broad outstretched horns, his hairy thighs,

His glorious colors, and his glistening eyes.

Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid
And mastered with workmanship so rare,

She stood astonished long, ne aught gainsaid;
And with fast-fixed eyes on her did stare.1

So wonderful was the central circle of Minerva's web; and in the four corners were represented incidents illustrating the displeasure of the gods at such presumptuous mortals as had dared to contend with them. These were meant as warnings from Minerva to her rival to give up the contest before it was too late.

But Arachne did not yield. She filled her web with subjects designedly chosen to exhibit the failings and errors of the gods. One scene represented Leda caressing the swan; and another, Danae and the golden shower. Still another depicted Europa deceived by Jupiter under the disguise of a bull. Its appearance was that of a real bull, so naturally was it wrought, and so natural the water in which it swam.

With such subjects Arachne filled her canvas, wonderfully well done, but strongly marking her presumption and impiety. Minerva could not forbear to admire, yet was indignant at the insult. She struck the web with her shuttle, and rent it in pieces; then, touching the forehead of Arachne, she made her realize her guilt. It was more than mortal could bear; and forthwith Arachne hanged herself. "Live, guilty woman," said Minerva, "but that thou mayest preserve the memory of this lesson continue to hang, both thou and thy descendants, to all future times." Then, sprinkling her with the juices of aconite, the goddess transformed her into a spider, forever spinning the thread by which she is suspended.2

1 From Spenser's Muiopotmos. 2 Ovid, Mi-tam. 6: 1-145.

3. Myths Of Mars.

§ 68. The relations of Mars to other deities may be best illustrated by passages from the Iliad, which, generally speaking, presents him in no very favorable light.

Mars and Diomede. —In the war of the Greeks and the Trojans,1 the cause of the former was espoused by Minerva, of the latter by Mars. Among the chieftains of the Greeks in a certain battle, Diomede, son of Tydeus, was prominent. Now when Mars, scourge of mortals, beheld noble Diomede, he made straight at him.

. . . And when they were come nigh in onset on one another, first Mars thrust over the yoke and horses' reins with spear of bronze, eager to take away his life. But the bright-eyed goddess Minerva with her hand seized the spear, and thrust it up over the car, to spend itself in vain. Next Diomede of the loud war-cry attacked with spear of bronze; and Minerva drave it home against Mars' nethermost belly, where his taslets were girt about him. There smote he him and wounded him, rending through his fair skin, — and plucked forth the spear again. Then brazen Mars bellowed loud as nine thousand warriors or ten thousand cry in battle as they join in strife and fray. Thereat trembling gat hold of Achaeans and Trojans for fear, so mightily bellowed Mars insatiate of battle.

Even as gloomy mist appeareth from the clouds when after heat a stormy wind ariseth. even so to Tydeus' son Diomede brazen Mars appeared amid clouds, faring to wide Heaven. Swiftly came he to the gods' dwelling, steep Olympus, and sat beside Jupiter, son of Cronus, with grief at heart, and showed the-immortal blood flowing from the wound, and piteously spake to him winged words: "Father Jupiter, hast thou no indignation to behold these violent deeds? For ever cruelly suffer we gods by one another's devices, in showing men grace. With thee are we all at variance, because thou didst beget that reckless maiden and baleful, whose thought is ever of iniquitous

1 \\ 167-170.

« PreviousContinue »