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bolical meaning. In the system found in the Greek and Roman poets, nature is full of mythological beings, grouped — as subjects in a monarchy — about the one celestial or royal family, which has its abode on Mount Olympus. The King of Heaven, Zeus (Jupiter), with his sister queen HERE (Juno), is the child of KRONOS (Saturn) or Time, who again is the son of OURANOS and GAIA* (Heaven and Earth), beyond which imagination did not seek to go. His brothers are POSEIDON (Neptune) and HADES (Pluto), kings of the Waters and of the Lower World. His sisters are DEMETER (Ceres) and HESTIA (Vesta), queens of the Harvest and of the Home. His sons are APOLLO, god of the Sun, ARES (Mars) of War, and HERMES (Mercury) the Herald. His daughters are ATHENE (Minerva), goddess of Wisdom, Household Arts, and War, APHRODITE (Venus) goddess of Love and Beauty, and ARTEMIS (Diana), goddess of the Moon and of the Chase. These are the twelve great divinities (dii majores).† And about them, in nearer or remoter kindred, are grouped the inferior deities, the heroes or demigods, their children by half-mortal parentage, and the innumerable progeny of fabulous beings inhabiting the kingdoms of sky, water or earth. I
The other department of mythology is that with which this poem chiefly deals. It consists of the miracles and adventures ascribed to these superhuman persons, — a vast field, in which
* Ouranos was dethroned by his son Kronos, who was in turn overthrown by his son Zeus. Kronos belonged to the race of Titans, among whom were Helios (the Sun), Selene (the Moon), and the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus. Kronos and the Titans (with the exception of Prometheus), struggled against the power of Zeus, but in vain.
+ The ancients were not altogether consistent on this point. The list given above is, perhaps, the most usual, but Ares or Hermes is sometimes omitted, and HEPHAISTOS (Vulcan, god of Manual Arts) inserted. So, too, AMPHITRITE (a sea-goddess regarded as the wife of Poseidon) sometimes finds a place among the twelve great deities.
I The Greeks, even more than the Romans, regarded the world as full of divine beings; every spring had its nymph, every river its god, every grove its protecting genius, and all the occupations of men had their patron deities.
ancient fancy rioted as freely as the modern fancy in novels and fairy tales. Some of them may possibly be explained as a picturesque way of recounting natural phenomena, or as exaggerated tales of real events. But in general they seem purely fictions of the imagination. In a very large proportion they take the form of metamorphoses, that is, transformations of men or other creatures into various shapes : and this feature gives the subject and the title of the present poem, the purpose and scope of which is expressed in the opening lines (Book I, 1-4):
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
The poet proposes to tell in a continuous narrative, beginning with the beginning of the world and continuing to his own time, those stories which have in them this element of the marvellous, —the transformations, particularly, of men into plants or animals. But as nearly all myths introduce some such feature first or last, he manages to include most of the important ones with more or less fulness. They are told in a rambling, discursive way, one story leading to another by the slightest possible link of association, — sometimes by what seems merely the poet's artifice, aiming to make a coherent tale out of the vast miscellany at his command.*
With the primitive (fetichistic) notion of a separate life in every object, and the human soul differing in no essential regard from the life that dwells in things, it is easy to imagine the spirit of man, beast or plant as passing from one dwelling to another, for a longer or shorter stay. Such a transmigration was, in fact, taught as a creed by the school of Pythagoras (see Met. xv. 1-487). But, as against the Hindoo doctrine of transmigration into the very life of other animals, the Greeks held to the identity and continuity of the human soul, which after death had its abode assigned in the Lower World. The metamorphosis, therefore, is only an occasional miracle, not a real me tempsychosis ; * it did not alter essentially the ordinary course of human life, but only marked the intimate connection between that and the life of external nature; or, in a certain wild, pictorial way, showed the workings of human fancy, to account for the first creation of plants and animals, or other striking phenomena of the natural world, - a clear water-spring in a little island (Arethusa), a mountain ridge of peculiar shape (Atlas), a bird of plaintive note (Philomela), or a rock weeping with perpetual springs (Niobe).
* The connecting links between the several narratives contained in the present Selection are given, bracketed, in the headings, thus presenting the entire argument of the “Metamorphoses " as a connected whole.
To give something like system, order, and development to this world of fable seems to have been a favorite aim of poetical composition with the ancients. This aim is partly religious and partly scientific, — if that can be called scientific which only fills with fancies a void that no science yet exists to fill. Thus the “Theogony ” of Hesiod groups together the myths relating to the birth of gods and heroes — making a sort of pagan “Genesis ” — in a form partly chronological, partly picturesque and poetical. This is apparently the first attempt of human thought to deal systematically with the phenomena of nature — so as, in a manner, to account for things — before men were sufficiently free from superstition to reject the early fables. The titles of several Greek works of the same kind are known; and Virgil, in the Sixth Eclogue, puts a similar song into the mouth of Silenus.
* Thus the princess lo is changed into a heifer (Met, i. 611). She retains her human consciousness, deplores the change, and writes her own name on the sand, to inform her father of it. This is metamorphosis, or change of form. According to the oriental doctrine taught by Pythagoras (Met, xv. 459), the heifer in your stall was doubtless once a human being, perhaps your own mother or sister; it would be wicked to kill her, and impious to eat her flesh. But she has only a brute consciousness; and simply shares the universal life of man and brute. This is metempsychosis, or change of soul.
Any thing like a real belief in these fables had passed away long before the time of Ovid. He was the popular poet of a sensual and artificial age, who found in these creations of ancient fancy a group of subjects suited to his graceful, ornate, and marvellously facile style of narrative, and who did not hesitate to alter or dress them up to suit his purpose. The “Metamorphoses” — Libri xv. Metamorphoseon (a Greek genitive) — is the most abundant and rich collection of these fables that exists. They are told in a diffuse, sentimental, often debased way, which contrasts strongly with the serious meaning that originally belonged to these myths; but are wonderfully fuent, easy, and melodious in their language, and show a skill of versification which seems never to weary or halt. The poem begins with the origin of things from chaos, the four ages of gold, silver, brass, and iron, the deluge, followed by the graceful and picturesque version of the tales of gods and heroes, through a long narrative, — about 12,000 verses in all, — ending with the apotheosis of Cæsar, as a sequel to the tale of Troy. The series purports to be chronological ; but the order is often arbitrary and the connection forced or affected, as would naturally be the case with an author res diversissimas in speciem unius corporis colligentem (Quint. iv. 1, 77).
The poems of Ovid are addressed to the cultivated society of his time, and he takes it for granted that his readers are already familiar with the most important fables. Some knowledge of Greek mythology is therefore necessary to an understanding of the poet's allusions. The reader should at least be acquainted with the story of Hercules and that of the Trojan War.
Hercules was the son of Jupiter and Alcmene, though he is sometimes spoken of as the son of Amphitryon, Alcmene's husband. Both Alcmene and Amphitryon were descendants of Perseus. Hercules was pursued throughout his life by the jealous hatred of Juno, who sent two serpents to kill him in his cradle. These serpents the infant hero strangled, thereby betraying his divine origin. In his youth he performed many good deeds, killing the lion of Cithæron and freeing the Thebans from paying tribute to Orchomenus.* He then became, by command of Jupiter, the servant of King Eurystheus of Tiryns, who imposed upon him twelve great labors : 1) to kill the Nemean Lion; 2) to kill the Lernæan Hydra, a monster with nine heads of such terrible nature that when one head was cut off two more sprang forth to take its place; 3) to bring alive to Eurystheus the huge Erymanthian Boar; 4) to bring alive the Cerynitian Deer, an animal with golden horns; 5) to drive away from lake Stymphalos the Stymphalian Birds, whose claws, wings, and beaks were of brass, and whose feathers could be shot like arrows; 6) to bring the Girdle of Hippolyte, Queen of the warlike Amazons; 7) to cleanse in one day the Stable of King Augeas of Elis, which he did by turning the rivers Peneus and Alpheus through it; 8) to bring alive the Cretan Bull, which had been sent by Neptune to ravage Crete; 9) to bring the Mares of Diomedes, King of the Bistones in Thrace, animals which were fed on human flesh; 10) to bring the cattle of the three-bodied Geryones, which were kept in the extreme West under the care of the giant Eurytion, and the two-headed dog Orthros; 11) to bring up from the realms of the dead the three-headed watch dog of Hades, Cerberus ; 12) to bring the golden Apples of the Hesperides, which were under the charge of the giant Atlas, who held the vault of heaven on his shoulders, and were guarded by the dragon Ladon. All these labors he performed, being constantly assisted by Minerva. Besides these labors Hercules took Troy and performed many other deeds, the last of which was the capture of Echalia in Euboea. He was married first to Megara, and afterwards to Dejaneira. At his death he was received among the number of the gods (see Met. ix. 134-272).