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Ch. 15: Rural Deities, Rhoecus, Water Deities

Pan, the god of woods and fields, of flocks and shepherds, dwelt
in grottos, wandered on the mountains and in valleys, and amused
himself with the chase or in leading the dances of the nymphs.
He was fond of music, and, as we have seen, the inventor of the
syrinx, or shepherd's pipe, which he himself played in a masterly
manner. Pan, like other gods who dwelt in forests, was dreaded
by those whose occupations caused them to pass through the woods
by night, for the gloom and loneliness of such scenes dispose the
mind to superstitious fears. Hence sudden fright without any
visible cause was ascribed to Pan, and called a Panic terror.

As the name of the god signifies in Greek, ALL, Pan came to be
considered a symbol of the universe and personification of
Nature; and later still to be regarded as a representative of all
the gods, and heathenism itself.

Sylvanus and Faunus were Latin divinities, whose characteristics
are so nearly the same as those of Pan that we may safely
consider them as the same personage under different names.

The wood-nymphs, Pan's partners in the dance, were but one of
several classes of nymphs. There were beside them the Naiads,
who presided over brooks and fountains, the Oreads, nymphs of
mountains and grottos, and the Nereids, sea-nymphs. The three
last named were immortal, but the wood-nymphs, called Dryads or
Hamadryads, were believed to perish with the trees which had been
their abode, and with which they had come into existence. It was
therefore an impious act wantonly to destroy a tree, and in some
aggravated cases was severely punished, as in the instance of
Erisichthon, which we shall soon record.

Milton, in his glowing description of the early creation, thus
alludes to Pan as the personification of Nature:

"Universal Pan,
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
Led on the eternal spring."

And describing Eve's abode:

"In shadier bower
More sacred or sequestered, though but feigned,
Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor nymph
Nor Faunus haunted."
Paradise lost, B. IV.

It was a pleasing trait in the old Paganism that it loved to
trace in every operation of nature the agency of deity. The
imagination of the Greeks peopled all the regions of earth and
sea with divinities, to whose agency it attributed those
phenomena which our philosophy ascribes to the operation of the
laws of nature. Sometimes in our poetical moods we feel disposed
to regret the change, and to think that the heart has lost as
much as the head has gained by the substitution. The poet
Wordsworth thus strongly expresses this sentiment:

"Great God, I'd rather be
A Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn.
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from th4e sea,
And hear old Tritou blow his wreathed horn."

Schiller, in his poem The Gods of Greece, expresses his regret
for the overthrow of the beautiful mythology of ancient times in
a way which has called forth an answer from a Christian poetess,
Mrs. Browning, in her poem called The Dead Pan. The two
following verses are a specimen:

"By your beauty which confesses
Some chief Beauty conquering you,
By our grand heroic guesses
Through your falsehood at the True,
We will weep NOT! Earth shall roll
Heir to each god's aureole,
And Pan is dead.

"Earth outgrows the mythic fancies
Sung beside her in her youth;
And those debonaire romances
Sound but dull beside the truth.
Phoebus' chariot course is run!
Look up poets, to the sun!
Pan, Pan is dead."

These lines are founded on an early Christian tradition that when
the heavenly host told the shepherds at Bethlehem of the birth of
Christ, a deep groan, heard through all the isles of Greece, told
that the great Pan was dead, and that all the royalty of Olympus
was dethroned, and the several deities were sent wandering in
cold and darkness. So Milton, in his Hymn to the Nativity:

"The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
>From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-enwoven tresses torn,
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn."


ERISICHTHON

Erisichthon was a profane person and a despiser of the gods. On
one occasion he presumed to violate with the axe a grove sacred
to Ceres. There stood in this grove a venerable oak, so large
that it seemed a wood in itself, its ancient trunk towering
aloft, whereon votive garlands were often hung and inscriptions
carved expressing the gratitude of suppliants to the nymph of the
tree. Often had the Dryads danced round it hand in hand. Its
trunk measured fifteen cubits round, and it overtopped the other
trees as they overtopped the shrubbery. But for all that,
Erisichthon saw no reason why he should spare it, and he ordered
his servants to cut it down. When he saw them hesitate, he
snatched an axe from one, and thus impiously exclaimed, :"I care
not whether it be a tree beloved of the Goddess or not; were it
the goddess herself it should come down, if it stood in my way."
So saying, he lifted the axe, and the oak seemed to shudder and
utter a groan. When the first blow fell upon the trunk, blood
flowed from the wound. All the bystanders were horror-struck,
and one of them ventured to remonstrate and hold back the fatal
axe. Erisichthon with a scornful look, said to him, "Receive the
reward of your piety;" and turned against him the weapon which he
had held aside from the tree, gashed his body with many wounds,
and cut off his head. Then from the midst of the oak came a
voice, "I who dwell in this tree am a nymph beloved of Ceres, and
dying by your hands, forewarn you that punishment awaits you."
He desisted not from his crime, and at last the tree, sundered by
repeated blows and drawn by ropes, fell with a crash, and
prostrated a great part of the grove in its fall.

The Dryads, in dismay at the loss of their companion, and at
seeing the pride of the forest laid low, went in a body to Ceres,
all clad in garments of mourning, and invoked punishment upon
Erisichthon. She nodded her assent, and as she bowed her head
the grain ripe for harvest in the laden fields bowed also. She
planned a punishment so dire that one would pity him, if such a
culprit as he could be pitied to deliver him over to Famine.
As Ceres herself could not approach Famine, for the Fates have
ordained that these two goddesses shall never come together, she
called an Oread from her mountain and spoke to her in these
words: "There is a place in the farthest part of ice-clad
Scythia, a sad and sterile region without trees and without
crops. Cold dwells there, and Fear, and Shuddering, and Famine.
Go to Famine and tell her to take possession of the bowels of
Erisichthon. Let not abundance subdue her, nor the power of my
gifts drive her away. Be not alarmed at the distance," (for
Famine dwells very far from Ceres,) "but take my chariot. The
dragons are fleet and obey the rein, and will take you through
the air in a short time." So she gave her the reins, and she
drove away and soon reached Scythia. On arriving at Mount
Caucasus she stopped the dragons and found Famine in a stony
field, pulling up with teeth and claws the scanty herbage. Her
hair was rough, her eyes sunk, her face pale, her lips blanched,
her jaws covered with dust, and her skin drawn tight, so as to
show all her bones. As the Oread saw her afar off (for she did
not dare to come near) she delivered the commands of Ceres; and
though she stopped as short a time as possible, and kept her
distance as well as she could, yet she began to feel hungry, and
turned the dragons' heads and drove back to Thessaly.

In obedience to the commands of Ceres, Famine sped through the
air to the dwelling of Erisichthon, entered the bed-chamber of
the guilty man, and found him asleep. She enfolded him with her
wings and breathed herself into him, infusing her poison into his
veins. Having discharged her task, she hastened to leave the
land of plenty and returned to her accustomed haunts.
Erisichthon still slept, and in his dreams craved food, and moved
his jaws as if eating. When he awoke his hunger was raging.
Without a moment's delay he would have food set before him, of
whatever kind earth, sea, or air produces; and complained of
hunger even while he ate. What would have sufficed for a city or
a nation was not enough for him. The more he ate, the move he
craved. His hunger was like the sea, which receives all the
rivers, yet is never filled; or like fire that burns all the fuel
that is heaped upon it, yet is still voracious for more.

His property rapidly diminished under the unceasing demands of
his appetite, but his hunger continued unabated. At length he
had spent all, and had only his daughter left, a daughter worthy
of a better parent. HER TOO HE SOLD. She scorned to be the
slave of a purchaser, and as she stood by the seaside, raised her
hands in prayer to Neptune. He heard her prayer, and, though her
new master was not far off, and had his eye upon her a moment
before, Neptune changed her form, and made her assume that of a
fisherman busy at his occupation. Her master, looking for her
and seeing her in her altered form, addressed her and said, "Good
fisherman, whither went the maiden whom I saw just now, with hair
dishevelled and in humble garb, standing about where you stand?
Tell me truly; so may your luck be good, and not a fish nibble at
your hook and get away." She perceived that her prayer was
answered, and rejoiced inwardly at hearing the question asked her
of herself. She replied, "Pardon me, stranger, but I have been
so intent upon my line, that I have seen nothing else; but I wish
I may never catch another fish if I believe any woman or other
person except myself to have been hereabouts for some time." He
was deceived and went his way, thinking his slave had escaped.
Then she resumed her own form. Her father was well pleased to
find her still with him, and the money too that he got by the
sale of her; so he sold her again. But she was changed by the
favor of Neptune as often as she was sold, now into a horse, now
a bird, now an ox, and now a stag, got away from her purchasers
and came home. By this base method the starving father procured
food; but not enough for his wants, and at last hunger compelled
him to devour his limbs, and he strove to nourish his body by
eating his body, till death relieved him from the vengeance of
Ceres.


RHOECUS

The Hamadryads could appreciate services as well as punish
injuries. The story of Rhoecus proves this. Rhoecus, happening
to see an oak just ready to fall, ordered his servants to prop it
up. The nymph, who had been on the point of perishing with the
tree, came and expressed her gratitude to him for having saved
her life, and bade him ask what reward he would have for it.
Rhoecus boldly asked her love, and the nymph yielded to his
desire. She at the same time charged him to be constant, and
told him that a bee should be her messenger, and let him know
when she would admit his society. One time the bee came to
Rhoecus when he was playing at draughts, and he carelessly
brushed it away. This so incensed the nymph that she deprived
him of sight.

Our countryman, James Russell Lowell, has taken this story for
the subject of one of his shorter poems. He introduces it thus:


"Hear now this fairy legend of old Greece,
As full of freedom, youth and beauty still,
As the immortal freshness of that grace
Carved for all ages on some Attic frieze."

THE WATER DEITIES

Oceanus and Tethys were the Titans who ruled over the Sea. When
Jove and his brothers overthrew the Titans and assumed their
power, Neptune and Amphitrite succeeded to the dominion of the
waters in place of Oceanus and Tethys.


NEPTUNE

Neptune was the chief of the water deities. The symbol of his
power was the trident, or spear with three points, with which he
used to shatter rocks, to call forth or subdue storms, to shake
the shores, and the like. He created the horse, and was the
patron of horse races. His own horses had brazen hoofs and
golden manes. They drew his chariot over the sea, which became
smooth before him, while the monsters of the deep gambolled about
his path.


AMPHITRITE

Amphitrite was the wife of Neptune. She was the daughter of
Nereus and Doris, and the mother of Triton. Neptune, to pay his
court to Amphitrite, came riding on the dolphin. Having won her,
he rewarded the dolphin by placing him among the stars.


NEREUS AND DORIS

Nereus and Doris were the parents of the Nereids, the most
celebrated of whom were Amphitrite, Thetis, the mother of
Achilles, and Galatea, who was loved by the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Nereus was distinguished for his knowledge, and his love of truth
and justice, and is described as the wise and unerring Old Man of
the Sea. The gift of prophecy was also ascribed to him.


TRITON AND PROTEUS

Triton was the son of Neptune and Amphitrite, and the poets make
him his father's trumpeter. Proteus was also a son of Neptune.
He, like Nereus, is styled a sea-elder for his wisdom and
knowledge of future events. His peculiar power was that of
changing his shape at will.


THETIS

Thetis, the daughter of Nereus and Doris, was so beautiful that
Jupiter himself sought her in marriage; but having learned from
Prometheus the Titan, that Thetis should bear a son who should be
greater than his father, Jupiter desisted from his suit and
decreed that Thetis should be the wife of a mortal. By the aid
of Chiron the Centaur, Peleus succeeded in winning the goddess
for his bride, and their son was the renowned Achilles. In our
chapter on the Trojan war it will appear that Thetis was a
faithful mother to him, aiding him in all difficulties, and
watching over his interests from the first to the last.


LEUCOTHEA AND PALAEMON

Ino, the daughter of Cadmus and wife of Athamas, flying from her
frantic husband, with her little son Melicertes in her arms,
sprang from a cliff into the sea. The gods, out of compassion,
made her a goddess of the sea, under the name of Leucothea, and
him a god under that of Palaemon. Both were held powerful to
save from shipwreck, and were invoked by sailors. Palaemon was
usually represented riding on a dolphin. The Isthmian games were
celebrated in his honor. He was called Portumnus by the Romans,
and believed to have jurisdiction of the ports and shores.

Milton alludes to all these deities in the song at the conclusion
of Comus.

"Sabrina fair,
Listen and appear to us,
In name of great Oceanus;
By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
And Tethys' grave, majestic pace,
By hoary Nereus' wrinkled look,
And the Carpathian wizard's hook (Proteus)
By scaly Triton's winding shell,
And old soothsaying Glaucus; spell,
By Leucothea's lovely hands,
And her son who rules the strands,
By Thetis' tinsel-slippered feet,
And the songs of Sirens sweet."

Armstrong, the poet of the Art of preserving Health, under the
inspiration of Hygeia, the goddess of health, thus celebrates the
Naiads. Paeon is a name both of Apollo and Aesculapius.

"Come, ye Naiads! To the fountains lead!
Propitious maids! The task remains to sing
Your gifts (so Paeon, so the powers of health
Command), to praise your crystal element.
Oh, comfortable streams! With eager lips
And trembling hands the languid thirsty quaff
New life in you; fresh vigor fills their veins.
No warmer cups the rural ages knew,
None warmer sought the sires of humankind;
Happy in temperate peace their equal days
Felt not the alternate fits of feverish mirth
And sick dejection; still serene and pleased,
Blessed with divine immunity from ills,
Long centuries they lived; their only fate
Was ripe old age, and rather sleep than death."


THE CAMENAE

By this name the Latins designated the Muses, but included under
it also some other deities, principally nymphs of fountains.
Egeria was one of them, whose fountain and grotto are still
shown. It was said that Numa, the second king of Rome, was
favored by this nymph with secret interviews, in which she taught
him those lessons of wisdom and of law which he embodied in the
institutions of his rising nation. After the death of Numa the
nymph pined away and was changed into a fountain.

Byron, in Childe Harold, Canto IV., thus alludes to Egeria and
her grotto:

"Here didst thou dwell in this enchanted cover,
Egeria! All thy heavenly bosom beating
For the far footsteps of thy mortal lover;
The purple midnight veiled that mystic meeting
With her most starry canopy."

Tennyson, also, in his Palace of Art, gives us a glimpse of the
royal lover expecting the interview.

"Holding one hand against his ear,
To list a footfall ere he saw
The wood-nymph, stayed the Tuscan king to hear
Of wisdom and of law."


THE WINDS

When so many less active agencies were personified, it is not to
be supposed that the winds failed to be so. They were Boreas or
Aquilo, the north wind, Zephyrus or Favonius, the west, Notus or
Auster, the south, and Eurus, the east. The first two have been
chiefly celebrated by the poets, the former as the type of
rudeness, the latter of gentleness. Boreas loved the nymph
Orithyia, and tried to play the lover's part, but met with poor
success. It was hard for him to breathe gently, and sighing was
out of the question. Weary at last of fruitless endeavors, he
acted out his true character, seized the maiden and carried her
off. Their children were Zetes and Calais, winged warriors, who
accompanied the Argonautic expedition, and did good service in an
encounter with those monstrous birds the Harpies.

Zephyrus was the lover of Flora. Milton alludes to them in
Paradise Lost, where he describes Adam waking and contemplating
Eve still asleep:

"He on his side
Leaning half raised, with looks of cordial love
Hung over her enamored, and beheld
Beauty which, whether waking or asleep,
Shot forth peculiar graces; then with voice,
Mild as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes,
Her hand soft touching, whispered thus, 'Awake!
My fairest, my espoused, my latest found,
Heaven's last, best gift, my ever-new delight.'"

Dr. Young, the poet of the Night Thoughts, addressing the idle
and luxurious, says:

"Ye delicate! Who nothing can support
(Yourselves most insupportable), for whom
The winter rose must blow, . .
. . . . And silky soft
Favonious breathe still softer or be chid!"

Fortuna is the Latin name for Tyche, the goddess of Fortune. The
worship of Fortuna held a position of much higher importance at
Rome than did the worship of Tyche among the Greeks. She was
regarded at Rome as the goddess of good fortune only, and was
usually represented holding the cornucopia.

Victoria, the Latin form for the goddess Nike, was highly honored
among the conquest-loving Romans, and many temples were dedicated
to her at Rome. There was a celebrated temple at Athens to the
Greek goddess Nike Apteros, or Wingless Victory, of which remains
still exist.

Thomas Bulfinch

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