Page images
[ocr errors]

etc.; but that they are grounded in nature, and that to understand them we must pass from the poet to the natural philosopher.” He has also shown that the most ancient and most influential mythic circle, namely, that descending from Phænicia and Samothrace, certainly reposes on a basis of natural philosophy, and that it was regarded by the Cabiri and Dioscuri as a hieroglyphic record of electricity and magnetism.

The next circumstances of symbolical embodiment are the general elements of nature,-chaos and night; the regular and the suddenly outbursting forces of nature; the elements of fire, of air, and water; the mutual attraction of the earth and the heavenly bodies, etc. ;-whose images are recognised by all authors in mythologic personification.

The eternal foundation-matter of all things was Chaos, which Night produced from herself, and through herself fructified Æther—the all-embracing world-air. According to Hesiod, however, Night is a daughter of Chaos, and by Erebus


birth to Æther and the Day. The Heaven, Uranus;

and the Earth, Titæa, Gæa, produced Time,-Saturn, and the subordinate powers of nature, terrible and unconstrained in the primeval ages. The Titans, whose heaveninvading violence had, however, no long-continuance, for they already had been thrust down by Uranus into Tartarus, and there, by the continually-clearing upper air of heaven by Jupiter, and by the increasing thickness of the crust of the earth, were for ever shut down into the under-world. Jupiter, who launched his electrical lightnings through wide space, purified the air in the conflict of the elements, and by the falling rain-Jupiter pluvius-peace and harmony arose between heaven and earth. Yet the repressed powers exerted themselves in their negative character. They were hidden by Rhea the wife of Saturn, and they occasionally broke forth again, and made war on Saturn, till Jupiter, a child of Rhea, finally arrived at the appointed sovereignty, and now only periodically, to promote or to proclaim, kindled his gathered lightnings and sent them through the air. All-devouring time must give place to a regular course of life. Rhea, who was delivered of Jupiter, wrapped a stone in a goat’s-skin for her husband to swallow; and her priests, the Curetes, the Corybantes, held, meantime, a

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

weapon-dance, and made such a din with their shields and spears,

that Saturn could not bear the cries of the new-born child ;-by which, most probably, the production of meteors is intended; for the Idaic Dactyls were, according to the united testimony of mythologists, regarded as having a certain relation to iron, which the Curetes are said first to have discovered.

The air has its positive and negative, its male and female states. It takes up into itself all. earthly elements; developes in eternal changes all powers in itself, and begets innumerable children in undiminished youth and beauty. Juno is the sister and spouse of Jupiter. Amongst the natural philosophers, Juno means the lower atmosphere, in which the clouds float and the rainbow appears.

“She had countless rivals, who changed themselves into all sorts of shapes,” etc. (K. M. Ramler’s Succinct Mythology.) “She is the eldest daughter of Kronos, and sister of Zeus” (Il. xvi. 432.) Oceanos and Tethys brought her up, when the all-powerful Zeus thrust Kronos under the earth ; that is, the

vapour ascending from the sea and the waters mix themselves in the lower atmosphere. According to Ovid (Fast. vi. 285), Hera was swallowed up by her father with the rest of his children, and again vomited forth. The eagle soaring to the sun is the bird of Jupiter; while the earthly, colour-reflecting peacock is the attendant of Juno.

In the interior of the earth, the hidden power of fire works incessantly as the opposing and expanding force of the subterranean air.

Vulcan, a son of Jupiter, received the lordship of the subterrane. Like fire, which at first appears as a feeble spark, was Vulcan at his birth. He was weak, ugly, ailing, slow and limping; but when grown up, and requiring his strength, possessed of a sinewy neck and strong chest. He built a house for himself, which was imperishable, and therein he had his workshop, with his anvil and his bellows, which without hands worked at his command (Il. xviii. 370, lxxii. 470, etc.) The Cyclops, the remnant of the original powers of nature, children of Uranus and Gæa, forged for Zeus lightnings and thunderbolts, dwelling in the volcanic caves. Vulcan appears amongst the Pelasgic gods, the Samothracian Cabiri, as the symbol of electric power, as we shall see, and out of the

common workshop of Hephæstos and Athene is Prometheus said to have taken the life-giving power. For the rest, Hephæstos appears amongst those dark Samothracian divinities, ainongst the Cabiri and Axieros. The first Samothracian Cabir is Vulcan. Amongst also the Etruscans he is the lightning-darting god; he stood in connection with Vesta, and had many temples. He was called the renowned in art, the knowing one, the fire-lord, and thence the Lemnian, on account of the volcanic island, and the oracle there.

Like the earth, the air, and fire, water is an original element: according to Hesiod, Oceanos, the eldest of the Titans, the husband of Thetis, by whom he was the father of 3000 streams and as many small seas. According to Homer, Oceanos is the Great, the earth-encompassing world-stream. He is the original fountain of all that is, the origin even of the gods—9€Wv yéveous (Il. xiv. 201), of those who confer all birth and production. Out of his waters ascend the rising stars, Eos and Helios, and he has his sunshine in the east; and in the west, his departure.

Neptune, the god of the sea, especially of the Mediterranean, and of the islands, bears the tridental sceptre, and in the war with the Titans stood firm by Jupiter; he plunged the hundred-armed Briareus into the sea. The relationship of the water with the air ; the mutual working through each other in the tempest of war, as in the production of living plants and beasts out of the earth, is symbolised in it. He has his dwelling in the depths of the sea ; that is, his slumbering and characteristic strength. There stand his horses ; but, as the monarch of the sea, he travels with the swift-footed. He sends storms that make the earth tremble; he gives also favourable winds and auspicious voyages, or holds all fast as the power of the earth (Homer, Il. and Odyss.) The symbols of the electrical powers of the air, the twisted thunderbolt and the sheaf of lightnings, are given to Jupiter, and to Neptune the trident, which is also the symbol of the sovereignty of the electrical powers of the water. Individual rivers, as the Nile (Isis), the seas, the lakes, brooks and fountains, are especially designated by Nereids, Nymphs, Naiads, Dryads, Hamadryads, etc.

Finally, light, the sun, Helios, the sun god “who lights

the immortal gods and mortal men on the food-producing earth” (Odyss. xii. 285.) Amongst the Egyptians we have already become acquainted with Serapis as the physical image of the sun ; with the Greeks, later, it was Apollo. Helios is the all-seeing god (navdepkns), the beaming, the discoverer, who beholds all things (Il. iii. 277). Especially did he take cognizance of wickedness and crime: "he beholds gods and mortals.” The quickening power of changes through the sun, in nature, in bodies and spirit, is symbolised in the many children which Helios had by different mothers. Asclepias, Circe, Phantusa and Lampetia, Phæton, the Heliades, etc., are the children of the sun. According to Servius (see Virgil), Helios is the only Titan who remained in heaven, and has not become hostile to the gods. White wethers, white horses, and the cock, were sacrificed to him. He is always represented as young, with a diadem of rays on his head, and the arrows of Apollo originally signified the sunbeams.

It would conduct me too wide from my object if I were to give fresh extracts in addition to those already given from the various authors in proof of the original symbolic language of this mythology of natural philosophy. I can only refer to Jacobi's “Hand-Dictionary of the Greek and Roman Mythology;" "Solger's Remains," published by Tieck and Raumer, second vol. ; and “ G. J. Vossii de Theologia gentili et Physiologia christiana, Amsterdam, 1668."

Nor can we here further carry out the comparison with the mythologies of other peoples, which lead to the same results. The reader may, however, allow me to enumerate the allegoric figures which, at least to some extent, continue to be used down to our own time, both in art and in ordinary life. To these belong the symbols of the years, months, and days, in the shapes of stars, planets, and animals. Of the seasons particularly–Flora, Ceres, Proserpina. The physical images of certain beasts; as of agriculture, the ox; of the soul, the butterfly; of watchfulness, the cock; of sagacity, the owl, etc.

Beyond these I only advert to the farther natural philosophy, figure-language, as it relates to the imponderable elementary forces of electricity and magnetism.

Schweigger shows (Introduction into Mythology, pp.

132, 228), that the Phoenician Cabiri, and the Greek Dioscuri, the Curetes, Corybantes, Telchini, were originally of the same nature, and are only different in trifling particulars. All these symbols represent electrical and magnetic phenomena, and

that under

the ancient name of twin-fires, hermaphrodite fire. The Dioscuri is a phrase equivalent to the Sons of Heaven,-if, as Herodotus asserts, “ Zeus originally represented the whole circle of heaven." That the Sons of Heaven, or the Dioscuri, constantly die and return to life together, while yet it is as imperatively necessary that one should die that the other may live, appears an impossibility. But according to Schulz, one can as little comprehend a vision as we can expect to behold an idea. A physical view of a thing is not to be confounded with a logical one; and thus is indicated the polarity of electricity and magnetism in the most striking manner. We may comprehend electricity under the image of two inseparable individuals : and as the north pole of a magnet only by its attraction to the south pole of another magnet, is discoverable—a fact which may be considered in reference to the whole globe we live on, and just so the one electricity only with reference to its opposite—so here, in the strictest sense, is the case of two such brothers, who live and die together, while yet it is absolutely necessary that one must die that the other may live ; and what people have regarded merely as a myth is the simplest, cleverest, and at the same time most profound expression of a strictly scientifically defined truth of nature.

Schweigger continues farther the verbal explanation of the electricity by friction, and the light which produced it, as it was known in ancient times—(see Amber, Elektron, in Theophrastus and Pliny)—and of the pleasantly illuminating but not burning fire connected with it; which wonderful fire had already been noticed by Seneca as allied to the Hermes fire. Farther, in this category may be added the original meaning of the panic fear, and the electrical standing up of the hair, of which the written evidence is only wanting, because it was a law of the Mysteries that nothing should be written. Yet perfectly clear and definite is the old hieroglyphic expression, "for the twin-fires from the electrical spark are sketched in a very natural manner in the representations of the Dioscuri on ancient coins."

« PreviousContinue »