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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

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The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The Legends Of Ancient Greece








The Greeks possessed no authentic written history of that period
which included the first appearance of the Hellenes in Thessaly to the
first Olympiad, B.C. 776. This is called the heroic age, and is known to
us only by legends and traditions, called myths. They pertain both to gods
and men, and are connected with what we call mythology, which possesses no
historical importance, although it is full of interest for its poetic
life. And as mythology is interwoven with the literature and the art of
the ancients, furnishing inexhaustible subjects for poets, painters, and
sculptors, it can not be omitted wholly in the history of that classic
people, whose songs and arts have been the admiration of the world.

We have space, however, only for those legends which are of
universal interest, and will first allude to those which pertain to gods,
such as appear most prominent in the poems of Hesiod and Homer.

Zeus, or Jupiter, is the most important personage in the mythology
of Greece. Although, chronologically, he comes after Kronos and Uranos, he
was called the "father of gods and men," whose power it was impossible to
resist, and which power was universal. He was supposed to be the
superintending providence, whose seat was on Mount Olympus, enthroned in
majesty and might, to whom the lesser deities were obedient. With his two
brothers, Poseidon, or Neptune, and Hades, or Pluto, he reigned over the
heavens, the earth, the sea, and hell. Mythology represents him as born in
Crete; and when he had gained sufficient mental and bodily force, he
summoned the gods to Mount Olympus, and resolved to wrest the supreme
power from his father, Kronos, and the Titans. Ten years were spent in the
mighty combat, in which all nature was convulsed, before victory was
obtained, and the Titans hurled into Tartarus. With Zeus now began a
different order of beings. He is represented as having many wives and a
numerous offspring. From his own head came Athene, fully armed, the
goddess of wisdom, the patron deity of Athens. By Themis he begat the
Horae; by Eurynome, the three Graces; by Mnemosyne, the Muses; by Leto
(Latona), Apollo, and Artemis (Diana); by Demeter (Ceres), Persephone; by
Here (Juno), Hebe, Ares (Mars), and Eileithyia; by Maia, Hermes (Mercury).

Under the presidency of Zeus were the twelve great gods and
goddesses of Olympus--Poseidon (Neptune), who presided over the sea;
Apollo, who was the patron of art; Ares, the god of war; Hephaestos
(Vulcan), who forged the thunderbolts; Hermes, who was the messenger of
omnipotence and the protector of merchants; Here, the queen of heaven, and
general protector of the female sex; Athene (Minerva), the goddess of
wisdom and letters; Artemis (Diana), the protectress of hunters and
shepherds; Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of beauty and love; Hertia
(Vesta), the goddess of the hearth and altar, whose fire never went out;
Demeter (Ceres), mother earth, the goddess of agriculture.

Scarcely inferior to these Olympian deities were Hades (Pluto), who
presided over the infernal regions; Helios, the sun; Hecate, the goddess
of expiation; Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of the vine; Leto (Latona), the
goddess of the concealed powers; Eos (Aurora), goddess of the morn;
Nemesis, god of vengeance; AEolus, the god of winds; Harmonia; the Graces,
the Muses, the Nymphs, the Nereids, marine nymphs--these were all invested
with great power and dignity.

Besides these were deities who performed special services to the greater
gods, like the Horae; and monsters, offspring of gods, like the gorgons,
chimera, the dragon of the Hesperides, the Lernaean hydra, the Nemean lion,
Scylla and Charybdis, the centaurs, the sphinx, and others.

It will be seen that these gods and goddesses represent the powers
of nature, and the great attributes of wisdom, purity, courage, fidelity,
truth, which belong to man's higher nature, and which are associated with
the divine. It was these powers and attributes which were
worshiped--superhuman and adorable. Homer and Hesiod are the great
authorities of the theogonies of the pagan world, and we can not tell how
much of this was of their invention, and how much was implanted in the
common mind of the Greeks, at an age earlier than 700 B.C. The Orphic
theogony belongs to a later date, but acquired even greater popular
veneration than the Hesiodic.

The worship of these divinities was attended by rites more or less
elevated, but sometimes by impurities and follies, like those of Bacchus
and Venus. Sometimes this worship was veiled in mysteries, like those of
Eleusis. To all these deities temples were erected, and offerings made,
sometimes of fruits and flowers, and then of animals. Of all these deities
there were legends--sometimes absurd, and these were interwoven with
literature and religious solemnities. The details of these fill many a
large dictionary, and are to be read in dictionaries, or in poems. Those
which pertain to Ceres, to Apollo, to Juno, to Venus, to Minerva, to
Mercury, are full of poetic beauty and fascination. They arose in an age
of fertile imagination and ardent feeling, and became the faith of the
people.

Besides the legends pertaining to gods and goddesses, are those
which relate the heroic actions of men. Grote describes the different
races of men as they appear in the Hesiodic theogony--the offspring of
gods. First, the golden race: first created, good and happy, like the gods
themselves, and honored after death by being made the unseen guardians of
men--"terrestrial demons." Second, the silver race, inferior in body and
mind, was next created, and being disobedient, are buried in the earth.
Third, the brazen race, hard, pugnacious, terrible, strong, which was
continually at war, and ultimately destroyed itself, and descended into
Hades, unhonored and without privilege. Fourth, the race of heroes, or
demigods, such as fought at Thebes and Troy, virtuous but warlike, which
also perished in battle, but were removed to a happier state. And finally,
the iron race, doomed to perpetual guilt, care, toil, suffering--unjust,
dishonest, ungrateful, thoughtless--such is the present race of men, with a
small admixture of good, which will also end in due time. Such are the
races which Hesiod describes in his poem of the "Works and
Days,"--penetrated with a profound sense of the wickedness and degeneracy
of human life, yet of the ultimate rewards of virtue and truth. His demons
are not gods, nor men, but intermediate agents, essentially good--angels,
whose province was to guard and to benefit the world. But the notions of
demons gradually changed, until they were regarded as both good and bad,
as viewed by Plato, and finally they were regarded as the causes of evil,
as in the time of the Christian writers. Hesiod, who lived, it is
supposed, four hundred years before Herodotus, is a great ethical poet,
and embodied the views of his age respecting the great mysteries of nature
and life.

The legends which Hesiod, Homer, and other poets made so attractive by
their genius, have a perpetual interest, since they are invested with all
the fascinations of song and romance. We will not enter upon those which
relate to gods, but confine ourselves to those which relate to men--the
early heroes of the classic land and age; nor can we allude to all--only a
few--those which are most memorable and impressive.

Among the most ancient was the legend relating to the Danaides,
which invest the early history of Argos with peculiar interest. Inachus,
who reigned 1986 B.C., according to ancient chronology, is also the name
of the river flowing beneath the walls of the ancient city, situated in
the eastern part of the Peloponnesus. In the reign of Krotopos, one of his
descendants, Danaus came with his fifty daughters from Egypt to Argos in a
vessel of fifty oars, in order to escape the solicitations of the fifty
sons of AEgyptos, his brother, who wished to make them their wives. AEgyptos
and the sons followed in pursuit, and Danaus was compelled to assent to
their desires, but furnished each of his daughters with a dagger, on the
wedding night, who thus slew their husbands, except one, whose husband,
Lynceus, ultimately became king of Argos. From Danaus was derived the name
of Danai, applied to the people of the Argeian territory, and to the
Homeric Greeks generally. We hence infer that Argos--one of the oldest
cities of Greece, was settled in part by Egyptians, probably in the era of
the shepherd kings, who introduced not only the arts, but the religious
rites of that ancient country. Among the regal descendants of Lynceus was
Danae, whose son Perseus performed marvelous deeds, by the special favor
of Athene, among which he brought from Libya the terrific head of the
Gorgon Medusa, which had the marvelous property of turning every one to
stone who looked at her. Stung with remorse for the accidental murder of
his grandfather, the king, he retired from Argos, and founded the city of
Mycenae, the ruins of whose massive walls are still to be seen--Cyclopean
works, which seem to show that the old Pelasgians derived their
architectural ideas from the Egyptian Danauns. The Perseids of Mycenae thus
boasted of an illustrious descent, which continued down to the last
sovereign of Sparta.

The grand-daughter of Perseus was Alcmena, whom mythology
represents as the mother of Hercules by Jupiter. The labors of Hercules
are among the most interesting legends of pagan antiquity, since they are
types of the endless toils of a noble soul, doomed to labor for others,
and obey the commands of worthless persecutors. But the hero is finally
rewarded by admission to the family of the gods, and his descendants are
ultimately restored to the inheritance from which they were deprived by
the wrath and jealousy of Juno. A younger branch of the Perseid family
reigned in Lacedaemon--Eurystheus, to whom Hercules was subject; but he,
with all his sons, lost their lives in battle, so that the Perseid family
was represented only by the sons of Hercules--the Heracleids, or Heraclidae.
They endeavored to regain their possessions, and invaded the Peloponnesus,
from which they had been expelled. Hyllos, the oldest son, proposed to the
army of Ionians, Achaeans, and Arcadians, which met them in defense, that
the combat should be decided between himself and any champion of the
invading army, and that, if he were victorious, the Heracleids should be
restored to their sovereignty, but if defeated, should forego their claim
for three generations. Hyllos was vanquished, and the Heracleids retired
and resided with the Dorians. When the stipulated period had ended, they,
assisted by the Dorians, gained possession of the Peloponnesus. Hence the
great Dorian settlement of Argos, Sparta, and Messenia, effected by the
return of the Heracleids.

Another important legend is that which relates to Deucalion and the
deluge, as it is supposed to shed light on the different races that
colonized Greece. The wickedness of the world induced Zeus to punish it by
a deluge; a terrible rain laid the whole of Greece under water, except a
few mountain tops. Deucalion was saved in an ark, or chest, which he had
been forewarned to construct. After floating nine days, he landed on the
summit of Mount Parnassus. Issuing from his ark, he found no inhabitants,
they having been destroyed by the deluge. Instructed, however, by Zeus, he
and his wife, Pyrrha, threw stones over their heads, and those which he
threw became men, and those thrown by his wife became women. Thus does
mythology account for the new settlement of the country--a tradition
doubtless derived from the remote ages through the children of Japhet,
from whom the Greeks descended, and who, after many wanderings and
migrations, settled in Greece.

Deucalion and Pyrrha had two sons, Hellen and Amphictyon. The
eldest, Hellen, by a nymph was the father of Dorus, AEolus, and Xuthus, and
he gave his name to the nation--Hellenas. In dividing the country among his
sons, AEolus received Thessaly; Xuthus, Peloponnesus; and Dorus, the
country lying opposite, on the northern side of the Corinthian Gulf, as
has been already mentioned in the preceding chapter. Substitute Deucalion
for Noah, Greece for Armenia, and Dorus, AEolus, and Xuthus for Shem, Ham,
and Japhet, and we see a reproduction of the Mosaic account of the second
settlement of mankind.

As it is natural for men to trace their origin to illustrious progenitors,
so the Greeks, in their various settlements, cherished the legends which
represented themselves as sprung from gods and heroes--those great
benefactors, whose exploits occupy the heroic ages. As Hercules was the
Argine hero of the Peloponnesus, so AEolus was the father of heroes sacred
in the history of the AEolians, who inhabited the largest part of Greece.
AEolus reigned in Thessaly, the original seat of the Hellenes.

Among his sons was Salmoneus, whose daughter, Tyro, became enamored
of the river Eneipus, and frequenting its banks, the god Poseidon fell in
love with her. The fruits of this alliance were the twin brothers, Pelias
and Neleus, who quarreled respecting the possession of Iolchos, situated
at the foot of Mount Pelion, celebrated afterward as the residence of
Jason. Pelias prevailed, and Neleus returned into Peloponnesus and founded
the kingdom of Pylos. His beautiful daughter, Pero, was sought in marriage
by princes from all the neighboring countries, but he refused to entertain
the pretensions of any of them, declaring that she should only wed the man
who brought him the famous oxen of Iphiklos, in Thessaly. Melampus, the
nephew of Neleus, obtained the oxen for his brother Bias, who thus
obtained the hand of Pero. Of the twelve sons of Neleus, Nestor was the
most celebrated. It was he who assembled the various chieftains for the
siege of Troy, and was pre-eminent over all for wisdom.

Another descendant of AEolus was the subject of a beautiful legend.
Admetus, who married a daughter of Pelias, and whose horses were tended by
Apollo, for a time incarnated as a slave in punishment for the murder of
the Cyclopes. Apollo, in gratitude, obtained from the Fates the privilege
that the life of Admetus should be prolonged if any one could be found to
die voluntarily for him. His wife, Alkestes, made the sacrifice, but was
released from the grasp of death (Thanatos) by Hercules, the ancient
friend of Admetus.

But a still more beautiful legend is associated with Jason, a great
grandson of AEolus. Pelias, still reigning at Iolchos, was informed by the
oracle to beware of the man who should appear before him with only one
sandal. He was celebrating a festival in honor of Poseidon when Jason
appeared, having lost one of his sandals in crossing a river. As a means
of averting the danger, he imposed upon Jason the task, deemed desperate,
of bringing back to Iolchos the "Golden Fleece." The result was the

memorable Argonautic expedition of the ship Argo, to the distant land of
Colchis, on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Jason invited the noblest
youth of Greece to join him in this voyage of danger and glory. Fifty
illustrious persons joined him, including Hercules and Theseus, Castor and
Pollux, Mopsus, and Orpheus. They proceeded along the coast of Thrace, up
the Hellespont, past the southern coast of the Propontis, through the
Bosphorus, onward past Bithynia and Pontus, and arrived at the river
Phasis, south of the Caucasian mountains, where dwelt AEetes, whom they
sought. But he refused to surrender the golden fleece except on conditions
which were almost impossible. Medea, however, his daughter, fell in love
with Jason, and by her means, assisted by Hecate, he succeeded in yoking
the ferocious bulls and plowing the field, and sowing it with dragons'
teeth. Still AEetes refused the reward, and meditated the murder of the
Argonauts; but Medea lulled to sleep the dragon which guarded the fleece,
and fled with her lover and his companions on board the Argo. The
adventurers returned to Iolchos in safety, after innumerable perils, and
by courses irreconcilable with all geographical truths. But Jason could
avenge himself on Pelias only through the stratagem of his wife, and by
her magical arts she induced the daughters of Pelias to cut up their
father, and to cast his limbs into a cauldron, believing that by this
method he would be restored to the vigor of youth, and Jason was thus
revenged, and obtained possession of the kingdom, which he surrendered to
a son of Pelias, and retired with his wife to Corinth. Here he lived ten
years in prosperity, but repudiated Medea in order to marry Glance, the
daughter of the king of Corinth; Medea avenged the insult by the poisoned
robe she sent to Glance as a marriage present, while Jason perished, while
asleep, from a fragment of his ship Argo, which fell upon him. Such is the
legend of the Argonauts, which is typical of the naval adventures of the
maritime Greeks, and their restless enterprises.

The legend of Sisyphus is connected with the early history of
Corinth. Sisyphus was the son of AEolus, and founded this wealthy city. He
was distinguished for cunning and deceit. He detected Antolycus, the son
of Hermes, by marking his sheep under the foot, so that the arch-thief was
obliged to acknowledge the superior craft of the AEolid, and restore the
plunder. He discovered the amour of Zeus with the nymph AEgina, and told
her mother where she was carried, which so incensed the "father of gods
and men," that he doomed Sisyphus, in Hades, to the perpetual punishment
of rolling up a hill a heavy stone, which, as soon as it reached the
summit, rolled back again in spite of all his efforts. This legend
illustrates the never ending toils and disappointments of men.

Sisyphus was the grandfather of Bellerophon, whose beauty made him
the object of a violent passion on the part of Antea, the wife of a king
of Argos. He rejected her advances, and became as violently hated. She
made false accusations, and persuaded her husband to kill him. Not wishing
to commit the murder directly, he sent him to his son-in-law, the king of
Sykia, in Asia Minor, with a folded tablet full of destructive symbols,
which required him to perform perilous undertakings, which he successfully
performed. He was then recognized as the son of a god, and married the
daughter of the king. This legend reminds us of Joseph in Egypt.

We are compelled to omit other interesting legends of the AEolids,
the sons and daughters of AEolus, among which are those which record the
feats of Atalanta, and turn to those which relate to the Pelopids, who
gave to the Peloponnesus its early poetic interest. Of this remarkable
race were Tantalus, Pelops, Atreus, Thyestes, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Helen,
and Hermione, all of whom figured in the ancient legendary genealogies.

Tantalus resided, at a remote antiquity, near Mount Sipylus, in
Lydia, and was a man of immense wealth, and pre-eminently favored both by
gods and men. Intoxicated by prosperity, he stole nectar and ambrosia from
the table of the gods, and revealed their secrets, for which he was
punished in the under world by perpetual hunger and thirst, yet placed
with fruit and water near him, which eluded his grasp when he attempted to
touch them. He had two children, Pelops and Niobe. The latter was blessed
with seven sons and seven daughters, which so inflamed her with pride that
she claimed equality with the goddesses Latona and Diana, who favored her
by their friendship. This presumption so incensed the goddesses, that they
killed all her children, and Niobe wept herself to death, and was turned
into a stone, a striking image of excessive grief.

Pelops was a Lydian king, but was expelled from Asia by Ilus, king
of Troy, for his impieties. He came to Greece, and beat Hippodamenia,
whose father was king of Pisa, near Olympia, in Elis, in a chariot race,
when death was the penalty of failure. He succeeded by the favor of
Poseidon, and married the princess, and became king of Pisa. He gave his
name to the whole peninsula, which he was enabled to do from the great
wealth he brought from Lydia, thus connecting the early settlements of the
Peloponnesus with Asia Minor. He had numerous children, who became the
sovereigns of different cities and states in Argos, Elis, Laconia, and
Arcadia. One of them, Atreus, was king of Mycenae, who inherited the
sceptre of Zeus, and whose wealth was proverbial. The sceptre was made by
Hephaestus (Vulcan) and given to Zeus; he gave it to Hermes; Hermes
presented it to Pelops; and Pelops gave it to Atreus, the ruler of men.
Atreus and his brother, Thyestes, bequeathed it to Agamemnon, who ruled at
Mycenae, while his brother, Menelaus, reigned at Sparta. It was the wife of
Menelaus, Helen, who was carried away by Paris, which occasioned the
Trojan war. Agamemnon was killed on his return from Troy, through the
treachery of his wife Clytemnestra, who was seduced by AEgisthus, the son
of Thyestes. His only son, Orestes, afterward avenged the murder, and
recovered Mycenae. Hermione, the only daughter of Menelaus and Helen, was
given in marriage to the son of Achilles, Neoptolemas, who reigned in
Thessaly. Mycenae maintained its independence to the Persian invasion, and
is rendered immortal by the Iliad and Odyssey. On the subsequent
ascendency of Sparta, the bones of Orestes were brought from Tegea, where
they had reposed for generations, in a coffin seven cubits long.

The other States of the Peloponnesus, have also their genealogical
legends, which trace their ancestors to gods and goddesses, which I omit,
and turn to those which belong to Attica.

The great Deucalian deluge, according to legend, happened during
the reign of Ogyges, 1796 years B.C., and 1020 before the first Olympiad.
After a long interval, Cecrops, half man and half serpent, became king of
the country. By some he is represented as a Pelasgian, by others, as an
Egyptian. He introduced the first elements of civilized life--marriage, the
twelve political divisions of Attica, and a new form of worship,
abolishing the bloody sacrifices to Zeus. He gave to the country the name
of Cecropia. During his reign there ensued a dispute between Athenae and
Poseidon, respecting the possession of the Acropolis. Poseidon struck the
rocks with his trident, and produced a well of salt water; Athenae planted
an olive tree. The twelve Olympian gods decided the dispute, and awarded
to Athenae the coveted possession, and she ever afterward remained the
protecting deity of Athens.

Among his descendants was Theseus, the great legendary hero of
Attica, who was one of the Argonauts, and also one of those who hunted the
Calidomian boar. He freed Attica from robbers and wild beasts, conquered
the celebrated Minotaur of Crete, and escaped from the labyrinth by the
aid of Ariadne, whom he carried off and abandoned. In the Iliad he is
represented as fighting against the centaurs, and in the Hesiodic poems he
is an amorous knight-errant, misguided by the beautiful AEgle. Among his
other feats, inferior only to those of Hercules, he vanquished the
Amazons--a nation of courageous and hardy women, who came from the country
about Caucasus, and whose principal seats were near the modern Trezibond.
They invaded Thrace, Asia Minor, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and the islands of
the AEgean. The foundation of several towns in Asia Minor is ascribed to
them. In the time of Theseus, this semi-mythical and semi-historical race
of female warriors invaded Attica, and even penetrated to Athens, but were
conquered by the hero king. Allusion is made to their defeat throughout
the literature of Athens. Although Theseus was a purely legendary
personage, the Athenians were accustomed to regard him as a great
political reformer and legislator, who consolidated the Athenian
commonwealth, distributing the people into three classes.

The legends pertaining to Thebes occupy a prominent place in
Grecian mythology. Cadmus, the son of Agenor, king of Phoenicia, leaves his
country in search of his sister Europa, with whom Zeus, in the form of a
bull, had fallen in love, and carried on his back to Crete. He first goes
to Thrace, and thence to Delphi, to learn tidings of Europa, but the god
directs him not to prosecute his search; he is to follow the guidance of a
cow, and to found a city where the animal should lie down. The cow stops
at the site of Thebes. He marries Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and
Aphrodite, after having killed the dragons which guarded the fountain
Allia, and sowed their teeth. From these armed men sprang up, who killed
each other, except five. From these arose the five great families of
Thebes, called Sparti. One of the Sparti marries a daughter of Cadmus,
whose issue was Pentheus, who became king. It was in his reign that
Dionysus appears as a god in Boeotia, the giver of the vine, and obtains
divine honors in Thebes. Among the descendants of Cadmus was Laius. He is
forewarned by an oracle that any son he should beget would destroy him,
and hence he caused the infant OEdipus to be exposed on Mount Cithanon.
Here the herdsmen of Polybus, king of Corinth, find him, and convey him to
their lord who brings him up as his own child. Distressed by the taunts of
companions as to his unknown parentage, he goes to Delphi, to inquire the
name of his real father. He is told not to return to his own country, for
it was his destiny to kill his father and become the husband of his
mother. Knowing no country but Corinth, he pursues his way to Boeotia, and
meets Laius in a chariot drawn by mules. A quarrel ensues from the
insolence of attendants, and OEdipus kills Laius. The brother of Laius,
Creon, succeeds to the throne of Thebes. The country around is vexed with
a terrible monster, with the face of a woman, the wings of a bird, and the
tail of a lion, called the Sphinx, who has learned from the Muses a
riddle, which she proposed to the Thebans, and on every failure to resolve
it one of them was devoured. But no person can solve the riddle. The king
offers his crown and his sister Jocasta, wife of Laius, in marriage to any
one who would explain the riddle. OEdipus solves it, and is made king of
Thebes, and marries Jocasta. A fatal curse rests upon him. Jocasta,
informed by the gods of her relationship, hangs herself in agony. OEdipus
endures great miseries, as well as his children, whom he curses, and who
quarrel about their inheritance, which quarrel leads to the siege of
Thebes by Adrastus, king of Argos, who seeks to restore Polynices--one of
the sons of OEdipus, to the throne of which he was dispossessed. The
Argetan chieftains readily enter into the enterprise, assisted by numerous
auxiliaries from Arcadia and Messenia. The Cadmeans, assisted by the
Phocians, march out to resist the invaders, who are repulsed, in
consequence of the magnanimity of a generous youth, who offers himself a
victim to Ares. Eteocles then proposed to his brother, Polynices, the
rival claimants, to decide the quarrel by single combat. It resulted in
the death of both, and then in the renewal of the general contest, and the
destruction of the Argeian chiefs, and Adrastus's return to Argos in shame
and woe.

But Creon, the father of the self-sacrificing Menaeceus, succeeds on
the death of the rival brothers, to the administration of Thebes. A second
siege takes place, conducted by Adrastus, and the sons of those who had
been slain. Thebes now falls, and Thereander, the son of Polynices, is
made king. The legends of Thebes have furnished the great tragedians
Sophocles and Euripides, with their finest subjects. In the fable of the
Sphinx we trace a connection between Thebes and ancient Egypt.

But all the legends of ancient Greece yield in interest to that of Troy,
which Homer chose as the subject of his immortal epic.

Dardanus, a son of Zeus, is the primitive ancestor of the Trojan
kings, whose seat of power was Mount Ida. His son, Erichthonius, became
the richest of mankind, and had in his pastures three thousand mares. His
son, Tros, was the father of Ilus, Assarcus, and Ganymede. The latter was
stolen by Zeus to be his cup-bearer.

Ilus was the father of Laomedon, under whom Apollo and Poseidon, in
mortal form, went through a temporary servitude--the former tending his
flocks, the latter building the walls of Ilium. Laomedon was killed by
Hercules, in punishment for his perfidy in giving him mortal horses for
his destruction of a sea monster, instead of the immortal horses, as he
had promised, the gift of Zeus to Tros.

Among the sons of Laomedon was Priam, who was placed upon the
throne. He was the father of illustrious sons, among whom were Hector and
Paris. The latter was exposed on Mount Ida, to avoid the fulfillment of an
evil prophecy, but grew up beautiful and active among the flocks and
herds. It was to him that the three goddesses, Here, Athenae, and Aphrodite
(Juno, Minerva, and Venus), presented their respective claims to beauty,
which he awarded to Aphrodite, and by whom he was promised, in recompense,
Helen, wife of the Spartan king, Menelaus, and daughter of Zeus. Aphrodite
caused ships to be built for him, and he safely arrived in Sparta, and was
hospitably entertained by the unsuspecting monarch. In the absence of
Menelaus in Crete, Paris carries away to Troy both Helen, and a large sum
of money belonging to the king. Menelaus hastens home, informed of the
perfidy, and consults his brother, Agamemnon, and the venerable Nestor.
They interest the Argeian chieftains, who resolve to recover Helen. Ten
years are spent in preparations, consisting of one thousand one hundred
and eighty-six ships, and one hundred thousand men, comprised of heroes
from all parts of Greece, among whom are Ajax, Diomedes, Achilles, and
Odysseus. The heroes set sail from Aulis, and after various mistakes,
reach Asia.

Meanwhile the Trojans assemble, with a large body of allies, to
resist the invaders, who demand the redress of a great wrong. The Trojans
are routed in battle, and return within their walls. After various
fortunes, the city is taken, at the end of ten years, by stratagem, and
the Grecian chieftains who were not killed seek to return to their own
country, with Helen among the spoils. They meet with many misfortunes,
from the anger of the gods, for not having spared the altars of Troy.
Their chieftains quarrel among themselves, and even Agamemnon and Menelaus
lose their fraternal friendship. After long wanderings, and bitter
disappointments, and protracted hopes, the heroes return to their
homes--such as war had spared--to recount their adventures and sufferings,
and reconstruct their shattered States, and mend their broken fortunes--a
type of war in all the ages, calamitous even to conquerors. The wanderings
of Ulysses have a peculiar fascination, since they form the subject of the
Odyssey, one of the noblest poems of antiquity. Nor are the adventures of
AEneas scarcely less interesting, as presented by Virgil, who traces the
first Settlement of Latium to the Trojan exiles. We should like to dwell
on the siege of Troy, and its great results, but the subject is too
extensive and complicated. The student of the great event, whether
historical or mystical, must read the detailed accounts in the immortal
epics of Homer. We have only space for the grand outlines, which can be
scarcely more than allusions.

Scarcely inferior to the legend of Troy, is that which recounts the
return of the descendants of Hercules to the ancient inheritance on the
Peloponnesus, which, it is supposed, took place three or four hundred
years before authentic history begins, or eighty years after the Trojan
war.

We have briefly described the geographical position of the most important
part of ancient Greece--the Peloponnesus--almost an island, separated from
the continent only by a narrow gulf, resembling in shape a palm-tree,
indented on all sides by bays, and intersected with mountains, and
inhabited by a simple and warlike race.

We have seen that the descendants of Perseus, who was a descendant of
Danaus, reigned at Mycenae in Argolis--among whom was Amphitryon, who fled
to Thebes, on the murder of his uncle, with Alemena his wife. Then
Hercules, to whom the throne of Mycenae legitimately belonged, was born,
but deprived of his inheritance by Eurystheus--a younger branch of the
Perseids--in consequence of the anger and jealousy of Juno, and to whom, by
the fates, Hercules was made subject. We have seen how the sons of
Hercules, under Hyllos, attempted to regain their kingdom, but were
defeated, and retreated among the Dorians.

After three generations, the Heraclidae set out to regain their
inheritance, assisted by the Dorians. They at length, after five
expeditions, gained possession of the country, and divided it, among the
various chieftains, who established their dominion in Argos, Mycenae, and
Sparta, which, at the time of the Trojan war, was ruled by Agamemnon and
Menelaus, descendants of Pelops. In the next generation, Corinth was
conquered by the Dorians, under an Heraclide prince.

The Achaeans, thus expelled by the Dorians from the south and east
of the Peloponnesus, fell back upon the northwest coast, and drove away
the Ionians, and formed a confederacy of twelve cities, which in later
times became of considerable importance. The dispossessed Ionians joined
their brethren of the same race in Attica, but the rugged peninsula was
unequal to support the increased population, and a great migration took
place to the Cyclades and the coasts of Lydia. The colonists there built
twelve cities, about one hundred and forty years after the Trojan war.
Another body of Achaeans, driven out of the Peloponnesus by the Dorians,
first settled in Boeotia, and afterward, with AEolians, sailed to the isle
of Lesbos, where they founded six cities, and then to the opposite
mainland. At the foot of Mount Ida they founded the twelve AEolian cities,
of which Smyrna was the principal.

Crete was founded by a body of Dorians and conquered Achaeans.
Rhodes received a similar colony. So did the island of Cos. The cities of
Lindus, Ialysus, Camirus, Cos, with Cnidus and Halicarnassus, on the
mainland, formed the Dorian Hexapolis of Caria, inferior, however, to the
Ionian and AEolian colonies.

At the beginning of the mythical age the dominant Hellenic races
were the Achaeans and AEolians; at the close, the Ionians and Dorians were
predominant. The Ionians extended their maritime possessions from Attica
to the Asiatic colonies across the AEgean, and gradually took the lead of
the Asiatic AEolians, and formed a great maritime empire under the
supremacy of Athens. The Hellenic world ultimately was divided and
convulsed by the great contest for supremacy between the Dorians and
Ionians, until the common danger from the Persian invasion united them
together for a time.

Thus far we have only legend to guide us in the early history of
Greece. The historical period begins with the First Olympiad, B.C. 776.
Before this all is uncertain, yet as probable as the events of English
history in the mythical period between the departure of the Romans and the
establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The history is not all myth;
neither is it clearly authenticated.

The various Hellenic tribes, though separated by political
ambition, were yet kindred in language and institutions. They formed great
leagues, or associations, of neighboring cities, for the performance of
religious rites. The Amphictyonic Council, which became subsequently so
famous, was made up of Thessalians, Boeotians, Dorians, Ionians, Achaeans,
Locrians, and Phocians--all Hellenic in race. Their great centre was the
temple of Apollo at Delphi. The different tribes or nations also came
together regularly to take part in the four great religious festivals or
games--the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemaean--the two former of which
were celebrated every four years.

In the Homeric age the dominant State was Achaea, whose capital was
Mycenae. The next in power was Lacedaemon. After the Dorian conquest, Argos
was the first, Sparta the second, and Messenia the third State in
importance. Argos, at the head of a large confederacy of cities on the
northeast of the Peloponnesus, was governed by Phidon--an irresponsible
ruler, a descendant of Hercules, to whom is inscribed the coinage of
silver and copper money, and the introduction of weights and measures. He
flourished B.C. 747.

All these various legends, though unsupported by history, have a
great ethical importance, as well as poetic interest. The passions,
habits, and adventures of a primitive and warlike race are presented by
the poets with transcendent effect, and we read lessons of human nature as
in the dramas of Shakespeare. Hence, one of the most learned and dignified
of the English historians deems it worthy of his pen to devote to these
myths a volume of his noble work. Nor is it misplaced labor. These legends
furnished subjects to the tragic and epic poets of antiquity, as well as
to painters and sculptors, in all the ages of art. They are identified
with the development of Grecian genius, and are as imperishable as history
itself. They were to the Greeks realities, and represent all that is vital
in their associations and worship. They stimulated the poetic faculty, and
taught lessons of moral wisdom which all nations respect and venerate.
They contributed to enrich both literature and art. They make AEschylus,
Euripides, Pindar, Homer, and Hesiod great monumental pillars of the
progress of the human race. Therefore, we will not willingly let those
legends die in our memories or hearts.

They are particularly important as shedding light on the manners,
customs, and institutions of the ancient Greeks, although they give no
reliable historical facts. They are memorials of the first state of
Grecian society, essentially different from the Oriental world. We see in
them the germs of political constitutions--the rise of liberty--the
pre-eminence of families which forms the foundation for oligarchy, or the
ascendency of nobles. We see also the first beginnings of democratic
influence--the voice of the people asserting a claim to be heard in the
market-place. We see again the existence of slavery--captives taken in war
doomed to attendance in princely palaces, and ultimately to menial labor
on the land. In those primitive times a State was often nothing but a
city, with the lands surrounding it, and therefore it was possible for all
the inhabitants to assemble in the agora with the king and nobles. We
find, in the early condition of Greece, kings, nobles, citizens, and
slaves.

The king was seldom distinguished by any impassable barrier between
himself and subjects. He was rather the chief among his nobles, and his
supremacy was based on descent from illustrious ancestors. It passed
generally to the eldest son. In war he was a leader; in peace, a
protector. He offered up prayers and sacrifices for his people to the gods
in whom they all alike believed. He possessed an ample domain, and the
produce of his lands was devoted to a generous but rude hospitality. He
had a large share of the plunder taken from an enemy, and the most
alluring of the female captives. It was, however, difficult for him to
retain ascendency without great personal gifts and virtues, and especially
bravery on the field of battle, and wisdom in council. To the noblest of
these kings the legends ascribe great bodily strength and activity.

The kings were assisted by a great council of chieftains or nobles,
whose functions were deliberation and consultation; and after having
talked over their intentions with the chiefs, they announced them to the
people, who assembled in the market-place, and who were generally
submissive to the royal authority, although they were regarded as the
source of power. Then the king, and sometimes his nobles, administered
justice and heard complaints. Public speaking was favorable to eloquence,
and stimulated intellectual development, and gave dignity to tho people to
whom the speeches were addressed.

In those primitive times there was a strong religious feeling,
great reverence for the gods, whose anger was deprecated, and whose favor
was sought. The ties of families were strong. Paternal authority was
recognized and revered. Marriage was a sacred institution. The wife
occupied a position of great dignity and influence. Women were not
secluded in a harem, as were the Asiatics, but employed in useful labors.
Children were obedient, and brothers, sisters, and cousins were united
together by strong attachments. Hospitality was a cherished virtue, and
the stranger was ever cordially welcome, nor questioned even until
refreshed by the bath and the banquet. Feasts were free from extravagance
and luxury, and those who shared in them enlivened the company by a
recital of the adventures of gods and men. But passions were unrestrained,
and homicide was common. The murderer was not punished by the State, but
was left to the vengeance of kindred and friends, appeased sometimes by
costly gifts, as among the ancient Jews.

There was a rude civilization among the ancient Greeks, reminding
us of the Teutonic tribes, but it was higher than theirs. We observe the
division of the people into various trades and occupations--carpenters,
smiths, leather-dressers, leeches, prophets, bards, and fishermen,
although the main business was agriculture. Cattle were the great staple
of wealth, and the largest part of the land was devoted to pasture. The
land was tilled chiefly by slaves, and women of the servile class were
doomed to severe labor and privations. They brought the water, and they
turned the mills. Spinning and weaving were, however, the occupations of
all, and garments for men and women were alike made at home. There was
only a limited commerce, which was then monopolized by the Phoenicians, who
exaggerated the dangers of the sea. There were walled cities, palaces, and
temples. Armor was curiously wrought, and arms were well made. Rich
garments were worn by princes, and their palaces glittered with the
precious metals. Copper was hardened so as to be employed in weapons of
war. The warriors had chariots and horses, and were armed with sword,
dagger, and spear, and were protected by helmets, breastplates, and
greaves. Fortified cities were built on rocky elevations, although the
people generally lived in unfortified villages. The means of defense were
superior to those of offense, which enabled men to preserve their
acquisitions, for the ancient chieftains resembled the feudal barons of
the Middle Ages in the passion for robbery and adventure. We do not read
of coined money nor the art of writing, nor sculpture, nor ornamental
architecture among the Homeric Greeks; but they were fond of music and
poetry. Before history commences, they had their epics, which, sung by the
bards and minstrels, furnished Homer and Hesiod with materials for their
noble productions. It is supposed by Grote that the Homeric poems were
composed eight hundred and fifty years before Christ, and preserved two
hundred years without the aid of writing--of all poems the most popular and
natural, and addressed to unlettered minds.

Such were the heroic ages with their myths, their heroes, their simple
manners, their credulity, their religious faith, their rude civilization.
We have now to trace their progress through the historical epoch.





Next: The Grecian States And Colonies To The Persian Wars

Previous: The Geography Of Ancient Greece And Its Early Inhabitants



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