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
br /> 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


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


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


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.