UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
CHAPTER XLI-MYTH AND TRADITION.
True interpretation of the myths of the Greeks has been one of the most difficult problems
imposed on modern scholarship. Longfellow tells a story how the infant Christ, having
forgotten the name of the letter aleph, and being informed by his teacher that it was
aleph, suddenly startled his instructor with the question, "But, please good Rabbi, what
does aleph mean?" The question of the myth to us is, not so much What is it? but, What
does it mean?
Many theories have been advanced to explain the origin and true nature of the myths of
antiquity. They are the peculiar property of the Aryan race. Among the Semitic nations
mythology did not, could not, flourish- this for reasons to be hereafter explained. But
the Aryans were a people whose brains teemed with myths.
In the next place it should be observed that all branches of the Aryan family had the same
myths, almost infinitely varied and inflected, it is true, but yet at bottom the same.
Just as the different languages of the Indo-European race are fundamentally identical, so
the mythology of that race in all its multitudinous out branchings flows from a common
fountain and has the same identical substance. The myths of India, Greece, Italy, Germany,
and Scandinavia differ not in material, but only in development. The same story runs from
the valley of the Indus to Iceland, from the frozen North to the waters of the southern
But of all the mythologies no other was so highly developed as that of Greece. The same
exuberance which characterized the other elements of Greek life seems to have given a
double impulse to the myths of Hellas. Both in number and completeness they far surpass
the fictions of any of the sister peoples of the ancient world.
In the first place it may be well to sketch again what may be called the personnel of
Grecian mythology. In the beginning was Chaos. Chaos wedded Night. From them sprang the
Heaven and the Earth. The Heaven was Uranus; the Earth, Gaea. Uranus succeeded Chaos in
the government of the universe. Then was born Cronos. Cronos had Uranus, the Heaven, for
his father, and Gaea, the Earth, for his mother. Time was born of the Heaven and the
Earth. Gaea had other children, born perhaps of Chaos. These were the Cyclopes and Bronte
and Sterpoe. Bronte and Sterope were Thunder and Lightning. These chaotic offspring were
hurled by Uranus into Tartarus; but Gaea was in pain for the banishment of her children.
She persuaded Cronos and the other children of Uranus to mutiny against him. He was seized
by them, mutilated, dethroned; and Cronos, the eldest of the sons, took the throne of the
father. Time usurped the dominion of Heaven.
Cronos wedded Rhea, another daughter of Uranus and Gaea. Rhea was the Earth. Of Time and
Earth were born the days. But Time swallowed his offspring as soon as they were born, and
Rhea was in anguish for her children. About to be delivered of Zeus, she gave her lord a
stone, and he swallowed that instead of the child. Zeus inherited the heavens, and became
first among gods and men. He was the Blue Sky. He was the Light. Though the Days perished
he was immortal.-Such is the first span from Chaos to Zeus-from Confusion to Light and
Zeus enthroned delivered the Cyclopes from their dungeon. In return they gave him back
Bronte, the Thunderbolt. With this he warred against the Titans. In the war he was aided
by Forethought. Forethought was Prometheus; but Prometheus filched fire from heaven and
kindled it for men below. _________________________________ Rhea = the Greek era, by
transposition of the r= Latin terra, earth.