The Soul after death: Greco-Roman

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

 

Though there is no period at which the ancients do not seem to have believed in a future life, continual confusion prevails when they come to picture the existence led by man in the other world, as we see from the sixth book of the “Æneid”. Combined with the elaborate mythology of Greece, we are confronted with the primitive belief of Italy, and doubtless of Greece to–a belief supported by all the religious rites in connection with the dead–that the spirits of the departed lived on in the tomb with the body. As cremation gradually superseded burial, the idea took shape that the soul might have an existence of its own, altogether independent of the body, and a place of abode was assigned to it in a hole in the center of the earth, where it lived on in eternity with other souls.

This latter view seems to have become the official theory, at least in Italy, in classical days. In the gloomy, horrible Etruscan religion, the shades were supposed to be in charge of the Conductor of the Dead—a repulsive figure, always represented with wings and long, matted hair and a hammer, whose appearance was afterwards imitated in the dress of the man who removed the dead from the arena. Surely something may be said for Gaston Boissier’s suggestion that Dante’s Tuscan blood may account to some extent for the gruesome imagery of the “Inferno”.

Cicero [Tusc. Disp._ i. 16.] tells us that it was generally believed that the dead lived on beneath the earth, and special provision was made for them in every Latin town in the “mundus,” a deep trench which was dug before the “pomerium” was traced, and regarded as the particular entrance to the lower world for the dead of the town in question. The trench was vaulted over, so that it might correspond more or less with the sky, a gap being left in the vault which was closed with the stone of the departed—the “lapis manalis.” Corn was thrown into the trench, which was filled up with earth, and an altar erected over it. On three solemn days in the year–August 25, October 5, and November 8–the trench was opened and the stone removed, the dead thus once more having free access to the world above, where the usual offerings were made to them.[ Ov., “Fast.”, iv. 821; Fowler, “Roman Festivals”, p. 211]

These provisions clearly show an official belief that death did not create an impassable barrier between the dead and the living. The spirits of the departed still belonged to the city of their birth, and took an interest in their old home. They could even return to it on the days when “the trench of the gods of gloom lays open and the very jaws of hell yawn wide.”[Macrob., “Sat.”, i. 16.] Their rights must be respected, if evil was to be averted from the State. In fact, the dead were gods with altars of their own,[Cic., “De Leg.”, ii. 22.] and Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, could write to her sons, “You will make offerings to me and invoke your parent as a god.”[“Deum parentem” (Corn. Nep., “Fragm.”, 12).] Their cult was closely connected with that of the Lares—the gods of the hearth, which symbolized a fixed abode in contrast with the early nomad life. Indeed, there is practically no distinction between the Lares and the Manes, the souls of the good dead. But the dead had their own festival, the “Dies Parentales,” held from the 13th to the 21st of February, in Rome; and in Greece the “Genesia,” celebrated on the 5th of Boedromion, towards the end of September, about which we know very little.[Rohde, “Psyche”, p. 216. Cp. Herod., iv. 26]

There is nothing more characteristic of paganism than the passionate longing of the average man to perpetuate his memory after death in the world round which all his hopes and aspirations clung. Cicero uses it as an argument for immortality.

Many men left large sums to found colleges to celebrate their memories and feast at their tombs on stated occasions.[ Dill, “Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius”, p. 259] Lucian laughs at this custom when he represents the soul of the ordinary man in the next world as a mere bodiless shade that vanishes at a touch like smoke. It subsists on the libations and offerings it receives from the living, and those who have no friends or relatives on earth are starving and famished. Violators of tombs were threatened with the curse of dying the last of their race–a curse which Macaulay, with his intense family affection, considered the most awful that could be devised by man; and the fact that the tombs were built by the high road, so that the dead might be cheered by the greeting of the passer-by, lends an additional touch of sadness to a walk among the crumbling ruins that line the Latin or the Appian Way outside Rome to-day.

No one of the moderns has caught the pagan feeling towards death better than Giosue Carducci, a true spiritual descendant of the great Romans of old, if ever there was one. He tells how, one glorious June day, he was sitting in school, listening to the priest outraging the verb “amo,” when his eyes wandered to the window and lighted on a cherry-tree, red with fruit, and then strayed away to the hills and the sky and the distant curve of the sea-shore. All Nature was teeming with life, and he felt an answering thrill, when suddenly, as if from the very fountains of being within him, there welled up a consciousness of death, and with it the formless nothing, and a vision of himself lying cold, motionless, dumb in the black earth, while above him the birds sang, the trees rustled in the wind, the rivers ran on in their course, and the living reveled in the warm sun, bathed in its divine light. This first vision of death often haunted him in later years; [Carducci, “Rimembranze di Scuola,” in “Rime Nuove”] and one realizes that such must often have been the feelings of the Romans, and still more often of the Greeks, for the joy of the Greek in life was far greater than that of the Roman. Peace was the only boon that death could bring to a pagan, and “Pax tecum aeterna” is among the commonest of the inscriptions. The life beyond the grave was at best an unreal and joyless copy of an earthly existence, and Achilles told Odysseus that he would rather be the serf of a poor man upon earth than Achilles among the shades.

When we come to inquire into the appearance of ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon, we find, as we should expect, that they are a vague, unsubstantial copy of their former selves on earth. In Homer the shade of Patroclus, which visited Achilles in a vision as he slept by the sea-shore, looks exactly as Patroclus had looked on earth, even down to the clothes. Hadrian’s famous “animula vagula blandula” gives the same idea, and it would be difficult to imagine a disembodied spirit which retains its personality and returns to earth again except as a kind of immaterial likeness of its earthly self. We often hear of the extreme pallor of ghosts, which was doubtless due to their being bloodless and to the pallor of death itself. Propertius conceived of them as skeletons; but the unsubstantial, shadowy aspect is by far the commonest, and best harmonizes with the life they were supposed to lead.

Hitherto we have been dealing with the spirits of the dead who have been duly buried and are at rest, making their appearance among men only at stated intervals, regulated by the religion of the State. The lot of the dead who have not been vouchsafed the trifling boon of a handful of earth cast upon their bones was very different. They had not yet been admitted to the world below, and were forced to wander for a hundred years before they might enter Charon’s boat. Æneas beheld them on the banks of the Styx, stretching out their hands “ripae ulterioris amore.”

The shade of Patroclus describes its hapless state to Achilles, as does that of Elpenor to Odysseus, when they meet in the lower world. It is not surprising that the ancients attached the highest importance to the duty of burying the dead, and that Pausanias blames Lysander for not burying the bodies of Philocles and the four thousand slain at Ægospotami, seeing that the Athenians even buried the Persian dead after Marathon.

The spirits of the unburied were usually held to be bound, more or less, to the spot where their bodies lay, and to be able to enter into communication with the living with comparative ease, even if they did not actually haunt them. They were, in fact, evil spirits which had to be propitiated and honoured in special rites. Their appearances among the living were not regulated by religion. They wandered at will over the earth, belonging neither to this world nor to the next, restless and malignant, unable to escape from the trammels of mortal life, in the joys of which they had no part. Thus, in the “Phaedo” we read of souls “prowling about tombs and sepulchers, near which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions of souls which have not departed pure … These must be the souls, not of the good, but of the evil, which are compelled to wander about such places in payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life.”

Apuleius[“De Genio Socratis”, 15] classifies the spirits of the departed for us. The Manes are the good people, not to be feared so long as their rites are duly performed, as we have already seen; Lemures are disembodied spirits; while Larvae are the ghosts that haunt houses. Apuleius, however, is wholly uncritical, and the distinction between Larvae and Lemures is certainly not borne out by facts.

The Larvae had distinct attributes, and were thought to cause epilepsy or madness. They were generally treated more or less as a joke,[Cp. Plautus, “Cas.”, iii. 4. 2; “Amphitr.”, ii. 2. 145; “Rudens”, v. 3. 67, etc.; and the use of the word “larvatus.”] and are spoken of much as we speak of a bogey. They appear to have been entrusted with the torturing of the dead, as we see from the saying, “Only the Larvae war with the dead.”[ Pliny, N.H., 1, Proef. 31: “Cum mortuis non nisi  Larvas luctari.”] In Seneca’s “Apocolocyntosis”, [Seneca, _Apocol._, 9. At the risk of irrelevance, I cannot refrain from pointing out the enduring nature of proverbs as exemplified in this section. Hercules grows more and more anxious at the turn the debate is taking, and hastens from one god to another, saying: “Don’t grudge me this favour; the case concerns me closely. I shan’t forget you when the time comes. One good turn deserves another” (Manus manum lavat). This is exactly the Neapolitan proverb, “One hand washes the other, and both together wash the face.” “Una mano lava l’altra e tutt’e due si lavano la faccia,” is more or less the modern version. In chapter vii. we have also “gallum in suo sterquilino plurimum posse,” which corresponds to our own, “Every cock crows best on its own dunghill.”] when the question of the deification of the late Emperor Claudius is laid before a meeting of the gods, Father Janus gives it as his opinion that no more mortals should be treated in this way, and that “anyone who, contrary to this decree, shall hereafter be made, addressed, or painted as a god, should be delivered over to the Larvae” and flogged at the next games.

Larva also means a skeleton, and Trimalchio, following the Egyptian custom, has one brought in and placed on the table during his famous feast. It is, as one would expect, of silver, and the millionaire freedman points the usual moral–“Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die.”

The Larvae were regular characters in the Atellane farces at Rome, where they performed various “danses macabres.” Can these possibly be the prototypes of the Dances of Death so popular in the Middle Ages? We find something very similar on the well-known silver cups discovered at Bosco Reale, though Death itself does not seem to have been represented in this way. Some of the designs in the medieval series would certainly have appealed to the average bourgeois Roman of the Trimalchio type–e.g., “Les Trois Vifs et les Trois Morts,” the three men riding gaily out hunting and meeting their own skeletons. Such crude contrasts are just what one would expect to find at Pompeii.

Lemures and Larvae are often confused, but Lemures is the regular word for the dead not at rest–the “Lemuri,” or spirits of the churchyard, of some parts of modern Italy. They were evil spirits, propitiated in early days with blood. Hence the first gladiatorial games were given in connection with funerals. Both in Greece and in Rome there were special festivals for appeasing these restless spirits. Originally they were of a public character, for murder was common in primitive times, and such spirits would be numerous, as is proved by the festival lasting three days.

In Athens the Nemesia were held during Anthesterion (February-March). As in Rome, the days were unlucky. Temples were closed and business was suspended, for the dead were abroad. In the morning the doors were smeared with pitch, and those in the house chewed whitethorn to keep off the evil spirits. On the last day of the festival offerings were made to Hermes, and the dead were formally bidden to depart.[Greek: thhyraze, keres, oukhet Anthesteria.] Cp. Rohde,”Psyche”, 217]

Ovid describes the Lemuria or Lemuralia. They took place in May, which was consequently regarded as an unlucky month for marriages, and is still so regarded almost as universally in England to-day as it was in Rome during the principate of Augustus. The name of the festival Ovid derives from Remus, as the ghost of his murdered brother was said to have appeared to Romulus in his sleep and to have demanded burial. Hence the institution of the Lemuria.

The head of the family walked through the house with bare feet at dead of night, making the mystic sign with his first and fourth fingers extended, the other fingers being turned inwards and the thumb crossed over them, in case he might run against an unsubstantial spirit as he moved noiselessly along. This is the sign of “le corna,” held to be infallible against the Evil Eye in modern Italy. After solemnly washing his hands, he places black beans in his mouth, and throws others over his shoulders, saying, “With these beans do I redeem me and mine.” He repeats this ceremony nine times without looking round, and the spirits are thought to follow unseen and pick up the beans. Then he purifies himself once more and clashes brass, and bids the demons leave his house. When he has repeated nine times “Manes exite paterni,” he looks round, and the ceremony is over, and the restless ghosts have been duly laid for a year. Lamiae haunted rooms, which had to be fumigated with sulphur, while some mystic rites were performed with eggs before they could be expelled.

The dead not yet at rest were divided into three classes–those who had died before their time, the [Greek: aoroi], who had to wander till the span of their natural life was completed; those who had met with violent deaths, the [Greek: biaiothanatoi]; and the unburied, the [Greek: ataphoi]. In the Hymn to Hecate, to whom they were especially attached, they are represented as following in her train and taking part in her nightly revels in human shape. The lot of the murdered is no better, and executed criminals belong to the same class.

Spirits of this kind were supposed to haunt the place where their bodies lay. Hence they were regarded as demons, and were frequently entrusted with the carrying out of the strange curses, which have been found in their tombs, or in wells where a man had been drowned, or even in the sea, written on leaden tablets, often from right to left, or in queer characters, so as to be illegible, with another tablet fastened over them by means of a nail, symbolizing the binding effect it was hoped they would have–the “Defixiones,” to give them their Latin name, which are very numerous among the inscriptions. So real was the belief in these curses that the elder Pliny says that everyone is afraid of being placed under evil spells; and they are frequently referred to in antiquity.

REFERENCE:

TITLE: GREEK AND ROMAN GHOST STORIES (1922)

BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

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Fairies of Caragonan (Welsh)

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

Once upon a time a lot of fairies lived in Mona. One day the queen fairy’s daughter, who was now fifteen years of age, told her mother she wished to go out and see the world. The queen consented, allowing her to go for a day, and to change from a fairy to a bird, or from a bird to a fairy, as she wished.

When she returned one night she said: “I’ve been to a gentleman’s house, and as I stood listening, I heard the gentleman was witched: he was very ill, and crying out with pain.” “Oh, I must look into that,” said the queen.

So the next day she went through her process and found that he was bewitched by an old witch. So the following day she set out with six other fairies, and when they came to the gentleman’s house she found he was very ill. Going into the room, bearing a small blue pot they had brought with them, the queen asked him: “Would you like to be cured?” “Oh, bless you; yes, indeed.”

Whereupon the queen put the little blue pot of perfume on the center of the table, and lit it, when the room was instantly filled with the most delicious odour. Whilst the perfume was burning, the six fairies formed in line behind her, and she leading, they walked round the table three times, chanting in chorus:  “Round and round three times three, We have come to cure thee.”

At the end of the third round she touched the burning perfume with her wand, and then touched the gentleman on the head, saying: “Be thou made whole.” No sooner had she said the words than he jumped up hale and hearty, and said: “Oh, dear queen, what shall I do for you? I’ll do anything you wish.”

“Money I do not wish for,” said the queen, “but there’s a little plot of ground on the sea-cliff I want you to lend me, for I wish to make a ring there, and the grass will die when I make the ring. Then I want you to build three walls round the ring, but leave the sea-side open, so that we may be able to come and go easily.” “With the greatest of pleasure,” said the gentleman; and he built the three stone walls at once, at the spot indicated.

Near the gentleman lived the old witch, and she had the power of turning at will into a hare. The gentleman was a great hare hunter, but the hounds could never catch this hare; it always disappeared in a mill, running between the wings and jumping in at an open window, though they stationed two men and a dog at the spot, when it immediately turned into the old witch. And the old miller never suspected, for the old woman used to take him a peck of corn to grind a few days before any hunt, telling him she would call for it on the afternoon of the day of the hunt. So that when she arrived she was expected.

One day she had been taunting the gentleman as he returned from a hunt, that he could never catch the hare, and he struck her with his whip, saying “Get away, you witchcraft!” Whereupon she witched him, and he fell ill, and was cured as we have seen.

When he got well he watched the old witch, and saw she often visited the house of an old miser who lived nearby with his beautiful niece. Now all the people in the village touched their hats most respectfully to this old miser, for they knew he had dealings with the witch, and they were as much afraid of him as of her; but everyone loved the miser’s kind and beautiful niece.

When the fairies got home the queen told her daughter: “I have no power over the old witch for twelve months from to-day, and then I have no power over her life. She must lose that by the arm of a man.”

So the next day the daughter was sent out again to see whether she could find a person suited to that purpose. In the village lived a small crofter, who was afraid of nothing; he was the boldest man thereabouts; and one day he passed the miser without saluting him. The old fellow went off at once and told the witch.

“Oh, I’ll settle his cows to-night!” said she, and they were taken sick, and gave no milk that night. The fairy’s daughter arrived at his croft-yard after the cows were taken ill, and she heard him say to his son, a bright lad: “It must be the old witch!” When she heard this, she sent him to the queen.

So next day the fairy queen took six fairies and went to the croft, taking her blue pot of perfume. When she got there she asked the crofter if he would like his cows cured? “God bless you, yes!” he said. The queen made him bring a round table into the yard, whereon she placed the blue pot of perfume, and having lit it, as before, they formed in line and walked round thrice, chanting the words: “Round and round three times three, we have come to cure thee.” Then she dipped the end of her wand into the perfume, and touched the cows on the forehead, saying to each one: “Be thou whole.” Whereupon they jumped up cured.

The little farmer was overjoyed, and cried: “Oh, what can I do for you? What can I do for you?” “Money I care not for,” said the queen, “all I want is your son to avenge you and me.” The lad jumped up and said: “What I can do I’ll do it for you, my lady fairy.” She told him to be at the walled plot the following day at noon, and left.

The next day at noon, the queen and her daughter and three hundred other fairies came up the cliff to the green grass plot, and they carried a pole, and a tape, and a mirror. When they reached the plot they planted the pole in the ground, and hung the mirror on the pole. The queen took the tape, which measured ten yards and was fastened to the top of the pole, and walked round in a circle, and wherever she set her feet the grass withered and died. Then the fairies followed up behind the queen, and each fairy carried a harebell in her left-hand, and a little blue cup of burning perfume in her right. When they had formed up the queen called the lad to her side, and told him to walk by her throughout. They then started off, all singing in chorus: “Round and round three times three, tell me what you see.”

When they finished the first round, the queen and lad stopped before the mirror, and she asked the lad what he saw?  “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, It is the witch that I see,” said the lad. So they marched round again, singing the same words as before, and when they stopped a second time before the mirror the queen again asked him what he saw?  “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, It is a hare that I see,” said the lad.

A third time the ceremony and question were repeated. “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, The hares run up the hill to the mill.” “Now”, said the queen, “there is to be a hare-hunting this day week; be at the mill at noon, and I will meet you there.” And then the fairies, pole, mirror, and all, vanished and only the empty ring on the green was left.

Upon the appointed day the lad went to his tryst, and at noon the Fairy Queen appeared, and gave him a sling, and a smooth pebble from the beach, saying: “I have blessed your arms, and I have blessed the sling and the stone.

  “Now as the clock strikes three, go up the hill near the mill, and in the ring stand still till you hear the click of the mill. Then with thy arm, with power and might, You shall strike and smite the devil of a witch called Jezabel light, and you shall see an awful sight.”

The lad did as he was bidden, and presently he heard the huntsman’s horn and the hue and cry, and saw the hare running down the opposite hill-side, where the hounds seemed to gain on her, but as she breasted the hill on which he stood she gained on them. As she came towards the mill he threw his stone, and it lodged in her skull, and when he ran up he found he had killed the old witch. As the huntsmen came up they crowded round him, and praised him; and then they fastened the witch’s body to a horse by ropes, and dragged her to the bottom of the valley, where they buried her in a ditch. That night, when the miser heard of her death, he dropped down dead on the spot. As the lad was going home the queen appeared to him, and told him to be at the ring the following day at noon.

 Next day all the fairies came with the pole and mirror, each carrying a harebell in her left-hand, and a blue cup of burning perfume in her right, and they formed up as before, the lad walking beside the queen. They marched round and repeated the old words, when the queen stopped before the mirror, and said: “What do you see?” “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, It is an old plate-cupboard that I see.”

A second time they went round, and the question, was repeated.  “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, the back is turned to me.”

A third time was the ceremony fulfilled, and the lad answered “I see, I see, the mirror tells me, a spring-door is open to me.” “Buy that plate-cupboard at the miser’s sale,” said the queen, and she and her companions disappeared as before.

Upon the day of the sale all the things were brought out in the road and the plate-cupboard was put up, the lad recognizing it and bidding up for it till it was sold to him. When he had paid for it he took it home in a cart, and when he got in and examined it, he found the secret drawer behind was full of gold. The following week the house and land, thirty acres, was put up for sale, and the lad bought both, and married the miser’s niece, and they lived happily till they died.

REFERENCE:

Title: Welsh Fairy-Tales And Other Stories (1894) (A Collection)

Author: Edited by P. H. Emerson

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

GAZA: A festering wound

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

 

 This has taken more time than I really like to devote to an article, and I have self-qualms about doing an international issue. But I felt compelled to speak on the issue of the Israel-Arab war, and it is a war, for those who are not a student of history here is a refresher course.

In 1947 the United Nations decided to divide the protectorate of Palestine in to (U. N. [A/res/181(II) A&B-22-A/PV128 {29 NOV. 1947} A/516) two separate cantons with the free city of Jerusalem as its capitol, belonging to neither canton but independent. The U.N. Resolution was called the “Future Government for Palestine” and the “Plan of Partition with economic Union”.

Now in 1948 with the expiration of the U. N. Trusteeship Mandate (no later than 01Feb 1948) the state of Israel declared it’s self-free and independent, as is outlined in the U. N. resolution. The surrounding Arab/Muslim countries (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq) without any other reason than a religious fervor and in violation of the U. N. Mandate; declared war on Israel, beginning the Arab-Israeli Wars. The ultimate goal of the “Arab League” as they were called was the utter and complete destruction and annihilation of the state of Israel. This in my opinion constitutes genocide of a sort. Eradicating a people because of their religious belief had been tried recently in Europe to which the world in horror resorted to armed conflict to prevent. Today the outcry (of which there was very little in 1948) is in defense of the muslim communities as to the perceived same intolerance.

For the last 70 years war has raged off and on in the Palestine region with little more than a huge loss of live to show for it, in a continuance of angers to which maybe the purposes have been buried so deep in a misconception of ideas as to where the real origins lay. If they Palestinians truly wanted just a free state they had their chance in 1948, but it seems that the men (League) in power at the time wanted territory and control more than the benefits to the welfare of their peoples. I blame the U. N. for the source of the conflict and its ongoing festering. It was their responsibility to see to the division of states, which in their withdrawal without securing the boundaries, or governments, or providing for a collective council in Jerusalem only provided a recipe for conflict. It was their responsibility to restore the rules of international law in the lawless areas of that region, yet they fail to accept their part in it, preferring to meet and condemn rather than act. They provide moneys for relief, but to what extent, to prolong the festering wound? U.N. you have failed the peace loving peoples of the world in your inactions of 1948, and need to re-examine your own house before casting stones.

The actions we see today in the Gaza are a result of failures in diplomacy, failures in intelligent reasonable dialog between reasonable persons desiring a peaceful solution to a wound long overdue to heal. I take no side in this matter, although as a member of this global community it affects me as well as everyone else. But I have to add this personal observation, the violence in the Gaza in directed at whom? The violence in the Gaza is trying to be contained but whom? The violence in the Gaza is being organized and promoted by whom? Peace is attainable if reason prevails and ideology is placed back in the closet.

The Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz defined war as the natural state of man and peace that time preparing for war, let us prove him wrong.

Thank you for taking the time to read this

REFERENCE:

United Nations: 1st Session

Non-Self Governing Peoples (A/res/9(I)-C.4-A/PV.27 {09FEB1946}-A/34)

Establishing Trustee Council (A/res/64(I)-C.4-A/PV63 {14DEC1946}-A/258)

United Nations: 2nd Session

Palestine Question (A/res/181(II) A&B-22-A/PV.128 {29NOV1947}-A/516)

CONTRIBUTOR: Eddy Toorall

 

Lohengrin and Elsa The Beautiful (Germanic)

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

 

The young Duchess of Brabant, Elsa the Beautiful, had gone into the woods hunting, and becoming separated from her attendants, sat down to rest under a wide-branching linden-tree.

She was sorely troubled, for many lords and princes were asking for her hand in marriage. More urgent than all the others was the invincible hero, Count Telramund, her former guardian, who since the death of her father had ruled over the land with masterly hand. Now the duke, her father, on his death-bed had promised Telramund that he might have Elsa for wife, should she be willing; and Telramund was continually reminding her of this. But Elsa blushed with shame at the mere thought of such a union, for Telramund was a rough warrior, as much hated for his cruelty as he was feared for his strength. To make matters worse he was now at the court of the chosen King Henry of Saxony, threatening her with war and even worse calamities.

In the shade of the linden Elsa thought of all this, and pitied her own loneliness in that no brother or friend stood at her side to help her. Then the sweet singing of birds seemed to comfort her, and she dropped into a gentle sleep. As she dreamed it seemed to her that a young knight stepped out of the depths of the forest. Holding up a small silver bell, he spoke in friendly tones: “If you should need my help, just ring this.”

Elsa tried to take the trinket, but she could neither rise nor reach the outstretched hand. Then she awoke. Thinking over the apparition Elsa noted a falcon circling over her head. It came nearer and finally settled on her shoulder. Around his neck hung a bell exactly like that she had seen in the dream. She loosened it, and as she did so the bird rose and flew away. But she still held the little bell in her hand, and in her soul was fresh hope and peace.

When she returned to the castle she found there a message, bidding her appear before the king in Cologne on the Rhine. Filled with confidence in the protection of higher powers, she did not hesitate to obey. In gorgeous costume, with many followers, she set out.

King Henry was a man who loved justice and exercised it, but his kingdom was in constant danger from inroads by wild Huns, and for this reason he wished to do whatever would win the favor of the powerful Count Telramund. When, however, he saw Elsa in all her beauty and innocence he hesitated in his purpose.

The plaintiff brought forward three men who testified that the duchess had entered into a secret union with one of her vassals. Only two of these men were shown to be perfidious; the testimony of the other seemed valid, though this was not enough to condemn her. Then Telramund seized his sword, crying out that God Himself should be the judge, and that a duel should decide the matter. So a duel was arranged to take place three days later.

Elsa cast her eyes around the circle of nobles, but saw no one grasp his sword in defense of her innocence. Fear of the mighty warrior Telramund filled them all. Remembering the little bell, she drew it forth from her pocket and rang it. The clear tones broke the stillness, grew louder and louder until they reached even the distant mountains. “My champion will appear in the contest,” she said; whereupon the count let forth such a mocking laugh that the hearts of all were filled with intense fear.

The day of the contest was at hand. The king sat on his high throne and watched the majestic river that sent its mighty waters through the valley. Princes and brave knights were gathered together. Before them stood Telramund, clad in armor, and at his side the accused Elsa, adorned with every grace that Nature can bestow.

Three times the mighty hero challenged someone to come forward as a champion for the accused girl, but no one stirred. Then arose from the Rhine the sound of sweet music; something silvery gleamed in the distance, and as it came nearer it was plain that it was a swan with silver feathers. With a silver chain he was pulling a small ship, in which lay sleeping a knight clad in bright armor. When the bark landed, the knight awoke, rose, and blew three times on a golden horn. This was the signal that he took up the challenge. Quickly he strode into the lists.

“Your name and descent?” cried the herald. “My name is Lohengrin,” answered the stranger, “my origin royal: more it is not necessary to tell.”

“Enough,” broke in the king, “nobility is written on your brow.” Trumpets gave the signal for the fight to begin. Telramund’s strokes fell thick as hail, but suddenly the stranger knight rose and with one fearful stroke split the count’s helmet and cut his head. “God has decided,” cried the king. “His judgment is right; but you, noble knight, will help us in the campaign against the barbarian hordes and will be the leader of the detachment which the fair duchess will send from Brabant.”

Gladly Lohengrin consented, and amid cries of delight from the assembled people he rode over to Elsa, who greeted him as her deliverer. Lohengrin escorted Elsa back to Brabant, and on the way love awoke in their hearts, and they knew that they were destined for each other. In the castle of Antwerp they were pledged, and a few weeks later the marriage took place. As the bridal couple was leaving the cathedral, Lohengrin said to Elsa: “One thing I must ask of you, and that is that you never inquire concerning my origin, for in the hour that you put that question must I surely part from you.”

It was not long after the ceremony that the cry to arms came from King Henry, and Elsa accompanied her husband and his troops to Cologne, where all the counts of the kingdom were assembled. Here there were many inquiries concerning Lohengrin, and when none seemed to know of his origin, some jealously claimed that he was the son of a heathen magician, and that he gained his victories by the power of black arts.

Elsa, who had heard rumors of these charges, was deeply grieved; for she knew the noble heart of her husband. He had even relieved her fears for his safety by the assurance that he was under the protection of powers higher than human. But she could not banish the evil rumors from her mind, and forgetting the warning her husband had given her on the day of her marriage, she dropped to her knees and asked him concerning his birth. “Dear wife,” he cried in great distress, “now will I tell to you and to the king and to all the assembled princes, what up to this time I have kept secret; but know that the time of our parting is at hand.”

Then the hero led his trembling wife before the king and his nobles who were assembled on the banks of the Rhine. “The son of Parsifal am I,” he said, “the son of Parsifal, the keeper of the Holy Grail. Gladly would I have helped you, O King, in your fight against the barbarians, but an unavoidable fate calls me away. You will, however, be victorious, and under your descendants will Germany become a powerful nation.”

When he finished speaking there was a deep silence, and then, as upon his arrival, there rose the sound of music–not joyful this time, but solemn, like a chant at the grave of the dead. It came nearer and again the swan and the boat appeared.

“Farewell, dear one,” Lohengrin cried, folding his wife in his arms. “Too dearly did I hold you and your pleasant land of earth; now a higher duty calls me.” Weeping, Elsa clung to him; but the swan song sounded louder, like a warning. He tore himself free and stepped into the boat. Was it the ship of death and destruction, or only the ship that carried the blessed to the sacred place of the Grail? No one knew.

Elsa, lonely and sad, did not live long after the separation. Her only hope was that she would be reunited to her dear husband; and she parted willingly with her own life, as other children of earth have done when they have lost all that they held most precious.

REFERENCE:

TITLE: MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF ALL NATIONS

BY:  Logan Marshall (translated and edited) (From:Robert Hertwig)

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

The Great Knight Siegfried (Germanic)

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

Once upon a time there lived in the Netherlands, in Xante, a wonderful castle on the river Rhine, a mighty king and queen. Siegmund and Sieglinde were their names, and far and wide were they known. Yet their son, the glorious hero Siegfried, was still more widely celebrated. Even as a boy he performed so many daring feats that his bravery was talked of in all German lands.

The two most remarkable of these feats were the slaying of a frightful monster known as the “Dragon of the Linden-tree” and the capture of the rich treasure of the Nibelungs. The hoard was an ancient one and had this wonderful property–that no matter how much was taken from it the quantity was never less.

All this happened before Siegfried reached the age of manhood. When it was time for the youth to be knighted, King Siegmund sent invitations far and wide throughout the country, and a great celebration took place. Siegfried was solemnly girded with a sword and permitted to take his place among the warriors of the kingdom. Then there was a great tournament, a wonderful occasion for Siegfried, who came off victor in every encounter, although many tried warriors matched their skill against his. Altogether the festivities lasted seven whole days.

After the guests had departed, Siegfried asked permission of his parents to travel into Burgundy to seek as bride for him-self Kriemhild, the maiden of whose great beauty and loveliness he had heard. Gunther, the king of Burgundy, recognizing the young hero, went out to meet him and politely inquired the cause of his visit. Imagine his dismay when Siegfried proposed a single combat, in which the victor might claim the land and allegiance of the vanquished. Neither Gunther nor any of his knights would accept the challenge; but Gunther and his brother hastened forward with proffers of unbounded hospitality. Siegfried lingered a year in Gunther’s palace, and though he never caught a glimpse of the fair maid Kriemhild, she often admired his strength and manly beauty from behind the palace windows.

One day a herald arrived from King Ludeger of Saxony and King Ludegast of Denmark, announcing an invasion. Gunther was dismayed; but the brave Siegfried came to the rescue, saying that if Gunther would give him only one thousand brave men he would repel the enemy. This was done and the little army marched into Saxony and routed the twenty thousand valiant soldiers of the enemy’s force. All the men did brave work, but Siegfried was the bravest of them all.

When the hero returned, a great celebration was held in his honor, and Kriemhild, Ute and all the ladies of the court were invited to be present at the tournament. It was there that Siegfried first saw the fair maiden. Her beauty was more wonderful than he had ever been able to imagine. What was his delight, then, to learn that he had been appointed her escort? On the way to the tournament Kriemhild murmured her thanks for the good work Siegfried had done for her, and Siegfried vowed that he would always serve her brothers because of his great love for her.

Soon after the tournament Gunther announced his intention of winning for his wife, Brunhild, the princess of Issland, who had vowed to marry no man but the one who could surpass her in jumping, throwing a stone and casting a spear. Gunther proposed that Siegfried go with him, promising him, in return for his services, the hand of Kriemhild. Such an offer was not to be despised, and Siegfried immediately consented, advising Gunther to take only Hagen and Dankwart with him.

Gunther and the three knights set out in a small vessel. Siegfried bade his companions represent him as Gunther’s vassal only; but Brunhild, seeing his giant figure and guessing its strength, imagined that he had come to woo her. She was dismayed, therefore, when she heard that he had held the stirrup for Gunther to dismount. When he entered her hall, she advanced to meet him; but he drew aside, saying that honor was due to his master Gunther.

Brunhild ordered preparations for the evening contest, and Gunther, Hagen and Dankwart trembled when they saw four men staggering under the weight of Brunhild’s shield and three more staggering under the weight of her spear. Siegfried, meantime, had donned his magic cloud cloak and bade Gunther rely upon his aid.

The combat opened. Brunhild poised her spear and flung it with such force that both heroes staggered; but before she could cry out her victory Siegfried had caught the spear and flung it back with such violence that the princess fell and was obliged to acknowledge defeat.

Undaunted, she caught up a huge stone, flung it far into the distance, and then leaping, alighted beside it. No sooner had she done this than Siegfried seized the stone, flung it still farther, and lifting Gunther by his broad girdle bounded through the air with him and alighted beyond the stone. Then Brunhild knew that she had found her master. “Come hither all my kinsmen and followers,” she said, “and acknowledge my superior. I am no longer your mistress. Gunther is your lord.”

The wedding was fitly celebrated and then Gunther and his bride were escorted back to Issland by a thousand Nibelung warriors whom Siegfried had gathered for the purpose. A great banquet was given upon their return, at which the impatient Siegfried ventured to remind Gunther of his promise. Brunhild protested that Gunther should not give his only sister to a menial, but Gunther gave his consent and the marriage took place immediately. The two bridal couples then sat side by side. Kriemhild’s face was very happy; Brunhild’s was dark and frowning.

You see, Brunhild was not pleased with the husband she had gained and preferred Siegfried. Alone with her husband the first night she bound him with her girdle and suspended him from a corner of her apartment. There she let him hang till morning. Released, Gunther sought out Siegfried and told him of the disgraceful affair.

The following evening Siegfried again donned his cloud cloak and entered the apartments of Gunther and Brunhild. As he entered he blew out the lights, caught Brunhild’s hands and wrestled with her until she pleaded for mercy. “Great king, forbear,” she said. “I will henceforth be thy dutiful wife. I will do nothing to anger thee. Thou art my lord and master.”

Having accomplished his purpose, Siegfried left the room, but first he took Brunhild’s girdle and her ring. These he carried with him when after the festivities he and Kriemhild returned to Xante on the Rhine.

Siegmund and Sieglinde abdicated in favor of their son, and for ten years Siegfried and Kriemhild reigned happily. Then they were invited to pay a visit to Gunther and Brunhild. They accepted, leaving their little son Gunther in the care of the Nibelungs.

Brunhild received Kriemhild graciously, but at heart she was jealous and wanted Kriemhild to acknowledge her as superior. One day they had a hot dispute, Kriemhild declaring that her husband was without peer in the world, and Brunhild retorting that since he was Gunther’s vassal he must be his inferior. Kriemhild made an angry avowal that she would publicly assert her rank.

Both queens parted in a rage and proceeded to attire themselves in the most gorgeous costumes they possessed. Accompanied by their ladies-in-waiting they met at the church door. Brunhild bade Kriemhild stand aside while she entered, and Kriemhild would not. A storm of words followed. Finally Kriemhild insulted the other queen by declaring that Brunhild was not a faithful wife. “You loved Siegfried better than Gunther,” she declared. “Here are your girdle and ring which my husband gave to me.” So saying, she displayed the girdle and ring which Siegfried had unwisely given her when he confided to her the story of Gunther’s wooing.

Brunhild summoned Gunther to defend her, and he sent for Siegfried. The latter publicly swore that his wife had not told the truth and that Brunhild had never loved him or he her. “This quarrel is disgraceful,” he said. “I will teach my wife better manners for the future.” Gunther promised to do likewise. The guests departed, but Brunhild still smarted from the insult and longed for revenge. Hagen, finding her in tears, undertook to avenge her. He continually reminded Gunther of the insult his wife had received. The king at first paid no attention to the insinuations, but at last he consented to an assault on Siegfried.

He asked the great hero to help him in a war which he pretended his old enemy Ludeger was about to bring upon him. Siegfried consented, and Kriemhild, because she loved her husband very deeply, was much troubled. In her distress she confided to Hagen that Siegfried was invulnerable except in one spot, between the shoulder blades, where a lime leaf had rested and the dragon’s blood had not touched him. “Never fear,” said Hagen, “I myself will help to protect him. You sew a tiny cross on Siegfried’s doublet, just over the vulnerable spot, that I may be the better able to shield him.” Kriemhild promised to obey his instructions, and Hagen departed, well pleased, to carry the news to Gunther.

At last the day came for Siegfried to leave his queen. He talked to her and comforted her and kissed her rosy lips. “Dear heart,” he said, “why all these tears? I shall not be gone long.” But she was thinking of what she had told Hagen, and wept and wept and would not be comforted.

When Siegfried joined Gunther’s party he was surprised to learn that the rebellion had been quelled and that he was invited to join in a hunt instead of a fray. So he joined the hunting party. Now Siegfried was as great a hunter as he was a warrior, and while the noonday meal was being prepared he scoured the forest, slew several wild boars, caught a bear alive and in a spirit of mischief turned him loose among the guests. Then, tired and thirsty, he sat down, calling for a drink.

Not a bit of wine was at hand; it had all been carried to another part of the forest. Hagen pointed out a spring near by and Siegfried proposed a race, offering to run in full armor while the others ran without armor or weapons. In spite of the handicap, Siegfried reached the spring first. Always polite, Siegfried bade his host, Gunther, drink first, while he himself disarmed. Siegfried then stooped over the spring to drink, and as he stooped, Hagen, gliding behind him, drove his spear into his body at the exact spot where Kriemhild had embroidered the fatal mark.

Siegfried struggled to avenge himself, but found nothing but his shield within reach. This he flung with such force at his murderer that it knocked him down. Exhausted by the effort, the hero fell back upon the grass, cursing the treachery of Gunther and Hagen. Curses soon gave way to thoughts of Kriemhild, however, and overcoming his anger he recommended her to the care of her brother Gunther. Then the great hero died.

The hunting party agreed to carry the body back to Worms and say that they had found it in the forest. But Hagen, bolder than the rest, ordered the bearers to deposit the corpse at Kriemhild’s door, where she would see it when she went out for early mass the next morning. As he expected, Kriemhild discovered her dead lord and fell senseless upon him. Recovering, she cried out that he had been murdered: no foeman in a fair fight could have killed the glorious knight.

A great funeral took place and Siegfried’s body was laid in state in the cathedral at Worms. Thither many came to view it and to express their sympathy for the widow Kriemhild. The latter, suspecting treachery, refused to listen to Gunther until he promised that all of those present at the hunt should touch the body. “Blood will flow afresh at the murderer’s touch,” he said.

One by one the hunters advanced, and when Hagen touched the great warrior’s form, lo, the blood flowed again from his wounds. At this the Nibelung warriors wanted to avenge the dead, but Kriemhild would not permit them to interrupt the funeral. So the ceremonies were concluded and Siegfried’s body was laid to rest.

REFERENCE

TITLE: MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF ALL NATIONS

BY: Logan Marshall (translated and edited)

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

California Dreaming

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

I remember that song, it’s about taking a stroll on a summers day, refreshing, relaxing and totally out of sync with todays California. It seems that all the great things that were expected from the California adventure have gone up in smoke, or is it that the “smoke” has reached the “higher” levels of government? If flaunting the laws of the United States aren’t enough, then proposing laws that are unconstitutional and a throw back to a time in history which ultimately led to a global upheaval, starting with a selfish idea of “progressive thinking” and banning books, thoughts and ideas. It seems that a bill AB 2943 (which I have only read articles on and not the bill)  to wit is an addendum to the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (what ever that is) would ban certain books which the state deems inflammatory? Goring has to jumping up and down in hell shouting” I told you so”. I wonder if anyone in the California legislature has ever read the constitution? Banning books that a government does not approve of, does that come with a snappy slogan also, Heil Brown? Or would it be Comrade Brown? So confusing at times as how to address those of a lofty station. Perhaps even a little red book of guidance furnished by the state so every one would be toeing the same line. But I suppose that would all come after ” secession”.

Another point of confusion on my part is, just how many states or countries is California attempting to divide into? One country or three states? Just what is the plan concerning the division / divisions? Or is there a plan, or is there any idea from the general populist on what the outcome of secession can be? I heard one commentator say California has the fifth largest economy in the world, little thought he had of the fact it was due to being part of the United States, and so well dressed he was. Those dreams are for the anarchist, here’s a hint, no matter what the state decides there is no provision in the Constitution for leaving the Union, only joining. They might want to read a history book concerning the efforts of states in 1860-65 and it’s out come, OH! wait those books maybe banned there.

From what I have seen posted lately according to twitter, the educational institutes are truly bastions of “higher” learning, and of impeccable moral value. Their learned instructors display all the  finesse of a  Shakespearian dialog when describing their joy at the demise of another human being, and reveille in the presumed fact that they are above reproach or censure. But one has grown a custom to such putrid remarks and actions emanating from the so called progressive thinking beings of a “higher” order. Dear professor you maybe able to mask the indulgences from most, but the eyes tell all.

So perhaps “free speech” has ran it’s course in sunny California along with the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. California values are different than the rest of the nation it was once said, so sad, to progress means advancement not degradation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this

CONTRIBUTOR: Eddy Toorall

Xerxes I: Thermoplyӕ to the end

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

Thus far had the Greeks allowed the invader to penetrate their country without offering him any resistance. Originally there had been an intention of defending Thessaly, and an army under Evsenetus, a Spartan polemarch, and Themistocles, the great Athenian, had proceeded to Tempé, in order to cooperate with the Thessalian’s in guarding the pass. But the discovery that the Olympic range could be crossed in the, place where the army of Xerxes afterwards passed it had shown that the position was untenable; and it had been then resolved that the stand should be made at the next defensible position, Thermopylae.(Bk VII Histories Herodotus {(175) The Greeks on their return to the Isthmus took counsel…. The opinion which prevailed was that they should guard the pass of Thermoplyӕ….})

  Here, accordingly, a force was found–small, indeed, if it be compared with the number of the assailants, but sufficient to defend such a position as that where it was posted against the world in arms. Three hundred Spartans, with their usual retinue of helots, 700 Lacedaemonians, other Peloponnesians to the number of 2800, 1000 Phocians, the same number of Locrians, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans, formed an army of 9000 men–quite as numerous a force as could be employed with any effect in the defile they were sent to guard. The defile was a long and narrow pass shut in between a high mountain, Callidromus, and the sea, and crossed at one point by a line of wall in which was a single gateway. (BK VII Histories Herodotus {(176)…As for the entrance in to Greece by Trachis, it is, at its narrowest point, about fifty feet wide. This however is not the place where the passage is most contracted, for it is still narrower a little above and a little below Thermoplyӕ. At Alpêni, which is lower down than that place is only wide enough for a single carriage….The old wall had been built in very remote times… had gone to decay through age… however the Greeks had resolved to repair the breaches….}) Unless the command of the sea was gained, or another mode of crossing the mountains discovered, the pass could scarcely be forced.

(BK VII Histories Herodotus {(204) Linage of Leonidas..s/o Anaxandridas…s/o Leo….s/o Eurycratidas…. s/o Anaxander…s/o Eurycrates….s/o Polydôrus….s/o Alcamenes…s/o Têlecles…..s/o Archelaüs….s/o Agesilaüs….s/o Doryssus…s/o Labôtas….s/o Echestratus….s/o Agis….s/o Eurysthenes…s/o Aristodêmus….s/o Aristomachus….s/o Cleodӕus….s/o Hyluss who was the son of Herakles})

Xerxes, however, confident in his numbers–after waiting four days at Trachis, probably in the hope that his fleet would join him–preceded on the fifth day to the assault. First the Medes and Cissians, then the famous “Immortals” were sent into the jaws of the pass against the immovable foe; but neither detachment could make any impression. The long spears, large shields, and heavy armor of the Greeks, their skillful tactics, and steady array, were far more than a match for the inferior equipment’s and discipline of the Asiatics. Though the attack was made with great gallantry both on this day and the next it failed to produce the slightest effect. Very few of the Greeks were either slain or wounded; and it seemed as if the further advance of a million of men was to be stopped by a force less than a hundredth part of their number.

But now information reached Xerxes which completely changed the face of affairs. (BK VII Histories Herodotus {(213) Now, as the king was in a great strait,…..Ephialtes, son of Eutydêmus, a man of Mali, came to him…he had come to tell him of a pathway which led across the mountain to Thermoplyӕ…}) There was a rough mountain-path leading from Trachis up the gorge of the Asopus and across Callidromus to the rear of the Greek position, which had been unknown to the Greeks when they decided on making their first stand at Thermopylae, and which they only discovered when their plans no longer admitted of alteration. It was, perhaps, not much more than a goat-track, and apparently they had regarded it as scarcely practicable, since they had thought its defense might be safely entrusted to a thousand Phocians. Xerxes, however, on learning the existence of the track, resolved at once to make trial of it. His Persian soldiers were excellent mountaineers. He ordered Hydarnes to take the “Immortals,” and, guided by a native, to proceed along the path by night, and descend with early dawn into the rear of the Greeks, who would then be placed between two fires. The operation was performed with complete success. The Phocian guard, surprised at the summit, left the path free while they sought a place of safety. The Greeks in the pass below, warned during the night of their danger, in part fled, in part resolved on death. When morning came, Leonidas, at the head of about half his original army, moved forward towards the Malian plain, and there met the advancing Persians. A bloody combat ensued, in which the Persians lost by far the greater number; but the ranks of the Greeks were gradually thinned, and they were beaten back step by step into the narrowest part of the pass, where finally they all perished, except the four hundred Thebans, who submitted and were made prisoners.

The Last Fight (BK VII Histories Herodotus { (224) By this time the spears of the greater number were all shivered, and with their swords they hewed down the ranks of the Persians; and here, as they stove, Leonidas fell fighting bravely, together with many  other famous Spartans…..

(225)…And now there arose a fierce struggle between the Persians and Lacedӕmonians over the body of Leonidas, in which the Greeks four times drove back the enemy, and at last by their great bravery succeeded in bearing off the body….drawing back into the narrowest part of the pass, and retreating even behind the cross wall, they posted themselves upon a hillock, where they stood all drawn up together in one close body, except for the Thebans…Here they defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords using them, and other resisting with their hands and teeth; till the barbarians….encircled them upon every side, overwhelmed and buried the remnant which was left beneath showers of missile weapons.

(238) When Xerxes ….proceeded to pass though the slain, and finding the body of Leonidas,… ordered that the head should be struck off , and the trunk fastened to a cross……

So terminated the first struggle on the soil of Greece: between the invaders and the invaded. It seemed to promise that, though at vast cost, Persia would be victorious. If her loss in the three days’ combat was 20,000 men, as Herodotus states, yet, as that of her enemy was 4000, the proportionate advantage was on her side.

But, for the conquest of such a country as Greece, it was requisite, not only that the invader should succeed on land, but also that he should be superior at sea. Xerxes had felt this, and had brought with him a fleet, calculated, as he imagined, to sweep the Greek navy from the Ægean. As far as the Pagasaean Gulf, opposite the northern extremity of Euboea, his fleet had advanced without meeting an enemy. It had encountered one terrible storm off the coast of Magnesia, and had lost 400 vessels; but

this loss was scarcely felt in so vast an armament. When from Aphetse, at the mouth of the gulf, the small Greek fleet, amounting to no more than 271 vessels, was seen at anchor off Artemisium, the only fear which the Persian commanders entertained was lest it should escape them. They at once detached 200 vessels to sail round the Coast of Euboea, and cut off the possibility of retreat. When, however, these vessels were all lost in a storm, and when in three engagements on three successive days, the Greek fleet showed itself fully able to contend against the superior numbers of its antagonist, the Persians themselves could not fail to see that their naval supremacy was more than doubtful.

The fleet at Artemisium was not the entire Greek naval force; on another occasion it might be augmented, while their own could scarcely expect to receive reinforcements. The fights at Artemisium foreshadowed a day when the rival fleets would no longer meet and part on equal terms, but Persia would have to acknowledge her-self inferior.

Meanwhile, however, the balance of advantage rested with the invaders. The key of Northern Greece was won, and Phocis, Locris, Boeotia, Attica, and the Megarid lay open to the Persian army. The Greek fleet could gain nothing by any longer maintaining the position of Artemisium, and fell back towards the south, while its leaders anxiously considered where it should next take up its station. The Persians pressed on both by land and sea. A rapid march through Phocis and Boeotia brought Xerxes to Athens, soon after the Athenians, knowing that resistance would be vain, had evacuated it. The Acropolis, defended by a few fanatics, was taken and burnt. One object of the expedition was thus accomplished. Athens lay in ruins; and the whole of Attica was occupied by the conqueror. The Persian fleet, too, finding the channel of the Euripus clear, sailed down it, and rounding Sunium, came to anchor in the bay of Phalerum.

In the councils of the Greeks all was doubt and irresolution. The army, which ought to have mustered in full force at Thermopylae and Callidromus, and which, after those passes were forced, might have defended Cithseron and Parnes, had never ventured beyond the Isthmus of Corinth, and was there engaged in building a wall across the neck of land from sea to sea. The fleet lay off Salamis, where it was detained by the entreaties of the Athenians, who had placed in that island the greater part of the non-combatant population; but the inclination was strong on the part of many to withdraw westward and fight the next battle, if a battle must be fought, in the vicinity of the land force, which would be a protection in case of defeat. Could Xerxes have had patience for a few days, the combined fleet would have broken up. The Peloponnesian contingents would have withdrawn to the isthmus; and the Athenians, despairing of success, would probably have sailed away to Italy. But the Great King, when he saw the vast disproportion between his own fleet and that of the enemy, could not believe in the possibility of the Greeks offering a successful resistance. Like a modern emperor, who imagined that, if only he could have been with his fleet, all would necessarily have gone well, Xerxes supposed that by having the sea-fight under his own eye he would be sure of victory. Thus again, as at Artemisium, the only fear felt was lest the Greeks should fly, and in that way escape chastisement. Orders were therefore issued to the Persian fleet to close up at once, and blockade the eastern end of the Salaminian strait, while a detachment repeated the attempted manoeuvre at Euboea, and sailed round the island to guard the channel at its western outlet.

These movements were executed late in the day on which the Persian fleet arrived at Phalerum. During the night intelligence reached the commanders that the retreat of the Greeks was about to commence at once; whereupon the Persian right wing was pushed forward into the strait, and carried beyond the Greek position so as to fill the channel where it opens into the bay of Eleusis. The remainder of the night passed in preparations for the battle on both sides. At daybreak both fleets advanced from their respective shores, the Persians being rather the assailants. Their thousand vessels were drawn up in three lines, and charged their antagonists with such spirit that the general inclination on the part of the Greeks was at first to retreat. Some of their ships had almost touched the shore, when the bold example of one of the captains, or a cry of reproach from unknown lips, produced a revulsion of feeling, and the whole line advanced in good order. The battle was for a short time doubtful; but soon the superiority of Greek naval tactics began to tell. The Persian vessels became entangled one with another, and crashing together broke each other’s oars. The triple line increased their difficulties. If a vessel, overmatched, sought to retreat, it necessarily came into collision with the ships stationed in its rear. These moreover pressed too eagerly forward, since their captains were anxious to distinguish themselves in order to merit the approval of Xerxes. The Greeks found themselves able to practice with good effect their favorite manoeuvre of the “periplus”, and thus increased the confusion. It was not long before the greater part of the Persian fleet became a mere helpless mass of shattered or damaged vessels. Five hundred are said to have been sunk–the majority by the enemy, but some even by their own friends. The sea was covered with wrecks, and with wretches who clung to them, till the ruthless enemy slew them or forced them to let go their hold.

This defeat was a death-blow to the hopes of Xerxes, and sealed the fate of the expedition. From the moment that he realized to himself the fact of the entire inability of his fleet to cope with that of the Greeks, Xerxes made up his mind to return with all haste to Asia. From over-confidence he fell into the opposite extreme of despair, and made no effort to retrieve his ill fortune. His fleet was ordered to sail straight for the Hellespont, and to guard the bridges until he reached them with his army. He himself retreated hastily along the same road by which he had advanced, his whole army accompanying him as far as Thessaly, where Mardonius was left with 260,000 picked men, to prevent pursuit, and to renew the attempt against Greece in the ensuing year. Xerxes pressed on to the Hellespont, losing vast numbers of his troops by famine and sickness on the way, and finally returned into Asia, not by his magnificent bridge, which a storm had destroyed, but on board a vessel, which, according to some, narrowly escaped shipwreck during the passage. Even in Asia disaster pursued him. Between Abydos and Sardis his army suffered almost as much from over-indulgence as it had previously suffered from want; and of the mighty host which had gone forth from the Lydian capital in the spring not very many thousands can have re-entered it in the autumn.

Still, however, there was a possibility that the success which his own arms had failed to achieve might reward the exertions of his lieutenants. Mardonius had expressed himself confident that with 300,000 picked soldiers he could overpower all resistance, and make Greece a satrapy of Persia. Xerxes had raised his forces to that amount by sending Artabazus back from Sestos at the head of a “corps d’armee” numbering 40,000 men. The whole army of 300,000 wintered in Thessaly; and Mardonius, when spring came, having vainly endeavored to detach the Athenians from the Grecian ranks, marched through Boeotia in Attica, and occupied Athens for the second time. Hence he proceeded to menace the

Peloponnese, where he formed an alliance with the Argives, who promised him that they would openly embrace the Persian cause. At the same time the Athenians, finding that Sparta took no steps to help them, began to waver in their resistance, and to contemplate accepting the terms which Mardonius was still willing to grant them. The fate of Greece trembled in the balance, and apparently was determined by the accident of a death and a succession, rather than by any wide-spread patriotic feeling or any settled course of policy. Cleombrotus, regent for the young son of Leonidas, died, and his brother Pausanias–a brave, clever, and ambitious man–took his place. We can scarcely be wrong in ascribing–at least in part–to this circumstance the unlooked-for change of policy, which electrified the despondent ambassadors of Athens almost as soon as Pausanias was installed in power. It was suddenly announced that Sparta would take the offensive. Ten thousand hoplites and 400,000 light-armed–the largest army that she ever levied–took the field, and, joined at the isthmus by above 25,000 Peloponnesians, and soon afterwards by almost as many Athenians and Megarians, proceeded to seek the foreigners, first in Attica, and then in the position to which they had retired in Boeotia. On the skirts of Citheeron, near Plataea, a hundred and eight thousand Greeks confronted more than thrice their number of Persians and Persian subjects; and now at length the trial was to be made whether, in fair and open fight on land, Greece or Persia would be superior. A suspicion of what the result would be might have been derived from Marathon. But there the Persians had been taken at a disadvantage, when the cavalry, their most important arm, was absent. Here the error of Datis was not likely to be repeated. Mardonius had a numerous and well-armed cavalry, which he handled with no little skill. It remained to be seen, when the general engagement came, whether, with both arms brought fully into play, the vanquished at Marathon would be the victors.

Battle of Plataea

The battle of Plataea was brought on under circumstances very unfavorable to the Greeks. Want of water and a difficulty about provisions had necessitated a night movement on their part. The cowardice of all the small contingents, and the obstinacy of an individual Spartan, disconcerted the whole plan of the operation, and left the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians at daybreak separated from each other, and deserted by the whole body of their allies. Mardonius attacked at once, and prevented the junction of the two allies, so that two distinct and separate engagements went on at the same time. In both the Greeks were victorious. The Spartans repulsed the Persian horse and foot, slew Mardonius and were the first to assail the Persian camp. The Athenians defeated the “medizing” Greeks, and affected a breach in the defenses of the camp, on which the Spartans had failed to make any impression. A terrible carnage followed. The contingent of 40,000 troops under Artabazus alone drew off in good order.

The remainder was seized with panic, and were either slaughtered like sheep or fled in complete disarray. Seventy thousand Greeks not only defeated but destroyed the army of 300,000 barbarians, which melted away and disappeared making no further stand anywhere. The disaster of Marathon was repeated on a larger scale, and without the resource of an embarkation. Henceforth the immense superiority of Greek troops to Persian was well known on both sides; and nothing but the distance from Greece of her vital parts, and the quarrels of the Greek states among themselves, preserved for nearly a century and a half the doomed empire of Persia.

The immediate result of the defeats of Salamis and Platæa was a contraction of the Persian boundary towards the west. Though a few Persian garrisons maintained themselves for some years on the further side of the straits, soothing thereby the wounded vanity of the Great King, who liked to think that he had still a hold on Europe; yet there can be no doubt that, after the double flight of Xerxes and Artabazus, Macedonia, Pseonia, and Thrace recovered their independence.

Persia lost her European provinces, and began the struggle to retain those of Asia. Terminus receded, and having once receded never advanced again in this quarter. The Greeks took the offensive. Sailing to Asia, they not only liberated from their Persian bondage the islands which lay along the coast, but landing their men on the continent, attacked and defeated an army of 60,000 Persians at Mycale, and destroyed the remnant of the ships that had escaped from Salamis. Could they have made up their minds to maintain a powerful fleet permanently on the coast of Asia, they might at once have deprived Persia of her whole sea-hoard on the Propontis and the Ægean; but neither of the two great powers of Greece was prepared for such a resolve. Sparta disliked distant expeditions; and Athens did not as yet see her way to undertaking the protection of the continental Greeks. She had much to do at home, and had not yet discovered those weak points in her adversary’s harness, which subsequently enabled her to secure by treaty the freedom of the Greek cities upon the mainland. For the present, therefore, Persia only lost the bulk of her European possessions, and the islands of the Propontis and the Ægean.

The circumstances which caused a renewal of Greek aggressions upon Asia towards the close of the reign of Xerxes are not very clearly narrated by the authors who speak of them. It appears, however, that after twelve years of petty operations, during which Eion was recovered, and Doriscus frequently attacked, but without effect, the Athenians resolved, in B.C. 466, upon a great expedition to the eastward. Collecting a fleet of 300 vessels, which was placed under the command of Cimon, the son of

Miltiades, they sailed to the coast of Caria and Lycia, where they drove the Persian garrisons out of the Greek towns, and augmenting their navy by fresh contingents at every step, proceeded along the shores of Pamphylia as far as the mouth of the river Eurymedon, where they found a Phoenician fleet of 340 vessels, and a Persian army, stationed to protect the territory. Engaging first the fleet they defeated it, and drove it ashore, after which they disembarked and gained a victory over the Persian army. As many as two hundred triremes were taken or destroyed. They then sailed on towards Cyprus, where they met and destroyed a squadron of eighty ships, which was on its way to reinforce the fleet at the Eurymedon. Above a hundred vessels, 20,000 captives, and a vast amount of plunder were the prize of this war; which had, however, no further effect on the relations of the two powers.

In the following year the reign of Xerxes came to an end abruptly.

With this monarch seems to have begun those internal disorders of the seraglio, which made the Court during more than a hundred and forty years a perpetual scene of intrigues, assassinations, executions, and conspiracies. Xerxes, who appears to have only one wife, Amestris, the daughter (or grand-daughter) of the conspirator, Otanes, permitted himself the free indulgence of illicit passion among the princesses of the Court, the wives of his own near relatives. The most horrible results followed. Amestris vented her jealous spite on those whom she regarded as guilty of stealing from her the affections of her husband; and to prevent her barbarities from producing rebellion, it was necessary to execute the persons whom she had provoked, albeit they were near relations of the monarch. The taint of incontinence spread among the members of the royal family; and a daughter of the king, who was married to one of the most powerful nobles, became notorious for her excesses. Eunuchs rose into power, and fomented the evils which prevailed. The king made himself bitter enemies among those whose position was close to his person. At last, Artabanus, chief of the guard, a courtier of high rank, and Aspamitres, a eunuch, who held the office of chamberlain, conspired against their master, and murdered him in his sleeping apartment, after he had reigned twenty years.

The character of Xerxes falls below that of any preceding monarch. Excepting that he was not wholly devoid of a certain magnanimity, which made him listen patiently to those who opposed his views or gave him unpalatable advice and which prevented him from exacting vengeance on some occasions, he had scarcely a trait whereon the mind can rest with any satisfaction. Weak and easily led, puerile in his gusts of passion and his complete abandonment of himself to them–selfish, fickle, boastful, cruel, superstitious, licentious–he exhibits to us the Oriental despot in the most contemptible of all his aspects–that wherein the moral and the intellectual qualities are equally in defect, and the career is one unvarying course of vice and folly. From Xerxes we have to date at once the decline of the Empire in respect of territorial greatness and military strength, and likewise its deterioration in regard to administrative vigor and national spirit. With him commenced the corruption of the Court–the fatal evil, which almost universally weakens and destroys Oriental dynasties. His expedition against Greece exhausted and depopulated the Empire; and though, by abstaining from further military enterprises, he did what lay in his power to recruit its strength, still the losses which his expedition caused were certainly not repaired in his lifetime.

As a builder, Xerxes showed something of the same grandeur of conception which is observable in his great military enterprise and in the works by which it was accompanied. His Propylaea, and the sculptured staircase in front of the Chebl Minar, which is undoubtedly his work, are among the most magnificent erections upon the Persepolitan platform; and are quite sufficient to place him in the foremost rank of Oriental builders. If we were to ascribe the Chehl Minar itself to him, we should have to give him the palm above all other kings of Persia; but on the whole it is most probable that that edifice and its duplicate at Susa were conceived, and in the main, constructed, by Darius.

Xerxes left behind him three sons–Darius, Hystaspes, and Artaxerxes–and two daughters, Amytis and Rhodogune. Hystaspes was satrap of Bactria, and at the time of their father’s death, only Darius and Artaxerxes were at the Court.

Reference:

TITLE: Great Monarchies of The Ancient Eastern World

AUTHOR: George Rawlinson

CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

Xerxes I: Crossing the Hellespont

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

Xerxes (Warrior), the eldest son of Darius by Atossa, succeeded his father by virtue of a formal act of choice. It was a Persian custom that the king, before he went out of his dominions on an expedition, should nominate a successor. Darius must have done this before his campaign in Thrace and Scythia; and if Xerxes was then, as is probable, a mere boy, it is impossible that he should have received the appointment. Artobazanes, the eldest of all Darius’s sons, whose mother, a daughter of Gobryas, was married to Darius before he became king, was most likely then nominated, and was thenceforth regarded as the heir-apparent. When, however, towards the close of his reign Darius again proposed to head a foreign expedition, an opportunity occurred of disturbing this arrangement, of which Atossa, Darius’s favorite wife, whose influence over her husband was unbounded, determined to take advantage. According to the law, a fresh signification of the sovereign’s will was now requisite; and Atossa persuaded Darius to make it in favor of Xerxes. The pleas put forward were, first, that he was the eldest son of the king, (first son born after Darius ascended the throne [CM]) and secondly, that he was descended from Cyrus. This latter argument could not fail to have weight. Backed by the influence of Atossa, it prevailed over all other considerations; and hence Xerxes obtained the throne.

If we may trust the informants of Herodotus, it was the wish of Xerxes on his accession to discontinue the preparations against Greece, and confine his efforts to the re-conquest of Egypt. Though not devoid of ambition, he may well have been distrustful of his own powers; and, having been nurtured in luxury, he may have shrunk from the perils of a campaign in unknown regions. But he was surrounded by advisers who had interests opposed to his inclinations (Onomacritus of Athens [CM]), and who worked on his facile temper till they prevailed on him to take that course which seemed best calculated to promote their designs. Mardonius (Cousin, son of a sister of Darius [CM])was anxious to retrieve his former failure, and expected, if Greece were conquered, that the rich prize would become his own satrapy. The refugee princes of the family of Pisistratus hoped to be reinstated under Persian influence as dependent despots of Athens. Demaratus of Sparta probably cherished a similar expectation with regard to that capital. The Persian nobles generally, who profited by the spoils of war, and who were still full of the military spirit, looked forward with pleasure to an expedition from which they anticipated victory, plunder, and thousands of valuable captives. (Book VII chp. 9-19 Herodotus) The youthful king was soon persuaded that the example of his predecessors required him to undertake some fresh conquest, while the honor of Persia absolutely demanded that the wrongs inflicted upon her by Athens should be avenged. Before, however, turning his arms against Greece, two revolts required his attention. In the year B.C. 485–the second of his reign–he marched into Egypt, which he rapidly reduced to obedience and punished by increasing its burthens. Soon afterwards he seems to have provoked a rebellion of the Babylonians by acts which they regarded as impious, and avenged by killing their satrap, Zopyrus, and proclaiming their independence. Megabyzus, the son of Zopyrus, recovered the city, which was punished by the plunder and ruin of its famous temple and the desolation of many of its shrines.

Xerxes was now free to bend all his efforts against Greece, and, appreciating apparently to the full the magnitude and difficulty of the task, resolved that nothing should be left undone which could possibly be done in order to render success certain. The experience of former years had taught some important lessons. The failure of Datis (Marathon)had proved that such an expedition as could be conveyed by sea across the Ægean would be insufficient to secure the object sought, and that the only safe road for a conqueror whose land force constituted his real strength was along the shores of the European continent. But if a large army took this long and circuitous route, it must be supported by a powerful fleet; and this involved a new danger. The losses of Mardonius off Athos had shown the perils of Ægean navigation, and taught the lesson that the naval force must be at first far more than proportionate to the needs of the army, in order that it might still be sufficient notwithstanding some considerable disasters. At the same time they had indicated one special place of danger, which might be avoided, if proper measures were taken. Xerxes, in the four years which followed on the reduction of Egypt, continued incessantly to make the most gigantic preparations for his intended attack upon Greece, and among them included all the precautions which a wise foresight could devise in order to ward off every conceivable peril. A general order was issued to all the satraps throughout the Empire, calling on them to levy the utmost force of their province for the new war; while, as the equipment of Oriental troops depends greatly on the purchase and distribution of arms by their commander, a rich reward was promised to the satrap whose contingent should appear at the appointed place and time in the most gallant array.

Orders for ships and transports of different kinds were given to the maritime states, with such effect that above 1200 triremes and 3000 vessels of an inferior description were collected together. Magazines of corn were formed at various points along the intended line of route.

To Bridge the Hellespont

Above all, it was determined to bridge the Hellespont by a firm and compact structure, which it was thought would secure the communication of the army from interruption by the elements (Bubares s/o Megabazus & Artachæes s/o Artæus); and at the same time it was resolved to cut through the isthmus which joined Mount Athos to the continent (Book VII Chp. 22 Herodotus), in order to preserve the fleet from disaster at that most perilous part of the proposed voyage. These remarkable works, which made a deep impression on the minds of the Greeks, have been ascribed to a mere spirit of ostentation on the part of Xerxes; the vain-glorious monarch wished, it is supposed, to parade his power, and made a useless bridge and an absurd cutting merely for the purpose of exhibiting to the world the grandeur of his ideas and the extent of his resources. But there is no necessity for travelling beyond the line of ordinary human motive in order to discover a reason for the works in question. The bridge across the Hellespont was a mere repetition of the construction by which Darius had passed into Europe when he made his Scythian expedition, and probably seemed to a Persian not a specially dignified or very wonderful way of crossing so narrow a strait, but merely the natural mode of passage. The only respect in which the bridge of Xerxes differed from constructions, with which the Persians were thoroughly familiar, was in its superior solidity and strength. The shore-cables were of unusual size and weight, and apparently of unusual materials(…he having cables prepared for his bridges, some of papyrus and some of white flax..{Herodotus}); the formation of a double line–of two bridges, in fact, instead of one–was almost without a parallel; and the completion of the work by laying on the ordinary plank-bridge a solid causeway composed of earth and brushwood, with a high bulwark on either side, was probably, if not unprecedented, at any rate very uncommon. Boat-bridges were usually, as they are even now in the East, somewhat rickety constructions, which animals unaccustomed to them could with difficulty be induced to cross. The bridge of Xerxes was a high-road, as Æschylus calls it along, which men, horses, and vehicles might pass with as much comfort and facility as they could move on shore.

The utility of such a work is evident. Without it Xerxes must have been reduced to the necessity of embarking in ships, conveying across the strait, and disembarking, not only his entire host, but all its stores, tents, baggage, horses, camels, and sumpter-beasts. If the numbers of his army approached even the lowest estimate that has been formed of them, it is not too much to say that many weeks must have been spent in this operation. As it was, the whole expedition marched across in seven days. In the case of ship conveyance, continual accidents would have happened: the transport would from time to time have been interrupted by bad weather; and great catastrophes might have occurred. By means of the bridge the passage was probably affected without any loss of either man or beast. Moreover, the bridge once established there was a safe line of communication thenceforth between the army in Europe and the headquarters of the Persian power in Asia, along which might pass couriers, supplies, and reinforcements, if they should be needed.

Further, the grandeur, massiveness, and apparent stability of the work were calculated to impose upon the minds of men, and to diminish their power of resistance by impressing them strongly with a sense of the irresistible greatness and strength of the invader.

The canal of Athos was also quite a legitimate and judicious undertaking. No portion of the Greek coast is as dangerous as that about Athos. Greek boatmen even at the present day refuse to attempt the circumnavigation; and probably any government less apathetic than that of the Turks would at once re-open the old cutting. The work was one of very little difficulty, the breadth of the isthmus being less than a mile and a half, the material sand and marl, and the greatest height of the natural ground above the level of the sea about fifty feet. The construction of a canal in such a locality was certainly better than the formation of a ship-groove or Diolcus–the substitute for it proposed by Ferodotus, not to mention that it is doubtful whether at the time that this cutting was made ship-grooves were known even to the Greeks.

THE HOST

Xerxes, having brought his preparations into a state of forwardness, having completed his canal and his bridge–after one failure with the latter, for which the constructors and the sea were punished (NOTE 1)–proceeded, in the year B.C. 481, along the “Royal Road” from Susa to Sardis, and wintered at the Lydian capital. His army is said to have accompanied him; but more probably it joined him in the spring, flocking in, and contingent after contingent, from the various provinces of his vast Empire. Forty-nine nations, according to Herodotus, served under his standard; and their contingents made up a grand total of eighteen hundred thousand men. Of these, eighty thousand were cavalry, while twenty thousand rode in chariots or on camels; the remainder served on foot. There are no sufficient means of testing these numbers. Figures in the mouth of an Oriental are vague and almost unmeaning; armies are never really counted: there is no such thing as a fixed and definite “strength” of a division or a battalion. Herodotus tells us that a rough attempt at numbering the infantry of the host was made on this occasion; but it was of so rude and primitive a description that little dependence can be placed on the results obtained by it. Ten thousand men were counted, and were made to stand close together; a line was then drawn round them, and a wall built on the line to the height of a man’s waist; within the enclosure thus made all the troops in turn entered, and each time that the enclosure appeared to be full, ten thousand were supposed to be within it. Estimated in this way, the infantry was regarded as amounting to 1,700,000. It is clear that such mode of counting was of the roughest kind, and might lead to gross exaggeration. Each commander would wish his troops to be thought more numerous than they really were, and would cause the enclosure to appear full when several thousands more might still have found room within it. Nevertheless there would be limits beyond which exaggeration could not go; and if Xerxes was made to believe that the land force which he took with him into Europe amounted to nearly two millions of men, it is scarcely doubtful but that it must have exceeded one million. [there were 22 Satrapes [CM]]

The motley composition of such a host has been described in a former chapter. Each nation was armed and equipped after its own fashion, and served in a body, often under a distinct commander. The army marched through Asia in a single column, which was not, however, continuous, but was broken into three portions. The first portion consisted of the baggage animals and about half of the contingents of the nations; the second was composed wholly of native Persians, who preceded and followed the emblems of religion and the king; the third was made up of the remaining national contingents. The king himself rode alternately in a chariot and in a litter. He was preceded immediately by ten sacred horses, and a sacred chariot drawn by eight milk-white steeds. Round him and about him were the choicest troops of the whole army, twelve thousand horse and the same number of foot, all Persians, and those too not taken at random, but selected carefully from the whole mass of the native soldiery. Among them seem to have been the famous “Immortals“–a picked body of 10,000 footmen, always maintained at exactly the same number, and thence deriving their appellation.

The line of march from Sardis to Abydos was only partially along the shore. The army probably descended the valley of the Hermus nearly to its mouth, and then struck northward into the Caicus vale, crossing which it held on its way, with Mount Kara-dagh (Cane) on the left, across the Atarnean plain, and along the coast to Adramytium (Adramyti) and Antandros, whence it again struck inland, and, crossing the ridge of Ida, descended into the valley of the Scamander. Some losses were incurred from the effects of a violent thunderstorm amid the mountains; but they cannot have been of a any great consequence. On reaching the Scamander the army found its first difficulty with respect to water.

That stream was probably low, and the vast host of men and animals were unable to obtain from it a supply sufficient for their wants. This phenomenon, we are told, frequently recurred afterwards; it surprises the English reader, but is not really astonishing, since, in hot countries, even considerable streams are often reduced to mere threads of water during the summer.

Rounding the hills which skirt the Scamander valley upon the east, the army marched past Rhoeteum, Ophrynium, and Dardanus to Abydos. Here Xerxes, seated upon a marble throne, which the people of Abydos had erected for him on the summit of a hill, was able to see at one glance his whole, armament, and to feast his eyes with the sight. It is not likely that any misgivings occurred to him at such a moment. Before him lay his vast host, covering with its dense masses the entire low ground between the hills and the sea; beyond was the strait, and to his left the open sea, white with the sails of four thousand ships; the green fields of the Chersonese smiled invitingly a little further on; while, between him and the opposite shore, the long lines of his bridges lay darkling upon the sea, like a yoke placed upon the neck of a captive. Having seen all, the king gave his special attention to the fleet, which he now perhaps beheld in all its magnitude for the first time. Desirous of knowing which of his subjects were the best sailors, he gave orders for a sailing-match, which were at once carried out. The palm was borne off by the Phoenicians of Sidon, who must have beaten not only their own countrymen of Tyre, but the Greeks of Asia and the islands.

On the next day the passage took place. It was accompanied by religious ceremonies. Waiting for the sacred hour of sunrise, the leader of the host, as the first rays appeared, poured a libation from a golden goblet into the sea, and prayed to Mithra that he might affect the conquest of Europe. As he prayed he cast into the sea the golden goblet, and with it a golden bowl and a short Persian sword. Meanwhile the multitude strewed all the bridge with myrtle boughs, and perfumed it with clouds of incense. The “Immortals” crossed first, wearing garlands on their heads. The king, with the sacred chariot and horses passed over on the second day. For seven days and seven nights the human stream flowed on without intermission across one bridge, while the attendants and the baggage-train made use of the other. The lash was employed to quicken the movements of laggards. At last the whole army was in Europe, and the march resumed its regularity.

It is unnecessary to follow in detail the advance of the host along the coast of Thrace, across Chalcidice, and round the Thermaic Gulf into Pieria. If we except the counting of the fleet and army at Doriscus no circumstances of much interest diversified this portion of the march, which lay entirely through territories that had previously submitted to the Great King. The army spread itself over a wide tract of country, marching generally in three divisions, which proceeded by three parallel lines–one along the coast, another at some considerable distance inland, and a third, with which was Xerxes himself, midway between them. At every place where Xerxes stopped along his line of route the natives had, besides furnishing corn for his army, to entertain him and his suite at a great banquet, the cost of which was felt as a heavy burthen.

Contributions of troops or ships were also required from all the cities and tribes; and thus both fleet and army continually swelled as they advanced onward. In crossing the track between the Strymon and the Axius some damage was suffered by the baggage-train from lions, which came down from the mountains during the night and devoured many of the camels; but otherwise the march was affected without loss, and the fleet and army reached the borders of Thessaly intact, and in good condition.

Here it was found that there was work for the pioneers, and a reconnaissance of the enemy’s country before entering it was probably also thought desirable. The army accordingly halted some days in Pieria, while preparations were being made for crossing the Olympic range into the Thessalian lowland.

During the halt intelligence arrived which seemed to promise the invader an easy conquest. Xerxes, while he was staying at Sardis, had sent heralds to all the Grecian states, excepting Athens and Sparta, with a demand for earth and water, the recognized symbols of submission. His envoys now returned, and brought him favorable replies from at least one-third of the continental Greeks–from the Perrhaebians, Thessalians, Dolopians, Magnetians, Achaeans of Phthiotis, Enianians, Malians, Locrians, and from most of the Boeotians. Unless it was the insignificant Phocis, no hostile country seemed to intervene between the place where his army lay and the great object of the expedition, Attica.

Xerxes, therefore, having first viewed the pass of Tempé, (NOTE 2) and seen with his own eyes that no enemy lay encamped beyond, passed over the Olympic range by a road cut through the woods by his army, and proceeded southwards across Thessaly and Achaea Phthiotis into Malis, the fertile plain at the mouth of the Spercheius river. Here, having heard that a Greek force was in the neighborhood, he pitched his camp not far from the small town of Trachis.

Reference:

TITLE: Great Monarchies of The Ancient Eastern World

AUTHOR: George Rawlinson

CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick

(NOTE 1: Book VII Chapter 34-35 Herodotus; Towards this tongue of land then, the men to whom the business was assigned carried out a double bridge from Abydos; and while the Phoenicians constructed one line of cables of white flax, the Egyptians in the other used ropes of papyrus….it happened a great storm arising broke the whole work to pieces, and destroying all that had been done…So  when Xerxes heard of it he was so in wrath, and straightway gave orders that the Hellesponte should receive three hundred lashes, and that a pair of fetters should be cast into it….that he bade the branders take their irons and therewith brand the Hellesponte… those who scourged the waters to utter.. “ Thou bitter water, thy lord lays on thee this punishment because thou hast wronged him without cause, having suffered no evil at his hands. Verily King Xerxes will cross thee. Whether thou wilt or no. Well dost thou deserve that no man should honour thee with sacrifice; for thou art of a truth a treacherous and unsavourly river”…he likewise commanded that the overseers of the work should lose their heads}

(NOTE 2: Book VII Chapter 173 [Herodotus] Hereupon the Greeks determined to send a body of foot to Thessaly by sea, which should defend the pass of Olympus. Accordingly a force was collected, which passed up the Euripus, and disembarking at Alus, on the coast of Achæa, left the ships there, and marched by land into Thessaly. Here they occupied the defile of Tempé; which leads from lower Macedonia into Thessaly along the course of the Peneus….in this palace the Greeks force ..amounting to about 10,00 heavy-armed men, pitched their camp.. The Commanders ..Evænetus s/o Carênus–Themistocles s/o Neocles.) {they abandoned the pass thinking it indefensiveable [CM]}

Myth: A forgotten truth

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

 

LECTURE ON THE GREEK MYTHS OF STORM, GIVEN (PARTLY) IN UNIVERSITY  COLLEGE LONDON, MARCH 9, 1869.

 I will not ask your pardon for endeavoring to interest you in the subject of Greek Mythology; but I must ask your permission to approach it in a temper differing from that in which it is frequently treated. We cannot justly interpret the religion of any people, unless we are prepared to admit that we ourselves, as well as they, are liable to error in matters of faith; and that the convictions of others, however singular, may in some points have been well founded, while our own, however reasonable, may be in some particulars mistaken.  You must forgive me, therefore, for not always distinctively calling the creeds of the past “superstition,” and the creeds of the present day “religion;” as well as for assuming that a faith now confessed may sometimes be superficial, and that a faith long forgotten may once have been sincere. It is the task of the Divine to condemn the errors of antiquity, and of the philologists to account for them; I will only pray you to read, with patience, and human sympathy, the thoughts of men who lived without blame in a darkness they could not dispel; and to remember that, whatever charge of folly may justly attach to the saying, “There is no God,” the folly is prouder, deeper, and less pardonable, in saying, “There is no God but for me.” (Take note of this here J.D.)

A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural.  Thus if I tell you that Hercules killed a water-serpent in the lake of Lerna, and if I mean, and you understand, nothing more than that fact, the story, whether true or false, is not a myth.  But if by telling you this, I mean that Hercules purified the stagnation of many streams from deadly miasmata, my story, however simple, is a true myth; only, as, if I left it in that simplicity, you would probably look for nothing beyond, it will be wise in me to surprise your attention by adding some singular circumstance; for instance, that the water-snake had several heads, which revived as fast as they were killed, and which poisoned even the foot that trod upon them as they slept.  And in proportion to the fullness of intended meaning I shall probably multiply and refine upon these improbabilities; as, suppose, if, instead of desiring only to tell you that Hercules purified a marsh, I wished you to understand that he contended with the venom and vapor of envy and evil ambition, whether in other men’s souls or in his own, and choked that malaria only by supreme toil,–I might tell you that this serpent was formed by the goddess whose pride was in the trial of Hercules; and that its place of abode as by a palm-tree; and that for every head of it that was cut off, two rose up with renewed life; and that the hero found at last that he could not kill the creature at all by cutting its heads off or crushing them, but only by burning them down; and that the midmost of them could not be killed even that way, but had to be buried alive.  Only in proportion as I mean more, I shall certainly appear more absurd in my statement; and at last when I get unendurably significant, all practical persons will agree that I was talking mere nonsense from the beginning, and never meant anything at all.

 It is just possible, however, also, that the story-teller may all along have meant nothing but what he said; and that, incredible as the events may appear, he himself literally believed–and expected you also to believe–all this about Hercules, without any latent moral or history whatever.  And it is very necessary, in reading traditions of this kind, to determine, first of all, whether you are listening to a simple person, who is relating what, at all events, he believes to be true, (and may, therefore, possibly have been so to some extent), or to a reserved philosopher, who is veiling a theory of the universe under the grotesque of a fairy tale.  It is, in general, more likely that the first supposition should be the right one: simple and credulous persons are, perhaps fortunately, more common than philosophers; and it is of the highest importance that you should take their innocent testimony as it was meant, and not efface, under the graceful explanation which your cultivated ingenuity may suggest, either the evidence their story may contain (such as it is worth) of an extraordinary event having really taken place, or the unquestionable light which it will cast upon the character of the person by whom it was frankly believed.  And to deal with Greek religion honestly, you must at once understand that this literal belief was, in the mind of the general people, as deeply rooted as ours in the legends of our own sacred book; and that a basis of un-miraculous event was as little suspected, and an explanatory symbolism as rarely traced, by them, as by us.

You must, therefore, observe that I deeply degrade the position which such a myth as that just referred to occupied in the Greek mind, by comparing it (for fear of offending you) to our story of St. George and the Dragon.  Still, the analogy is perfect in minor respects; and though it fails to give you any notion of the Greek faith, it will exactly illustrate the manner in which faith laid hold of its objects.

This story of Hercules and the Hydra, then, was to the general Greek mind, in its best days, a tale about a real hero and a real monster.  Not one in a thousand knew anything of the way in which the story had arisen, any more than the English peasant generally is aware of the plebeian original of St. George; or supposes that there were once alive in the world, with sharp teeth and claws, real, and very ugly, flying dragons.

On the other hand, few persons traced any moral or symbolical meaning in the story, and the average Greek was as far from imagining any interpretation like that I have just given you, as an average Englishman is from seeing is St. George the Red Cross Knight of Spenser, or in the Dragon the Spirit of Infidelity.  But, for all that, there was a certain undercurrent of consciousness in all minds that the figures meant more than they at first showed; and, according to each man’s own faculties of sentiment, he judged and read them; just as a Knight of the Garter reads more in the jewel on his collar than the George and Dragon of a public-house expresses to the host or to his customers.  Thus, to the mean person the myth always meant little; to the noble person, much; and the greater their familiarity with it, the more contemptible it became to one, and the more sacred to the other; until vulgar commentators explained it entirely away, while Virgil made the crowning glory of his choral hymn to Hercules.

      “Around thee, powerless to infect thy soul,  Rose, in his crested crowd, the Lerna worm.”

                          “Non te rationis egentem   Lernaeus turba capitum circumstetit anguis.”

And although, in any special toil of the hero’s life, the moral interpretation was rarely with definiteness attached to the event, yet in the whole course of the life, not only for a symbolical meaning, but the warrant for the existence of a real spiritual power, was apprehended of all men.  Hercules was no dead hero, to be remembered only as a victor over monsters of the past–harmless now as slain.  He was the perpetual type and mirror of heroism, and its present and living aid against every ravenous form of human trial and pain.

But, if we seek to know more than this and to ascertain the manner in which the story first crystallized into its shape, we shall find ourselves led back generally to one or other of two sources–either to actual historical events, represented by the fancy under figures personifying them; or else to natural phenomena similarly endowed with life by the imaginative power usually more or less under the influence of terror.  The historical myths we must leave the masters of history to follow; they, and the events they record, being yet involved in great, though attractive and penetrable, mystery.  But the stars, and hills, and storms are with us now, as they were with others of old; and it only needs that we look at them with the earnestness of those childish eyes to understand the first words spoken of them by the children of men, and then, in all the most beautiful and enduring myths, we shall find, not only a literal story of a real person, not only a parallel imagery of moral principle, but an underlying worship of natural phenomena, out of which both have sprung, and in which both forever remain rooted. 

Thus, from the real sun, rising and setting,–from the real atmosphere, calm in its dominion of unfading blue, and fierce in its descent of tempest,–the Greek forms first the idea of two entirely personal and corporal gods, whose limbs are clothes in divine flesh, and whose brows are crowned with divine beauty; yet so real that the quiver rattles at their shoulder, and the chariot bends beneath their weight.  And, on the other hand, collaterally with these corporeal images, and never for one instant separated from them, he conceives also two omnipresent spiritual influences, as the sun, with a constant fire, whatever in humanity is skillful and wise; and the other, like the living air, breathes the calm of heavenly fortitude, and strength of righteous anger, into every human breast that is pure and brave.

 Now, therefore, in nearly every myth of importance, and certainly in every one of those which I shall speak to-night, you have to discern these three structural parts,–the root and the two branches: the root, in physical existence, sun, or sky, or cloud, or sea; then the personal incarnation of that, becoming a trusted and companionable deity, with whom you may walk hand in hand, as a child with its brother or its sister; and, lastly, the moral significance of the image, which is in all the great myths eternally and beneficently true…..

REFERENCE

AUTHOR: John Ruskin

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway