Kralewitz Marko of Servia

Kralewitz Marko was the son of a Servian king who lived many, many years ago. He was very fond of hunting, and one day he rode forth on his horse Saria to the mountain Sargau. Being tired, he dismounted, tied his horse to a tree, sat down in its shade and fell asleep.

And as he slept it happened that Arbanes Neda with his seven brothers rode by. They all dismounted, lifted Kralewitz, bound him to his horse, and rode away with him to Jedrena, where they presented him to the vizier. Highly pleased over the gift, the vizier took the king’s son and threw him into prison. Two long years Kralewitz lay there, longing for liberty and home. Then he learned that in a few days he was to be executed.

Immediately he wrote a letter to his friend, Milos Obilis, asking for help. This important message he entrusted to his only companion, a white falcon. Tying the letter under the bird’s wing he set it free. The falcon easily found its way, alighted on Milos’ window, and was admitted. Scarcely had Milos read the letter, when he and two of his friends were ready to set out for Jedrena. They reached there the day before the execution.

In the morning the gate of the city was opened and Marko was led out. Milos and his companions accompanied the mournful procession to an open field in which the execution was to take place. Two Arabs stood up with gleaming swords prepared to cut off Marko’s head. “Hold on, brothers,” cried Milos. “I will give you a sharper sword with which to cut off the malicious head of the noble Piam. See, with this sword did the good-for-nothing treacherously slay my father. Cursed be his hand!”

With these words he rushed to Marko’s side; then with one swift stroke he cut off the head of one Arab, and with another the head of the other. With still another stroke he severed the chains that bound Marko, and Marko, seizing a sword, swung himself into his saddle, and with his friends began to attack the horde of Turks. Frightened, the Turks fled before them, and Marko and his companions returned to their own country.

Marko waited for and soon found the opportunity of showing his gratitude to his friend, for Milos and two of his brothers were thrown into prison in Varadin. Milos wrote with his own blood a letter to Marko, asking for help. Then the king’s son sprang to his horse Saria and rode to Varadin. Outside of the city he dismounted, stuck his spear in the earth, tied Saria and began drinking the black wine which he had brought with him. He poured it into huge beakers, half of which he drank himself, and half of which he gave to Saria. At the same time a beautiful maiden, the daughter-in-law of the general, passed by. When she saw the king’s son she was frightened and ran and told her father-in-law.

Then the general sent out his son Velimir with three hundred men to take Marko prisoner. The knights encircled Kralewitz Marko, but he continued drinking his wine and paid no attention to them. But Saria noticed them, and drawing near her master began beating the ground with her hoofs. At this Marko looked up and saw himself surrounded. He emptied his beaker, threw it to the ground, and sprang to his horse. Like a falcon among doves Marko charged against the enemy. He cut off the heads of some and drove the rest before him into the Danube. Velimir tried to flee, but Marko threw him from his horse, tied his hands and feet and bound him to Saria. Then again he began to drink his wine.

All this the maiden watched and reported to her father. He gathered together three thousand knights and rode forth against the stranger. They surrounded Marko, but he was undismayed. Bravely he charged against them, his sword in his right hand, his spear in his left, and the reins held between his teeth.

Every knight he touched with either sword or spear fell instantly to the ground, and when Vuca, the general, wholly dismayed, tried to escape on his fiery Arabian horse, Marko followed him, threw him, bound him, and led him to the place where his son lay. Then he bound the two together, tossed them on the saddle of the Arabian horse and rode home. There he put them in prison. Hearing this, the wife of the general wrote a letter to Marko, begging for mercy for her husband and son. Marko promised to release them on condition that she release Milos and his brothers. This she did, honoring them and making them rich presents.

“Now, for the love of Heaven,” said she, “see that my husband and my son return to me.” “Never fear,” answered Milos. “Give me the general’s black horse; adorn him as the general adorned him; give me a golden chariot with twelve horses, such as the general rides in when he journeys to the emperor in Vienna; and give me the robe that the general wears on state occasions.” The wife provided all that he asked, and gave the prisoners for themselves a thousand ducats. Then they rode away.

Marko welcomed them, released the general and his son and provided them with a strong body-guard back to Varadin. Then Milos and his brothers divided the ducats among them, kissed the hand of the king’s son, and rode away into their own country.

Myths and Legends of All Nations : Editor/Translator: Logan Marshall


Ilia Muromec of Russia

When we think of Russia we think of a great dark country–a country of long winters and abundant snow and ice. It was here, long ago, in the city of Kiev, that the hero Ilia Muromec was born.

There was at that time a great castle in the city, and this was well protected by Ilia Muromec and his twelve armed knights. For thirty long years had they kept watch at their post and no stranger had ever passed by them. But one morning Dobrnja, the knight after Ilia Muromec most powerful, perceived on the ground the imprint of a horse’s hoof.

Then he said to the knights: “Now is the mighty Zidovin in the neighborhood of our castle. What is your will?” The knights with one accord agreed that Dobrnja should ride out against the stranger. So Dobrnja mounted his war-horse and galloped forth to meet Zidovin, calling to him in a deep, gruff voice: “Here, my insolent sir, you have come all the way to our castle and have omitted to send greeting to our captain Ilia Muromec, or to inform him of your approach.”
When Zidovin heard these words he turned quickly and rode toward Dobrnja with such force that springs and lakes appeared wherever the hoofs of his black horse touched the ground. And the trembling of the earth caused great waves to rise on the sea. Dobrnja was so frightened that he jerked his horse about and with the swiftness of a cyclone galloped back to the castle. When he entered, almost exhausted, he told in great excitement of his encounter.

Immediately Ilia decided to go forth himself against the enemy, and all the entreaties of his knights could not restrain him. So he rode out to a high point where he could see Zidovin, watch him as he threw his hundred-weight club up into the clouds, caught it with one hand, and swung it around in the air as if it had been a feather.

Then Ilia spurred his horse and rode toward Zidovin. A horrible fight ensued. Swords clashed and deep fissures were made in the earth, but neither knight fell. It seemed as if both heroes had grown fast to their saddles, so unshakeable were they.

At last they jumped from their horses and fought hand to hand with lances. All day long and all night long they struggled, until Ilia finally fell wounded to the ground. Zidovin kneeled on his breast, drew out his sharp knife, and was about to cut off the head of his enemy. Ilia meantime was thinking, “Surely the holy fathers did not lie to me when they said that I should not lose my life in battle.”

Then suddenly he felt his strength redoubled, and he hurled Zidovin from him with such force that his body touched the clouds before it fell again in the moist earth at his feet. Cutting off the warrior’s head, he mounted his horse and rode back to the castle. To his knights he said: “Thirty years have I ridden in the field and thirty years have I fought with heroes and tested my strength; but such a mighty man as Zidovin have I in all that time never met.”

Myths and Legends of All Nations : Editor/Translator: Logan Marshall

Wayland The Smith: Norse

King Nidung had one daughter and three sons. The oldest son, Otvin, was away from court, guarding the outposts of the country; the other two sons were still children. One day the two boys came with their bows to the great smith Wayland, asking him to make arrows for them.

“Not today,” the smith answered. “I have not time; and besides, even though you are the sons of the king, I may not work for you without the wish and consent of your father. If he is willing, you may come again; but you must promise to do exactly as I tell you.”
“What is that?” one of the boys ventured. “You must,” said Wayland, “come on a day when snow has freshly fallen, and you must walk facing backward all the way.”

The children cared little whether they walked backward or forward, as long as they got their arrows, and so they promised. To their delight next morning they found that snow had fallen. Quickly they set out for the smithy, walking backward all the way.
“O Wayland, make us the arrows,” they cried. “The king, our father, has said that we might have them.” But Wayland had no intention of making the arrows, for the king had treated him unjustly and cruelly, and he saw the opportunity for revenge. With his mighty hammer he struck the two children on the head and killed them. Then he threw their bodies into a cave adjoining the smithy.

When the children did not return the castle messengers were sent out to find them. They inquired at the smithy. “The boys have gone,” said Wayland. “I made arrows for them, and no doubt they have gone into the woods to shoot birds.”

Returning to the castle the messengers saw the footprints in the snow, and since they pointed toward home, decided that the children must have gone back. But they were not there. Then Nidung sent his servants far and wide throughout the country, and when the boys were nowhere to be found, he concluded that they must have been devoured by wild animals.

When all the searches were over, Wayland brought forth the bodies of the two children, stripped the bones of flesh, whitened them, and made them into goblets and vessels for the king’s table, mounting them with silver and gold. The king was delighted with them, and had them placed upon his board whenever there were guests of honor present.
A long time later, Badhild, the king’s daughter, while playing with her companions in the garden one day, broke a costly ring that Nidung had given her. She was greatly vexed and feared to tell her father. “Why not take it to Wayland to mend?” suggested one of her trusted maidens. So Badhild gave the trinket to the girl and bade her take it to Wayland. She brought it back with her. “Without the command of the king he will not mend it,” she said, “unless the king’s daughter herself will come to him.”

Badhild set out immediately for the smithy. There Wayland substituted for her ring his own, which had the curious magic power of making its wearer fall in love with the smith. The smith slipped the jewel on her finger, gazed into her eyes and said, “This ring you shall keep as well as your own, if you will be my bride.” The maiden could not refuse, and so the two were married, agreeing to keep their union a secret.

About this time Eigil, the brother of Wayland, came to the court of Nidung. He was a celebrated man and the most skilful master of the bow to be found anywhere in the world. The king welcomed him, and he remained a long time at the court. One day Nidung proposed that, since he was such a skilful bowman, he should try shooting an apple from the head of his own son. Eigil agreed. “You may have only one trial,” the king said.

So an apple was placed on the head of Eigil’s three-year-old son, and Eigil, taking his bow, aimed, and with the first arrow struck the apple in the center, so that it fell from the child’s head. “Why did you have three arrows?” the king asked. “Sire,” replied Eigil, “I will not lie to you. If I had pierced my son with the first arrow, the other two would have pierced you.” The king, strange to say, did not take offense at this speech, but on the contrary showed Eigil still greater favor than he had in the past.

The archer frequently visited his brother Wayland, but Badhild came but seldom to her husband’s house. One day the two came together at Wayland’s special request. When they were leaving Wayland embraced Badhild and said to her: “You will be the mother of a boy–your child and mine. It may be that I shall go away from here and never see his face; but you must tell him that I have made for him worthy weapons and stowed them in safety in the place where the water enters and the wind goes out (the forge).”
The next time Wayland saw Eigil he bade him bring to him all kinds of feathers, large and small. “I wish to make for myself a doublet of feathers,” he explained. Then Eigil shot many birds of prey and brought their feathers to Wayland. From them he made a flying shirt, clad in which he looked more like an eagle than a man.

Eigil admired the workmanship and Wayland asked him to try it. “How shall I rise, how fly, and how alight?” asked Eigil. “You must rise against the wind, and fly first low and then high, but you must alight with the wind.” Eigil did as he was told, and had a good deal of trouble in alighting. Finally he knocked his head with such force on the ground that he lost consciousness. When he came to himself Wayland spoke: “Tell me, brother Eigil, do you like the shirt?” “If it were as easy to alight as it is to fly,” was the answer, “I should fly away and you would never see me again.”

“I will alter what is wrong,” said the smith, making a slight change in the shirt. Then with Eigil’s help he put on the feathers, flapped his wings and rose into the air. He lighted on a turret of the castle and called down to Eigil.

“I did not tell you the truth when I said that you should alight “with” the wind, for I knew that if you found out how easy it was to fly you would never give me the shirt back again. You can see for yourself that all birds rise against the wind and alight in the same way. I am going home to my own country, but first I must have a few words with Nidung. And, remember, if he bids you shoot me, shoot under the left wing, for there I have fastened a bladder filled with blood.” With these words Wayland flew to the highest tower of the king’s castle and called to the king as he passed with his courtiers.

“Are you a bird, Wayland?” asked the king. “Sometimes I am a bird and sometimes a man,” was the reply; “but now I am going away from here and never again will you have me in your power. Listen while I speak. You promised once to give me your daughter and the half of your kingdom, but you made of me instead an outcast–because I defended myself and killed the wretches who would have taken my life.

“You surprised me while I slept and stole my arms and my treasures; and not satisfied with that you laid a net for my feet and made of me a cripple. But I have had my revenge. Do you know where your sons are?” “My sons!” cried Nidung. “Oh, tell me what you know of them.”

“I will tell you, but first you must swear to me by the deck of the ship and the edge of the shield, by the back of the horse and the blade of the sword that you will do no harm to my wife and child.” Nidung swore and Wayland began his speech: “Go to my smithy, and there in the cave you will find the remains of your sons. I killed them, and of their bones made vessels for your table. Your daughter Badhild is my wife. So have I repaid evil with evil, and our connection is ended.”

With these words he flew away, while Nidung in great anger cried: “Eigil, shoot at Wayland.” “I cannot harm my own brother,” replied Eigil. “Shoot,” cried the king, “or I will kill you.” Then Eigil laid an arrow in his bow and shot Wayland as he had been instructed, under his left arm, until the blood flowed and everyone thought that the great smith had received his death wound. But Wayland, unharmed, flew away to Zealand and made his home there in his father’s land.

Nidung, meantime, was sad and unhappy, and it was not long before he died and Otvin, his son, succeeded to the throne. Otvin was soon loved and honored throughout the kingdom because of his great justice and kindness. His sister lived with him at court, and there her son, Widge, was born.

One day Wayland sent messengers to Otvin, asking for peace and pardon, and when these were granted he traveled again to Jutland and was received with great honor. The mighty smith was very glad to see his wife again and very proud of his three-year-old son; but he would not yield to Otvin’s request that he remain in Jutland. Instead he returned to Zealand with Badhild and Widge, and there they lived happily for many years.

Wayland was known throughout all the world for his knowledge and skill, and his son Widge was a powerful hero, whose praises were much celebrated in song.
So ends the story of Wayland, the great smith of the northern countries.

SOURCE: Myths and Legends of All Nations : Editor/Translator: Logan Marshall

Warning Apparitions: Greco-Roman



As we should expect, there are a number of instances of warning apparitions in antiquity; and it is interesting to note that the majority of these are gigantic women endowed with a gift of prophecy.

Thus the younger Pliny [“Ep.” vii. 27] tells us how Quintus Curtius Rufus, who was on the staff of the Governor of Africa, was walking one day in a colonnade after sunset, when a gigantic woman appeared before him. She announced that she was Africa, and was able to predict the future, and told him that he would go to Rome, hold office there, return to the province with the highest authority, and there die. Her prophecy was fulfilled to the letter, and as he landed in Africa for the last time the same figure is reported to have met him.

So, again, at the time of the conspiracy of Callippus, Dion was meditating one evening before the porch of his house, when he turned round and saw a gigantic female figure, in the form of a Fury, at the end of the corridor, sweeping the floor with a broom. The vision terrified him, and soon afterwards his only son committed suicide and he himself was murdered by the conspirators. [Plutarch, “Dion” ii. 55]

A similar dramatic story is related of Drusus during his German campaigns. [Dio Cassius, 55. 1. Cp. Suet., “Claud.”, i] While engaged in operations against the Alemanni, he was preparing to cross the Elbe, when a gigantic woman barred the way, exclaiming, “Insatiate Drusus, whither wilt thou go? Thou art not fated to see all things. Depart hence, for the end of thy life and of thy deeds is at hand.” Drusus was much troubled by this warning, and instantly obeyed the words of the apparition; but he died before reaching the Rhine.

We meet with the same phenomenon again in Dio Cassius, among the prodigies preceding the death of Macrinus, when “a dreadful gigantic woman, seen of several, declared that all that had happened was as nothing compared with what they were soon to endure”–a prophecy which was amply fulfilled by the reign of Heliogabalus.

 But the most gigantic of all these gigantic women was, as we should only expect from his marvelous power of seeing ghosts, the one who appeared to Eucrates in the “Philopseudus”. [Lucian, “Philops.”, 20] Eucrates has seen over a thousand ghosts in his time, and is now quite used to them, though at first he found them rather upsetting; but he had been given a ring and a charm by an Arab, which enabled him to deal with anything supernatural that came in his way. The ring was made from the iron of a cross on which a criminal had been executed, and doubtless had the same value in Eucrates’ eyes that a piece of the rope with which a man has been hung possesses in the eyes of a gambler to-day. On this particular occasion he had left his men at work in the vineyard, and was resting quietly at midday, when his dog began to bark. At first he thought it was only a favourite boy of his indulging in a little hunting with some friends; but on looking up he saw in front of him a woman at least three hundred feet high, with a sword thirty feet long. Her lower extremities were like those of a dragon, and snakes were coiling round her neck and shoulders. Eucrates was not in the least alarmed, but turned the seal of his ring, when a vast chasm opened in the earth, into which she disappeared. This seems rather to have astonished Eucrates; but he plucked up courage, caught hold of a tree that stood near the edge, and looked over, when he saw all the lower world lying spread before him, including the mead of asphodel, where the shades of the blessed were reclining at ease with their friends and relations, arranged according to clans and tribes. Among these he recognized his own father, dressed in the clothes in which he was buried; and it must have been comforting to the son to have such good evidence that his parent was safely installed in the Elysian Fields. In a few moments the chasm closed.

Dio Cassius [68. 25] relates how Trajan was saved in the great earthquake that destroyed nearly the whole of Antioch by a phantom, which appeared to him suddenly, and warned him to leave his house by the window. A similar story is told of the poet Simonides, who was warned by a specter that his house was going to fall, and thus enabled to make his escape in time.

I will include here a couple of stories which, if they cannot exactly be classed as stories of warning apparitions, are interesting in themselves, and may at least be considered as ghost stories. Pliny the Younger [“Ep.” vii. 27. 12] tells us how a slave of his, named Marcus, imagined that he saw someone cutting his hair during the night. When he awoke, the vision proved to have been a true one, for his hair lay all round him. Soon afterwards the same thing happened again. His brother, who slept with him, saw nothing; but Marcus declared that two people came in by the windows, dressed in white, and, after cutting his hair, disappeared.

“Nothing astonishing happened,” adds Pliny, “except that I was not prosecuted, as I undoubtedly should have been, had Domitian lived; for this happened during his principate. Perhaps the cutting of my slave’s hair was a sign of my approaching doom, for accused people cut their hair,” as a sign of mourning. One may be allowed to wonder whether, after all, a fondness for practical joking is not even older than the age of the younger Pliny.

This story, like nearly every other that we have come across, has a parallel in the “Philopseudus”. Indeed, Lucian seems to have covered almost the whole field of the marvellous, as understood at that time, in his determination to turn it into ridicule in that amusing dialogue. In this case we are told of a little statue of Æsculapius, which stood in the house of the narrator of the story, and at the feet of which a number of pence had been placed as offerings, while other coins, some of them silver, were fastened to the thighs with wax. There were also silver plates which had been vowed or offered by those who had been cured of fever by the god. The offerings and tablets are just such as might be found in a Catholic church in the South of Europe to-day; but the coins, in our more practical modern world, would have found their way into the coffers of the church. One would like to know what was the ultimate destination of these particular coins–whether they were to be sent as contributions to one of the temples of Æsculapius, which were the center of the medical world at this period, and had elaborate hospitals attached to them, about which we learn so much from Aristides.

In this case they were merely a source of temptation to an unfortunate Libyan groom, who stole them one night, intending to make his escape. But he had not studied the habits of the statue, which, we are told, habitually got down from its pedestal every night; and in this case such was the power of the god that he kept the man wandering about all night, unable to leave the court, where he was found with the money in the morning, and soundly flogged. The god, however, considered that he had been let off much too easily; and he was mysteriously flogged every night, as the welt’s upon him showed, till he ultimately died of the punishment.

Ælian [Fragment, 84] has a charming story of Philemon, the comic poet. He was still, apparently, in the full vigour of his powers when he had a vision of nine maidens leaving his house in the Piraeus and bidding him farewell. When he awoke, he told his slave the story, and set to work to finish a play with which he was then busy. After completing it to his satisfaction, he wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down upon his bed. His slave came in, and, thinking he was asleep, went to wake him, when he found that he was dead. Ælian challenges the unbelieving Epicureans to deny that the nine maidens were the nine Muses, leaving a house which was so soon to be polluted by death.

Many stories naturally gather round the great struggle for the final mastery of the Roman world which ended in the overthrow of the Republic. Shakespeare has made us familiar with the fate of the poet Cinna, who was actually mistaken for one of the conspirators against Caesar and murdered by the crowd. He dreamt, on the night before he met his death that Caesar invited him to supper, and when he refused the invitation, took him by the hand and forced him down into a deep, dark abyss, which he entered with the utmost horror.

But there is a story connected with the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar that certainly deserves to be better known than it is.[ “Julius” 32.] It is only fitting that an event fraught with such momentous consequences should have a supernatural setting of some kind; and Suetonius relates that while Caesar was still hesitating whether he should declare himself an enemy of his country by crossing the little river that bounded his province at the head of an army, a man of heroic size and beauty suddenly appeared, playing upon a reed-pipe. Some of the troops, several trumpeters among them, ran up to listen, when the man seized a trumpet, blew a loud blast upon it, and began to cross the Rubicon. Caesar at once decided to advance, and the men followed him with redoubled enthusiasm after what they had just seen.

It is to Plutarch that we owe the famous story of the apparition that visited Brutus in his tent the night before the battle of Philippi, and again during the battle. Shakespeare represents it to be Caesar’s ghost, but has otherwise strictly followed Plutarch. It would be absurd to give the scene in any other words than Shakespeare’s.[ “Julius Caesar” iv. 3]

  BRUTUS. How ill this taper burns! Ha! Who comes here? I think it is the weakness of mine eyes, that shapes this monstrous apparition. It comes upon me. Art thou anything? Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil, That mak’st my blood cold, and my hair to stare? Speak to me what thou art!

  GHOST. Thy evil spirit, Brutus.

  BRUTUS. Why com’st thou?

  GHOST. To tell thee thou shalt see me at Philippi.

  BRUTUS. Well; then I shall see thee again?

  GHOST.   Ay, at Philippi.

  BRUTUS. Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then. Now I have taken heart, thou vanishest: Ill spirit, I would hold more talk with thee. But it had already disappeared, only to meet Brutus again on the fatal day that followed.


BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

A Few Fairy Tales of Wales



Many years ago the Welsh mountains were full of fairies. People used to go by moonlight to see them dancing, for they knew where they would dance by seeing green rings in the grass. There was an old man living in those days who used to frequent the fairs that were held across the mountains. One day he was crossing the mountains to a fair, and when he got to a lonely valley he sat down, for he was tired, and he dropped off to sleep, and his bag fell down by his side. When he was sound asleep the fairies came and carried him off, bag and all, and took him under the earth, and when he awoke he found himself in a great palace of gold, full of fairies dancing and singing. And they took him and showed him everything, the splendid gold room and gardens, and they kept dancing round him until he fell asleep.

When he was asleep they carried him back to the same spot where they had found him, and when he awoke he thought he had been dreaming, so he looked for his bag, and got hold of it, but he could hardly lift it. When he opened it he found it was nearly filled with gold. He managed to pick it up, and turning round, he went home.

When he got home, his wife Kaddy said: “What’s to do, why haven’t  you been to the fair?” “I’ve got something here,” he said, and showed his wife the gold. “Why, where did you get that?” But he wouldn’t tell her. Since she was curious, like all women, she kept worrying him all night–for he’d put the money in a box under the bed–so he told her about the fairies.

Next morning, when he awoke, he thought he’d go to the fair and buy a lot of things, and he went to the box to get some of the gold, but found it full of cockle-shells.


Tommy Pritchard was going to school one day, and on his way he thought he heard somebody singing on the other side of a stone wall by the road, so he climbed up and looked over, and there underneath a stone he saw a sixpence, so he took it. Every morning after that, when he went to school, he used to look in the same place, and he always found a sixpence.

His father noticed he was always spending money in the sweet-shop, so he began to think Tommy was stealing from somebody, and one day he asked him where he got the money. Tommy wouldn’t tell at first, but his father threatened to beat him, so he told him where he got his sixpences.

Next morning he went to look in the same place for his sixpence, and he found nothing but a cockle-shell. And he never saw anything but a cockle-shell there afterwards.


There was a tall young woman whom the fairies used to visit, coming through the keyhole at night. She could hear them dancing and singing in her room, but in the morning they used to go the way they had come, only they always left her some money. When she got married she chose a tall husband like herself, and they had a fine big child.

One night they went to a fair, and they got to one side to hear the fairies; for some people could tell when the fairies were coming, for they made a noise like the wind. Whilst they were waiting she told her husband how the fairies used to leave her money at night.

When they got home they found their baby all right, and went to bed. But next morning the young mother found her child had been changed in the night, and there was a very little baby in the cradle. And the child never grew big, for the fairies had changed her child for spite.


It was somewhere about 1200, Prince Llewellyn had a castle at Aber, just abreast of us here; indeed, parts of the towers remain to this day. His consort was the Princess Joan; she was King John’s daughter. Her coffin remains with us to this day. Llewellyn was a great hunter of wolves and foxes, for the hills of Carnarvonshire were infested with wolves in those days, after the young lambs.

Now the prince had several hunting-houses–sorts of farm houses, one of them was at the place now called Beth-Gelert, for the wolves were very thick there at this time. Now the prince used to travel from farm-house to farm-house with his family and friends, when going on these hunting parties.

One season they went hunting from Aber, and stopped at the house where Beth-Gelert is now-it’s about fourteen miles away. The prince had all his hounds with him, but his favourite was Gelert, a hound who had never let off a wolf for six years.

The prince loved the dog like a child, and at the sound of his horn Gelert was always the first to come bounding up. There was company at the house, and one day they went hunting, leaving his wife and the child, in a big wooden cradle, behind him at the farm-house.

The hunting party killed three or four wolves, and about two hours before the word passed for returning home, Llewellyn missed Gelert, and he asked his huntsmen: “Where’s Gelert? I don’t see him.” “Well, indeed, master, I’ve missed him this half-hour.” And Llewellyn blew his horn, but no Gelert came at the sound.

Indeed, Gelert had got on to a wolves’ track which led to the house. The prince sounded the return, and they went home, the prince lamenting Gelert. “He’s sure to have been slain–he’s sure to have been slain! since he did not answer the horn. Oh, my Gelert!” And they approached the house, and the prince went into the house, and saw Gelert lying by the overturned cradle, and blood all about the room. “What! hast thou slain my child?” said the prince, and ran his sword through the dog.

After that he lifted up the cradle to look for his child, and found the body of a big wolf underneath that Gelert had slain, and his child was safe. Gelert had capsized the cradle in the scuffle.

“Oh, Gelert! Oh, Gelert!” said the prince, “my favourite hound, my favourite hound! Thou hast been slain by thy master’s hand, and in death thou hast licked thy master’s hand!” He patted the dog, but it was too late, and poor Gelert died licking his master’s hand.

Next day they made a coffin, and had a regular funeral, the same as if it were a human being; all the servants in deep mourning, and everybody. They made him a grave, and the village was called after the dog, Beth-Gelert–Gelert’s Grave; and the prince planted a tree, and put a gravestone of slate, though it was before the days of quarries. And they are to be seen to this day.


 Once upon a time an old blacksmith lived in an old forge at Craig-y-don, and he used to drink a great deal too much beer. One night he was coming home from an alehouse very tipsy, and as he got near a small stream a lot of little men suddenly sprang up from the rocks, and one of them, who seemed to be older than the rest, came up to him, and said, “If you don’t alter your ways of living you’ll die soon; but if you behave better and become a better man you’ll find it will be to your benefit,” and they all disappeared as quickly as they had come. The old blacksmith thought a good deal about what the fairies had told him, and he left off drinking, and became a sober, steady man.

One day, a few months after meeting the little people, a strange man brought a horse to be shod. Nobody knew either the horse or the man. The old blacksmith tied the horse to a hole in the lip of a cauldron (used for the purpose of cooling his hot iron) that he had built in some masonry.

When he had tied the horse up he went to shoe the off hind-leg, but directly he touched the horse the spirited animal started back with a bound, and dragged the cauldron from the masonry, and then it broke the halter and ran away out of the forge, and was never seen again: neither the horse nor its master. When the old blacksmith came to pull down the masonry to rebuild it, he found three brass kettles full of money.


Title: Welsh Fairy-Tales and Other Stories (1894) 

Author: Edited by P. H. Emerson

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

Apparitions of the Dead: Greco-Roman


Among the tall stories in Lucian’s “Philopseudus” [“Philops.” 27] is an amusing account of a man whose wife, whom he loved dearly, appeared to him after she had been dead for twenty days. He had given her a splendid funeral, and had burnt everything she possessed with her. One day, as he was sitting quietly reading the Phaedo, she suddenly appeared to him, to the terror of his son. As soon as he saw her he embraced her tearfully, a fact which seems to show that she was of a more substantial build than the large majority of ghosts of the ancient world; but she strictly forbade him to make any sound whatever. She then explained that she had come to upbraid the unfortunate man for having neglected to burn one of her golden slippers with her at the funeral. It had fallen behind the chest, she explained, and had been forgotten and not placed upon the pyre with the other. While they were talking, a confounded little Maltese puppy suddenly began to bark from under the bed, when she vanished. But the slipper was found exactly where she had described, and was duly burnt on the following day. The story is refreshingly human.

This question of dress seems to have been a not infrequent source of anxiety to deceased ladies in the ancient world. Periander, [ Herodotus, v. 92.] the tyrant of Corinth, on one occasion wished to consult his wife’s spirit upon a very important matter; but she replied, as she had doubtless often done when alive, that she would not answer his questions till she had some decent clothes to wear. Periander waited for a great festival; when he knew that all the women of Corinth would be assembled in their best, and then gave orders that they should one and all strip themselves. He burnt the clothes on a huge pyre in his wife’s honour; and one can imagine his satisfaction at feeling that he had at last settled the question for ever. He applied to his wife once more with a clear conscience, when she gave him an unmistakable sign that she was speaking the truth, and answered his questions as he desired.

That small household matters may weigh heavily upon a woman’s conscience, even nowadays, is shown by the following interesting story, which may well be compared with the foregoing.[“Human Personality” ii. 348] In July, 1838, a Catholic priest, who had gone to Perth to take charge of a mission, was called upon by a Presbyterian woman. For many weeks past, she explained, she had been anxious to see a priest. A woman, lately dead, whom she knew very slightly, had appeared to her during the night for several nights, urging her to go to a priest and ask him to pay three shillings and ten-pence to a person not specified.

The priest made inquiries, and learnt that the deceased had acted as washerwoman and followed the regiment. At last, after careful search, he found a grocer with whom she had dealt, and, on being asked whether a female of the name owed him anything, the grocer turned up his books and informed him that she owed him three shillings and ten-pence. He paid the sum. Subsequently the Presbyterian woman came to him, saying that she was no more troubled.

The spirits of the worst of the Roman Emperors were, as we should expect, especially restless. Pliny[“Ep.” v. 5.] tells us how Fannius, who was engaged upon a Life of Nero, was warned by him of his approaching death. He was lying on his couch at dead of night with a writing-desk in front of him, when Nero came and sat down by his side, took up the first book he had written on his evil deeds, and read it through to the end; and so on with the second and the third. Then he vanished. Fannius was terrified, for he thought the vision implied that he would never get beyond the third book of his work, and this actually proved to be the case.

Nero, in fact, had a romantic charm about him, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the wild recklessness of his life; and he possessed the redeeming feature of artistic taste. Like Francis I. of France, or our own Charles II., he was irresistible with the ladies, and must have been the darling of all the housemaids of Rome. People long refused to believe in his death, and for many years it was confidently affirmed that he would appear again. His ghost was long believed to walk in Rome, and the church of Santa Maria del Popolo is said to have been built as late as 1099 by Pope Paschalis II on the site of the tombs of the Domitii, where Nero was buried, near the modern Porta del Popolo, where the Via Flaminia entered the city, in order to lay his restless shade.

Caligula also appeared shortly after his death, and frequently disturbed the keepers of the Lamian Gardens, for his body had been hastily buried there without due ceremony. Not till his sisters, who really loved him, in spite of his many faults, had returned from exile were the funeral rites properly performed, after which his ghost gave no more trouble.[ Suet., “Gaius”, 59]

On the night of the day of Galba’s murder, the Emperor Otho was heard groaning in his room by his attendants. They rushed in, and found him lying in front of his bed, endeavouring to propitiate Galba’s ghost, by whom he declared that he saw himself being driven out and expelled.[ Suet., “Otho” 7] Otho was a strange mixture of superstition and skepticism, for when he started on his last fatal expedition he treated the unfavourable omens with contempt. By this time, however, he may have become desperate.

Moreover, irreligious people are notoriously superstitious, and at this period it would be very difficult to say just where religion ended and superstition began.

We have one or two ghost stories connected with early Greek mythology. Cillas, the charioteer of Pelops, though Troezenius gives his name as Sphaerus, died on the way to Pisa, and appeared to Pelops by night, begging that he might be duly buried. Pelops took pity on him and burnt [If that is the meaning of [Greek: exerruparou] in the Homeric Scholia of Theopompus] his body with all ceremony, raised a huge mound in his honour, and built a chapel to the Cillean Apollo near it. He also named a town after him. Strabo even says that there was a mound in Cillas’ honour at Crisa in the Troad. This dutiful attention did not go unrewarded. Cillas appeared to Pelops again, and thanked him for all he had done, and to Cillas also he is said to have owed the information by which he was able to overthrow Œnomaus in the famous chariot race which won him the hand of Hippodamia. Pelops’ shameless ingratitude to Œnomaus’s charioteer, Myrtilus, who had removed the pin of his master’s chariot, and thus caused his defeat and death in order to help Pelops, on the promise of the half of the kingdom, is hardly in accordance with his treatment of Cillas, though it is thoroughly Greek. However, on the theory that a man who betrays one master will probably betray another, especially if he is to be rewarded for his treachery with as much as half a kingdom, Pelops was right in considering that Myrtilus was best out of the way; and he can hardly have foreseen the curse that was to fall upon his family in consequence.

With this story we may compare the well-known tale of the poet Simonides, who found an unknown corpse on the shore, and honoured it with burial.[ Cic. “De Div.” i. 27, 56. Cp. Val. Max., i. 7; Libanius, iv. 1101] Soon afterwards he happened to be on the point of starting on a voyage, when the man whom he had buried appeared to him in a dream, and warned him on no account to go by the ship he had chosen, as it would undoubtedly be wrecked. Impressed by the vision, the poet remained behind, and the ship went down soon afterwards, with all on board. Simonides expressed his gratitude in a poem describing the event, and in several epigrams. Libanius even goes so far as to place the scene of the event at Tarentum, where he was preparing to take ship for Sicily.

The tale is probably mythical. It belongs to a group of stories of the grateful dead, which have been the subject of an interesting book recently published by the Folk-Lore Society. [“The Grateful Dead”, by G.H. Gerould.] Mr. Gerould doubts whether it really belongs to the cycle, as it is nearly two centuries earlier, even in Cicero’s version, than any other yet discovered; but it certainly inspired Chaucer in his Nun’s Priest’s Tale, and it may well have influenced other later versions. The Jewish version is closer to the Simonides story than any of the others, and I will quote it in Mr. Gerould’s words.[“The Grateful Dead” p. 27.]

“The son of a rich merchant of Jerusalem sets off after his father’s death to see the world. At Stamboul he finds hanging in chains the body of a Jew, which the Sultan has commanded to be left there till his co-religionists, shall have repaid the sum that the man is suspected of having stolen from his royal master. The hero pays this sum, and has the corpse buried. Later, during a storm at sea he is saved by a stone, on which he is brought to land, whence he is carried by an eagle back to Jerusalem. There a white-clad man appears to him, explaining that he is the ghost of the dead, and that he has already appeared as stone and eagle. The spirit further promises the hero a reward for his good deed in the present and in the future life.”

This is one of the simplest forms in which the story appears. It is generally found compounded with some other similar tale; but the main facts are that a man buries a corpse found on the sea-shore from philanthropic motives. “Later he is met by the ghost of the dead man, who in many cases promises him help on condition of receiving, in return, half of whatever he gets. The hero obtains a wife (or some other reward), and, when called upon, is ready to fulfil his bargain as to sharing his possessions,”[“Ibid.” p. 10] not excepting the wife. Some of the characteristics of the tale are to be found in the story of Pelops and Cillas, related above, which Mr. Gerould does not mention.

Pausanias has a story of one of Ulysses’ crew. Ulysses’ ship was driven about by the winds from one city to another in Sicily and Italy, and in the course of these wanderings it touched at Tecmessa. Here one of the sailors got drunk and ravished a maiden, and was stoned to death in consequence by the indignant people of the town. Ulysses did not trouble about what had occurred, and sailed away. Soon, however, the ghost of the murdered man became a source of serious annoyance to the people of the place, killing the inhabitants of the town, regardless of age and sex. Finally, matters came to such a pass that the town was abandoned. But the Pythian priestess bade the people return to Tecmessa and appease the hero by building him a temple and precinct of his own, and giving him every year the fairest maiden of the town to wife. They took this advice, and there was no more trouble from the ghost. It chanced, however, that Euthymus came to Tecmessa just when the people were paying the dead sailor the annual honours. Learning how matters stood, he asked to be allowed to go into the temple and see the maiden.

At their meeting he was first touched with pity, and then immediately fell desperately in love with her. The girl swore to be his, if he would save her. Euthymus put on his armour and awaited the attack of the monster. He had the best of the fight, and the ghost, driven from its home, plunged into the sea. The wedding was, of course, celebrated with great splendour, and nothing more was heard of the spirit of the drunken sailor. The story is obviously to be classed with that of Ariadne.

The god-fearing Ælian seeks to show that Providence watches over a good man and brings his murderers to justice by a story taken from Chrysippus. [ Ælian, “Fragment” 82] A traveler put up at an inn in Megara, wearing a belt full of gold. The innkeeper discovered that he had the money about him, and murdered him at night, having arranged to carry his body outside the gates in a dung-cart. But meanwhile the murdered man appeared to a citizen of the town and told him what had happened. The man was impressed by the vision. Investigations were made, and the murderer was caught exactly where the ghost had indicated, and was duly punished.

This is one of the very few stories in which the apparition is seen at or near the moment of death, as is the case in the vast majority of the well-authenticated cases collected during recent years.

Aristeas of Proconesus, a man of high birth, died quite suddenly in a feasting establishment in his native town. [Herodotus iv. 14, 15.] The owner locked the building and went to inform his relatives, when a man from Cyzicus, hearing the news, denied it, saying that Aristeas had met him on the way thither and talked to him; and when the relatives came, prepared to remove the body, they found no Aristeas, either alive or dead. Altogether, he seems to have been a remarkable person. He disappeared for seven years, and then appeared in Proconesus and wrote an epic poem called “Arimispea”, which was well known in Herodotus’s day. Two hundred and forty years later he was seen again, this time at Metapontum, and bade the citizens build a shrine to Apollo, and near it erect a statue to himself, as Apollo would come to them alone of the Italian Greeks, and he would be seen following in the form of a raven. The townsmen were troubled at the apparition, and consulted the Delphic oracle, which confirmed all that Aristeas had said; and Apollo received his temple and Aristeas his statue in the market-place.

Apollonius [“Hist. Mir.” 11.] tells virtually the same story, except that in his version Aristeas was seen giving a lesson in literature by a number of persons in Sicily at the very hour he died in Proconesus. He says that Aristeas appeared at intervals for a number of years after his death. The elder Pliny [“N.H.” 7. 52. 174] also speaks of Aristeas, saying that at Proconesus his soul was seen to leave his body in the form of a raven, though he regards the tale as in all probability a fabrication.

The doctor in Lucian’s “Philopseudus” (c. 26) declares that he knew a man who rose from the dead twenty days after he was buried, and that he attended him after his resurrection. But when asked how it was the body did not decompose or the man die of hunger, he has no answer to give.

Dio Cassius [67. 16.] describes how, when Nero wished to cut a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth, blood spurted up in front of those who first touched the earth, groans and cries were heard, and a number of ghosts appeared. Not till Nero took a pickaxe and began to work himself, to encourage the men, was any real progress made.

Pliny [“N.H.” 7. 52. 174] quotes an interesting account, from Hermotimus of Clazomenae, of a man whose soul was in the habit of leaving his body and wandering abroad, as was proved by the fact that he would often describe events which had happened at a distance, and could only be known to an actual eyewitness. His body meanwhile lay like that of a man in a trance or half dead. One day, however, some enemies of his took the body while in this state and burnt it, thus, to use Pliny’s phrase, leaving the soul no sheath [Vagina] to which it could return.

No one can help being struck by the bald and meagre character of these stories as a whole. They possess few of the qualities we expect to find in a good modern ghost story. None of them can equal in pathetic beauty many of those to be found in Myers’s “Human Personality”. Take, for example, the story of the lady [“Human Personality” ii. 383] who was waked in the night by the sound of moaning and sobbing, as of someone in great distress of mind. Finding nothing in her room, she went and looked out of the landing window, “and there, on the grass, was a very beautiful young girl in a kneeling posture before a soldier, in a General’s uniform, clasping her hands together and entreating for pardon; but, alas! He only waived her away from him.”

The story proved to be true. The youngest daughter of the old and distinguished family to which the house had belonged had had an illegitimate child. Her parents and relations refused to have anything more to do with her, and she died broken-hearted. The lady who relates the story saw the features so clearly on this occasion that she afterwards recognized the soldier’s portrait some six months later, when calling at a friend’s house, and exclaimed: “Why, look! There is the General!” as soon as she noticed it.

One really beautiful ghost story has, however, come down to us.[Phlegon of Tralles, “De Rebus Mirabilibus”, “ad fin.”] Phlegon of Tralles was a freedman of the Emperor Hadrian. His work is not of great merit. The following is a favourable specimen of his stories. A monstrous child was born in Ætolia, after the death of its father, Polycrates. At a public meeting, where it was proposed to do away with it, the father suddenly appeared, and begged that the child might be given him. An attempt was made to seize the father, but he snatched up the child, tore it to pieces, and devoured all but the head. When it was proposed to consult the Delphic oracle on the matter, the head prophesied to the crowd from where it lay on the ground.

Then comes the following story. The early part is missing, but Erwin Rohde, in an interesting article,[ Mai, “Script. Vet. Nov. Coll.”  ii. 671] has cleared up all the essential details. Proclus’s treatises on Plato’s Republic are complete only in the Vatican manuscripts. Of these Mai only published fragments,[ Mai, “Script. Vet. Nov. Coll.”  ii. 671] but an English theologian, Alexander Morus, took notes from the manuscript when it was in Florence, and quoted from it in a commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.[ London, 1616] One of the treatises is called [Greek: pos dei noein eisienai kai exienai psuchen apo somatos]. The ending in Phlegon [103: [Greek: errho]] proves that the story was given in the form of a letter, and we learn that the scene was laid at Amphipolis, on the Strymon, and that the account was sent by Hipparchus in a letter to Arrhidaeus, half-brother of Alexander the Great, the events occurring during the reign of Philip II of Macedon. Proclus says that his information is derived from letters, “some written by Hipparchus, others by Arrhidaeus.”

Philinnion was the daughter of Demostratus and Charito. She had been married to Craterus, Alexander’s famous General, but had died six months after her marriage. As we learn that she was desperately in love with Machates, a foreign friend from Pella who had come to see Demostratus, the misery of her position may possibly have caused her death. But her love conquered death itself, and she returned to life again six months after she had died, and lived with Machates, visiting him for several nights. “One day an old nurse went to the guest-chamber, and as the lamp was burning, she saw a woman sitting by Machates. Scarcely able to contain herself at this extraordinary occurrence, she ran to the girl’s mother, calling: ‘Charito! Demostratus!’ and bade them get up and go with her to their daughter, for by the grace of the gods she had appeared alive, and was with the stranger in the guest-chamber.

“On hearing this extraordinary story, Charito was at first overcome by it and by the nurse’s excitement; but she soon recovered herself, and burst into tears at the mention of her daughter, telling the old woman she was out of her senses, and ordering her out of the room. The nurse was indignant at this treatment, and boldly declared that she was not out of her senses, but that Charito was unwilling to see her daughter because she was afraid. At last Charito consented to go to the door of the guest-chamber, but as it was now quite two hours since she had heard the news, she arrived too late, and found them both asleep. The mother bent over the woman’s figure, and thought she recognized her daughter’s features and clothes. Not feeling sure, as it was dark, she decided to keep quiet for the present, meaning to get up early and catch the woman. If she failed, she would ask Machates for a full explanation, as he would never tell her a lie in a case so important. So she left the room without saying anything.

“But early on the following morning, either because the gods so willed it or because she was moved by some divine impulse, the woman went away without being observed. When she came to him, Charito was angry with the young man in consequence, and clung to his knees, and conjured him to speak the truth and hide nothing from her. At first he was greatly distressed, and could hardly be brought to admit that the girl’s name was Philinnion. Then he described her first coming and the violence of her passion, and told how she had said that she was there without her parents’ knowledge. The better to establish the truth of his story, he opened a coffer and took out the things she had left behind her–a ring of gold which she had given him, and a belt which she had left on the previous night. When Charito beheld all these convincing proofs, she uttered a piercing cry, and rent her clothes and her cloak, and tore her coif from her head, and began to mourn for her daughter afresh in the midst of her friends. Machates was deeply distressed on seeing what had happened, and how they were all mourning, as if for her second funeral. He begged them to be comforted, and promised them that they should see her if she appeared. Charito yielded, but bade him be careful how he fulfilled his promise.

“When night fell and the hour drew near at which Philinnion usually appeared, they were on the watch for her. She came, as was her custom, and sat down upon the bed. Machates made no pretence, for he was genuinely anxious to sift the matter to the bottom, and secretly sent some slaves to call her parents. He himself could hardly believe that the woman who came to him so regularly at the same hour was really dead, and when she ate and drank with him, he began to suspect what had been suggested to him–namely, that some grave-robbers had violated the tomb and sold the clothes and the gold ornaments to her father.

“Demostratus and Charito hastened to come at once, and when they saw her, they were at first speechless with amazement. Then, with cries of joy, they threw themselves upon their daughter. But Philinnion remained cold. ‘Father and mother,’ she said, ‘cruel indeed have ye been in that ye grudged my living with the stranger for three days in my father’s house, for it brought harm to no one. But ye shall pay for your meddling with sorrow. I must return to the place appointed for me, though I came not hither without the will of Heaven.’ With these words she fell down dead, and her body lay stretched upon the bed. Her parents threw themselves upon her, and the house was filled with confusion and sorrow, for the blow was heavy indeed; but the event was strange, and soon became known throughout the town, and finally reached my ears.

“During the night I kept back the crowds that gathered round the house, taking care that there should be no disturbance as the news spread. At early dawn the theatre was full. After a long discussion it was decided that we should go and open the tomb, to see whether the body was still on the bier, or whether we should find the place empty, for the woman had hardly been dead six months. When we opened the vault where all her family was buried, the bodies were seen lying on the other biers; but on the one where Philinnion had been placed, we found only the iron ring which had belonged to her lover and the gilt drinking-cup Machates had given her on the first day. In utter amazement, we went straight to Demostratus’s house to see whether the body was still there. We beheld it lying on the ground, and then went in a large crowd to the place of assembly, for the whole event was of great importance and absolutely past belief. Great was the confusion, and no one could tell what to do, when Hyllus, who is not only considered the best diviner among us, but is also a great authority on the interpretation of the flight of birds, and is generally well versed in his art, got up and said that the woman must be buried outside the boundaries of the city, for it was unlawful that she should be laid to rest within them; and that Hermes Chthonius and the Eumenides should be propitiated, and that all pollution would thus be removed. He ordered the temples to be re-consecrated and the usual rites to be performed in honour of the gods below. As for the King, in this affair, he privately told me to sacrifice to Hermes, and to Zeus Xenius, and to Ares, and to perform these duties with the utmost care. We have done as he suggested.

“The stranger Machates, who was visited by the ghost, has committed suicide in despair. “Now, if you think it right that I should give the King an account of all this, let me know, and I will send some of those who gave me the various details.”

The story is particularly interesting, as the source of Goethe’s “Braut von Korinth”. In Goethe’s poem the girl is a Christian, while her lover is a pagan. Their parents are friends, and they have been betrothed in their youth. He comes to stay with her parents, knowing nothing of her death, when she appears to him. As in the Greek story, her body is material, though cold and bloodless, and he thinks her still alive. He takes her in his arms and kisses her back to life and love, breathing his own passion into her. Then the mother surprises them, and the daughter upbraids her for her cruelty, but begs that she and her lover may be buried together, as he must pay for the life he has given her with his own.


BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

Visions of the Dead in Sleep: Greco-Roman


In most of the Greek and Roman stories that survive, the wraiths of the dead are represented as revisiting their friends on earth in sleep. These instances I have not, as a rule, troubled to collect, for they cannot strictly be classed as ghost stories; but since the influence of the dead was generally considered to be exercised in this way, I shall give a few stories which seem particularly striking. That it was widely believed that the dead could return at night to those whom they loved is proved by the touching inscription in which a wife begs that her husband may sometimes be allowed to revisit her in sleep, and that she may soon join him.

The most interesting passage that has come down to us, dealing with the whole question of the power of the dead to appear to those whom they love in dreams, is undoubtedly Quintilian’s Tenth Declamation. The fact that the greatest teacher of rhetoric of his day actually chose it as a subject for one of his model speeches shows how important a part it must have played in the feelings of educated Romans of the time. The story is as follows.

A mother was plunged in grief at the loss of her favourite son, when, on the night of the funeral, which had been long delayed at her earnest request, the boy appeared to her in a vision, and remained with her all night, kissing her and fondling her as if he were alive. He did not leave her till daybreak. “All that survives of a son,” says Quintilian, “will remain in close communion with his mother when he dies.” In her unselfishness, she begs her son not to withhold the comfort which he has brought to her from his father. But the father, when he hears the story, does not at all relish the idea of a visit from his son’s ghost, and is, in fact, terrified at the prospect. He says nothing to the mother, who had moved the gods of the world above no less than those of the world below by the violence of her grief and the importunity of her prayers, but at once sends for a sorcerer. As soon as he arrives, the sorcerer is taken to the family tomb, which has its place in the city of the dead that stretches along the highway from the town gate. The magic spell is wound about the grave, and the urn is finally sealed with the dread words, until at last the hapless boy has become, in very truth, a lifeless shade. Finally, we are told, the sorcerer threw himself upon the urn itself and breathed his spells into the very bones and ashes.

This at least he admitted, as he looked up: “The spirit resists. Spells are not enough. We must close the grave completely and bind the stones together with iron.” His suggestions are carried out, and at last he declares that all has been accomplished successfully. “Now he is really dead. He cannot appear or come out. This night will prove the truth of my words.” The boy never afterwards appeared, either to his mother or to anyone else.

The mother is beside herself with grief. Her son’s spirit, which had successfully baffled the gods of the lower world in its desire to visit her, is now, thanks to these foreign spells, dashing itself against the top of the grave, unable to understand the weight that has been placed upon it to keep it from escaping. Not only do the spells shut the boy in–he might possibly have broken through these–but the iron bands and solid fastenings have once again brought him face to face with death. This very realistic, if rather material, picture of a human soul mewed up for ever in the grave gives us a clear idea of the popular belief in Rome about the future life, and enables us to realize the full meaning of the inscription, “Sit tibi terra levis” (May the earth press lightly upon thee), which is so common upon Roman tombs as often to be abbreviated to “S.T.T.L.”

The speech is supposed to be delivered in an action for cruelty [Malae tractationis] brought by the wife against her husband, and in the course of it the father is spoken of as a parricide for what he has done. He defends himself by saying that he took the steps which are the cause of the action for his wife’s peace of mind. To this plea it is answered that the ghost of a son could never frighten a mother, though other spirits, if unknown to her, might conceivably do so.

In the course of the speech we are told that the spirit, when freed from the body, bathes itself in fire and makes for its home among the stars, where other fates await it. Then it remembers the body in which it once dwelt. Hence the dead return to visit those who once were dear to them on earth, and become oracles, and give us timely warnings, and are conscious of the victims we offer them, and welcome the honours paid them at their tombs.

The Declamation ends, like most Roman speeches, with an appeal: in this case to the sorcerer and the husband to remove the spells; especially to the sorcerer, who has power to torture the gods above and the spirits of the dead; who, by the terror of his midnight cries, can move the deepest caves, can shake the very foundations of the earth. “You are able both to call up the spirits that serve you and to act as their cruel and ruthless gaoler. Listen for once to a mother’s prayers, and let them soften your heart.”

Then we have the story of Thrasyllus, as told by Apuleius,[ “Met.” viii. 4] which is thoroughly modern in its romantic tone. He was in love with the wife of his friend, Tlepolemus, whom he treacherously murdered while out hunting. His crime is not discovered, and he begins to press his suit for her hand to her parents almost immediately. The widow’s grief is heart-rending. She refuses food and altogether neglects herself, hoping that the gods will hear her prayer and allow her to rejoin her husband. At last, however, she is persuaded by her parents, at Thrasyllus’s instance, to give ordinary care to her own health. But she passes her days before the likeness of the deceased, which she has had made in the image of that of the god Liber, paying it divine honours and finding her one comfort in thus fomenting her own sufferings.

When she hears of Thrasyllus’s suit, she rejects it with scorn and horror; and then at night her dead husband appears to her and describes exactly what happened, and begs her to avenge him. She requires no urging, and almost immediately decides on the course that her vengeance shall take. She has Thrasyllus informed that she cannot come to any definite decision till her year of mourning is over. Meanwhile, however, she consents to receive his visits at night, and promises to arrange for her old nurse to let him in. Overjoyed at his success, Thrasyllus comes at the hour appointed, and is duly admitted by the old nurse. The house is in complete darkness, but he is given a cup of wine and left to himself. The wine has been drugged, however, and he sinks into a deep slumber. Then Tlepolemus’s widow comes and triumphs over her enemy, who has fallen so easily into her hands. She will not kill him as he killed her husband. “Neither the peace of death nor the joy of life shall be yours,” she exclaims. “You shall wander like a restless shade between Orcus and the light of day…. The blood of your eyes I shall offer up at the tomb of my beloved Tlepolemus, and with them I shall propitiate his blessed spirit.” At these words she takes a pin from her hair and blinds him. Then she rushes through the streets, with a sword in her hand to frighten anyone who might try to stop her, to her husband’s tomb, where, after telling all her story, she slays herself.

Thither Thrasyllus followed her, declaring that he dedicated himself to the Manes of his own free-will. He carefully shut the tomb upon himself, and starved himself to death.

This is by far the best of the stories in which we find a vision of the dead in sleep playing an important part; but there is also the well-known tale of the Byzantine maiden Cleonice.[ Plutarch, “Cimon” Chap. VI] She was of high birth, but had the misfortune to attract the attention of the Spartan Pausanias, who was in command of the united Greek fleet at the Hellespont after the battle of Plataea. Like many Spartans, when first brought into contact with real luxury after his frugal upbringing at home, he completely lost his mental balance, and grew intoxicated with the splendour of his position, endeavouring to imitate the Persians in their manners, and even aspiring, it is said, to become tyrant of the whole of Greece. Cleonice was brutally torn from her parents and brought to his room at night. He was asleep at the time, and being awakened by the noise, he imagined that someone had broken into his room with the object of murdering him, and snatched up a sword and killed her. After this her ghost appeared to him every night, bidding him “go to the fate which pride and lust prepare.” He is said to have visited a temple at Heraclea, where he had her spirit called up and implored her pardon. She duly appeared, and told him that “he would soon be delivered from all his troubles after his return to Sparta”–an ambiguous way of prophesying his death, which occurred soon afterwards. She was certainly avenged in the manner of it.

Before leaving these stories of visions of the dead, we must not omit to mention that charming poem of Virgil’s younger days, the “Culex” (The Gnat). Just as the first sketch of Macaulay’s famous character ofWilliam III is said to be contained in a Cambridge prize essay on the subject, so the “Culex” contains the first draft of some of the greatest passages in Virgil’s later works–the beautiful description of the charms of country life in the “Georgics”, for instance, and the account of Tartarus in the sixth book of the “Æneid”. The story is slight, as was usually the case in these little epics, where the purple patches are more important than the plot. A shepherd falls asleep in the shade by a cool fountain, just as he would do in Southern Italy to-day, for his rest after the midday meal. Suddenly a snake, the horrors of which are described with a vividness that is truly Virgilian, appears upon the scene and prepares to strike the shepherd. A passing gnat, the hero of the poem, sees the danger, and wakes the shepherd by stinging him in the eye. He springs up angrily, brushes it off with his hand, and dashes it lifeless to the ground. Then, to his horror, he sees the snake, and promptly kills it with the branch of a tree.

While he lies asleep that night, the ghost of the gnat appears to him in a dream, and bitterly reproaches him for the cruel death with which it has been rewarded for its heroic services. Charon has now claimed it for his own. It goes on to give a lurid description of the horrors of Tartarus, and contrasts its hard lot with that of the shepherd. When he wakes, the shepherd is filled with remorse for his conduct and is also, perhaps, afraid of being continually haunted by the ghost of his tiny benefactor. He therefore sets to work to raise a mound in honour of the gnat, facing it with marble. Round it he plants all kinds of flowers, especially violets and roses, the flowers usually offered to the dead, and cuts on a marble slab the following inscription: “Little gnat, the shepherd dedicates to thee thy need of a tomb in return for the life thou gavest him.”[“Parve culex, pecudum custos tibi tale merenti  Funeris officium vitae pro munere reddit.”]

There is also an interesting story of Pindar, told by Pausanias. In his old age the great poet dreamt that Persephone appeared to him and told him that she alone of all the goddesses had not been celebrated in song by him, but that he should pay the debt when he came to her. Shortly after this he died. There was, however, a relation of his, a woman then far advanced in years, who had practiced the singing of most of his hymns. To her Pindar appeared in a dream and sang the hymn to Proserpine, which she wrote down from memory when she awoke.



BY: Lacy Collison-Morley

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

FRITHIOF the Bold: Norse



 Frithiof was a Norwegian hero, grandson of Viking, who was the largest and strongest man of his time. Viking had sailed the sea in a dragon ship, meeting with many adventures, and Thorsten, Frithiof’s father, had likewise sailed abroad, capturing many priceless treasures and making a great name for himself.

Frithiof was entrusted to the care of Hilding, his foster father, and in his care, also, were Halfdan and Helge, King Bele’s sons, and, some years later, their little sister, Ingeborg. Frithiof and Ingeborg became firm friends, and as the lad increased in bravery and strength, the girl increased in beauty and loveliness of soul. Hilding, noticing how each day they became fonder of each other, called Frithiof to him and bade him remember that he was only a humble subject and could never hope to wed Ingeborg, the king’s only daughter, descended from the great god Odin. The warning, however, came too late, for Frithiof already loved the fair maiden, and vowed that he would have her for his bride at any cost.

Soon after this the king died, leaving his kingdom to his two sons and giving instructions that his funeral mound should be erected in sight of that of his dear friend Thorsten, so that their spirits might not be separated even in death. Then Ingeborg went to live with her brothers, the Kings of Sogn, while Frithiof retired to his own home at Framnas, closed in by the mountains and the sea. Frithiof was now one of the wealthiest and most envied of land-owners. His treasures were richer by far than those of any king.

In the spring he held a great celebration, which the kings of Sogn and their sister Ingeborg, among many other guests, attended. Frithiof and Ingeborg were much together, and Frithiof was very happy to learn that Ingeborg returned his affection.

Great was his grief when the time came for her to sail away. Not long had she been gone, however, when he vowed to Bjoern, his chief companion, that he would follow after her and ask for her hand. His ship was prepared and soon he touched the shore near the temple of the god Balder.

His request was not granted and Helge dismissed him contemptuously. In a rage at the insult Frithiof lifted his sword; but remembering that he stood on consecrated ground near Bele’s tomb, he spared the king, only cutting his heavy shield in two to show the strength of his blade.

Soon after his departure another suitor, the aged King Ring of Norway sought the hand of Ingeborg in marriage, and being refused, collected an army and prepared to make war on Helge and Halfdan.

Then the two brothers were glad to send a messenger after Frithiof, asking his aid. The hero, still angry, refused; but he hastened at once to Ingeborg. He found her in tears at the shrine of Balder, and although it was considered a sin for a man and woman to exchange words in the sacred temple, he spoke to her, again making known his love.

The kings, her brothers, were away at war, but Frithiof stayed near Ingeborg, and when they returned, promised to free them from the oppression of Sigurd Ring if in return they would promise him the hand of their sister. But the kings had heard of how Frithiof had spoken to Ingeborg in the temple, and although they feared Sigurd they would not grant the request. Instead he was condemned in punishment to sail away to the Orkney Islands to claim tribute from the king Angantyr.

Frithiof departed in his ship Ellida, and Ingeborg stayed behind, weeping bitterly. And as soon as the vessel was out of sight the brothers sent for two witches–Heid and Ham–bidding them stir up such a tempest on the sea that even the god-given ship Ellida could not withstand its fury.

But no tempest could frighten the brave Frithiof. Singing a cheery song he stood at the helm, caring nothing for the waves that raged about the ship. He comforted his crew, and then climbed the mast to keep a sharp lookout for danger.

From there he spied a huge whale, upon which the two witches were seated, delighted at the tempest they had stirred up. Speaking to his good ship, which could both hear and obey, he bade it run down the whale and the witches.

This Ellida did. Whale and witches sank; the sea grew red with their blood; the waves were calmed. Again the sun smiled over the hardy sailors. But many of the crew were worn out by the battle with the elements and had to be carried ashore by Frithiof and Bjoern when they reached the Orkney Islands.

Now the watchman at Angantyr’s castle had reported the ship and the gale, and Angantyr had declared that only Frithiof and Ellida could weather such a storm. One of his vassals, Atle, caught up his weapons and hurried forth to challenge the great hero. Frithiof had no weapons, but with a turn of his wrist he threw his opponent.

“Go and get your weapons,” Atle said, when he saw that Frithiof would have killed him. Knowing that Atle was a true soldier and would not run away, Frithiof left him in search of his sword; but when he returned and found his opponent calmly awaiting death, he was generous, and bade him rise and live.

Angantyr vowed that he owed no tribute to Helge, and would pay him none, but to Frithiof he gave a vast treasure, telling him that he might dispose of it as he would.

So Frithiof sailed back to the kings of Sogn, confident that he could win Ingeborg. What was his dismay, therefore, to learn that Helge and Halfdan had already given their sister in marriage to Sigurd Ring. In a rage he bade his men destroy all the vessels in the harbor, while he strode toward the temple of Balder where Helge and his wife were. He flung Angantyr’s purse of gold in Helge’s face, and seeing the ring he had given to Ingeborg on the hand of Helge’s wife snatched it roughly from her. In trying to get it back she dropped the image of the god, which she had just been anointing, into the fire. It was quickly consumed, while the rising flames set fire to the temple. Horror-stricken, Frithiof tried to stop the blaze, and when he could not, hurried away to his ship.

So Frithiof became an exile, and a wanderer on the face of the earth. For many years he lived the life of a pirate or viking, exacting tribute from other ships or sacking them if they would not pay tribute; for this occupation in the days of Frithiof was considered wholly respectable. It was followed again and again by the brave men of the North. But Frithiof was often homesick, and longed to enter a harbor, and lead again a life of peace.

 At last he decided to visit the court of Sigurd Ring and find out whether Ingeborg was really happy. Landing, he wrapped himself in an old cloak and approached the court. He found a seat on a bench near the door, as beggars usually did; but when one insulting courtier mocked him he lifted the offender in his mighty hand and swung him high over his head.

At this Sigurd Ring invited the old man to remove his mantle and take a seat near him. With surprise Sigurd and his courtiers saw step from the tattered mantle a handsome warrior, richly clad; but only Ingeborg knew who he was. “Who are you who comes to us thus?” asked Sigurd Ring. “I am Thiolf, a thief,” was the answer, “and I have grown to manhood in the Land of Sorrow.” Sigurd invited him to remain, and he soon became the almost constant companion of the king and queen.

One spring day Sigurd and Frithiof had ridden away on a hunting expedition, and the old king being tired from the chase lay down on the ground to rest, feigning sleep. The birds and beasts of the forest drew near and whispered to Frithiof that he should slay the king and have Ingeborg for his own wife. But Frithiof was too fine and loyal to listen to such suggestions. Awaking, Sigurd Ring called Frithiof to him. “You are Frithiof the Bold,” he said, “and from the first I knew you. Be patient now a little longer and you shall have Ingeborg, for my end is near.” Soon after this Sigurd died, commending his wife to the young hero’s loving care. And at his own request the funeral feast was closed by the public betrothal of Ingeborg and Frithiof.

The people, admiring his bravery, wanted to make Frithiof king, but he would not listen to their pleadings. Instead he lifted the little son of Sigurd upon his shield. “Behold your king,” he cried, “and until he is grown to manhood I will stand beside him.”

So Frithiof married his beloved Ingeborg, and later, so the story runs, he returned to his own country and built again the temple of Balder, more beautiful by far than any before.

TITLE: Myths and Legends of All Nations


CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

BEOWULF and the Fire-Dragon: Norse



After his return to the land of the Geats, Beowulf served Higelac faithfully till the day of the king’s death, which befell in an expedition that he made to Friesland. Beowulf was with him on that disastrous journey, and only with difficulty did he escape with his life. But when he returned as a poor solitary fugitive to his people, Hygd, Higelac’s wife, offered him the kingdom and the king’s treasures, for she feared that her young son Heardred was not strong enough to hold the throne of his fathers against invading foes.

Beowulf, however, would not accept the kingdom, but rather chose to uphold Heardred among the people, giving him friendly counsel and serving him faithfully and honorably. But before very long Heardred was killed in battle, and then at last Beowulf consented to become king of the Geats. For fifty years he ruled well and wisely and his people prospered. But at last trouble came in the ravages of a terrible dragon, and once more Beowulf was called forth to a terrific combat.

For three hundred years this dragon had kept watch over a hoard of treasure on a mountain by the seashore in the country of the Geats. The treasure had been hidden in a cave under the mountain by a band of sea-robbers; and when the last of them was dead the dragon took possession of the cave and of the treasure and kept fierce watch over them. 

But one day a poor man came to the spot while the dragon was fast asleep and carried off part of the treasure to his master. When the dragon awoke he soon discovered the man’s footprints, and on examining the cave he found that part of the gold and splendid jewels had disappeared. In wrathful and savage mood he sought all-round the mountain for the robber, but could find no one.

So when evening came he went forth eager for revenge, and throwing out flashes of fire in every direction, he began to set fire to all the land. Beowulf’s own princely manor-house was burnt down and terrible destruction was wrought on every hand, till day broke and the fire-dragon returned to his den.

Great was Beowulf’s grief at this dire misfortune, and eager was his desire for vengeance. He scorned to seek the foe with a great host behind him, nor did he dread the combat in any way, for he called to mind his many feats of war, and especially his fight with Grendel.

So he quickly had fashioned a mighty battle-shield, made entirely of iron, for he knew that the wooden one that he was wont to use would be burnt up by the flames of the fire-dragon. Then he chose out eleven of his earls, and together they set out for the mountain, led thither by the man who had stolen the treasure. When they came to the mouth of the cave Beowulf bade farewell to his companions, for he was resolved to fight single-handed against the foe.

“Many a fight have I fought in my youth,” he said, “and now once more will I, the guardian of my people, seek the combat. I would not bear any sword or other weapon against the dragon if I thought that I could grapple with him as I did with the monster Grendel. But I fear that I shall not be able to approach so close to this foe, for he will send forth hot, raging fire and venomous breath. Yet am I resolute in mood, fearless and resolved not to yield one foot’s-breadth to the monster.

“Tarry ye here on the hill, my warriors, and watch which of us two will survive the deadly combat, for this is no enterprise for you. I only can attempt it, because such great strength has been given to me. Therefore I will do battle alone and will either slay the dragon and win the treasure for my people or fall in the fight, as destiny shall appoint.”

When he had spoken thus Beowulf strode forward to the fight, armed with his iron shield, his sword and his dagger. A stone arch spanned the mouth of the cave, and on one side a boiling stream, hot as though with raging fires, rushed forth. Undaunted by it, Beowulf uttered a shout to summon the dragon to the fight. Immediately a burning breath from the monster came out of the rock, the earth rumbled and then the dragon rushed forth to meet his fate.

Standing with his huge shield held well before him, Beowulf received the attack and struck from beneath his shield at the monster’s side. But his blade failed him and turned aside, and the blow but served to enrage the dragon, so that he darted forth such blasting rays of deadly fire that Beowulf was well-nigh overwhelmed and the fight went hard with him.

Now his eleven chosen comrades could see the combat from where they stood; and one of them, Beowulf’s kinsman Wiglaf, was moved to great sorrow at the sight of his lord’s distress. At last he could bear it no longer, but grasped his wooden shield and his sword and cried to the other thanes: “Remember how we promised our lord in the banquet-hall, when he gave us our helmets and swords and battle-gear that we would one day repay him for his gifts. Now is the day come that our liege lord has need of the strength of good warriors. We must go help him, even though he thought to accomplish this mighty work alone, for we can never return to our homes if we have not slain the enemy and saved our king’s life. Rather than live when he is dead, I will perish with him in this deadly fire.”

 Then he rushed through the noisome smoke to his lord’s side, crying: “Dear Beowulf, take courage. Remember thy boast that thy valor shall never fail thee in thy lifetime, and defend thyself now with all thy might, and I will help thee.” But the other warriors were afraid to follow him, so that Beowulf and Wiglaf stood alone to face the dragon.

As soon as the monster advanced upon them, Wiglaf’s wooden shield was burnt away by the flames, so that he was forced to take refuge behind Beowulf’s iron shield; and this time when Beowulf struck with his sword, it was shivered to pieces. Then the dragon flung himself upon him and caught him up in his arms, crushing him till he lay senseless and covered with wounds.

But now Wiglaf showed his valor and strength, and smote the monster with such mighty blows that at last the fire coming forth from him began to abate somewhat. Then Beowulf came once more to his senses, and drawing his deadly knife, struck with it from beneath; and at last the force of the blows from the two noble kinsmen felled the fierce fire-dragon and he sank down dead beside them.

But Beowulf’s wounds were very great, and he knew that the joys of life were ended for him and that death was very near. So while Wiglaf with wonderful tenderness unfastened his helmet for him and refreshed him with water, he spoke, saying: “Though I am sick with mortal wounds, there is yet some comfort remaining for me. For I have governed my people for fifty winters and kept them safe from invading foes; yet have not sought out quarrels nor led my kinsmen to dire slaughter when there was no need. Therefore the Ruler of all men will not blame me when my life departs from my body. “And now go thou quickly, dear Wiglaf, to spy out the treasure within the cave, so that I may see what wealth I have won for my people before I die.”

So Wiglaf went into the cave and there he saw many precious jewels, old vessels, helmets, gold armlets and other treasures, which excelled in beauty and number any that mankind has ever known. Moreover, high above the treasure flapped a marvelous gilded standard, from which came a ray of light which lit up all the cave.

Then Wiglaf seized as much as he could carry of the precious spoils, and taking the standard also, hastened back to his lord, dreading lest he should find him already dead. Beowulf was very near his life’s end, but when Wiglaf had again revived him with water, he had strength to speak once more. “Glad am I,” he said, “that I have been able before my death to gain so much for my people. But now I may no longer abide here. Bid the gallant warriors burn my body on the headland here which juts into the sea, and afterwards raise a huge mound on the same spot, that the sailors who drive their vessels over the misty floods may call it Beowulf’s Mound.”

Then the dauntless prince undid the golden collar from his neck and gave it to Wiglaf with his helmet and coat of mail, saying: “Thou art the last of all our race, for Fate has swept away all my kindred save thee to their doom, and now I also must join them,” and with these words the aged king fell back dead. Now as Wiglaf sat by his lord, grieving sorely at his death, the other ten thanes who had shown themselves to be faithless and cowardly approached with shame to his side. Then Wiglaf turned to them, crying bitterly: “Truly our liege lord flung away utterly in vain the battle-gear that he gave ye. Little could he boast of his comrades when the hour of need came. I myself was able to give him some succor in the fight, but ye should have stood by him also to defend him. But now the giving of treasure shall cease for ye and ye will be shamed and will lose your land-right when the nobles learn of your inglorious deed. Death is better for every earl than ignominious life.”

After this Wiglaf summoned the other earls and told them of all that had happened and of the mound that Beowulf wished them to build. Then they gathered together at the mouth of the cave and gazed with tears upon their lifeless lord and looked with awe upon the huge dragon as it lay stiff in death beside its conqueror. Afterwards, led by Wiglaf, seven chosen earls entered the cave and brought forth all the treasure, while others busied themselves in preparing the funeral pyre.

When all was ready and the huge pile of wood had been hung with helmets, war-shields and bright coats of mail, as befitted the funeral pyre of a noble warrior, the earls brought their beloved lord’s body to the spot and laid it on the wood. Then they kindled the fire and stood by mourning and uttering sorrowful chants, while the smoke rose up and the fire roared and the body was consumed away. Afterwards they built a mound on the hill, making it high and broad so that it could be seen from very far away. Ten days they spent in building it; and because they desired to pay the highest of honors to Beowulf, they buried in it the whole of the treasure that the dragon had guarded, for no price was too heavy to pay as a token of their love for their lord. So the treasure even now remains in the earth, as useless as it was before.

When at last the mound was completed, the noble warriors gathered together and rode around it, lamenting their king and singing the praise of his valor and mighty deeds. Thus mourned the people of the Geats for the fall of Beowulf, who of all kings in the world was the mildest and kindest, the most gracious to his people, and the most eager to win their praise.

Title: Myths and Legends of All Nations

Editor/Translator: Logan Marshall

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

Khnemu and of a Seven Years’ Famine: Egyptian


The text of this most interesting legend is found in hieroglyphics on one side of a large rounded block of granite some eight or nine feet high, which stands on the south-east portion of Sahal, a little island lying in the First Cataract, two or three miles to the south of Elephantine Island and the modern town of Aswan.  The inscription is not cut into the rock in the ordinary way, but was “stunned” on it with a blunted chisel, and is, in some lights, quite invisible to anyone standing near the rock, unless he is aware of its existence.  It is in full view of the river-path which leads from Mahallah to Philae, and yet it escaped the notice of scores of travellers who have searched the rocks and islands in the Cataract for graffiti and inscriptions. The inscription, which covers a space six feet by five feet, was discovered accidentally on February 6th, 1889, by the late Mr. C. E. Wilbour, a distinguished American gentleman who spent many years in research in Egypt. He first copied the text, discovering in the course of his work the remarkable nature of its contents and then his friend Mr. Maudslay photographed it.  The following year he sent prints from Mr. Maudslay’s negatives to Dr. Brugsch, who in the course of 1891 published a transcript of the text with a German translation and notes in a work entitled Die biblischen sieben Jahre der Hungersnoth, Leipzig, 8vo.

The legend contained in this remarkable text describes a terrible famine which took place in the reign of Tcheser, a king of the III Dynasty, and lasted for seven years.  Insufficient Nile-floods were, of course, the physical cause of the famine, but the legend shows that the “low Niles” were brought about by the neglect of the Egyptians in respect of the worship of the god of the First Cataract, the great god Khnemu.  When, according to the legend, king Tcheser had been made to believe that the famine took place because men had ceased to worship Khnemu in a manner appropriate to his greatness, and when he had taken steps to remove the ground of complaint, the Nile rose to its accustomed height, the crops became abundant once more, and all misery caused by scarcity of provisions ceased.  In other words, when Tcheser restored the offerings of Khnemu, and re-endowed his sanctuary and his priesthood, the god allowed Hapi to pour forth his streams from the caverns in the Cataract, and to flood the land with abundance. The general character of the legend, as we have it here, makes it quite certain that it belongs to a late period, and the forms of the hieroglyphics and the spellings of the words indicate that the text was “stunned” on the rock in the reign of one of the Ptolemies, probably at a time when it was to the interest of some men to restore the worship of Khnemu, god of the First Cataract.  These interested people could only have been the priests of Khnemu, and the probability that this was so becomes almost a certainty when we read in the latter part of the text the list of the tolls and taxes which they were empowered to levy on the merchants, farmers, miners, etc., whose goods passed down the Cataract into Egypt.  Why, if this is the case, they should have chosen to connect the famine with the reign of Tcheser is not clear.  They may have wished to prove the great antiquity of the worship of Khnemu, but it would have been quite easy to select the name of some king of the 1st Dynasty, and had they done this, they would have made the authority of Khnemu over the Nile coeval with Dynastic civilization.  It is impossible to assume that no great famine took place in Egypt between the reign of Tcheser and the period when the inscription was made, and when we consider this fact the choice by the editor of the legend of a famine which took place under the III Dynasty to illustrate the power of Khnemu seems inexplicable.

Of the famines which must have taken place in the Dynastic period the inscriptions tell us nothing, but the story of the seven years’ famine mentioned in the Book of Genesis shows that there is nothing improbable in a famine lasting so long in Egypt.  Arab historians also mention several famines which lasted for seven years.  That which took place in the years 1066-1072 nearly ruined the whole country.  A cake of bread was sold for 15 dinanir, a horse was sold for 20, a dog for 5, a cat for 3, and an egg for 1 dinar.  When all the animals were eaten men began to eat each other, and human flesh was sold in public. “Passengers were caught in the streets by hooks let down from the windows, drawn up, killed, and cooked.”[Lane Poole, Middle Ages, p. 146.]  During the famine which began in 1201 people ate human flesh habitually. Parents killed and cooked their own children, and a wife was found eating her husband raw.  Baby fricassee and haggis of children’s heads were ordinary articles of diet.  The graves even were ransacked for food.  An ox sold for 70 dinanir. [Ibid., p. 216.]

The legend begins with the statement that in the 18th year of the reign of King Tcheser, when Matar, the Erpa Prince and Ha, was the Governor of the temple properties of the South and North, and was also the Director of the Khenti men at Elephantine (Aswan), a royal dispatch was delivered to him, in which the king said: “I am in misery on my throne. My heart is very sore because of the calamity which hath happened, for the Nile hath not come forth [i.e., there have been insufficient Nile-floods.] for seven years.  There is no grain, there are no vegetables, there is no food, and every man is robbing his neighbour.  Men wish to walk, but they are unable to move; the young man drags along his limbs, the hearts of the aged are crushed with despair, their legs fail them, they sink to the ground, and they clutch their bodies with their hands in pain.  The councilors are dumb, and nothing but wind comes out of the granaries when they are opened.  Everything is in a state of ruin.”  A more graphic picture of the misery caused by the famine could hardly be imagined. The king then goes on to ask Matar where the Nile is born, what god or goddess presides over it and what is his [or her] form?  He says he would like to go to the temple of Thoth to enquire of that god, to go to the College of the Magicians, and search through the sacred books in order to find out these things

When Matar had read the dispatch, he set out to go to the king, and explained to him the things which he wished to know.  He told him that, the Nile rose near the city of Elephantine, that it flowed out of two caverns, which were the breasts of the Nile-god, that it rose to a height of twenty-eight cubits at Elephantine, and to the height of seven cubits at Sma-Behutet, or, Diospolis Parva in the Delta.  He who controlled the Nile was Khnemu, and when this god drew the bolt of the doors which shut in the stream, and smote the earth with his sandals, the river rushed forth.  Matar also described to the king the form of Khnemu, which was that of Shu, and the work which he did, and the wooden house in which he lived, and its exact position, which was near the famous granite quarries.  The gods who dwelt with Khnemu were the goddess Sept (Sothis, or the Dog-star), the goddess Anqet, Hap (or Hep), the Nile-god, Shu, Keb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Horus. Thus we see that the priests of Khnemu made him to be the head of a Company of Gods.  Finally Matar gave the king a list of all the stones, precious and otherwise, which were found in and about Elephantine.

When the king, who had, it seems, come to Elephantine, heard these things he rejoiced greatly, and he went into the temple of Khnemu. The priests drew back the curtains and sprinkled him with holy water, and then he passed into the shrine and offered up a great sacrifice of bread-cakes, beer, geese, oxen, and all kinds of good things, to the gods and goddesses who dwelt at Elephantine, in the place called “Couch of the heart in life and power.”  Suddenly he found himself standing face to face with the god Khnemu, whom he placated with a peace-offering and with prayer.  Then the god opened his eyes, and bent his body towards the king, and spake to him mighty words, saying, “I am Khnemu, who made thee.  My hands knitted together thy body and made it sound, and I gave thee thy heart.”  Khnemu then went on to complain that, although the ground under the king’s feet was filled with stones and metal, men were too inert to work them and to employ them in repairing or rebuilding of the shrines of the gods, or in doing what they ought to do for him, their Lord and Creator.

These words were, of course, meant as a rebuke for the king, who evidently, though it is not so stated in the text, was intended by Khnemu to undertake the rebuilding of his shrine without delay.  The god then went on to proclaim his majesty and power, and declared himself to be Nu, the Celestial Ocean, and the Nile-god, “who came into being at the beginning, and riseth at his will to give health to him that laboureth for Khnemu.”  He described himself as the Father of the gods, the Governor of the earth and of men, and then he promised the king to make the Nile rise yearly, regularly, and unceasingly, to give abundant harvests, to give all people their heart’s desire, to make misery to pass away, to fill the granaries, and to make the whole land of Egypt yellow with waving fields of full ripe grain.  When the king, who had been in a dream, heard the god mention crops, he woke up, and his courage returned to him, and having cast away despair from his heart he issued a decree by which he made ample provision for the maintenance of the worship of the god in a fitting state.  In this decree, the first copy of which was cut upon wood, the king endowed Khnemu with 20 schoinoi of land on each side of the river, with gardens, etc.  It was further enacted that every man who drew water from the Nile for his land should contribute a portion of his crops to the god.  Fishermen, fowlers, and hunters were to pay an octroi duty of one-tenth of the value of their catches when they brought them into the city, and a tithe of the cattle was to be set apart for the daily sacrifice.

The masters of caravans coming from the Sudan were to pay a tithe also, but they were not liable to any further tax in the country northwards. Every metal-worker, ore-crusher, miner, mason, and handicraftsman of every kind, was to pay to the temple of the god one-tenth of the value of the material produced or worked by his labour.  The decree provided also for the appointment of an inspector whose duty it would be to weigh the gold, silver and copper which came into the town of Elephantine, and to assess the value both of these metals and of the precious stones, etc., which were to be devoted to the service of Khnemu.  All materials employed in making the images of the gods, and all handicraftsmen employed in the work were exempted from tithing. In short, the worship of the god and his company was to be maintained according to ancient use and wont, and the people were to supply the temple with everything necessary in a generous spirit and with a liberal hand.  He who failed in any way to comply with the enactments was to be beaten with the rope, and the name of Tcheser was to be perpetuated in the temple.


TITLE: Legends of the Gods (Egyptian Text) 1912

BY: E. A. Wallis Budge

CONTRIBUTOR: Callum McCormick