« PreviousContinue »
from whom had sprung heroic progeny,* whose deeds had filled the earth with their renown. It was easy to endow the central personage of the new creed with similar attributes.
That it was thus the Gentile accessories modelled the object of their fresh adoration upon forms familiar to their regards, I proceed now to show.
It was a favourite idea that some heroic personage, often of divine mould, should encounter and destroy some determinate form of evil for the benefit of mankind; or that he should devote himself to death for the good of others. Instances of this description were numerous in the Gentile conceptions..
Bellerophon was such a person. He had incurred the jealousy of Protus, King of Argos, who sent him with a treacherous letter to his father-in-law Iobates, king of Lycia. Iobates, seeking his destruction, commissioned him to destroy the Chimera, a monster with three heads, and made up of the forms of a lion, a goat, and a dragon, and which continually vomited forth flames. With the aid of Minerva, the hero returned victorious. Iobates then required him to put down the Solymi, and afterwards the Amazons, and in both expeditions he was successful. After this the king sought to put an end to him by means of assassins, but these he destroyed. The king was then satisfied of his innocence, and gave him his daughter in marriage, and made him heir to his throne (Anthon's Lemprière). The picture is that of an innocent man, charged with guilt he had not incurred, and through enduring persecution acquiring glory.
Perseus was the son of the virgin Danae by the supreme deity Jupiter. Having incurred the hostility of Polydectes, king of the island of Seriphos, he was deputed by him to kill the Gorgon Medusa, an enterprise so surrounded by difficulties as to appear fraught with certain destruction for the hero. By the aid of Pluto, Minerva, and Mercury, he accomplished his task, and cut off Medusa's head. He afterwards saw Andromeda fastened to a rock, destined to be devoured by a sea monster. Perseus went to the rescue, killed the monster, and delivered the victim, who became his bride (Anthon's Lemp.). We see the righteous man, with divine aid, overcoming various forms of evil, and receiving for his guerdon the object he had saved from destruction.
** The Legends of the Old Testament,” pp. 202-201.
Theseus, passing for the son of Egeus, king of Athens, but accounted to be the offspring of Neptune, cleared his country of robbers and pirates, and then undertook to match himself with the Minotaur. The king his father had yearly to deliver seven youths and maidens to Minos, king of Crete, to be sacrificed to the monster, who was half man and half bull. Theseus volunteered to go in the lieu of one of the destined victims, to deliver his country from this onerous tribute. “I know,” he said, “ that help is of the gods, who preside over mortal men. On them I have called for aid, and my supplications shall not be in vain.” The party were taken to the Minotaur, whom Theseus attacked and slew, and they extricated themselves from the labyrinth which led to the monster's abode by means of a gold thread that Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, out of love for Theseus, had adjusted for him. “Seek for the golden thread,” he said to his companions, "and they tracked it forward evermore; when it seemed to guide by the most unlikely road, there they trusted in it the more" (Rev. J. M. Neale, Stories from Heathen Mythology). Ariadne after this became the hero's bride. He was one who, in reliance on divine help, risked his own life for the deliverance of others. He guided himself through tangled ways by ever adhering to the golden thread of truth. His reward is given him in the partner to whom he united himself. .
Hercules was the son of Alcmena, wife of the king of Thebes, by Jupiter, who passed three nights with her. He was sent forth by his divine father to earn immortal life by services on earth. Though of such exalted extraction, he was made subject to Eurystheus, a king of Greece, the meanest and most timid of mortals. Eurystheus, seeking his ruin, required him to undergo his celebrated labours. The gods armed him for his adventures. He went, he said, to do his duty, having been warned that his life in this world would be full of dangers. Among other feats he destroyed the Lerncan Hydra, possessed of a hundred heads. When deputed to bring in the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides, watched by another fearful dragon, he said to Eurystheus that he was ready to undertake the perilous task, “ for serving thee, I serve my father. And I never looked, in this mortal life, for ease or rest; it suffices me to labour here, and to
have my portion among the gods hereafter. The Hydra and the dragon are obvious Satanic forms, and the golden apples bring before us the tree of life” (Rev. J. M. Neale). A son of god takes on him the form of a servant to exterminate the devil and his works. He is endowed with power from above, and the goal he sets before him is heavenly bliss. Hercules, Perseus, and Theseus, observes Mr Cox, all had to pass through toil and danger to glory (Manual of Mythology, 68).
The Romans have a legend of Metius Curtius which gives an example of devotion. A great chasm had opened in the forum, and an oracle declared that it would not close until Rome threw into it whatever she held to be most precious. Curtius, declaring that there could be no greater treasure than the armed citizen, mounted his horse, clothed in full armour, and leaped into the abyss, which immediately closed over him (Smith, Dict. of Biog. and Myth.). We have the death of Christ put on a similar footing. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die : yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. v. 7, 8).
There is a Grecian legend of the same description. When Thebes was attacked by the men of Argos, Teiresius the seer said the victory should be with the Thebans if they should offer a sacrifice to the god of war. Then Menaceus, the son of Creon, answered, “What can a man give better than his life ?” and went forth and slew himself outside the city. In the midst of the battle a thunderbolt fell from heaven and destroyed many of the Argives, and the city was delivered (Cox, Tales of An. Greece, 342, 343).
Menippe and Metioche were daughters of Orion, a giant sprung from Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury. Athena taught them the art of weaving, and Aphrodite gave them beauty. “ Once the whole of Aonia was visited by a plague, and the oracle of Apollo Gortynius, when consulted, ordered the inhabitants to propitiate the Erinnyes (Furies) by the sacrifice of two maidens, who were to devote themselves to death of their own accord. Menippe and Metioche offered themselves; they thrice invoked the infernal gods, and killed themselves with their shuttles. Persephone and Hades metamorphosed them
into comets” (Smith, Dict.). They thus shone in heaven as stars for evermore.
The tale of Admetus and Alcestis gives a touching instance of self-devotion, and also illustrates the doctrine of a future state. At a feast given by Pheres, king of Thessaly, in honour of the marriage of his son Admetus with Alcestis, the name of Artemis (Diana) had been overlooked in the invocations made to the deities. For this oversight Artemis resolved that Admetus should die. Apollo stood his friend, but could do no more than procure the favour that his doom might be averted if another would die for him. Alcestis at once accepted the condition, and offered her life to ransom his. Admetus would not hear of such a sacrifice, but Apollo informed him that the Fates had accepted the offer which could not be withdrawn. Alcestis thereupon died. Hercules, weary and hungry, came to the abode of Admetus for hospitality, not knowing of the catastrophe that had occurred. Admetus smothered his grief and entertained the hero. Hercules came to know that the funeral rites for Alcestis were about to be performed. Just as the fire was to be applied to consume her remains, he descended to Hades, and overcoming Thanatos (death), brought Alcestis back into the world of life (Cox, Tales of Ancient Greece, 78, 79). When Admetus overwhelmed him with expressions of gratitude, Hercules said that the thanks were due to his Father (in heaven), who had endowed him with his strength (Neale). The mysterious condition was attached to the recovery of Alcestis that she was not to be spoken with for three days. It is made the period over which death prevailed to seal the lips of Jesus.
Eurydice, wife of the poet Orpheus, was bitten by a serpent, and died. Orpheus descended to Hades, and charmed Pluto with the melody of his lyre, and obtained from him the boon of his wife's life. But he was required not to look upon her till they reached the upper world. In his love for his wife he forgot the condition, and turning round to see her, lost her for ever (Anthon). Christ, it will be remembered, is sent on a similar mission to Hades, or the position of the departed, to redeem his bride (the Church) from the bonds of death.
The legend of Prometheus affords a remarkable type of the sacrifice of Christ. Prometheus was of divine extraction, the creator of the human race, and the friend of man. He incurred the wrath of the supreme divinity, Zeus, who hurled him into Tartarus. From thence, after a long period, he returned, and was fastened by the still incensed deity to Mount Caucasus, to be tormented by an eagle. From this position Hercules delivered him (Smith's, Dict.). Æschylus, in his celebrated tragedy, makes him thus describe himself.
“Whoe'er thou art, a hapless god thou seest,
Him thou see'st, whom all the immortals,
Soon as he sat on his ancestral throne
(Bunsen, God in History, II. 47). We have here a god-man, the actual creator of mankind, intervening between the supreme being and mankind, averting his wrath from them, saving them from destruction, and on their account himself stretched out fastened on a rock to perish, as Jesus was on the cross. And the whole scene is dramatized five hundred years before the Christian era.
Æsculapius, Pythagoras, and Plato, were all supposed to be sons of Apollo by human mothers (Smith's Dict.; Anthon's Lemp.). Æsculapius was a type of Christ in his miraculous cures, including the raising the dead to life. Pythagoras and Plato are associated with him in doctrinal teaching.