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Posted in Legend, Myth, Sea on Wednesday, 2 January 2013
This edited article about mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 801 published on 21st May 1977.
Giants who lived in the mountains or the seas were the first of all living creatures to appear on earth. This, at any rate, is what the ancient people believed, although we have learnt since that they were wrong!
But these giants were not gods. They began roaming the world even before the gods were spoken of, and they were invented by the ancient tellers of tales to explain away such frightening things as volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, winter and earthquakes.
For this reason, the giants were represented as angry, surly and hostile creatures who could, in contrast, sometimes show kindness.
Among these giants was Aegir, who was the lord of the sea. The old Germanic tribes believed that he was not quite a god, but was friendly with the gods, who invited him to their feasts.
In return, he entertained in his palace under the sea. Aegir did not need any fires to light his palace, for the gold which decorated it gave off a bright light.
How did Aegir get this gold? Probably, the early people believed that it came from the treasure-laden ships which sank on their journeys.
With the giants producing storms and hurricanes, to venture on to the seas was highly dangerous. And there was yet another danger in the perils meted out by Aegir’s wife, Ran. She had an enormous net. With this she tried to catch every man who sailed on the seas.
It was she who angered the waves and made them smash against each other in the hope of endangering the ships.
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Posted in Legend, Music, Myth, Religion on Monday, 17 December 2012
This edited article about Odin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 799 published on 7th May 1977.
In Teutonic mythology the Norse god Odin becomes Woden or Wotan, here killing Siegmund in a scene from Wagner’s Ring,
as Brunnhilde looks on, by Ron Embleton
One of the fiercest gods of ancient times was Odin, who wore a shining breastplate and a golden helmet. To the Germanic people of the second century, he was known as Woden, the god of war. But in Norse mythology he was Odin, the greatest of the gods.
They visualised him as the god of night storms, riding through the skies on his huge magical horse, Sleipnir. This faithful steed had eight hooves and could gallop over land and water or glide through the air.
They imagined Odin leaping through the lightning-streaked sky, grasping his spear. Gungnir, which had been made by dwarfs.
In battle, the warriors sought his help; and the Angles and Saxons called upon him to be on their side before they invaded Britain in the 5th century.
Odin’s horse was the swiftest of all stallions. The story is told that one day Odin was riding in the land of the giants, when one of the inhabitants. Hrungnir, admired both horse and rider. Hrungnir claimed, “I myself have a stallion which is even stronger and swifter than yours.”
Odin challenged the giant to prove this and the two raced across the countryside.
However sharply Hrungnir prodded his horse with his spurs, he could not catch up with Odin. Each time he reached the crest of a hill, he saw Odin flying on Sleipnir ahead of him towards the next crest.
Hrungnir was not the only person to have reason to wonder at the magical qualities of Odin’s horse. Once a man called Hadding was being chased by merciless enemies. Odin picked him up, wrapped him in a large cloak and lay him on the saddle before him. While the horse was galloping home, the young man curiously glanced out through a hole in the cloak.
He was shocked by what he saw. They were travelling over the sea and Sleipnir’s hooves were pounding the ocean as though he were on a paved road.
Odin’s home was a large palace called Valhalla where he dwelt with his favourite heroes who had been killed in battle.
Gleaming gold covered the roof and on benches lay the heroes’ breastplates. The palace hall was enormous with 540 doors, each wide enough to admit 800 soldiers abreast. Each evening, Odin watched the heroes feasting and fighting; the flashing of their swords reflected the huge fires burning in the middle of the hall.
Two crows perched on Odin’s shoulders whispering in his ear. Every day, they flew all over the world, speaking to the living and the dead, and came back before breakfast to give Odin the news.
In Valhalla lived two supernatural women called Valkyries, who were both guardians and servants. Apart from waiting on the warriors, they had more war-like duties.
Whenever a battle was being fought, the Valkyries went among the fighters and decided who should die and which side should win.
They were invisible to all except the heroes chosen to die and go to Valhalla. To these chosen, they would suddenly appear and tell them of their fate.
Many tales are told about Odin. Not only was he a war-like god, but he could cure illness with magic; he could make the weapons of an enemy useless; he could break a prisoner’s chains, calm or enrage the sea and make the dead speak.
The Angles and Saxons looked upon him as the ancestor of their kings, and the fourth day of the week. Wednesday (Woden’s day), bears his name. The manner in which the cult began is very interesting.
In certain parts of Europe, people believed that, on stormy nights, they could hear the galloping of horses’ hooves through the sky. These were ridden, they said, by the ghosts of dead warriors led by a raging fighter. They called this leader Woden, from the German word for “rage”.
So the belief spread and the stories multiplied and grew more and more imaginative until Woden – or Odin – became a wonderful god whose exploits still make exciting reading today.
Posted in Ancient History, Legend, Myth on Friday, 14 December 2012
This edited article about Theseus and the Minotaur originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.
Minoan bull-leapers played a dangerous sport which delighted King Minos, by Peter Jackson
Every year, seven young Greek men and seven girls left their city of Athens and never came back. Everybody knew where they went and what happened to them; and everybody knew why they were never seen again.
King Minos of Crete had never made a secret of the fact that they were fed to a hungry monster which he kept in a weird palace of its own.
Year after year, the sacrifices went on, and it seemed that nothing could stop them. Minos, it was obvious, had no intention of removing the harsh punishment he inflicted on the Athenians for killing his son out of jealousy after he had beaten them at the Games.
Furious at his son’s murder, Minos had besieged Athens. He called upon Zeus, the king of the gods, to bring a plague down upon the people. When the Athenians pleaded to have the plague removed. Minos set a harsh condition. The disease would go, he said, if the Athenians would send 14 of the fairest young people to his monster each year.
They agreed, and the stern punishment was carried out annually. The Athenians knew that it would not end until the monster died – or was killed! But who would kill it?
At this time Theseus, who was both the son of the king of Athens and of a god, was being brought up by his mother in another town. When he became a young man, he began a journey to Athens to join his father, the king. On the way, he had adventures with bandits and monsters and it was clear that he was a fighter beyond compare.
But he did not look the bold and fierce fighter he was, for he wore a white robe and his fair hair was carefully arranged. When he reached Athens, a group of workmen building a temple openly laughed at him. Theseus decided to give them a show of his strength. Picking up a heavy ox-cart, he threw it right over the temple they were building. This silenced their jeers.
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Posted in Legend, Myth on Thursday, 13 December 2012
This edited article about Japanese mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 797 published on 23rd April 1977.
An old man, an old woman and a young girl were crying. Suddenly, they saw a finely dressed young man standing beside them.
“Why are you crying?” asked the young man.
Brushing aside his tears, the old man explained. “I had eight daughters,” he said. “Every year, a snake with eight heads has come from the Kashi district and eaten one of my daughters. Seven have already perished, and now the snake is coming to devour the last. What am I to do? I am too frail to slay the snake myself!”
The young man drew himself up proudly, “I am Susanoo, the god of the sea,” he announced, “lately come from heaven. I will save your daughter.”
Susanoo asked the old parents to give him the girl, and they gladly agreed. Tales of ancient Japanese mythology say that Susanoo changed the girl into a comb which he stuck into his hair.
Then he got some rice wine and poured it into eight bowls which he placed on the ground. As soon as the terrifying snake appeared, it smelt the scent of the wine and each head made for one of the bowls. When the monster was sleepily drunk, Susanoo drew his sword and killed it.
Freed from this scourge, the old parents were overjoyed and watched in wonder as Susanoo took the comb from his hair and returned their daughter to human form.
He asked her to become his wife and built her a wonderful palace at Suga. They had a son. O-Kuni-Nushi, the god of medicine connected with sorcery.
But before Susanoo had even met his bride something happened which caused him to be banished from heaven.
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Posted in Ancient History, Farming, Legend, Myth on Thursday, 13 December 2012
This edited article about Greek mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 796 published on 16th April 1977.
Demeter gave Triptolemus her chariot in which he travelled the world teaching people to cultivate the earth, by Frank Lea
What makes plants grow in the ground, the sun shine in the sky, thunder clap and winds blow?
The ancient Greeks believed these things to be the work of many gods and goddesses.
To add reality to this idea they made up stories about the lives of the gods and goddesses – stories which were handed down through the centuries.
This is one of the stories they told about Demeter, the goddess whom they called Mother of the Earth.
Black King Pluto, who ruled the Underworld, had seized Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, as she was gathering flowers and carried her to the Underworld in his chariot. There he made her his queen.
Demeter, in her grief, went into deep mourning.
She left Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, for the other gods were chiding her for her sadness and urging her to forget what had happened and return to her work caring for the earth.
And this Demeter, in her loneliness, refused to do.
To avoid the other gods and goddesses she disguised herself as an old woman and went to live on earth. One day she wandered down a lonely road and, suddenly remembering her lost daughter, she sat down on a stone and began to cry.
Soon one of the daughters of King Celeus passed by. The princess asked the old woman why she was weeping.
“My daughter has been stolen from me,” cried Demeter, “and she will never come back.”
The princess put her arm around the old woman, whom, of course, she did not recognize as Demeter, and invited her back to her father’s palace at Eleusis to rest.
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Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Legend, Myth on Thursday, 6 December 2012
This edited article about Siegfried and Brunhild originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 792 published on 19th March 1977.
Siegfried slew the dragon, Fafnir, which guarded the treasure horde by Roger Payne
The blood-red sun sank low over the battlefield. The Germanic heroes had fought bravely. Now the wolves watched from the surrounding forests, waiting for nightfall.
But the dark shapes flitted across the sky. Goddesses on black horses swept the dead heroes on to their saddles and rode away into the clouds.
They were the Valkyrie, daughters of the war-god Odin. They brought the bravest dead to feast in his hall, Valhalla, until the last battle of all, when the heroes must stand with the gods against the powers of Hell.
One Valkyrie only was missing. Brunhild, Odin’s favourite daughter, had disobeyed her father. In punishment he had secured her to a high rock, to be the wife of any man who found her. “Let it at least be a god,” she begged her father, weeping.
So the war-god put a circle of magic fire around the rock. “Anyone who can win through this will be worthy of you,” he promised. “No mortal alive would have the courage.”
At the same time in the depths of the forest where she had fled, Sieglinde, the unhappy window of the hero Siegmund, gave birth to a boy. Mime, a cunning dwarf, found her lying dead with her baby beside her. Mime recognised Siegmund’s sword and, convinced that Siegmund’s son would be a great hero, he reared the baby himself.
Siegfried, as the boy was called, grew up strong and fearless.
“You won’t be so proud, my lad,” Mime told him, “when you learn to be afraid.”
“Afraid?” Siegfried asked, “What’s that?”
This is what the dwarf had been waiting for.
“Deep in the forest,” he explained, “dwells Fafnir, a horrible dragon. He is as big as an elephant, his breath is fire, and his claws drip poison.”
He did not tell Siegfried that the dragon guarded a famous treasure. Not only was there gold, but the Tarnhelm, a magic cap which gave invisibility.
If Siegfried killed the dragon, Mime hoped that he would be able to steal the Tarnhelm.
Then it would be easy to kill the unsuspecting boy and keep the treasure.
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Posted in Ancient History, Legend, Myth on Thursday, 29 November 2012
This edited article about originally Greek mythology appeared in Look and Learn issue number 789 published on 26th February 1977.
Brave as he was, Bellerophon seemed to have no chance against the dread Chimaera. But mounted on the winged Pegasus he rode to triumphant victory
King Iobates of Lycia looked down from his high throne at the young man who stood before him.
“So you want to marry my daughter?” he said haughtily.
Young Bellerophon was certainly handsome enough, thought the king. He came from one of the best families in Greece and had been sent to Lycia by Iobates’ own son-in-law. King Proetus of Argos.
If Bellerophon and his daughter Philonoe loved each other, why should he, her father, stand in the way?
He smiled more kindly at the young man.
“You have brought a message from my son-in-law?”
Bellerophon drew the sealed letter from his belt. King Proetus had asked him to take it over the seas to Lycia.
There he had met Philonoe and knew his fate must be linked with her and Lycia forever. Surely Iobates would have no objection?
But the king’s face had become dark and angry as he read the letter.
“It’s not so easy to marry the King of Lycia’s daughter,” he told Bellerophon. And there was nothing friendly in his voice.
The young man looked up astonished.
“Why?” he asked, “What have I done?”
“Anyone who wants to marry my daughter,” he said, “must prove himself worthy.”
“For Philonoe,” said Bellerophon, “I will accomplish anything!”
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Posted in Ancient History, Myth, Religion on Friday, 23 November 2012
This edited article about Greek mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.
The rape of Europa
High on Mount Olympus, in the middle of Greece, Zeus reigned as king of the gods. He was a big, stubborn, quick-tempered fellow, with a curly beard and long hair.
When Zeus was in a temper he would throw one of his terrible thunderbolts and the whole earth would shake with its violence.
The ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus widely and built many temples in his honour. One such temple was at Olympia and there, every five years, the Greeks gathered to celebrate their Olympic Games in honour of the great god.
Like some of the other gods, Zeus was prone to a woman’s charms, but the Greeks did not seem to mind. It never worried them that in their stories, one god might end up with two or three wives.
Nevertheless, the gods did not make a parade of their romances. And when Zeus decided to woo a young maid called Europa, he turned himself into a bull.
Europa, who was a princess, was playing in a meadow when the bull arrived. She was astonished at its gentleness – even more astonished when she found that the great beast allowed her to climb upon its back.
But no sooner had she done this than the bull set off across the field pell-mell. It galloped across fields and valleys until it came to the sea. There it jumped straight into the water and swam just as fast as it had galloped.
To Europa, clinging for dear life to its back, the bull now revealed itself as the great Zeus.
Again Europa was amazed, and doubtless a little flattered by the supreme god’s attention. Zeus, talking to her all the time, swam on, and they did not stop until they came to a new and unknown land. Here Zeus deposited his new love.
And, said the Greeks, he decided to call the new land Europe – after Europa.
Meanwhile Europa’s three brothers had discovered that she was missing and set out to look for her. Eventually two of them gave up the search, leaving the eldest. Cadmus, to carry on alone.
Cadmus never found his sister, of course, but Zeus was impressed by his faithfulness towards her and gave him a beautiful bride as a sort of consolation prize.
At the place where he finally gave up the search Cadmus decided to found a new city, to be called Thebes. First, though, he was obliged to kill a dragon that inhabited the area.
No sooner had he cut off the beast’s head than a voice, which he took to come from the gods, ordered him to remove the dragon’s teeth and plant them in the ground.
Cadmus hastened to obey – and no sooner had he done so than the teeth grew into terrifying giants, who prepared to set upon and devour him.
Cadmus was about to consider himself finished when the same voice bade him cast a stone among the giants. They, thinking that one of their own number had thrown the stone, then set upon each other. The result was that in a moment or two there were only five of them left alive.
These five Cadmus quickly brought to order and, with their help, built the famous Greek city of Thebes.
Posted in Ancient History, Legend, Myth, Religion on Thursday, 22 November 2012
This edited article about Greek mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 786 published on 5th February 1977.
Diana (Artemis) and Endymion, a basso relievo by E Davis
Selene, beautiful goddess of the moon and of hunting (sometimes called Artemis), addressed the stern-faced gods of Mount Olympus.
“I shall never marry,” said Selene. “I want to remain a single goddess all my life.”
The gods were astonished. For a long time each of them had been hoping to claim the lovely goddess as his bride. But so earnest was Selene that eventually Zeus, the supreme god, agreed reluctantly to grant her wish.
Nonetheless, the Greek story-tellers would not tolerate so beautiful a goddess being completely unmindful of the handsome men of Greece. So although Selene never married, men continued to admire her wherever she went.
One evening, after her brother Apollo, the sun god, had put away his fiery steeds for the day, Selene took her glistening moon chariot across the sky.
She had not gone half way when, casting a moonbeam down upon a hilltop, she saw a handsome young shepherd fast asleep on the grass.
Selene swept noiselessly down to earth in her chariot and gently kissed the youth. Endymion. Half awakened by the kiss. Endymion stared bewitched at the lovely goddess as she hastened away.
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Posted in Ancient History, Myth on Thursday, 15 November 2012
This edited article about Greek mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 785 published on 29th January 1977.
Vision of the Golden Age
Under the wise guidance of Zeus, things down on Earth were going well. No one ever had to do any work. Fruit just grew on unattended trees and corn came forth every year without any of the bother of sowing it. Nor was there any need for punishment, because no one ever committed any crime.
The Greeks called this period the Golden Age. Like us they had their theories about the phases the earth had gone through.
The Golden Age was followed by a Silver Age, which wasn’t quite so good – the seasons appeared for the first time and men knew the meaning of a cold winter. And now, too, they had to work.
After Silver – Brass. In the Brass Age, war and conflict came upon the scene and arguments were settled by blows.
Then came an Iron Age – a terrible time. Crime became a daily part of men’s lives; war was unceasing. Manners were forgotten and men no longer showed reverence to the gods.
Zeus, making one of his periodic visits to Earth, was in the Arcadia district of Greece. Here he found everyone so badly behaved that he decided to wipe out all mortals with a mighty flood.
He called together the gods and gave them their instructions. Then the south wind blew; the rain fell and lakes and rivers broke into flood. Poseidon commanded the waves to rise and pour over the land.
Just at this time Prometheus, who was still Zeus’s prisoner, and whose special gift was that he could foretell the future, was visited by his son, Deucalion, king of Phthia.
Prometheus warned his son of the approaching flood. Deucalion hurried home and hastily built himself an ark. He filled it with animals, food and all his possessions, and he and his wife Pyrrha jumped aboard just as Poseidon’s waves began rolling over the land.
For many days the boat was rolled and tipped by heavy, angry seas, until at last it was washed on to the summit of a mountain.
Deucalion and Pyrrha landed and sacrificed a ram to Zeus. The god commanded the flood to cease.
Then these two people, the only ones left alive on Earth, walked over the soaking wet land until they came to a temple. Here they prayed once more to Zeus; this time begging that mankind should be renewed.
This time the supreme god sent a message to Deucalion through his messenger Hermes.
“Depart from hence,” the voice of the messenger commanded them. “And cast your mother’s bones behind you.”
At first Deucalion and Pyrrha were puzzled; what did the message mean?
Then they realised that the gods called the Earth the mother of all things, and that therefore her “bones” must be the stones.
So they covered their heads and, picking up handfuls of stones, threw them over their shoulders.
Their guess was right. For all the stones that Deucalion threw turned into men, and all those thrown by Pyrrha turned to women. These new people became the forbears of a new race on Earth.