"To behold the wandering moon Riding near her highest noon, Like one that had been led astray In the heaven's wide, pathless way." Il Penseroso
4. The Astronomical theory supposes that the different stories are corrupted versions of astronomical statements, of which the true meaning was forgotten. This theory is pushed to its extreme by Dupuis, in his treatise "Sur tous les cultes."
5. The Physical theory, according to which the elements of air, fire, and water, were originally the objects of religious adoration, and the principal deities were personifications of the powers of nature. The transition was easy from a personification of the elements to the notion of supernatural beings presiding over and governing the different objects of nature. The Greeks, whose imagination was lively, peopled all nature with invisible beings, and supposed that every object, from the sun and sea to the smallest fountain and rivulet, was under the care of some particular divinity. Wordsworth, in his Excursion, has beautifully developed this view of Grecian mythology.
"In that fair clime the lonely herdsman, stretched On the soft grass through half a summer's day, With music lulled his indolent repose; And, in some fit of weariness, if he, When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear A distant strain far sweeter than the sounds Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched Even from the blazing chariot of the sun A beardless youth who touched a golden lute, And filled the illumined groves with ravishment. The mighty hunter, lifting up his eyes Toward the crescent Moon, with grateful heart Called on the lovely Wanderer who bestowed That timely light to share his joyous sport; And hence a beaming goddess with her nymphs Across the lawn and through the darksome grove (Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes By echo multiplied from rock or cave) Swept in the storm of chase, as moon and stars Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven When winds are blowing strong. The traveller slaked His thirst from rill or gushing fount, and thanked The Naiad. Sunbeams upon distant hills Gliding apace with shadows in their train, Might with small help from fancy, be transformed Into fleet Oreads sporting visibly. The Zephyrs, fanning, as they passed, their wings, Lacked not for love fair objects whom they wooed With gentle whisper. Withered boughs grotesque, Stripped of their leaves and twigs by hoary age, >From depth of shaggy covert peeping forth In the low vale, or on steep mountain side; And sometimes intermixed with stirring horns Of the live deer, or goat's depending beard; These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood Of gamesome deities; or Pan himself, The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring god."
All the theories which have bene mentioned are true to a certain extent. It would therefore be more correct to say that the mythology of a nation has sprung from all these sources combined than from any one in particular. We may add also that there are many myths which have risen from the desire of man to account for those natural phenomena which he cannot understand; and not a few have had their rise from a similar desire of giving a reason for the names of places and persons.
Adequately to represent to the eye the ideas intended to be conveyed to the mind under the several names of deities, was a task which called into exercise the highest powers of genius and art. Of the many attempts FOUR have been most celebrated, the first two known to us only by the descriptions of the ancients, and by copies on gems, which are still preserved; the other two still extant and the acknowledged masterpieces of the sculptor's art.
The statue of the Olympian Jupiter by Phidias was considered the highest achievement of this department of Grecian art. It was of colossal dimensions, and was what the ancients called "chryselephantine;" that is, composed of ivory and gold; the parts representing flesh being of ivory laid on a core of wood or stone, while the drapery and other ornaments were of gold. The height of the figure was forty feet, on a pedestal twelve feet high. The god was represented seated on this throne. His brows were crowned with a wreath of olive, and he held in his right hand a sceptre, and in his left a statue of Victory. The throne was of cedar, adorned with gold and precious stones.
The idea which the artist essayed to embody was that of the supreme deity of the Hellenic (Grecian) nation, enthroned as a conqueror, in perfect majesty and repose, and ruling with a nod the subject world. Phidias avowed that he took his idea from the representation which Homer gives in the first book of the Iliad, in the passage thus translated by Pope: