The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,207 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

Linus was the instructor of Hercules in music, but having one day reproved his pupil rather harshly, he roused the anger of Hercules, who struck him with his lyre and killed him.


An ancient Thracian bard, who in his presumption challenged the Muses to a trial of skill, and being overcome in the contest, was deprived by them of his sight.  Milton alludes to him with other blind bards, when speaking of his own blindness, “Paradise Lost,” Book iii., 35.


Minerva invented the flute, and played upon it to the delight of all the celestial auditors; but the mischievous urchin Cupid having dared to laugh at the queer face which the goddess made while playing, Minerva threw the instrument indignantly away, and it fell down to earth, and was found by Marsyas.  He blew upon it, and drew from it such ravishing sounds that he was tempted to challenge Apollo himself to a musical contest.  The god of course triumphed, and punished Marsyas by flaying him alive.


Melampus was the first mortal endowed with prophetic powers.  Before his house there stood an oak tree containing a serpent’s nest.  The old serpents were killed by the servants, but Melampus took care of the young ones and fed them carefully.  One day when he was asleep under the oak the serpents licked his ears with their tongues.  On awaking he was astonished to find that he now understood the language of birds and creeping things.  This knowledge enabled him to foretell future events, and he became a renowned soothsayer.  At one time his enemies took him captive and kept him strictly imprisoned.  Melampus in the silence of the night heard the woodworms in the timbers talking together, and found out by what they said that the timbers were nearly eaten through and the roof would soon fall in.  He told his captors and demanded to be let out, warning them also.  They took his warning, and thus escaped destruction, and rewarded Melampus and held him in high honor.

Musaeus A semi-mythological personage who was represented by one tradition to be the son of Orpheus.  He is said to have written sacred poems and oracles.  Milton couples his name with that of Orpheus in his “Il Penseroso”: 

    “But O, sad virgin, that thy power
     Might raise Musaeus from his bower,
     Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
     Such notes as warbled to the string,
     Drew iron tears down Pluto’s cheek,
     And made Hell grant what love did seek.”



The poets whose adventures compose this chapter were real persons some of whose works yet remain, and their influence on poets who succeeded them is yet more important than their poetical remains.  The adventures recorded of them in the following stories rest on the same authority as other narratives of the “Age of Fable,” that is, of the poets who have told them.  In their present form, the first two are translated from the German, Arion from Schlegel, and Ibycus from Schiller.

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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