The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 980 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

One of the most celebrated groups of statuary in existence is that of Laocoon and his children in the embrace of the serpents.  A cast of it is owned by the Boston Athenaeum; the original is in the Vatican at Rome.  The following lines are from the “Childe Harold” of Byron: 

    “Now turning to the Vatican go see
    Laocoon’s torture dignifying pain;
    A father’s love and mortal’s agony
    With an immortal’s patience blending;—­vain
    The struggle! vain against the coiling strain
    And gripe and deepening of the dragon’s grasp
    The old man’s clinch; the long envenomed chain
    Rivets the living links; the enormous asp
    Enforces pang on pang and stifles gasp on gasp.”

The comic poets will also occasionally borrow a classical allusion.  The following is from Swift’s “Description of a City Shower”: 

    “Boxed in a chair the beau impatient sits,
    While spouts run clattering o’er the roof by fits,
    And ever and anon with frightful din
    The leather sounds; he trembles from within. 
    So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed
    Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed,
    (Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
    Instead of paying chairmen, run them through);
    Laocoon struck the outside with a spear,
    And each imprisoned champion quaked with fear.”

King Priam lived to see the downfall of his kingdom and was slain at last on the fatal night when the Greeks took the city.  He had armed himself and was about to mingle with the combatants, but was prevailed on by Hecuba, his aged queen, to take refuge with herself and his daughters as a suppliant at the altar of Jupiter.  While there, his youngest son Polites, pursued by Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, rushed in wounded, and expired at the feet of his father; whereupon Priam, overcome with indignation, hurled his spear with feeble hand against Pyrrhus, [Footnote 1:  Pyrrhus’s exclamation, “Not such aid nor such defenders does the time require,” has become proverbial.  See Proverbial Expressions.] and was forthwith slain by him.

Queen Hecuba and her daughter Cassandra were carried captives to Greece.  Cassandra had been loved by Apollo, and he gave her the gift of prophecy; but afterwards offended with her, he rendered the gift unavailing by ordaining that her predictions should never be believed.  Polyxena, another daughter, who had been loved by Achilles, was demanded by the ghost of that warrior, and was sacrificed by the Greeks upon his tomb.

MENELAUS AND HELEN

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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