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.

Milton alludes to the fact that the constellation of the Bear never sets, when he says: 

    “Let my lamp at midnight hour
     Be seen in some high lonely tower,
     Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,” etc.

And Prometheus, in J. R. Lowell’s poem, says: 

    “One after one the stars have risen and set,
     Sparkling upon the hoar frost of my chain;
     The Bear that prowled all night about the fold
     Of the North-star, hath shrunk into his den,
     Scared by the blithesome footsteps of the Dawn.”

The last star in the tail of the Little Bear is the Pole-star, called also the Cynosure.  Milton says: 

    “Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
     While the landscape round it measures.

     Towers and battlements it sees
     Bosomed high in tufted trees,
     Where perhaps some beauty lies
     The Cynosure of neighboring eyes”

The reference here is both to the Pole-star as the guide of mariners, and to the magnetic attraction of the North He calls it also the “Star of Arcady,” because Callisto’s boy was named Arcas, and they lived in Arcadia.  In “Comus,” the brother, benighted in the woods, says: 

“...  Some gentle taper!  Though a rush candle, from the wicker hole Of some clay habitation, visit us With thy long levelled rule of streaming light, And thou shalt be our star of Arcady, Or Tyrian Cynosure.”

DIANA AND ACTAEON

Thus in two instances we have seen Juno’s severity to her rivals; now let us learn how a virgin goddess punished an invader of her privacy.

It was midday, and the sun stood equally distant from either goal, when young Actaeon, son of King Cadmus, thus addressed the youths who with him were hunting the stag in the mountains: 

“Friends, our nets and our weapons are wet with the blood of our victims; we have had sport enough for one day, and to-morrow we can renew our labors.  Now, while Phoebus parches the earth, let us put by our implements and indulge ourselves with rest.”

There was a valley thick enclosed with cypresses and pines, sacred to the huntress queen, Diana.  In the extremity of the valley was a cave, not adorned with art, but nature had counterfeited art in its construction, for she had turned the arch of its roof with stones as delicately fitted as if by the hand of man.  A fountain burst out from one side, whose open basin was bounded by a grassy rim.  Here the goddess of the woods used to come when weary with hunting and lave her virgin limbs in the sparkling water.

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.