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.

Cadmus obtained in marriage Harmonia, the daughter of Venus.  The gods left Olympus to honor the occasion with their presence, and Vulcan presented the bride with a necklace of surpassing brilliancy, his own workmanship.  But a fatality hung over the family of Cadmus in consequence of his killing the serpent sacred to Mars.  Semele and Ino, his daughters, and Actaeon and Pentheus, his grandchildren, all perished unhappily, and Cadmus and Harmonia quitted Thebes, now grown odious to them, and emigrated to the country of the Enchelians, who received them with honor and made Cadmus their king.  But the misfortunes of their children still weighed upon their minds; and one day Cadmus exclaimed, “If a serpent’s life is so dear to the gods, I would I were myself a serpent.”  No sooner had he uttered the words than he began to change his form.  Harmonia beheld it and prayed to the gods to let her share his fate.  Both became serpents.  They live in the woods, but mindful of their origin, they neither avoid the presence of man nor do they ever injure any one.

There is a tradition that Cadmus introduced into Greece the letters of the alphabet which were invented by the Phoenicians.  This is alluded to by Byron, where, addressing the modern Greeks, he says: 

    “You have the letters Cadmus gave,
     Think you he meant them for a slave?”

Milton, describing the serpent which tempted Eve, is reminded of the serpents of the classical stories and says: 

    ... “—­pleasing was his shape,
     And lovely never since of serpent kind
     Lovelier; not those that in Illyria changed
     Hermione and Cadmus, nor the god
     In Epidaurus”

For an explanation of the last allusion, see Oracle of Aesculapius, p. 298.

THE MYRMIDONS

The Myrmidons were the soldiers of Achilles, in the Trojan war.  From them all zealous and unscrupulous followers of a political chief are called by that name, down to this day.  But the origin of the Myrmidons would not give one the idea of a fierce and bloody race, but rather of a laborious and peaceful one.

Cephalus, king of Athens, arrived in the island of Aegina to seek assistance of his old friend and ally Aeacus, the king, in his war with Minos, king of Crete.  Cephalus was most kindly received, and the desired assistance readily promised.  “I have people enough,” said Aeacus, “to protect myself and spare you such a force as you need.”  “I rejoice to see it,” replied Cephalus, “and my wonder has been raised, I confess, to find such a host of youths as I see around me, all apparently of about the same age.  Yet there are many individuals whom I previously knew, that I look for now in vain.  What has become of them?” Aeacus groaned, and replied with a voice of sadness, “I have been intending to tell you, and will now do so, without more delay, that you may see how from the saddest beginning a happy result sometimes

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.