Contents Index

The Pantheon, or, Ancient History of the Gods of Greece and Rome, pp. 74-80.

Edward Baldwin
[William Godwin]



{74} Atlas -- a great Astronomer -- sustains the Heavens upon his Shoulders. -- The Pleiades his Daughters. -- Calypso. -- The Hesperides -- their Garden. -- Prometheus. -- His affront to Jupiter. -- His Man of Clay. -- He steals Fire from Heaven. -- Vulcan makes a Woman, Pandora. -- She is rejected by Prometheus. -- Prometheus chained to Mount Caucasus. -- Immortality given to Man, miscarries, because it is confided to an Ass.

THERE is a longer history annexed to the family of Iapetus, one of the brothers of Saturn, commonly called the Titans, than to that of any other branch of this race, except the progeny of Saturn himself.i

Iapetus, who like Saturn married one of his sisters, by name Clymene, had by her four sons, Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.

Atlas, for the part which he took in the war of the Titans against Jupiter, was condemned perpetually to support the weight of the heavens on his shoulders: this fabulous relation has been explained to mean, that he was a great astronomer, perhaps the first inventor of astronomy: in this explanation then we have an example of what was spoken of in the beginning, that the Gods worshipped by the ancients had once been {75} men, and that they were deified after their deaths for their merits and services to mankind.

Atlas had one son, called Hesperus, and seven daughters, the Atlantides, by name Maia, Electra, Taygeta, Asterope, Merope, Halcyone, and Celæno: the eldest of these was the mother of Mercury: the children of Atlas imparted their names to several of the heavenly bodies: Hesperus is the evening star, and the seven daughters of Atlas gave names to the seven stars, commonly called the Pleiades.

Mythologists ascribe to Atlas another daughter named Calypso: she is famous for having detained Ulysses, king of Ithaca, on his return from the siege of Troy, seven years in the island of Ogygia her residence, by a sort of forcek: Calypso offered Ulysses, if he would always remain with her, that, like a God, he should never die: but the love which Ulysses bore to his wife and his country was so great, as to determine him to refuse the splendid bribe.

Hesperus, the son of Atlas, had three daughters, called the Hesperides: their names were Ægle, Arethusa, and Hesperithusa: Juno committed to their care the precious trees which bore the apples that she had presented to her husband as a marriage-gift: the apples were of gold, and the orchard in which they grew was called, from the name of its guardians, the garden of Hesperides: they were assisted in the discharge of this momentous office by a terrible dragon.

Menoetius was one of the Titan race which were cast down into hell.

Prometheus was, like the rest of his family, an {76} enemy to the progeny of Saturn: a dispute is said to have arisen, as to what part of the sacrifices offered by the subjects of Jupiter was to be considered as appropriated to the God at whose altar it was slain: for from the first institution of sacrifices, it was the custom for the victim to be amicably shared, according to a fixed rule, between the God and his worshipper.

Prometheus offered himself as umpire in this dispute: he was always regarded as the wisest, or rather as the craftiest and most wily, of the heavenly race: he killed two bulls, and skilfully divided the flesh, the fat, the offal and the bones: he sewed up the flesh very neatly in the skin of one of the bulls, and the bones, inclosed in an envelop of fat, in the other: he then called upon Jupiter to look on the parcels, and to say which of them he chose for his own share: Jupiter deceived by the fair appearance of the fat which peeped here and there through the apertures of the skin, chose that parcel, in preference to the other which contained all that was most wholesome and valuable of the two animals: this is an ugly story; and the part assigned in it to Jupiter is wholly unworthy of our idea of a God.

From this moment Jupiter became the bitter enemy of Prometheus, and to punish him and his race, withheld from them the use of the celestial element of fire: Prometheus, who surpassed the whole universe in mechanical skill and contrivance, formed a man of clay of such exquisite workmanship, that he wanted nothing but a living soul to cause him to be acknowledged the paragon of creation: Minerva, the Goddess of arts, beheld the performance of Prometheus with approbation, and offered him any assistance in her power to complete his work: she conducted him to Heaven, where he watched his opportunity to carry off at the tip of his wand a portion of celestial fire, from the chariot of the sun: with this he animated his image: and the man of Prometheus immediately moved, and thought, and spoke, and became every thing that the fondest wishes of his creator could ask.

Jupiter became still more exasperated than ever with this new specimen of Prometheus's ability and artifice: he ordered Vulcan, the great artificer of Heaven, to make a woman of clay, that should be still more consummate and beautiful of structure than Prometheus's man: with this alluring present Jupiter determined to tempt Prometheus to his ruin: all the Gods of the Saturnian race, eager to abet the project of their chief, gave her each one a several gift, from which circumstance she obtained the name of Pandora, all gifts: Venus gave her the power to charm; the Graces bestowed upon her symmetry of limb and elegance of motion; Apollo the accomplishments of vocal and instrumental music; Mercury the art of persuasive speech; Juno a multitude of rich and gorgeous ornaments; and Minerva the management of the loom and the needle: last of all, Jupiter presented her with a sealed box, which she was to bestow on whoever became her husband: thus prepared, he sent her to Prometheus by Mercury, as if he had intended him a compliment upon the wonders of his own performance: Prometheus however saw through the deceit, and rejected her: Mercury then presented her to Epimetheus, Prometheus's brother, who was less on his guard, received the seemingly angelic creature with delight, and eagerly opened {78} the box she brought him; the lid was no sooner unclosed than a multitude of calamities and evils of all imaginable sorts flew out, which dispersed themselves over the world, and from that fatal moment have never ceased to afflict the human race: Hope only remained at the bottom, being all that is left us to relieve our sorrows, and render the labours and troubles of life capable of being endured.

Jupiter thus constantly failing in every indirect attempt of retaliation upon his redoubtable adversary Prometheus, at last proceeded to a more open hostility: he sent Vulcan and Mercury, who seizing upon this extraordinary personage, conveyed him by main force to Mount Caucasus, where, being chained to the rock, a vulture commissioned by Jupiter cowered upon his breast, continually preying upon his liver, which grew again as fast as it was devoured: how the unfortunate Prometheus was delivered from this punishment I shall have occasion to mention hereafter, [p.226.]

The fable of Prometheus's man, and Pandora, the first woman, was intended to convey an allegorical sense: the ancients saw to how many evils the human race is exposed, how many years of misery many of them endure, with what a variety of diseases they are afflicted, how the great majority is condemned to perpetual labour, poverty and ignorance, and how many vices are contracted by men, in consequence of which they afflict each other with a thousand additional evils, perfidy, tyranny, cruel tortures, murder and war: the views of the early ancients, in times of savage rudeness, and before the refinements of society were invented, were more me- {79} lancholy respecting the lot of man than ours have been since: they could not therefore admit that he was the creature of Jupiter: they were rather prone to believe that Jupiter was from the first his enemy: the same views led them to speak evil of and revile the female sex: Hesiod, who, unless we are to except Homer, is probably the oldest of the Grecian poets, and who has related this story of Prometheus at length, says "that the men are like industrious bees who by their labours procure all the honey, and that the women are the idle drones who fatten upon the good things which their more assiduous fellows have accumulatedl:" it is impossible not to remark a considerable resemblance between the story of Pandora's box and that of the apple with which Eve in the Bible tempted her husband, and he did eat.

There is a further storym that has been told of Prometheus, which for its strangeness it may seem worth while to relate: some of the first race of mankind proved ungrateful to their former, and gave a perfidious information to Jupiter against him: Jupiter rewarded the informers with the gift of immortal life, for all men were hitherto mortal: he packed the gift however upon the back of an ass: the ass had already travelled a long way, and was exceedingly weary, and troubled with a tormenting thirst: he at length came to a river, but a water-serpent guarded the stream, and would not suffer him to drink: the wily serpent would yield upon no other terms, than that the ass should surrender to him the invaluable burthen he bore, in exchange for his draught: the ass accepted the bargain: {80} thus the serpent obtained the gift of immortal life, in consequence of which every year he casts his slough, and comes forth as young and vigorous as ever, while the unworthy mortals for whom Jupiter destined it, lost the reward of their treachery.

The story of the creation of man by the hands of Prometheus was not however universally received in the religion of the Greeks: many deeming it more decent and just to ascribe this event to the power of Jupiter.

i Hes[iod]. The[ogony]. 507 et seqq.; where may be found the whole account of this family, and of the Giants.

k Hom[er]. Od[yssey]. 13.

l Hesiod. The[ogony]. 593.

m Nieander, Theriac. 349.