The Influence of Mythology on Literature by Mattie O Yarnell 1900
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Mythology is a creation of the primitive mind. Its origin is nearly coeval with that of humanity. Both seem to have flowed from the same sacred fount, and the clear atmosphere of the world's morning hangs above them.
The Orient was the birthplace of mythology. Nothing but the fairy like nature of the East, "with its showers of barbaric gold and pearls" could have nurtured a creation so mysteriously beautiful. Here, then, in the wide realm of gorgeous reality, antiquity beheld the dawn of mystery.
Creeping up thru the early ages mythology, on the classic soil of Persia, took its first step, and as the march of nations filled up the desert places of earth and the great family of men divided itself into the various races, this strange child of mystery walked silently on, and everywhere left traces of its omnipresence.
Grand and fantastic, the eastern nations paid it reverence. Rugged and savage, the North bestowed adoration. In Greece and Rome such was its perfection that men dared to call it divine.
In her mythology Rome had a prototype, and that prototype was Greece. The union of these two classic elements has given to the world a rich mythology.
The Greeks were a people of lofty imagination. Theirs was the power "to turn unknown things to shape and to give to airy nothings a local habitation and a name." When they observed the works of nature in all their goodness and sublimity, they did not fail to realize that behind them all there was a cause, but being without a Revelation and therefore ignorant of God and his Divine Will, fancy alone, by an operation strangely sweet, enabled them to fashion their own agents which they greeted as gods.
The gods, by whom were typified the elements, the passions, the virtues, and the mental attributes, were divided into three classes—celestial, terrestrial, and infernal. Jupiter, the royal father, was the source of all life in nature. He it was who collected the vapors in his mighty hand and scattered them as clouds thru the broad expanse of blue. He it was, too, who bade the heavens weep that the tears from their starry eyes might fall as dew upon the earth. Pan, in his emerald palace, entranced the shepherds with strains from his pipe of reeds, and Pluto swayed the scepter of the lower world.
Greece and Italy were every where dotted with magnificent temples, where on thrones of ivory and gold were placed the statues of their deities. In their honor processions of great pomp moved about and animals without blemish were laid upon their altars.
This was the religion of ancient Greece and Rome, a religion which caused humanity to kneel at many a shrine; but time has wrought a change. Philosophy and Christianity have overcome, and no longer the gods wander thru the shady groves. Apollo has gone, and the soft tones of his lyre resound no more. The images are dethroned, the temples are fallen, and mythology seems but a beautiful dream or a fancy that has vanished. In reality, the past has hewn it a shrine, but its memory, like a gentle shadow, lingers still, and, embalmed as it is in literature and art, it shall live forever.
Mythology has wielded its scepter in almost every department of literature. Poets, philosophers, orators and novelists have reverently bowed at the shrines of the myths, and found there befitting materials. Homer was first imbued with the poetic spirit of mythology. The sweet tones of the lyre, as they floated and echoed thru the Vale of Tempe and the Parnassian hills, inspired his soul; and the wealth and magnificence of mythology shone forth in his verse. Nothing but splendor was worthy of Homer's muse; and, in that far off past, what so well as mythology could adorn? — what so well could charm! From the Grecian zephyrs Homer seemed to catch the unwritten rhythm that had been ringing for ages, and to immortalize it. His toil fashioned a gem so resplendent that the Epic Muse set it, a solitaire, in her diadem, and thus it remained until Virgil and Milton wrought for it companion pieces.
Poetic genius has ever wooed the muses of Olympus. The epic poet has found inspiration in the silver toned voice of Calliope; while the dramatic and the lyric writers have turned to tragic Melpomene, comic Thalia, and thoughtful Euterpe.
In the long unbroken stream of song, from Grecian Homer to American Longfellow, the beauties of mythology have played like ripples on a rivulet. What would poetry have been without it? It is the soul of ancient poetry, and in modern there is not a masterpiece but is gilded with mythological allusions.
Walpole has said that "a perfect comedy is the perfection of human composition." Shakespeare has verified this in his Midsummer Night's Dream, which is one of the most beautiful conceptions that ever originated in the mind of a poet. It is a scene of fairy enchantment wherein mythology has played a prominent part. Paradise Lost, Childe Harold, Endymion, Lalla Rookh, and The Princess are replete with mythical illustrations and similes.
Poetry is not the only class of literature that has been influenced by mythology. History has relieved its monotony by touches of this fancy. Philosophy's thoughtful pen has praised its good and denounced its evil. Science has classified the mystic whispers and deemed them worthy of its own name. By it the eloquence of oratory has been made more resplendent. Fiction has created heroes beautiful as Apollo, divine as Jupiter, and heroines lovely as Venus and wise as azur-eyed Minerva.
Mythology is one of the loveliest products of the imagination. Pure and child-like in itself, it has been shadowed by many distortions, but regardless of all these it has maintained its marvelous beauty. Its influence on literature has been strangely supreme and abiding thru all ages. It possesses a grandeur like a sublime strain of music, so great is its power to fascinate and to inspire. It has given character to literature, and wherever it has gilded it has been with classic luster; and in the future, as in the past, its powers to thrill the soul of man shall be marked by the same alluring sweetness and the same irresistible charm.
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