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Mention of the Hesperides is made in the Argonautics of Apollonius, where the voyagers come upon the golden garden after Hercules had rifled it. The nymphs are observed lamenting over the slain dragon, but vanish at sight of the intruders. The latter, however, Orpheus being their spokesman, venture to implore them for water; and the nymphs, with the usual good-nature of their race, indulge the petition. They become visible, each in a tree, and tell them that the dreadful stranger, who had been there, had stamped in a rage of thirst on the ground, and struck up a fountain.
For accounts of the manners and conversation of nymphs the curious reader may consult the sixth book of Spenser, Drayton's “ Muses' Elysium,” the “ Arcadia” of Sannazaro, Cintio Giraldi's sylvan drama, entitled " Egle,” and the “ Endymion ” of Keats ; to which may be added the bass-relief of ancient sculpture, and the works of the great painters. (Egle brightness) is a celebrated name in nymphology; so is Galatea (milky) and (Enone (winy). Cydippe (Proud horse) seems rather the name of a lady-centaur ; but the Greeks were singularly fond of names compounded from horses. Best-horse, and Golden-horse, and Hastehorse were among their philosophers (Aristippus, Chrysippus, and Speusippus); and Horse-mistress and Horsetamer, among their ladies (Hipparchia and Hippodamia). Of solitary nymphs, or rather such as lived apart, sometimes in state like goddesses, with nymphs of their own, the most celebrated are Circe, Calypso, and Egeria. The most beautiful mention of Egeria (the Watchful ?) is in Milton's Latin poems, at least to the best of our recollection. See his lines addressed to Salsilli, a Roman poet, on his sickness. We regret we have not time to indulge ourselves in attempting a version of the pas
sage. * Circe (the Encircler) is clearly the original of the modern enchantress.
And tyrannizing was the lady's look,” says Keats, describing her. (How beautiful !) Calypso (the Secret, or Lying-hid) though no magician, was a nobler enchantress after her fashion, as we see in Homer. Boccaccio, speaking of Circe, Calisto, and Clymene, says, that nymphs of their distinguished class were no other than young ladies, delicately brought up, and living in retirement, — “ thalamorum colentes umbras," - cultivators of their boudoirs. “Impressions,” he says, “ of every sort, were easily made on creatures of this tender sort, as on things allied to the element of water; whereas, rustic women laboring out of doors, and exposed to the sun,
* From Cowper's translation of the poem, we extract the passage referred to:
“ Health, Hebe's sister, sent us from the skies,
And thou, Apollo, whom all sickness flies,
That, render'd to the Muse he loves, again
became "hispid” and case-hardened, and therefore deservedly lost the name of nymphs.*
THE SIRENS AND MERMAIDS OF THE
EAVING Æaca on their homeward voy
age,” says Mr. Keightley, in his excellent “Mythology,” “ Odysseus (Ulysses) and his companions came first to the islands of the
Sirens. These were two maidens, who sat in a mead close to the sea, and with their melodious voices so charmed those who were sailing by that they forgot home, and every thing relating to it, and abode there till their bones lay whitening on the strand. By the directions of Circe, Odysseus stopped the ears of his companions with wax, and had himself tied to the mast; and thus he was the only person who heard the song of the Sirens, and escaped.
“Hesiod + describes the mead of the Sirens as blooniing with flowers, and says that their voice stilled the winds. Their names were said to be Aglaiophéme (Clear-voice), and Thelxiepeia (Magic-speech). It was feigned that they threw themselves into the sea with vexation at the escape of Odysseus; but the author of the “Orphic Argonautics” places them on a rock near the shore of Ætna, and makes the song of Orpheus end their enchantment, and cause them to fling themselves into the sea.
* Sunt præterea, &c. — “Genealogia Deorum,” lib. vii. cap. 14. † Frag. xxvii.
“ It was afterwards fabled * that they were the daughters of the river-god Achelous, by one of the Muses. Some said that they sprang from the blood which ran from him when his horn was torn off by Hercules. Sophocles calls them the daughters of Phorcys. .
“ Contrary to the usual process, the mischievous part of the character of the Sirens was, in process of time, left out, and they were regarded as purely musical beings, with entrancing voices. Hence Plato, in his ‘Republic,' places one of them on each side of the eight celestial spheres, where their voices form what is called the music of the spheres; and when the Lacedæmonians invaded Attica, Dionysius, it is said, appeared in a dream to their general, ordering him to pay all funeral honors to the new Siren, which was at once understood to be Sophocles, then just dead.f
“Eventually, however, the artists laid hold on the Sirens, and furnished them with the feathers, feet, wings, and tails of birds.” I
According to this statement of our best English mythologist, the Sirens were but two. It is not a little surprising, however, that so careful a writer has omitted to notice the various accounts of their number, and the prevailing opinion of its having been three. “Fulgentius and Servius affirm,” says Boccaccio, “that the Sirens were three, one of them singing with the voice alone, another to the lyre, and a third playing on the flute. Leontius, however," he continues, " says there were four, and that the fourth sang to the timbrel.” And a little further on, our Italian
† Pausan. i. 21. “Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy. By Thomas Keightley, p. 246.
* Apollod. i. 3.
brings them up to five ;* and this is the number (as we shall see), which is assigned them by Spenser.
Mr. Keightley, who has a just reverence for the oldest Greek authorities, and as proper a suspicion of Latin sources of fable, will stick to his Hesiod, and not care what is said by the later poets. His caution becomes a teacher ; but as mythologies may, with others, be reasonably looked upon as of a more large and inclusive character, even to the admission of modern inventions, provided they be the work of great poets, the popular number of three may ordinarily be allowed to the Sirens; and when we come to Spenser, I, for one, must take the freedom of believing in five. Any true poet, not only after his death, like Sophocles, but before, is himself a Siren, who makes me believe what he pleases while he is about it.
The Sirens, then, are more particularly taken for three sisters, monstrous in figure, but charming in face and voice, who used to stand upon a place near the coast of Naples, and with alluring songs enticed wayfarers to their destruction. Some say the victims perished for want of food, pining and dying away, unable to do any thing but listen; others, that the three sisters devoured them; others, that they tumbled them out of their ships. The whole place was strewn with bones, and shone afar off with the whiteness, like cliffs ; and yet neither this, nor their monstrous figure, visible on nearer approach, hindered the infatuated men from doting on their faces and sweet sounds; till, getting closer and closer, they glided headlong into the snare.
Ulysses had a permission, of which he availed himself,
*“Della Genealogia degli Dei,” p. 123. (A translation of his Latin work. I quote from both these books in the present article, not having the latter by me when I wrote the above passage.)