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tion can be considered complete without an insight into its principles.
To afford a general, though slight acquaintance with the most celebrated deities and renowned heroes of ancient times, particularly those of Greece and Rome, and also to introduce the youthful student to the classic writers, is the design of the following pages; and to effect the latter object, particularly, select passages from the most approved ancient poets have been chosen, relating to the character, powers, or exploits, of the personages to whose history they are affixed.
The ancients believed that primarily, Chaos, or the undefined mass of matter, had its existence; that from this substance Earth, and subsequently, the other elements arose, as they supposed, by a self-productive power;-from these sprang the gods, of whose origin many and widely-differing accounts have been transmitted to us by the ancient authors. Saturn, or Time, the son of Cœlus and Terra, is generally regarded as the progenitor of the principal Grecian deities; and as before his birth Mythology is enveloped in more than common obscurity, it has not been thought necessary, in the following pages, to perplex those who are only commencing this study Iwith its intricacies.
Our knowledge of the early state of Greece is so uncertain, and so blended with fable, that it is extremely difficult, at this
distance of time, to separate truth from fiction, and to give an unbroken narrative from the first glimmerings of tradition to the full display of undoubted history.
Herodotus traces most of the religious ceremonies of the Greeks to the Egyptians, and supposes, that from their mystical worship, other nations deduced the superstitious rites and customs, which, after awhile, became the established religion of their respective states; and to which, contrary as many of them were to the dictates of reason, a blind and implicit obedience was exacted.
The polytheism of the Greeks, which was afterwards transferred to, and became the national religion of, the Romans, has, by some writers, been referred in its origin to their veneration for those persons to whom they were indebted for the introduction of any of the useful arts, or of those which embellish and adorn life. Their unbounded gratitude led to the exaltation of many of these benefactors of mankind, after their death, to the rank of gods, to whom divine honours were decreed, and offerings and vows, by general consent, were made. This accounts for their being so generally endowed with the passions and frailties of humanity, that the characters of their gods rank far below those of some of their philosophers and heroes. The Greeks divided their deities into three principal classes, Celestial, Marine, and Infernal, which, after their
adoption by the Romans, were ranged by them as Dii Majores, and Dii Minores, or the Greater and Lesser Gods.
The principal method of ascertaining the will of these deities in any important crisis was, by consulting the Oracles, through the medium of priests or priestesses, believed to be favoured with immediate revelation from the Gods; seldom undertaking any affair of consequence, either of a national or private character, without first enquiring if it were consonant to the will of their divinities. To the responses thus received, they generally paid a reverential obedience; and although their piety was erringly directed, their motives must command our respect and admiration.
The Greeks had many Oracles; the most celebrated were the Oracle of Jupiter, at Dodona; of Apollo, at Delphos ; of Trophonius, in Boeotia; and of the Branchidæ, (so called from Branchus, a son of Apollo), near Miletus.
In reviewing the religion and government of the Greeks, during those early ages, we must acknowledge in reference to that "Fair clime, where every season smiles," that in each department of science and literature, she attained the highest rank of eminence, that the bright phalanx of her poets, philosophers, orators, patriots, and heroes, have shed an undying lustre on her name,—and that fallen as she is, she still inspires sentiments of the deepest interest.
Well might Byron exclaim, contrasting the present degraded state of Greece with her former glory,—
"Clime of the unforgotten brave!
That this is all remains of thee?"
While Rome, once Empress of the World, no longer rules the nations with sovereign power, and true, though melancholy, are those beautiful lines by Kirke White.
"She lives but in the tales of other times ;-
Through the rank moss revealed, her honoured dust."