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Children of the Dawn by  Elsie Finnimore Buckley


 

 

Front Matter



[Frontispiece]



[Title Page]



[Preface]


[vii] THE aim of this volume is to present, in a form suitable for young readers, a small selection from the almost inexhaustible treasure-house of the ancient Greek tales, which abound (it is needless to say) in all Greek poetry, and are constantly referred to by the prose- writers. These stories are found, whether narrated at length, or sometimes only mentioned in a cursory and tantalising reference, from the earliest poets, Homer and Hesiod, through the lyric age, and the Attic renaissance of the fifth century, when they form the material of the tragic drama, down to the second century B.C., when Apollodorus, the Athenian grammarian, made a prose collection of them, which is invaluable. They reappear at Rome in the Augustan age (and later), in the poems of Vergil, Ovid, and Statius—particularly in Ovid's "Metamorphoses." Many more are supplied by Greek or Roman travellers, scholars, geographers, or historians, of the first three centuries of our era, such as Strabo, Pausanias, Athenaeus, Apuleius and AElian. The tales are various-stories of love, adventure, heroism, skill, endurance, achievement or defeat. The gods take active part, [viii] often in conflict with each other. The heroes or victims are men and women; and behind all, inscrutable and inexorable, sits the dark figure of Fate. The Greeks had a rare genius for story-telling of all sorts. Whether the tales were of native growth, or imported from the East or elsewhere—and both sources are doubtless represented—once they had passed through the Greek hands, the Greek spirit, "finely touched to fine issues," marked them for its own with the beauty, vivacity, dramatic interest, and imaginative outline and detail, which were never absent from the best Greek work, least of all during the centuries that lie between Homer and Plato.

The eleven tales here presented from this vast store are (as will be seen) very various both in date, character, and detail; and they seem well chosen for their purpose. The writer of these English versions of ancient stories has clearly aimed at a terse simplicity of style,while giving full details, with occasional descriptive passages where required to make the scene more vivid; and, for the same end, she has rightly made free use of dialogue or soliloquy wherever the story could thus be more pointedly or dramatically told.

The first story, called "The Riddle of the Sphinx," gives us in brief the whole Theban tale, from King Laius and the magical building of the city, to the incomparable scene from Sophocles' last play, describing the "Passing of OEdipus." It even includes the heroic action of Antigone, in burying with due rites her dead brother, in spite of the tyrant's threats, and at the cost of her own life. No tale was more often treated in ancient poetry than this tragedy of Thebes. Homer and Hesiod both refer to it, AEschylus [ix] wrote a whole trilogy, and Sophocles three separate dramas, on this theme. Euripides dealt with it in his "Phoenissae," which survives, and in his "OEdipus and Antigone," of which a few fragments remain. And several other poets whose works are lost are known by the titles of their plays to have dealt with the same subject.

One other tale in this selection rests in large measure on the Attic drama—namely, the story of Alcestis, the fourth in this series. As far as we know, Euripides alone of the ancients treated this theme, in his beautiful and interesting play "Alcestis," which is here closely followed by our author. The past history of Admetus, the king, which Euripides briefly summarises in the prologue, is here dramatized, and adds much interest to the story, including as it does the Argonauts' visit to Pelias, and the romantic imaginary scene of the king's first meeting with Alcestis.

The two charming love-stories which come second and third in this series, though unquestionably Greek in origin, reach us from Roman sources, and bear clear evidence in their form and spirit of belonging to a later age. The character of the love romance in "Hero and Leander" and the transparent allegory of "Eros and Psyche" (Love and the Soul), leave little doubt on this point. The former tale is ascribed to a late Greek epic poet, Musaeus, of whom nothing else is known ; and the latter we owe to Apuleius, a Roman philosopher and man of letters in the second century A.D.

The fifth and tenth stories (in both of which Atalanta appears) rest in their present shape on the authority of Apollodorus; but the incidents of the Calydonian boar- [x] hunt, and the race for the hand of the princess, won by the suitor's clever trick of the golden apples, are found as local traditions connected with two different parts of Greece, Arcadia and Boeotia, and may be in. their earliest form of great antiquity.

The two fanciful stories of Echo and Narcissus, and Alpheus and Arethusa, which form the sixth and ninth in this series, are among the prettiest of Nature myths, and are characteristic Greek inventions. The chase of Arethusa under the sea by the river-god Alpheus was to a Greek the most natural of fancies, for to him all water was protected by, or identified with, some god, nymph, or spirit; and the fancy was especially easy to a dweller in the limestone district of Arcadia, where streams may run underground for long distances, and reappear as full-grown rivers from a cavern at the foot of the hills. The tale of Echo in its present form comes only from Latin poetry (Ovid); but the fancy that Echo was a spirit or nymph, which is the heart of the story, may well be of unknown antiquity, especially among the most imaginative of races, living in a land of rocky hills, the native home of echoes.

Of the remaining stories (Pygmalion, Orpheus, and OEnone), the briefest comment will suffice. The beautiful and pathetic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is best known to us from the incomparable version of it at the close of Vergil's fourth "Georgic," we know on good evidence to have been extant at least as early as AEschylus (fifth century B.c.), and possibly much earlier. The touching story of OEnone is post-Homeric, and is known to us only from Ovid and Apollodorus. It is [xi] familiar to all Englishmen from the two beautiful poems of Tennyson, which are respectively among the earliest and latest of his works. The strange yet striking tale of Pygmalion also comes to us from Apollodorus; and though it may be much older, it is perhaps not likely to belong to an earlier time than the fourth century B.C., a date which seems to be suggested both by the character of the story, and the development of the art of sculpture implied in it.

It only remains to commend these beautiful old stories, in their English dress, to the favour of those for whom they are intended.

A. SIDGWICK.

OXFORD, September 9, 1908.


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