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Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon


 

 

NEPTUNE

[109]

I
F you look back at the second of these stories—that of Jupiter and Juno—you will read that "when Jupiter became god and king of the whole world, he made his two brothers, Neptune and Pluto, kings under him. He made Neptune god and king of the sea: Pluto he made god and king of Hades." You will read the story of Pluto presently. This is about Neptune, of whom there is much less to say. You have already read, in the story of Minerva, how Neptune contended with the goddess of Wisdom for the honor of naming the capital of Attica, and how he produced the first horse by striking the earth with his trident—that is to say, with his scepter in the shape of a fork with three prongs, by which he may always be known. You will remember that the honor was given to Minerva, because she produced the olive, the emblem of peace, and therefore better for mankind than the horse, the emblem of war. This decision, however, did not satisfy Neptune. So when the people of Argolis also built a capital city, he disputed with Minerva for the honor of naming that. Jupiter, however, settled [110] the matter by giving it a name which had nothing to do with either god or goddess—that is to say, Trœzene—and by making Minerva its patroness and Neptune its patron. But this did not please Neptune either. He wanted to have some city or piece of dry land all to himself, which was natural enough for a god who had nothing of his own but the sea. So he went to law with Apollo for the possession of the isthmus of Corinth. The case was tried before Briareus, the Cyclops with fifty heads and a hundred hands, as judge. Briareus decided that Neptune should have the isthmus, all except a certain headland, which was given to Apollo.

But Neptune was not even yet satisfied. What was the sea and one little isthmus when Jupiter had all earth and air and sky, and when Pluto had the still greater world below? Then Jupiter ruled over the immortal gods and living men and women, and Pluto over all the dead; but Neptune had neither gods nor men, dead or alive, for subjects—only fishes and sea-monsters, creatures really not worth the ruling. It is true he had all sorts of treasures got from shipwrecks; but what is the good of gold and jewels at the bottom of the sea? And he had many wonderful and beautiful things belonging to him by nature—pearls, and seaweed, and coral, and amber; but he had no use for them. At any rate he was thoroughly discontented, and thought Jupiter's division of the universe exceedingly unfair.

[111] It so happened that, while he was in this envious state of mind, Juno was furious against Jupiter for throwing Vulcan out of heaven, and Apollo was seeking revenge for the death of Æsculapius. So these three—Neptune, Juno, and Apollo—made a conspiracy against Jupiter. Their plot was to excite all the gods and goddesses to rebel against their king, to take him by surprise, to imprison him forever, and to get—I do not know what they meant to get by it; most likely, like all rebels, they did not know that themselves. However, in one way and another, by promises, and by working up all sorts of grievances, they drew nearly every god and goddess into their treason, of which Jupiter, in his trust of them all, had not the faintest suspicion. He went on ruling and feasting, little guessing that his own wife, his own brother, and the whole of his court, were secret traitors. Even Minerva, in spite of her wisdom and her old quarrel with Neptune, is said to have joined in the plot against her own father, though this is hard to believe.

The plotters made only one mistake—they forgot that traitors must expect treachery. There was a certain sea-nymph named Thetis, married to a mortal, and she, having been admitted into the plot, tried to think of some way of saving the kin of gods and men. But what could one sea-nymph do? If she went and told Jupiter, he would not believe her: he would most likely [112] only punish her for lying and slander. So, in her trouble, she went for advice to the giant Briareus, who had fifty heads to think with instead of only one. Having thought with them all, one after another, he said at last, "Leave it to me."

At length the time came for carrying out the plot. The conspirators held a great meeting, and, having talked themselves into a great state of rage against Jupiter, marched in a body into the council chamber of Olympus, where they expected to find him at that time of day sleeping upon his throne, and at their mercy. And so indeed they did find him. But, to their dismay, there sat beside him a monstrous and terrible giant, with a hundred huge hands and fifty yawning mouths, and a hundred eyes wide awake and rolling. And so terrified were they by the unexpected sight, that they stood rooted to the spot by fear; and when Jupiter woke up and saw how matters were, they could only confess their treason and pray for pardon.

Thus Jupiter learned the lesson that a king must not venture to go to sleep, even on his throne, unless he is guarded by at least a hundred faithful hands, fifty shrewd brains, and a hundred vigilant eyes, which cannot happen often, since a Briareus is not to be found every day. But Jupiter thought that the plotters, or at least their ringleaders, deserved a lesson also. He thought it better to hush up the conspiracy, and not to [113] make another scandal by punishing Juno. But he banished Apollo from Olympus for nine years as a punishment for having killed the Cyclopes, as you have read in the story of Marsyas; and he condemned Neptune, by way of hard labor, to build the walls of the famous city of Troy. And so the great Olympian conspiracy came to an end, and Jupiter remained more powerful than ever.


Neptune is chiefly known by his trident or three-pronged scepter, by means of which he causes earthquakes, and can bring up islands from the bottom of the sea. He had a great many sea-gods and sea-goddesses under him, his queen-consort being Amphitrīte. There were Oceanus and Tethys, the father and mother of all the Rivers: Triton, a strange god, in shape half man and half fish, who makes storms and calms by blowing a shell as if it were a horn; Proteus, who foretells the future to anybody who can find him on the sea-shore, catch him, and chain him up so that he cannot change his shape and escape into the sea; Nereus, with his long blue hair and beard. There were also the Nereids, his fifty daughters, among whom was Thetis; the Oceanides or sea-nymphs: and the Sirens—mermaids who drew sailors to their island by their wonderful singing, and then fell upon them and devoured them. There were the Harpies also: three horrible [114] monsters, each with a woman's face, a vulture's body, and feet and hands having sharp claws for toes and fingers—these were the whirlwinds. But it is impossible to make a list of the wonders of the sea.


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