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The Greek goddesses.

That heroic virtue
For which antiquity hath left no names
But patterns only, such as Hercules,
Achilles, Theseus.

The Greek goddesses, like all other mythologic figures, have been very fully discussed, in all their less interesting aspects. Their genealogies have been ransacked, as if they had lived in Boston or Philadelphia. Their symbolic relations to the elements and to the zodiac and to all the physical phenomena have been explored, as if there were to be an almanac made by their means. You will find in Max Miller the latest versions of the ethical, the allegorical, and the historic interpretations. But all these unhappily omit the one element that gives to those fabled beings their human interest, inasmuch as the personality is left out. It may be that the mythologists think the view beneath them; but it is hard to find in any language an essay which lays all these abstruser things aside, and treats the deities in their simplest aspect, as so many Ideals of Womanhood.

But we must charitably remember that the Greek goddesses are rather new acquaintances, in their own proper personalities. Till within thirty years their very names had been merged for us in the Latin substitutes, as effectually as if each had married into a Roman family. [272] It is only since the publication of Thirlwall's Greece, in 1835, that they have generally appeared in English books under their own proper titles. With the Latin names came a host of later traditions, mostly foreign to the Greek mind, generally tending toward the trivial and the prosaic. Shakespeare in French does not more instantly cease to be Shakespeare, than the great ideals vacate their shrines when Latinized. Jeanne d'arc, in the hands of Voltaire, suffers hardly more defamation of character than the Greek goddesses under the treatment of Lempriere.

Now that this defilement is being cleared away, we begin to see how much of the stateliness of polytheism lay in its ideal women. Monotheism is inevitable; there never was a polytheism in the world, but so soon as it produced a thinker it became a monotheism after all. Then it instantly became necessary to say He or She in speaking of the Highest; and the immediate result was a masculine Deity, and the dethronement of woman. Whatever the advantage gained, this imperfection of language brought serious evils, since it is in our conceptions of Deity that we represent what humanity should be.

Look at the comparison from the point of view of woman. Suppose we were to hear of two races, in one of which all the recognized gods were men, and all womanhood was rigidly excluded from the divine impersonation, and assigned to mortal and humble existence; while in the other, every type of God had an answering goddess, every heavenly throne held two, every grace or glory was as sublimely incarnated in the one as in the other. Whatever else we should say of the comparison, we should say that the ideal woman was best recognized by the nation which still kept her on her throne. But among these woman-worshipping nations the Greeks [273] stood pre-eminent, as distinct from the monotheistic nations of the world. So obvious is the difference, it has been thought that Solomon and the kings of Israel, in associating the worship of Astarte with that of Jehovah, had a confused desire to correct this exclusive character. Tile Virgin Mother of the Roman Catholic Church is a more obvious yearning of the same instinct.

For one, I can truly testify that my first sublime visions of an ideal womanhood came directly from the Greek tradition, as embodied in the few casts of antique sculpture in the Boston Athenaeum. They seemed to reproduce for me the birth of Athena; they struck upon the brain as with a blow, and a goddess sprang forth. Life will always be the nobler for those early impressions. There were the gods too in their grandeur; the Zeus had his more than lionlike majesty, but it was especially the Hera and Athena that suggested grander spheres. It was as if I had ascended Mount Olympus and said, “This then is a man; that is a woman!”

Afterwards I lived for some years in the house which held Retzsch's copy of the Sistine Madonna, said to be the best copy in existence; I drank it in as a boy receives the glory of the first great picture he has seen. Is there! in the universe anything sublimer than that child's face? But the mother's calm beauty still sees humble and secular beside those Greek divinities. Art makes in them the grander, though not the tenderer revelation. It is for this grandeur, as I maintain,--this, which can never be human nature's daily food,--that we need to turn to art. That child is unhappy whose mother's face, as it bends above him, wears not a living tenderness which Raphael could merely reproduce. But the resources of divine exaltation which form the just heritage [274] of that mother's soul, the child knows not till he sees them embodied in Greek sculpture.

Other races have made woman beautiful; it was the peculiar glory of the Greeks that they made her sublime. As Emerson says that this wondrous nation anticipated by their language what the orator would say, so their sculpture anticipated what the priest would dream. Quintilian says of Phidias's lost statue of Athena that “its beauty seems to have added reverence even to religion itself, so nigh does the majesty of the work approach to that of the divinity.”

I speak now of the ideal alone. Undoubtedly in ancient Greece, as in modern America, the actual woman was disfranchised, humiliated, enslaved. But nations, like men, have a right to appeal from their degradation to their dreams. It is something if they are sublime in these. Tried by such a standard, the Greeks placed woman at the highest point she has ever reached, and if we wish for a gallery of feminine ideals we must turn to them. But we must not seek these high visions among the indecencies of Ovid, nor among the pearl-strewn vulgarities of Aristophanes, any more than we seek the feminine ideal of to-day in the more chastened satire of the “Saturday Review.” We must seek them in the remains of Greek sculpture, in Hesiod and Homer, in the Greek tragedians, in the hymns of Orpheus, Callimachus, and Proclus, and in the Anthology.

We are apt to regard the Greek myths as only a chaos of confused fancies. Yet it often takes very little pains to disentangle them, at least sufficiently to seize their main thread. If we confine ourselves to the six primary goddesses, it needs little straining of the imagination to see what they represented to the Greek mind. In their [275] simplest aspect, they are but so many types of ideal womanhood, taken at successive epochs. Woman's whole earthly career may be considered as depicted, when we portray the girl, the maiden, the lover, the wife, the mother, and the housekeeper or queen of home. These, accordingly, are represented — to give both the Greek and the more familiar but more deceptive Latin namesby Artemis or Diana, Athena or Minerva, Aphrodite or Venus, Hera or Juno, Demeter or Ceres, and Hestia or Vesta.

First comes the epoch of free girlhood, symbolized by Artemis, the Roman Diana. Her very name signifies health and vigor. She represents early youth, and all young things find in her their protector. She goes among the habitations of men only that she may take newborn infants in her arms; and the young of all wild creatures must be spared in her honor, religion taking the place of game-laws. Thus she becomes the goddess of hunters, and learns of her brother Phoebus to be a huntress herself. To her out-door things are consecrated,dogs, deer, fishes, fountains, fir-trees, and the laurel. She is free, vigorous, restless, cold, impetuous, unsympathetic, beautiful. Her range of attributes is not great nor varied, but her type of character is perfectly marked, and we all know it. She stands for the nymph-like period of existence. She is still among us in the person of every girl of fourteen who wears a short dress, and is fond of pets, and delights in roaming the woods with her brother. Let maturer womanhood be meditative or passionate or proud, let others be absorbed in husband or home, she goes on her free way, impatient of interference, prompt to resent intrusion. Artemis has the cold and rather crude beauty of this early girlhood; her slender form and delicate [276] limbs distinguish her statues from all others, so that even when mutilated they are known at once.

But it is a brief and simple epoch that Artemis represents. After early girlhood comes the maturity of virgin womanhood, touched by meditation, not yet by passion. This the Greek mythology symbolizes in Pallas Athena. She is the riper Artemis, passing beyond her early nymph-like years, and reaching the highest consummation that woman can attain alone. And so fascinating is this moment of serene self-poise, that the virgin Athena ranks in some respects at the head of all the goddesses. Beside her Artemis is undeveloped, while all the rest have passed in a manner out of themselves, have shared the being of others and the responsibilities of love or home. Of all conceptions of woman ever framed, Athena most combines strength and loveliness. She has no feeble aspect, no relation of dependence; her purity is the height of power. No compliment ever paid to woman was so high as that paid by the Greeks, when incarnating the highest wisdom in this maiden's form, and making this attribute only increase her virtue and her charms.

Hence at Athens--“the Greece of Greece,” 1 as the one epigram of Thucydides calls it-she is reverenced above all deities, chief guardian of the most wondrous community of the world. Above the most magnificent gallery of art which the world has ever seen, because comprising a whole city, her colossal image stands preeminent, carved by Phidias in ivory and gold. The approaching sailor's first glimpse of Athens is the gleaming of the sun's rays from her spear and shield. This is because her sacred olive-plant sprang from the earth when the first stone of the infant settlement was laid, [277] and now the city and its name and its glory must be hers.

And such renown is indeed her birthright. Born without a mother, directly from tie brain of Zeus,--to bring her as near as possible to the creative intellect,she inherits, beyond all others, that attribute. She retains the privilege of that sublime cradle, and, whenever she bows her head, it is as if Zeus had nodded,--a privilege which he has given to her alone. That is ratified to which Pallas hath bowed assent, says Callimachus.2 Yet while thus falling but one degree below omnipotence, she possesses a beauty which is beyond that of Aphrodite. If the cowherd Alexander (Paris) judges otherwise, it is merely the taste of a cowherd, as the epigram of Hermodorus fearlessly declares.

The busts of Athena seem always grave and sweet; never domineering, like those of Artemis, nor languishing, like those of Aphrodite. They are known from all others by the length of the hair, whence the Greek oath, “by the tresses of Athena.” In the descriptions, she alone is blue-eyed, to show that she dwells above all clouds, while even the auburn-haired Aphrodite, in the Iliad, has large black eyes. She is more heavily armed than the fleet-footed Artemis, and sometimes, for added protection, there are serpents clinging to her robe, while a dragon watches at her feet. This is the Greek Athena, transformed in Rome to a prosaic Minerva, infinitely useful and practical, teaching the mechanic arts, and the unwearied patroness of schoolmasters.

But Athena's maiden meditation is simply one stage in a woman's life, not its completion. It is the intellectual [278] blossoming of existence, for man or woman, this earlier epoch, “unvowed as yet to family or state.” But a career that seeks completeness pauses not here. When love touches and transforms the destiny, what then?

Then comes the reign of Aphrodite, the beautiful, the wronged. Wronged, because human coarseness cannot keep up to the conceptions of the celestial Venus, but degrades her into a French lorette, and fills storybooks with her levities. How unlike this are the conceptions of Plato, whose philosophy has been called “a mediation of love.” Love, according to him, first taught the arts to mankind,--arts of existence, arts of wisdom. Love inspires self-sacrifice; he who loves will die for another.

“Love,” he says, in his Banquet,3 “is peace and goodwill among men, calm upon the waters, repose and stillness in the storm, the balm of sleep in sadness. Before love all harsh passions flee away. Love is author of soft affections, destroyer of ungentle thoughts, merciful and mild, the admiration of the wise, the delight of the gods. Love divests us of all alienation from each other, and fills our vacant hearts with overflowing sympathy. Love is the valued treasure of the fortunate and desired by the unhappy (therefore unhappy because they possess not love); the parent of grace, of gentleness, of delicacy; a cherisher of all that is good, but guileless as to evil; in labor and in fear, in longings of the affection or in soarings of the reason, our best pilot, confederate, supporter, and savior; ornament and governor of all things human and divine; the best, the loveliest, whom every one should follow with songs of exultation, uniting in the divine harmony with which love forever soothes the mind of men and gods.” [279]

Now love is Aphrodite, either represented by the goddess herself or by her son and viceregent, who seems almost identified with herself; “Naetait autre que la deesse elle-meme, douee du sexe masculin,” as Émeric-David well states it. “Love,” says Empedocles, in that great philosophical poem of which fragments only remain, “is not discoverable by the eye, but only by intellect; its elements are indeed innate in our mortal constitution, and we give it the names of Joy and Aphrodite; but in its highest universality no mortal hath fully comprehended it.”

Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Harmonia, according to some legends; while, according to others, Harmonia is her daughter by Ares, and the mother of Aphrodite is the child of Heaven and Earth. She is usually seen naked, unlike every other goddess save Artemis. Yet Praxiteles represented her veiled at Cos; others armed her as Venus Victrix; Phidias carved her in ivory and gold, her feet resting on a tortoise, as if to imply deliberation, not heedlessness. The conscious look of the Venus dea Medici implies modesty, since she is supposed to be standing before Paris with Hera and Athena. In Homer's hymn to her she is described as ordinarily cold and unimpressable, and only guiding others to love, till Zeus, by his sovereign interference, makes her mind to wander and she loves a mortal man. And though she regards Anchises simply as her husband, and calls herself his wedded wife, yet she is saddened by the thought of her fall, as much as Artemis when she loves Endymion. This is Homer when serious; but the story of her intrigue with Ares he puts into the mouth of a wandering minstrel in the Odyssey, as a relief from graver song, and half disavows it, as if knowing its irreverence. [280]

The true Aphrodite is to be sought in the hymns of Homer, Orpheus, and Proclus. The last invokes her as yet a virgin.4 It is essential to her very power that she should have the provocation of modesty. She represents that passion which is the basis of purity, for the author of Ecce Homo admirably says, that “No heart is pure which is not passionate.” Accordingly, married love is as sacred to Aphrodite as the virgin condition; 5 if she misleads, it is through sincere passion, not frivolity. No cruelty comes where she dwells; no animal sacrifices are offered her, but only wreaths of flowers; and the month of April, when the earth stirs again into life, is her sacred time.

But love legitimately reaches its fulfilment in marriage. After Aphrodite comes Hera (the Roman Juno), who, in the oldest mythology, is simply the wife of Zeus (or Jupiter), and the type and protector of marriage. Her espousals are represented at the festivals as the Sacred Marriage. 6 She must be the twin sister of Zeus, as well as his wife, that there may be a more perfect equality, and their union for the same reason must be from birth, and, were it possible, before birth. She is the only goddess who is legitimately and truly married, for Aphrodite is but the unwilling wife of Hephaistos, and bears him no children. Hence Hera wears a diadem and a bridal veil; her beauty is of a commanding type, through the large eyes and the imperious smile, as in the “Ludovisi Juno.” Winckelmann says it is impossible to mistake a head of Hera. Athena commands like a princess; Hera, like a queen. Her name is connected with the Aeolic [281] ἔρροω, which signifies mastery, and it is identical with the Roman hera, or mistress.

But with all this effort to make her equal in rank to her husband, it is still the equality of a queen, superior to all except her spouse, and yielding to him. The highest gods reverence Hera, but she reveres Zeus. His domestic relations, therefore, are a despotism tempered by scolding. The divine husband, having the essential power, is the more amiable of the wedded pair. Zeus, in Homer, cannot comprehend why his wife should so hate the Trojans, but he lets her have.her way against his own preference. If he consults others without her knowledge, she censures him. When he avows his purpose in the very council of the gods, she reviles him, and says, “Do so, but we the other gods do not approve” ; and he says to her, presently, “Do as thou wilt, lest this contention be in future a great strife between thee and me.” It seems a doubtful state of discipline. But if we will deify marriage, we must take the consequences.

Still there is a prevailing grandeur and dignity in their relation. Margaret Fuller, whose writings show so fine an instinct for the Greek symbolism, points out that on antique gems and bas-reliefs, in the meetings between god and goddess, “they rather offer to one another the full flower of being than grow together. As in the figures before me, Jupiter, king of gods and men, meets Juno, the sister and queen, not as a chivalric suppliant, but as a stately claimant, and she, crowned, pure, majestic, holds the veil aside to reveal herself to her august spouse.”

Accordingly, when Zeus embraces Hera on Mount Ida, clothed in fascinations like those of Aphrodite, all nature is hushed, in Homer's description; the contending armies are still; before this sublime union, these tokens of reverence [282] are fitting. The union of husband and wife-a thing of levity or coarseness on common lips — is transferred by Homer to a scene where all the solemnities of earth and air become but tributary to the divine meeting. And thus the symbols of the Holy Marriage interweave themselves with the associations and practices of the nation, and secure a religious dignity for the institution in the Greek mind.

But woman's career is incomplete even as a wife; she must also be a mother. Then comes before us the great mystical and maternal deity of Greece, Demeter of the Eleusinian mysteries, the Roman Ceres. Her very name signifies “mother,” probably γῆ μήτηρ, Mother Earth. Euripides says, in his Bacchanals, that the Greeks honor chiefly two deities,one being Demeter (who is the Earth, he says, if you prefer to call her so), and the other the son of Semele. Demeter is, like Hera, both sister and in a manner wife of Zeus, to bring her into equality with him. Yet she is a virgin, even when she bears a child, Persephone or Proserpine. In a sense this maiden is the child of Zeus, but not in a mortal manner,--by an ineffable conception,7 says the Orphic Hymn.

All Demeter's existence is concentrated on this motherhood. She feeds the human race, but when she is deprived of her daughter, she stops the course of the seasons for one year, till the beloved be restored. Nor is there for a time any change even after her daughter's return, until Zeus sends Demneter's own mother to persuade her, thus controlling the might of motherhood by motherhood alone. She thus goes through suffering to glory, and Grote well names her the Mater Dolorosa of Greece. [283]

As this reverence of Demeter for her own mother carries the sacredness of maternity a generation further back, so it is carried a generation further forward by the refusal of Persephone to return permanently to the upper world. Having eaten pomegranate seeds, the legend says, she will go back to her husband. But the pomegranate is the symbol of the felicities of marriage, and its promise of offspring. Thus on every side it is maternity which is canonized in the myth of Demeter, and the concentration on this of every quality of her nature makes her stand the immortal representative of woman as mother. This is the central symbol of the Eleusinian mysteries, ranking first among the religious ceremonials of Greece. The Mother and Daughter, on Athenian lips, mean always Demeter and Persephone; and through them this relation is glorified, as wifehood becomes sublime in Hera, love in Aphrodite, and maidenhood, active or contemplative, in Artemis and Athena.

But besides these five attitudes of woman as girl, maiden, lover, wife, and mother, there must be finally one which shall comprise all of these, and may outlast them all. Hestia, or Vesta, is the sister of Zeus, but not his wife like Hera, nor his symbolical mistress like Demeter; nay, when sought in marriage by Phoebus and Poseidon, she has sworn by the head of Zeus to be a virgin forever. She represents woman as queen of home. Houses are her invention. No separate temple is built to her, for every hearth is her altar; no special sacrifices are offered, for she has the first share of every sacrifice. Every time the household meets before the hearth, she is named, and the meal becomes thereby an act of worship. Every in-door oath must be sworn by her. The worst criminal who enters the house and touches the hearth is sacred for her sake. [284]

On the eighth day of the Greek baby's life comes its baptism before Hestia, not with water but with fire,the ceremony of the Amphidromia, when the nurse and all the women of the house bear the little one to the hearth. Laying aside their clothing,--because this is the intimate domestic ritual, when body and soul are consecrated in their uncovered purity,--they pass in procession round the central flame, and thenceforth Hestia is the protectress of the child.

And observe how beautifully this sublime protection of the hearth is spread yet further. As the city itself is but an extended family, so the city also has its sacred hearth, where the public fire is kept burning, and the public suppliants come. The fugitive entering the town comes here for safety, and is unmolested. Foreign ambassadors are here met and greeted by the magistrates. If a colony goes forth, the emigrants take coals from the public hearth of the town they leave. Hestia's fire must never go out; if it does, it must only be rekindled from the sun.

Thus in Greece, as in Rome afterwards, the vestal virgins must be — viewed as guarding the central sacredness of the state. Hence the fearful penalty on their misdeeds, and the vast powers they hold. So incarnated in them is the power of the hearth that they bear it with them, and if they meet a criminal, he must be set free. I know no symbol of the power of a sublime womanhood like that,--the assumption that vice cannot live in its presence, but is transformed to virtue. Could any woman once be lifted to a realizing sense of power like that, she might willingly accept the accompanying penalty of transgression. She never would transgress.

Here, then, we have the six primary goddesses of the Greek mythology. It will be said that, even according [285] to the highest poetic treatment, these deities had their imperfections. Certainly; this was their crowning merit, for it made them persons, and not mere abstractions. Their traits were all in keeping; their faults belonged to their temperaments. Doubtless these characters grew up in the early fancy of that people as fictitious characters grow up in the mind of a novelist; after a little while they get beyond his control, take their destiny into their own hands, and if he tries to make them monotonously faultless, they rebel. So that wondrous artist we call the Greek nation found itself overmastered by the vivid personality of these creations of its own. It was absolutely obliged to give Hera, the wife, her jealous imperiousness, and Artemis, the maid, her cruel chastity. Zeus and Actaeon were the sufferers, because consistency and nature willed it so, and refused to omit these slight excesses. So Athena, the virgin, must be a shade too cold, and Aphrodite, the lover, several shades too warm, that there may be reality and human interest. Demeter, the mother, will sacrifice the whole human race for her child; and even Hestia is pitiless to those who profane the sacred altar of home. Each of these qualities is the stamp of nature upon the goddess, holding fast the ideal, lest it recede beyond human ken.

So perfect was this prism of feminine existence, it comprised every primary color. So well did this series of divinities cover all the functions of womanly life, that none could fail of finding her tutelary goddess in some shrine. An imaginative Greek girl had not an epoch nor an instant that was not ennobled. Every act of her existence was glorified in some temple; every dream of her silent hours took garlands and singing robes around it. In her yet childish freedom she was Artemis; “in [286] maiden meditation, fancy free,” she was Athena; when fancy-bound, she was Aphrodite; when her life was bound in wedlock, she was Hera; when enriched by motherhood, she became Demeter, and she was thenceforth the Hestia of her own home, at least. Her life was like a revolving urn, upon which she could always see one great symbolic image sculptured, though each in its turn gave way to another.

And this influence was enhanced by the actual participation of Greek women in the ceremonies of religion, when conducted upon a scale that our modern imaginations can hardly reproduce. The little five-year-old maids, yellow-clad, who chanted lines from Homer at the festival of Artemis Brauronia; the virgins who from seven to eleven dwelt on the rock of the Acropolis, and wove the sacred garment of Athena, themselves robed in white, with ornaments of gold; the flower-wreathed girls who bore baskets through the streets at the Panathensea; the matrons who directed the festival of Hera at Elis; the maidens who ran in that sacred race, knowing that the victor's portrait would be dedicated in the temple; the high-priestess of Hera at Argos, from whose accession the citizens dated their calendar of years; the priestesses of Demeter, who alone of all women might attend the Olympic games; all these saw womanhood deified in their goddesses and dignified in themselves. The vast religious ceremonial appealed alike to the high-born maidens who ministered at the altars, and to the peasant-girls through whom the oracles spoke. Every range of condition and of culture might be comprised among the hundreds who assembled before daybreak to bathe the image of Pallas in the sacred river, or the thousands who walked with consecrated feet in the long procession to [287] Eleusis. In individual cases, the service brought out such noble virtue as that of the priestess Theano, who, when Alcibiades was exiled from Athens and was sentenced to be cursed by all who served at the altar, alone refused to obey, saying that she was consecrated to bless and not to curse. But even among the mass of Greek women, where so much time was spent in sharing or observing this ritual of worship, life must have taken some element of elevation through contact with the great ideal women of the sky.

We cannot now know, but can only conjecture, how far the same religious influence inspired those Greek women who, in more secular spheres of duty, left their names on their country's records. When Corinna defeated Pindar in competing for the poetic prize; when Helen of Alexandria painted her great historic picture, consecrated in the Temple of Peace; when the daughter of Thucydides aided or completed her father's great literary work; when the Athenian Agnodice studied medicine, disguised as a man, and practised it as a man, and was prosecuted as a seducer, and then, revealing her sex, was prosecuted for her deception, till the chief women of Athens appeared in her behalf and secured for their sex the right to be physicians; when Telesilla of Argos roused her country-women to defend the walls against the Spartans, the men having lost courage,--after which, in a commemorative festival, the women appeared in male attire and the men came forth veiled;--all these women but put in action the lessons of aspiration which they had learned in the temples. This inspiration derived by womanly genius from its deity is finely recognized by Antipater of Thessalonica in that fine epigram where he enumerates the nine poetesses of Greece, calls them “artists of immortal [288] works,” and grandly characterizes them as “women who spoke like gods in their hymns.” 8

I do not propose to go further, and discuss the actual condition of the average Greek woman. That would demand an essay by itself. You may place the actual condition of any class very high or very low if you look at it two thousand years after, and select all the facts either on the favorable or on the unfavorable side. Yet this is what St. John and Becker, for instance, in writing of the Greek women, have respectively done. I can honestly say that all modern literature and art taken together seem to me to have paid to woman no tribute so reverential as in the worship of the great ideals I have named. But in actual life it must be owned that there seems to have been the same strange mingling of delicate courtesy and of gross contempt for woman which marks our society to-day. Margaret Fuller, whose opinion on this subject was worth more than that of any other woman in America, or than that of most men, went further and wrote: “Certainly the Greeks knew more of real home intercourse and more of woman than the Americans. It is in vain to tell me of outward observances. The poets, the sculptors, always tell the truth.”

And there is undoubtedly much in the more serious Greek literature which may be quoted to sustain this assertion. There is a remarkable passage of Plato, in which he says that children may find comedy more agreeable, but educated women 9 and youths and the majority of mankind prefer tragedy. This distinctly recognizes [289] intellectual culture as an element in the female society around him (since such a remark could hardly be made, for instance, in Turkey); and the Diotima of his Banquet represents, in the noblest way, the inspirational element in woman.

So Homer often recognizes the intelligence or judgment10 of his heroines. Narrating the events of a semi-barbarous epoch, when woman was the prize of the strongest, he yet concedes to her a dignity and courtesy far more genuine than are shown in the medieval romances, for instance, in which the reverence seldom outlasts marriage. Every eminent woman, as viewed by Homer, partakes of the divine nature. The maiden is to be approached with reverence for her virgin purity; the wife has her rightful place in the home. When Odysseus, in his destitution, takes refuge with Nausicaa's parents, the princess warns him to kneel at her mother's feet, not her father's, the mother being the central figure. Perhaps the crowning instance of this recognized dignity is in the position occupied by Helen after her return to her husband's house, when the storm of the war she excited has died away. There is a singular modernness and domesticity about this well-known scene, though the dignity and influence assigned to the repentant wife are perhaps more than modern. In the Fourth Book of the Odyssey the young Telemachus visits King Menelaus, to inquire as to the fate of his own father, Odysseus. While they are conversing, Helen enters,--the beauty of the world, and the source of its greatest ills. She comes dignified, graceful, honored,--shall I say, like a modern wife?-and joins unbidden in the conversation.

While he pondered these things in his thoughts and [290] in his mind, forth from the fragrant and lofty chamber came Helen, like Artemis of the golden distaff. For her Adrasta immediately placed a well-made seat, and Alcippe brought tapestry of soft wool, and Phylo brought a silver basket, ... the lips finished with gold,.... filled with well-dressed thread; and upon it the distaff was stretched, containing violet-colored wool. And she sat on the seat, and the footstool was beneath her feet, and she straightway inquired everything of her husband with words.

“ Do we know, O thou heavenly nurtured Menelaus, what men these are who take refuge in our house? Shall I be saying falsely or speak the truth? Yet my mind exhorts me. I say that I have never seen any man or woman so like (reverence possesses me as I behold him) as he is like unto Telemachus, the son of magnanimous Odysseus, whom that man left an infant in his house, when ye Grecians came to Troy on account of me immodest, waging fierce war.” Her answering, said auburn-haired Menelaus, “ So now I too am thinking, my wife, as thou dost conjecture.”

What a quiet sagacity she shows, and what a position of accustomed equality! So the interview goes on, till the hostess finally mixes them something good to drink, and then they go to rest, and there in a recess of the lofty house “lies long-robed Helen, a divine one among women!”

The same stateliness of tone, with finer spiritual touches, may be found throughout the Greek tragedies. The Alcestis and Antigone are world-renowned delineations of noble and tender womanhood, and there are many companion pictures. I know not where in literature to look for a lovelier touch of feminine feeling,--a trait more unlike those portrayed by Thackeray, for instance,--than in [291] the Deianira of Sophocles (in the Trachiniae), who receives with abundant compassion the female slaves sent home by Hercules, resolves that no added pain shall come to them from her, and even when she discovers one of them to be the beloved mistress of her husband, still forgives the girl, in the agony of her own grief. “I pity her most of all,” she says, “because her own beauty has blasted her life, ruined her nation, and made her a slave.”

Why is Euripides so often described as a hater of women? So far as I can see, he only puts emotions of hatred into the hearts of individuals who have been ill-used by them, and perhaps deserved it, while his own pictures of womanhood, from Alcestis downward, show the finest touches of appreciation. Iphigenia refuses to be saved from the sacrifice, and insists on dying for her country; and Achilles, who would fain save and wed her, says: “I deem Greece happy in thee, and thee in Greece; nobly hast thou spoken.” In the Troades, Hecuba warns Menelaus that, if Helen is allowed on the same ship with him, she will disarm his vengeance; he disputes it and she answers, “t e is no lover who not always loves.” What a recognition is there of the power of a woman to inspire a passion that shall outlast years and even crime! In the Electra, where the high-souled princess is given in unwilling marriage to a peasant, he treats her with the most delicate respect, and she dwells in his hut as his virgin sister, so that she says to him, “Thee equal to the gods I deem my friend.” And with such profound reverence is every priestess regarded throughout his plays, that a brother is severely rebuked, in one case, for treating with fraternal familiarity a woman so august.

Another proof of the delicate appreciation of womanhood among the Greeks is to be found in the exquisite [292] texture of their love-poems,--a treasury from which all later bards have borrowed. Even the prose of the obscure Philostratus gave Ben Jonson nearly every thought and expression in his “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” 11 And if, following Ben Jonson, we wish to know what man can say “in a little,” we must seek it in such poems as this by Plato, preserved in the Anthology:--

“My star, upon the stars thou gazest. Would that I were heaven, that on thee I might look with many eyes!”

Or this by Julian, on a picture:--

“ The painter [depicts] Theodota herself. Had he but failed in his art, and given forgetfulness to her mourners!” 12

Or this other picture-song by Paulus Silentiaris:--

“The pencil has scarce missed [the beauty of] the maiden's eyes, or her hair, or the consummate splendor of her bloom. If any one can paint flickering sunbeams, he can paint also the flickering [beauty of] Theodorias.” 13

Or this garland of Rufinus :--

“I send you, Rhodoclea, this garland, having woven it with my own hands of lovely flowers. There is a lily, and a rose-bud, and the damp anemone, and moist narcissus, and violet with dark blue eyes. But do you, enwreathed with them, unlearn pride, for both you and the garland are in blossom and must fade.” 14 [293]

We must remember that, as Grote has well said, all we know of the Greeks is so much saved from a wrecked vessel; and while greater and rarer things are brought on shore, the myriad of small and common things are gone. It is only in the little poems of the Anthology that we unveil, as in a Pompeian house, the familiar aspects of domestic life. There the husband addresses his wife, the son his mother; and home traits and simple joys are recorded. There we find portrayed the intellect, there the heart, of the Greek woman. “Melissias denies her love, and yet her body cries out, as if it had received a quiver full of arrows; unsteady is her gait, unsteady her panting breath, and hollow are the sinkings of her eyelids.” Or, “I lament for the maiden Antibia, for whom many suitors came to her father's house, through the renown of her beauty and intelligence,15 but destructive fate has rolled away their hopes far from all.”

Perhaps nothing among these poems gives so naive and delicate a glimpse of Greek maidenhood as this inscription from a votive offering in the temple of Artemis, where brides were wont to offer their childish toys at the approach of their nuptials. It is one of the vast mass of anonymous poems in the Anthology:--

Timarete, before her marriage, has offered to Artemis her tambourine, and her .precious ball, and her net that protected her locks, and her dolls and her dolls' dresses, as is fitting for a virgin to a virgin, O Limnatis! And do thou, daughter of Latona, place thy hand over the girl Timarete, and preserve holily her who is holy.” 16

Think of the open grossness of English epithalamiums [294] down almost to the present day, and of the smooth sensualities of French literature; and then consider the calm, strong sweetness of that prayer for this childish bride,--“Preserve holily her who is holy.” Are the bridals of Trinity Church such an advance beyond the temple of Artemis?

At any rate, the final result of Greek worship was this. In its temples the sexes stood equal, goddess was as sublime as god, priestess the peer of priest; there was every influence to ennoble a woman's ideal of womanhood so long as her worship lasted, and nothing to discourage her from the most consecrated career. In Protestant Christian churches, on the other hand, the representations of Deity are all masculine, the Mediator masculine, the evangelists, the apostles, the Church fathers, all masculine; so are the ministers and the deacons; even the old-time deaconess, sole representative of the ancient priestess, is gone; nothing feminine is left but the worshippers, and they indeed are feminine, three to one.

The Roman Catholic Church, with more wisdom of adaptation, has kept one goddess from the Greek; and the transformed Demeter, with her miraculously born child, which is now become masculine, presides over every altar. Softened and beautified from the elder image, it is still the same,--the same indeed with all the mythologic mothers, with the Maternal Goddess who sits, with a glory round her head and a babe on her bosom, in every Buddhist house in China, or with Isis who yet nurses Horus on the monuments of Egypt. As far as history can tell, this group first appeared in Christian art when used as a symbol, in the Nestorian controversy, by Cyril, who had spent most of his life in Egypt. Nestorius [295] was condemned in the fifth century, for asserting Mary to be the mother of the human nature of Jesus, and not also of the divine; and it was at this time that the images of the Virgin and Child were multiplied, to protest against the heretic who had the minority of votes. After all, Christian ritualism is but a palimpsest, and if we go an inch below the surface anywhere, there is some elder sanctity of Greece or Rome. I remember how this first flashed upon me, when I saw, in a photograph of the Pantheon, the whole soul of the ancient faith in the words, “Deo: Opt: Max” : and again, when in the first Roman Catholic procession I ever saw, a great banner came flapping round the windy corner with only the inscription “S. P. Q. R.” The phrase under which ancient Rome subdued the world still lingers in those borrowed initials, and the Church takes its goddess, like its banner, at second-hand.

If we set aside its queen, the Church has added no new image. Martyrs are abundant in every faith, and saint and sibyl add but a few softer touches to the antique. Mary Magdalene is really the sole modern figure, and she has not an ideal interest, but one that is philanthropic alone. Her presence in art asserts the modern spirit, and perhaps marks an era in history. Far be it from me to deny its value. Yet if we are looking for the very highest, it cannot be found in the fallen; and if we must lose either from the temple, we can better spare the suppliant than the goddess.

And save in depicting this attribute of humility or contrition, modern literature, at least since Petrarch, seems to me singularly wanting in grand pictures of ideal womanhood. Spenser's impersonations, while pure and high, are vague and impalpable. Shakespeare's women [296] seem at best far inferior, in compass and variety, to Shakespeare's men; and if Ruskin glorifies them sublimely on the one side, Thackeray on the other side professes to find in them the justification of his own. Goethe paints carefully a few varieties, avoiding the largest and noblest types. . Where among all these delineations is there a woman who walks the earth like a goddess? Where is the incessu patuit dea or Homer's δῖα γυναικῶν? Among recent writers, George Sand alone has dared even to attempt such a thing; she tries it in Consuelo, and before the divinity has got her wings full-grown, she is enveloped, goddess-like, in the most bewildering clouds.

Perhaps it is precisely because these high ideals were so early reached, that it is now found hard to do more than reproduce them. As no sculptor can produce more than a Greek profile, so no poet has yet produced more than a Greek woman. Modern life has not aimed to elevate the ideal, but the average. Common intelligence spread more widely, sweetness and purity protected, more respect for the humblest woman as woman, less faith in the sibyl and the saint,--this is modern life.

In the Middle Ages there were glimpses of a new creation. Raphael painted, Dante sang, something that promised more than Greece gave; but it came to nothing. Superstition was in the way; the new woman did not get herself disentangled from a false mythology and an unnatural asceticism, and was never fairly born. Art could not join what God had put asunder; the maid-mother was after all an image less noble than maid or mother separately. That path is closed; I rejoice that we can have no more Madonnas; we have come back to nature and are safe beneath its eternal laws. There is [297] no fear for the future; eternities stretch out that way, and only centuries the other.

That wonderful old mythology is gone; that great race shed it, lightly as leaves in autumn, and went its way. These names of Hera and Aphrodite are but autumn leaves which I have caught in my hands, to show the red tints that still linger on their surface; they have lasted long, but who knows how soon they will be faded and forgotten? Yet not till the world is rich enough to have a race more ideal than the Greeks will there be another harvest of anything so beautiful to the imagination. Nature is the same; the soil of Attica was as barren as that of Massachusetts. The life of man has grown more practical, more judicious, more sensitive to wrong, more comprehensive in sympathy; common sense has been the gainer, so has common virtue; it is only the ideal that has grown tame.

We are laying the foundations of a grander temple, I trust, than any of which the Greeks ever dreamed, and we toil among the dust and rubbish, waiting for the goddess and the shrine. Nothing shall drive me from the belief that there is arising in America, amid all our frivolities, a type of virgin womanhood, new in history, undescribed in fiction, from which there may proceed, in generations yet to come, a priesthood more tender, a majesty more pure and grand, than anything which poet ever sang or temple enthroned. Through tears and smiles, through the blessed cares that have trained the heart of womanhood in all ages, but also through a culture such as no other age has offered, through the exercise of rights never before conceded, of duties never yet imposed, will this heroic sisterhood be reared. Joining the unforgotten visions of Greek sublimity with the [298] meeker graces of Christian tradition, there may yet be noblerforms, that shall eclipse those “fair humanities of old religion” ; as, when classic architecture had reached perfection, there rose the Gothic, and made the Greek seem cold. 17 [299] [300]

1 Ἑλλάδος Ἑλλάς. Brunck, Analecta II. 236.

2 τὸ δ᾽ἐντελὲς κ᾽ ἐπινεύσῇ Παλλάς. Callimi., Hymn V. 131, 132.

3 Mackay's translation.

4 Βασιληίδα κουραφροδίτην Proclus, Hymn 3. 1.

5 Ἀφροδίτη γάμου πλοκαῖς ἥδεται. Tatian,Orat. contra Graecos, c. 8.

6 Ἱερὸς γάμος.

7 ἄρρήτηοισι γοναῖς. Hymn 29.7.

8 θεογλῴσσους γυναῖκας ὕμνοις.

9 αἵ τε πεπαιδευμέναι τῶν γυναικῶν,--rendered by Ficinus mulieres eruditae. Plato, de Leg., Book II. p. 791, ed. 1602. Compare Book VII. p. 898, same edition.

10 φρένες.

11 ἐμοὶ δὲ μόνοις πρόπινε τοῖς ὄμμασιν. Philostratus, Letter 24. The parallel passages may be found in Cumberland's Observer, No. 74, where they were first pointed out.

12 Λήθην δῶκεν ὀδυρομένοις. Brunck's Analecta, 2.502.

13 μαρμαρυγὴν Θεοδωριάδος. Brunck, 3.90.

14 ἀνθεῖς καὶ λήγεις καὶ σὺ καὶ στέφανος. Brunck, II. 394.

15 πινυτᾶτος. Brunck, I. 201. The other poem, II. 395.

16 σώζοις τὰν ὁσίαν ὅσίως. Brunck, III. 173.

17 Note.--The Paris Revue Britannique of October, 1865. contained a translation of this essay, under the title of Lea Deesses Grecques, in which occurred some amusing variations. For instance, the mild satire of the sentence, “Their genealogies have been discussed, as if they lived in Boston or Philadelphia,” underwent this European adaptation:--“Leur genealogie a éte discutee comme celle des nobles dames de la societe moderne en Angleterre et en France pourrait laetre dans un college heraldique.”

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