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AN OLD WORLD STORY., Issue 15668, 5 December 1914
AN OLD WORLD STORY.
Thus speaks to idly scoffing youth The wisdom from experience wrung; No tale that men have loved and sung But has its meaning and its truth. Tin: weather has certainly been unseasonable of late. After a long spell of drought we have had a period of cold, very detrimental to all kinds of vegetation. It is a backward spring. In this changeable climate, however, even in the worst of seasons, there are fine days wedged in among the bad ones, and there have net been wanting some forenoons at least of warm, genial sunshine. It was our good fortune one such morning to have a holiday —a whole forenoon of leisure to spend as wo would. There is no boon like it in a busy man’s life. Wo slipped into our old togs and took the hoe into the garden. In the worst of seasons the weeds grow, and it is never so had hut wo sow our seeds and plant out our seedlings hopefully. To make of gardening a toil is folly ; we smile at our neighbor through the fence who labors and sweats over it. The art of enjoying it is to take it leisurely, stopping to look at things from time to time, and musing and dreaming while you work your implements. Was it not Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote enthusiastically of the tranquil delight, of plying the hoe? Wo spent some peaceful hours pottering about our little plot, stopping just in time to have a bath and dress for lunch. But os good luck woiM have it—all luck is good if you take it the right way—lunch was a few minutes late. Wo wandered into our den, picked up the first book that lay to our hand, opened it at random, and read what our eye lighted upon. And that is how we came to recall, with new interest, an Old World Story. ■¥r * vp # *lf * The book was the Golden Treasury selection of Matthew Arnold's poems. It opened at page 153. The poem was ‘Cadmus and llarmonia.’ It is a gem; throe stanzas of perfect music, which throw the memory back over all tho tragic sorrows of that faithful pair, and at tho same time soothe the spirit with tho sense of tho infinite peace to which their woe-worn souls arrived at last. Far, far from here The Adriatic breaks in a wai’m bay Among the green Illyrian hills: and there The sunshine in the happy glens is fair. And by the sea and in the brakes Tho grass is cool. And in those pleasant scenes dwell Cadmus and llarmonia; in changed forms, it is true, but no longer vexed with grief, in breathless quiet alter all their ills. Let us tell the tale. * * * * * * * Cadmus tamo out of the cast, and, journeying, reached Bocotia. It was there he wooed and won Harmonin. The gods themselves graced tho marriage, with their presence, and at the banquet all the muses sang. Was not the. bride, herself a daughter of Olympus, her mother Venus, tier father Mats? For a season ail went well. Peace, joy, happiness, tho fruits of mutual faith and love, abounded in that Theban home. But, alas! behind the prosperity and felicity which mortals envied there lurked dread threaten mgs of evil, unsuspected, not to be evaded. Venus, be it remembered, was the lawful spouse of Vulcan, .She had been wandering when she got Hannania by Mars. Vulcan was indeed sorely tried by her irregularities. This time ho resolved to be avenged. But how often does vengeance miss tho guilty and light full-weighted on the innocent*! To punish the mother Vulcan presented to the daughter a garment in which were interwoven all manner of curses and crimes. The issue was delayed for a season, the curses lay dormant till Ilarmonia's daughters grew to womanhood; then, for her mother’s sin, llarmonia was tortured through her children's woes. There were four daughters, and all of them wedded, but to be overwhelmed with sorrow. Ino, the eldest, was jealous of her step-chil-dren ; whereupon her husband, in mad fury, slew her own hoy, drove her and her girl out. of doors, and hounded them into the sea. Agave had a son named Pentheus, whom she loved; but questions of religion rose between them, and she headed the persecution in which he was torn asunder. Autonce was the mother of Actacon, whose misfortunes, and nob any ill that he had done, wrought his tragic death. And, lastly, Sc mole, presumptuous as she was wanton, perished in the flames of a god’s wrath. *******
It may all t.irrn to re a confused and idle story, mere my I It and legend and tradition. It is legend, tradition, if you will, but for that reason the more to lie given heed to. Those stories of Cadmus and Harmonia and their unhappy daughters were dear to ancient Greece. They wore not invented by the poets in whose pages wo dm! them written. They were handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, long lie fore they were snug by ilesiod and Homer. Mothers told them to their children, wandering minstrels held their audiences spellbound by them in the marketplaces of the cities; boys talked them over at their play, and maidens as they sat beside their looms. But why were they such favorites among the people as to bo thus preserved in tradition for hundreds of years? Why were they not forgotten, as many a tale that is told is forgotten? Because they embodied the observations of thoughtful persons upon life; tiny exemplified principles whi-h hud already been detected in human experience. They were illustrations striking and memorable of the kind of things that men and women saw happening around them in the world. Whether they wore historically true or not mattered little. They wore true in the sense that they portrayed truth, and made vividly clear the working of certain forces which are inherent in the constitution of humanity, and certain hopes which never die out of men's hearts. * :f * * -x- * * All tli.• woes of inn and her sisters were traceable to the infidelities of Venus. That wanton goddess gave her unhappy Vulcan .abundant grounds of complaint, lie. sought to he avenged upon her through her daughter. Hence the curse-laden vestment presented to Harmonia. and hence all the subsequent sorrows. It was in this way that lh> Greek imagination boded forth the truth that Sorrow follows wrong As echo follows song, and that the iniquities of the fathers are visited upon rhe children unto the third and fourth generation. As certain of their own poets have said : Blood for blood and blow for blow - . Thou shale reap as thou dost sow; Age to age with hoary wisdom Speaketh thus to man j And •One base deed, with prolific power, Like its cursed stock, engenders more. Sin cannot be confined to the one who is first guilty ; it goes down through the generations, appearing ever in new forme. Venus’s wnntonncss taints the blood of her descendants, and comes out again in Agave’s bitterness, in Tno’s jealousy, in Scmelc’s doubting and foolhardy spirit. Nor does penalty content itself avith visiting the wrongdoer. The innocent suffer for the guilty. Hannouia, wracked with grief for the sins and sorrows of her children, knows infinitely more of anguish than Venus doer, who caused it all. We recognise the same laws at work. But this is a scientific age. and instead of expressing them in the poetry of legend and tradition are label them' with long and obscure names. We speak of heredity, of original sin and vicarious suffering. We have made no new discoveries. We have not grasped the laws end principles which those names represent one whit more ile-ulv. or seen a hairbreadth farther into their‘significance, than did the poets and dramatists of Greece thousands of years ~ -J
I In the old Greek story it was told how Cadmus and Hannonia, loaded with grief and infirm with age, retired from Boeotia to Illyria, where "the gods at length had pity upon the n and changed them into serpents. It is of their after life in (ho cool grass and shady groves beside tho warm Adriatic that Matthew Arnold sings: And there, they say, two bright and aged snakes, Who once were Cadmus and Harmonia, Bask in tho glens and on the warm seashore. In breathless quiet, after all their ills. The metamorphosis into snakes does not appeal to us -as a happy consummation. Wo have difficulty in appreciating the blessings of such a fate. But that is because of the ideas which we associate with serpents;, very different from those which the Greek mind contemplated. To im a serpent is a venomous reptile, whose habitat upon the ground makes it doubly dangerous and hateful. The Hebrew story of the Fall of Man is familiar to us, and the serpent represents in our eyes all that is fr*lsc, treacherous, and her tile to man. To call a man a serpent is to suggest that tie is full of evil cunning am! a very devil. AIM his, however, would have amazed an ancient Greek. Ho had no tradition, going hack to Kdcm and man’s first disobedience! to prejudice him against the serpent. To hint the creature suggivted noble thoughts. Ho observed how long it could live without fcc-d; it seemed to he independent of material sustenance—to exist by its own ■will alone, like a god. And so it stood in his eyes as an emblem of the divine. Ho watched it coil itself on the ground in circles—the perfection of all figures —fitting symbols of eternity. So when legend said of the much-enduring heroes of this story that they were changed into two bright and aged snakes, the undollying thought was that at long last they attained to an eternity of godlike peace. They did not end their days In sight of blood ; hut were wrapt, far away, To where the west wind plays. And murmurs of tho Adriatic conic To those untrodden mountain lawns; and there. Placed safely in changed forms, the pair Wholly forget- their first sad life, and home, And all that Theban woe. and s.lrav For ever through the glens, placid and dumb. ******* It is the expression in a poetic age of the hope that springs eternal in the human breast, of a life to come that will be better than the life that now is. 'Che warm Illyrian bay stood to tho Greeks for heaven. The fate of Cadmus and Harmonin seemed big with vague promise for all sorrow.(rind pilgrims through the wilderness of this world. Sorrow cannot last for over, it seemed to say to them ; weeping may endure for a night, but joy, or at least peace, comcth in the morning. It is an ineradicable hope. Sceptics may question it, scoffers may sneer at it, superior persons may shake their heads and call it childish superstition. But there it is, deep-rooted in tho human heart, native io the soul. The Viking dreamed of Valhalla, the Indian of happy hunting fields. The Christian saint saw in vision a city of gold whoso gates were pearls. We. in whom imagination is well-nigh atrophied, may confess our inability to picture to ourselves the blessed condition of the hereafter. But we will not therefore let our hope go. It may or may not be that earth is But the shadow of heaven, and things therein F.ach to each other like, more than on earth is thought. We shall ho content to wait and see. Nor shall anything induce us to give up our faith that To die Is to begin to live. It is to end An old, stale, weary work and to commence A newer and a better.
AN OLD WORLD STORY., Issue 15668, 5 December 1914
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