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Fulgentius, Mythologies

FABIUS PLANCIADES FULGENTIUS was a Latin writer of North Africa who flourished in the late C5th or early C6th AD. He was the author of a number of minor works including the Mythologies (or Mythologiarum libri), a collection of 75 short myths presented as allegories after the manner of the Stoic and Neoplatonist philosophers, with the use of fanciful name etymologies. His writings offer little in the way of any genuine classical mythology. However, because of his popularity during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, his work is useful in the interpretation of mythological allegory used by writers and artists of that era.

Fulgentius. Translated by Whitbread, Leslie George. Ohio State University Press.1971.

This volume is no longer in print, but second hand volumes might be obtained through resellers on Amazon.com (click on image right for details). In addition to the translation of the Mythologies of Fulgentius, the volume contains his four others works (including The Exposition of the Content of Virgil according to Moral Philosophy, and On the Thebaid), an comprehensive introduction, copious footnotes, and index of proper names.



0. Prologue
1. Origin of Idols
2. Saturn
3. Jove & Juno
4. Neptune
5. Pluto
6. Cerberus
7. The Furies
8. The Fates
9. The Harpies
10. Proserpine
11. Ceres
12. Apollo
13. The Crow
14. The Laurel
15. The Nine Muses
16. Phaethon
17. Tripod, Arrows & Python
18. Mercury
19. Danaë
20. Ganymede
21. Perseus & the Gorgons
22. Admetus & Alcestis


0. Prologue
1. Judgment of Paris
2. Hercules & Omphale
3. Cacus & Hercules
4. Antaeus & Hercules
5. Teiresias
6. Prometheus
7. Adultery of Venus
8. Ulysses & the Sirens
9. Scylla
10. Midas
11. Minerva & Vulcan
12. Dionysus
13. The Swan & Leda
14. Ixion
15. Tantalus
16. Luna & Endymion


0. Prologue
1. Bellerophon
2. Perdix
3. Actaeon
4. Hero & Leander
5. Berecynthia & Attis
6. Psyche & Cupid
7. Peleus & Thetis
8. Myrrha & Adonis
9. Apollo & Marsyas
10. Orpheus & Eurydice
11. Phineus
12. Alpheus & Arethusa



Although a subject which lacks immediate purpose may produce little real enthusiasm and, where there is no material advantage, may well cease to be pursued for practical reasons (on the ground, that is, that the calamitously wretched state of our times invites no enthusiasm for putting such a subject into words, and ahs only pity for a drudgery which cannot be justified in poetic fame but serves only for personal edification), I now take up a subject the loss of which you may regret, the statement of which you may need or discover to be necessary, and one which in this age of ours it is pointless for those in power to suppress, or our leaders to commandeer, or private individuals to destroy, or the oppressed to bewail.

For you, Master, are accustomed to treating with indulgence those sad dirges of mine so often ridiculed with the kind of satirical pleasantry that Thalia, the Muse of the comedy, flourishing her humor with theatrical epigram, is in the habit of pertly rapping out. Moreover, you will remember, you recently commissioned me to try to soothe your moments of leisure with some agreeable murmuring. For a short space, then, listen while I unfold for you a tale, wrinkled like the furrows of an old woman, which, performing by night lamp and mocking the pretense of sleep, I have just concocted with a salty Attic flavour. In this you will not see a poet seized with frenzy, but you may be diverted by dreamlike nonsense expounding trifles suited to sleep. In these books of mine you will see neither those lamp-light performances of Ovid’s Heroides, in which either the shamlessness of someone like Sulpicia or the exotic feelings of Psyche are revealed, nor what forcibly led Theseus, the husband of Phaedra, into the underground cave or carried off Leander as he swam. It will be such things as those of which our Academic orator Cicero has given a lively account, almost making the sleeping Scipio into a citizen of heaven – but what Cicero achieved in his own Republic may show.

Meanwhile, since the inactivity of rural leisure has committed me to separation from you, Master, and to a kind of exile from city affairs, I could at least avoid those calamitous upheavals of disasters by which public events are endlessly disturbed and think how to secure my rustic ease, so that, remote from the storms and stresses whereby the maelstrom of city life breaks into turbulence, I might devote myself to the calm peace of my little halcyon nest, at rest in the seclusion of a country estate. With the harsh-sounding altercation of conflicts slumbering in the ashes of silence, conflicts in which the barbarian onslaughts had violently disturbed me, I was hopeful of leading a life purified by silence; and yet even there the perverse stab of memories pursued me, and my contrasted state of happiness, which always implants some bitterness in human affairs, shadowed me like a faithful slave. For the tax assessment, producing novel and momentous kinds of impositions, had each day worn down my very doorstep with the feet of those who would accost me, so that, had King Midas been transformed from a human being to pursue riches as he stiffened what he touched into gold, I verily believe I could have dried up the streams of Pactolus itself for the crowds of visitors I mentioned.

Nor was that a sufficient load of miseries. Add to it the aggressive onslaughts which had the very soles of their feet thrust into my house, so that one could not even see the bolts of our doors, blocked as they were with spiders’ webs. For these people had taken control of the estates, as we had done of our houses: we could look out on our crops, but not the benefit of them; it would have been a noble recompense if they had left the places closed for whoever had to remain. But, since for mortal men, evil is never immortal, at last the joy of my lord the king’s return dispelled my fears, as the shadows are split apart by the first rays of the sun upon the earth. After those numbing attacks which brought the rust of war’s restrictions, one could look on the fields and walk round the boundaries. We stepped out in the fashion of sailors whom the longed-for shore has welcomed back after they have been overwhelmed by the violence of storms; and, after our confinement in the house, we not so much stepped out as taught ourselves to walk like outcasts from the surrounding walls. As in that line of Virgil, “Free at last, the stallion gains the open plains,” we gaze upon the fields, in which the footprints of the soldiers, as they call them, still mark our walled paths. And with the fear in our minds not yet erased, we have shuddered at these traces of our enemies; in our memory of them the enemy soldiery had left a legacy of fear.

So in the fashion of the Trojans of Aeneas we pointed out to one another the places where their more evident destructiveness or plundering had left its mark. And so, among the thorny briers of the glades, once kept in order by the hand of the countryman (because of the stoppage and long neglect caused by that fear, the ploughs, a sorry sight and thick with soot, were hung up on the walls; and the necks of the oxen, once fit for hard toil, had now reduced the tough skin of their yoking to a cowlike softness), the neglected land stood with its furrows overgrown and threatened to choke the tops of the olive trees with its thick briers. The wild vine was collecting with its binding, winding, and trailing growth, as if the earth held down by its matted roots would stubbornly refuse the tooth of Triptolemus.

As in this fashion I forced my footsteps across the fields through the advancing thorn and paced through the mounds with their bright and spreading tufts, my enthusiasm for walking began to falter, and eagerness gave place to toil. I turned aside, anticipating the benefit of the shady tree with its interwoven leaves to protect the wanderer from the fiery glances of Phoebus, and in the entwining of its bending branches I gained the shady spot which at its very roots it provided and let me share. Whereupon a certain liveliness of the birds, as with a kind of delicate softness they produced their rapid whistlings through their horny beaks, lured me back to this present task of mine, and the unexpected respite from toil inspired a kind of melodious verse:

Thespian maidens, ye whom, moistened with a foam of sounding spray,
Hippocrene’s draught refreshes, from your mountain come away,
Haste to leave the grassy hillsides, where each dawn the icy dew,
Breath of stars on nights unclouded, lays its drops of sparking blue;
Open wide to me your baskets, filled with flowers and words of song.
All the stream of Tempe carries, flowing grassy slopes among,
Cleansing what the hoof of war-horse struck out, neighing through the air,
All that did the Ascrean shepherd so the heartless rocks declare,
All the riches to be gathered from your emptied treasure-trove,
All that Virgil the Mantuan sang within the shepherd’s grove,
All that Homer the Maeonian laughed at in the frogs’ affray,
All such with its gleaming plectrum may the Arcadian lyre display –
May the wealth of all the ages flow together for my lay.

This with its dedicatory verse, enticed the daughters of Pierus, the Muses, wet with spray from the Gorgonean fountain and weeping in the stream of the winged horse. The maidens had been standing in groups of three, shimmering in their long, gossamerlike robes, amply begirt with ivy; and among them the friendly Calliope, the epic Muse, warming this poor heart of mine with a playful touch of her palm branch, stirred the sweet itch of poetry. At her appearance she was heavyhearted, her negligent hair held by a diadem gleaming with pearls, as she gathered up her bicolored robe to the ankle, I suppose because of her travels and to avoid the flowing hem of such fine-woven material being torn in any way by the prickly swish of the grass. She stood close by me; and, prostrating myself, I worshipped the queen of eloquence, in time past made very familiar to me by the testimony of poets and memorable for the wordy stories I relayed with hands swollen from canings in my first steps at school. But, because it was not clearly apparent to me who she was, I asked why she had come.

She replied, saying: “I am one of the maidens of the group of Mount Helicon, enrolled in the family of Jove; and as a citizen of Athens, I was once welcomed in the councils of the Romans, where I brought forth fresh bushes, the tops of which I might implant among the highest stars, thus bequeathing a legacy of lifelong fame, whereby they might the more readily gain a renowned death. But the inroads of war deprived me of assembling in the citadel of Romulus, and in exile I took up my place of assembly in the city of Alexandria, filling the light hearts of the Greeks with various injections of philosophical notions. After the severities of the Catos, the stern invective of Cicero, and the scholarship of Varro, I indulged my light spirits among the Pellaean peoples with satirical plays, diverted myself with fantastic comedy, delved into serious tragedy, or put together short epigrams. My captivity pleased me, and I am pleased now that the industrious labours of us two should be in holiday mood, for the mind has found things to smile at even among the evils, had it not been that I was shut out by something more cruel than wars, namely the assemblage of Galen, which is linked to almost all the narrow streets of Alexandria, where more surgical hangman’s butcherings could be counted than there were houses. For unless one is presented to that guild, they consign to a violent death whomever they claim Charon will soon have dealings with.”

A pleasant smile ended this speech, and I reached my roof, where she considered making her stay. Then she said: “Do not be afraid to receive the teaching of the Muses in your own home, for I have heard of the custom of barbarians to ban the business of literature in their houses, whereby those who wrote even their own unspoken name with the first shapes of their letters could reckon on a violent interrogation and the torture chamber.”

Then I said: “It is not as `you had heard, but the report was so,’ for `our songs serve as well,’ O Muse, `among the weapons of Mars’ `as to quench one’s thirst from a rivulet of sweet leaping water.’” Then to encourage her friendship all the more, I added this line of Terence: “Once that stamp of man drove a trade, a generation or so ago.” Now, therefore, literature, as . . . its urns pour forth whatever contents in its storehouse of words Helicon possessed to pass on in due succession.

Pleased with my lines, as if she had seen old Homer himself reciting, she smoothed my hair with an encouraging touch of her palm branch, and, stroking my neck more tenderly than was becoming, she said: “Well, Fabius, you are now a new recruit to the sacred rites of Anacreon; and so that nothing may be lacking for my young beginner, receive like praise for your composition and, insofar as my Satire has sprayed you with a wanton dew of words and the allure of love holds you prisoner, give up what you are turning into words as you sleep, and whatever you are pleased to be inscribing on papyrus from the Nile, and take my words into your receptive ears. Nor will there be wanting from your narrative any emotion which you may ask to be wrung from your bowels.”

I replied: “The title of my little work has misled you, noble declaimer. Not through me will the horned adulterer be seized, or the maiden Danaë, deceived by a false shower, be celebrated in verse, as by his own choice ht god Jove showed her wealth and trickled with gold one he had been unable to trick by force. I do not write about the thigh of a young lover fed to the teeth of swine, nor in my little work has youthful wantonness been described under a false guise. I am not concerned with him who creeps about as an adulterer in the plumage of a swan, foisting his eggs on maidens as he pours child-bearing seed into their bodies, or with those lamp-carrying maidens, Hero and Psyche, as one wishing to ramble on about such follies of the poets, as, for instance, that the first of these lamented a light that failed and the second one that was burning, Psyche perishing for seeing and Hero for not seeing. Nor do I tell of the maiden Aricina, deceived by a pretense of virginity when Jove sought her, wishing to be greater than in fact he was. What I wish to do is to expose alterations away form the truth, not obscure what is clear by altering it myself, so that this ancient god may keep on with his neighings and the sun, laying aside the fire of its radiance, prefer to be furrowed with the wrinkles of age rather than with rays; and I look for the true effects of things, whereby, once the fictional invention of lying Greeks has been disposed of, I may infer what allegorical significance one should understand in such matters.”

She replied: “From what source, little man, do you get such a knowledge of ignorance, and gain such a reasoned view of what is little known? For when you seek out what has lain untouched for centuries, you show yourself wisely familiar with what you can scarcely know at all.”

I answered: “If one happens to have at least some knowledge in matters where a degree of ignorance is expected, how much more satisfactory has it been to happen not to have been born to such things, rather than to have been born to them in all their futility. For I consider I have awareness of a new threshold of knowledge denied to you.”

She replied: “If such recondite and mystical matters are to be vigorously studied, the full approval of the authorities must be sought; for no trifling must be pursued, whereby we find ourselves patching up correct styles of verse with some frivolous lines. This labor requires a rhetorical ability, lest the construction of such a wonderful work, once undertaken, be abandoned from its vigorous pursuit and fade away just in the very midst of the effort of inspiration. Therefore, Philosophy and Urania will also be my helpers in determining the work, and this gay girl friend of yours will be in attendance to give you consolation; and when these mystic arts of yours cause you to puff and pant as you labor at them, your Satire will keep you amused.”

I answered: “I implore you, bountiful spirit of generosity, do not by any chance entrust to my own home this Satire of yours, to the love of whom you have long since pronounced me a prisoner. For I have a wife who would be livid with envy because of her, so much sot that, should she discover her in the house acting like my mistress with wanton ways, she would feel herself obliged to send her back to Helicon with her cheeks furrowed with scratches, in such a state that the waters of the Gorgonean stream would be totally inadequate to cleanse her wounds.”

Then shaking with gentle laughter as she struck her thigh two or three times with a blow of her palm branch, she said: “You do not realize, Fulgentius, you uncouth swain of the Muses, how greatly we noble ladies fear satire. Although even lawyers give way under a woman’s flood of words, and schoolteachers do not even mumble, although the orator keeps silent and the auctioneer checks his cries, this is the one thing that does impose some restraint on their ragings – but Petronius’s character Albucia comes to mind. For with this kind of jesting whip hand of Saurea in Plautus is broken, and the wordiness of Sulpicilla in Ausonius is wrecked, and in Sallust that of Sempronia, although Catiline took over with a hoarse piece of song.”

Earth’s territory crossed, and the chill world
Warmed by the chariot-wheels, the charioteer
Loosed his fire-breathing horses, from their necks
Removed the golden reins. Phoebus unyokes
His steeds, as Cynthia prepares her team.
The brother rests the water with his foot
Up whence his sister rose. With starry cloak
Binding the earth, night bids the sky to rest
On dewy wings, while all agleam the moon,
Its two-pronged diadem adorned with stars,
The twin bulls yoked together, mounted up
The fresh-laid sky, and mind-deceiving shapes,
Phantoms in formless guise, soft pallets fill
With lying images –

And, as I can state in very few words, it was night. Having long since forgotten the word night, I was revelling in these lines like a frenzied bard when the lady I had seen before as a guest, making her appearance with a sudden rush, burst roughly into my bedchamber and, to her surprise finding me lying down with my eyes drooping in a gentle sleep, drove in upon me, her face gleaming with a kind of darting and quite magnificent glow – for she was tall beyond the average look of mortal man. Then, her nostrils flaring, she interrupted this display of peaceful rest, and by her violent rattling of the door threw the snorer into confusion. Her maidenly temper advanced towards me, a riot of flowers, bedecked with copious ivy, determined in aspect and with a heavy bundle of insults in her mouth, her ironic eye darting with such penetrating sharpness that it showed even the deeply concealed thoughts of her mind at the writings of a drunken reveller. The two sides of the Muse balanced one another, for on her more stately right side, aided by a certain majesticity, she had displayed pearls of starry whiteness over the top of her exalted brow; a moon-shaped crescent, its points studded with rare gems, held in place her white-tipped diadem, and, covered in an azure robe, she twirled a hollow globe of glass tapering down to a small piece of bone. My eyesight was so stirred by the exalted contemplation of this heavenly vision when, tall as she was and penetrating in her gaze, she had scarcely pushed her thumb at the door. With a delicate withdrawal of one side my elusive companion avoided my human gaze by a half-concealing veil. Her silver hair gleamed white as now, and the frown on her much wrinkled brow betokened that she had learnt something distasteful to her. Her entrance was slow and awesome in its weighty deliberation.

Then Calliope moved to the region of speech, saying: “I promised, Fulgentius, you would be generously treated by these guardian spirits; if you served them devotedly, they would, in one swift seizure, transport you from a mere mortal into a heavenly being, and place you among the stars, not like Nero with his verse eulogies, but like Plato with his deep thoughts. Do not expect from them those devices which are the ornament of poetry, the source of lament in tragedy, the spouting of oratory, the loud laughter of satire, or the jest of comedy, but those by which the bitter brew of Carneades, the golden eloquence of Plato, and the syllogistic brevity of Aristotle are distilled. Now, therefore, once you have absorbed the message in your mind, unlock its recesses and allow what you assimilate to enter your ear tubes; but let fade the whole mortal nature which is yours, so that the full span of what is concentrated to strict philosophical propositions may take up residence in those recesses. Let me now first explain about the nature of the gods, whereby such a plague of sinful superstition grows in foolish minds. Although there are those who, rejecting the noble resources of the intellect, merely let their stupid and dull senses nibble at a tiny morsel and let their sleepy brains grow dizzy in a fog of deep stupidity, yet errors of the human senses are not produced except when motivated by chance forces, as Chrysippus remarks: `Insidious attacks are made by insidious compulsions.’ First, then, now the preamble has been completed, let me explain the origin of an idol.”


The author Diophantus of Sparta wrote fourteen books of antiquities, in which he relates that Syrophanes of Egypt, rich in slaves and possessions, had a son born to him. He was devoted to this son, heir to vast wealth, with an affection beyond words, beyond anything required of a father; and when the son was taken from him by a bitter blow of fate, the announcement of a double bereavement for the father left him cruelly stricken, in that the perpetual support of offspring had been denied him and he had met an unexpected check to the further expanding of his wealth. What use to him now was either his prosperity as a father, now condemned to barrenness, or delightful possessions, now curtailed of succession? Not only should he not possess what he had, but he could not be the one to regain what he had lost. Then, in the grip of grief which always endeavors to relieve its need, he set up an effigy of his son in his household; but when he sought a cure thereby for his grief, he found it rather a renewal of sorrow, for he did not realize that forgetting is the true healer of distress: he had made something whereby he would acquire daily renewals of his grief, not find comfort from it. This is called an idol, that is idos dolu, which in Latin we call appearance of grief. For to flatter their master, the entire household was accustomed to weave garlands or place flowers or burn sweet-smelling herbs before the effigy. Also some slaves guilty of wrongdoing, in order to avoid the wrath of their master, would take refuge by the effigy and so assure forgiveness, and as a sure guarantee of favour would place there little gifts of flowers or incense, rather from fear than veneration. So too Petronius, recalling such practices, says: “Fear on earth first invented gods.” And Mintanor, the musician in the Crumatopoion, the book he wrote on the art of music, speaks of “the god of grief whom the suffering of humanity first fashioned.” Thence, therefore, a deep-rooted error, gradually taken up by human devotees, edged forward into what is a pit of perverse credulity.


The name of the son of Pollus, and the husband of Ops, is Saturn, an elderly man, with his head covered, carrying a scythe. His manhood was cut off and, thrown into the sea, gave birth to Venus. Let us then hear how Philosophy interprets this. She says thus: Saturn first secured dominion in Italy; and seizing people for his harvest prerogative, he was named Saturn, for glutting (saturando). Also his wife is named Ops because she brought help (opem) to the hungry. He is the son of Pollus, either for his heavy strength (pollendo) of from the wealth of high living (pollucibilitate), which we call the human state. Whence Plautus in the comedy Epidicus says: “Drink up, we live as sumptuously (pollucibiliter) as the Greeks.” He is depicted with head covered because all crops with their cover of leaves are protected in a shady enclosure. He is reported as having devoured his own sons because every season devours what it produces; and for good reason he carries a scythe, either because every season turns back on itself like the curved blades of scythes or on account of the crops; whence also he is said to have been castrated, because all the strength of crops is cut down and cast into the fluids of the belly as into the sea, just as Venus is produced from these circumstances because they necessarily produce lust. Apollophanes also in his epic poem writes that Saturn is for sacrum nun, because nus in greek means sense, or for satorem nun, as for he divine intelligence as it creates all things. Along with him they add four other children, that is first Jove, second Juno, third Neptune, fourth Pluto. Pollus they explain as poli filium, the father of the four elements.


That is, first Jove, for fire, whence he is called Zeus in Greek, for Zeus by interpretation of the Greek can be called either life, or explained because they say, as Heraclitus claims, that everything is animate through life-giving fire, or because this element give heat. Second is Juno, for air, whence she is called Hera in Greek. Although they should take air as masculine, yet she is also Jove’s sister, because the two elements are truly akin; and she is Jove’s wife, because air joined to fire grows hot. For both Theopompus in his Cyprian poem and Hellanicus in the Dios politia written by him declare that Juno was bound by Jove with golden chains and weighed down with iron fetters, by which they mean no less than that air joined to heaven’s fire produces a union of the two elements down below, that is water and earth, which are denser elements than their two counterparts above.


The third element, of water, they explained as Neptune, whom in Greek they also call Poseidon, for pion idonan, which in Latin we call making shapes, for the reason that only this element makes for itself shapes of what things are in store, something which is possible for no other of the four elements. He is depicted carrying a trident because his watery office is discharged in triple strength – that is, mobility, productiveness, and importance for drinking. They assign to this Neptune as wife Amphitrite (in Greek we call amphi all around), because water is confined by all three elements, that is, both in the sky, in its atmosphere and clouds, and on earth – for instance, springs and wells.


They also say that Pluto was the ruler of a quarter of the earth (for plutos in Greek they call riches), believing that riches were assigned only to earth. They also said that he was banished to the underworld because this sole produe of the earth is more hidden than the other elements. He carried a scepter in his hand because his dominions extended only to earth.


At Pluto’s feet they place the three-headed dog Cerberus because the envies of human quarrels are brought about in a threefold fashion, that is, by nature, cause, and accident. Hate is natural, as between dogs and hares, wolves and sheep, men and snakes; the passion and jealousy of love, for instance, are causal; what arises casually is accidental, for instance, words between men or a nearby supply of fodder for mules. Cerberus is named for creoboros, that is, flesh eater, and he is imagined as having three heads for the three ages – infancy, youth, old age, at which death enters the world.


Three Furies are also said to have served Pluto devotedly, the first of them Alecto [the second Tisiphone, the third Megaera]. For Alecto means unstoppable, while Tisiphone is for tuton phone, that is, the voice of these same ones, and Megaera for megale eris, that is, great contention. The first stage, therefore, is to create rage without pause; the second, to burst forth into words; the third, to stir up a quarrel.


They also assign to Pluto the three Fates, the first of them Clotho, the second Lachesis, the third Atropos. For clitos is the Greek for summons, Lachesis is called destiny, and Atropos is without order, pointing to the interpretation that, first, there is the summons of birth; second, one’s lot in life, how one can live; and third, the state of death which comes without prescription.


Virgil places the three Harpies in the lower world, the first of them Aello, the second Ocyptete, the third Celaeno. For arpage in Greek means pillage; and they are maidens because all plundering is barren and fruitless; they are covered with feathers because whatever pillage seizes it conceals; and they are able to fly because all plundering is very quick to fly away. Aello in Greek is edon allon, that is, carrying off another’s; Ocypete is quickly escaping with it; and Celaeno is the Greek for black, whence Homer in the first book of the Iliad: “Forthwith thy dark blood shall gush about my spear.” They intend to show this as meaning that it is the first stage to covet another’s, the second to seize what is coveted, the third to hide what has been seized.


They also choose to have Proserpine, the daughter of Ceres, married to Pluto; for Ceres is the Greek for joy, and they also chose her to be the goddess of corn, for where there is plentiful increase of crops, joy must abound. They intended Proserpine for crops, that is, creeping forward (proserpentem) through the earth with roots, whence she is also called Hecate in Greek, for hecaton is the Greek for hundred; and they also explain this name for her in the sense that crops yield fruit one hundredfold.


It is also said that her mother sought for her, when she was stolen away, with torches, whence the day of Ceres is celebrated with torches, clearly for the reason that at that time crops are joyfully sought for reaping with torches, that is, with the sun’s heat.


They chose Apollo for the name of the sun, for appolon in Greek means losing, because by its very heat it ruinously takes all the sap from green plants. They also chose him as the god of omens, either because the sun turns into clear light everything obscure, or because in its rising and setting the orb gives effect to interpretations of many kinds. For the sun (sol) is so called either because it is unique (solus) or because it habitually (solite) rises and sets each day. They also assign to him a four-horse chariot, for the reason that either he goes through the cycle of the year in the four changes of the seasons or he divides up the space of the day into a fourfold division. From this they have given the steeds these appropriate names: Erythraeus, Actaeon, Lampus, and Philogeus. Erythraeus is the Greek for blushing red, because he rises red-faced on the threshold of dawn; Actaeon means resplendent, because he flashes the more brightly as he impetuously pursues the turning posts of his track; Lampus is burning, because he mounts the track towards reaching the midpoint of day; and Philogeus in Greek is called loving the earth because, bending forwards towards the ninth hour, he inclines to his setting.


They choose to put the crow also under Apollo’s protection, either because contrary to the way of nature it alone produces its young by laying eggs at the very height of summer heat, as also Petronius: “So the crow, contrary to the products of the well-known ways of nature, lays its eggs when the corn is high,” or because according to Anaximander in his books on Orneoscopics, or according to Pindar, it alone of all the birds has names bearing sixty-four interpretations.


They assign the laurel also to Apollo’s protection, whereby they also state that he fell in love with Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus. And how can a laurel take root except by the waters of a river? This is chiefly because the banks of this same river Peneus are said to abound in the laurel. It has been called the beloved of Apollo for the reason that those who have written on the interpretation of dreams, like Antiphon, Philochorus, Artemon, and Serapion of Ascalon, set forth in their books that if you place laurel on the head of sleepers, the dreams they see will come true.


They also assign to Apollo the nine Muses and add him to the Muses as a tenth one, for the reason that there are ten organs of articulation for the human voice, whence Apollo is also depicted with a lyre of ten strings. Also Holy Scripture speaks of a psaltery of ten strings. Speech is produced with the four teeth, that is, the ones placed in front, against which the tongue strikes; and if one of them were missing it would necessarily give forth a whistle rather than speech; two lips like cymbals, suitably modulating the words; the tongue, like a plectrum as with some pliancy it shapes the breathing of the voice; the palate, the dome of which projects the sound; the throat tube, which provides a track for the breath as it is expelled; and the lungs, like a sack of air, exhaling and reinhaling what is articulated. There you have the explanation of the nine Muses and Apollo himself as given by Anaximander of Lampsacenum and Zenophanes of Heraclea. Others, like Pisander, the teacher of medicine, and Euximenes in his book Theologumena, confirm this explanation. But I also say that the nine Muses are the stages of learning and knowledge, as follows. First is Clio, standing for the first conception of learning, for cleos is the Greek for fame, whence Homer: “We heard only a rumor”; and elsewhere, “He heard the mighty rumor from afar in Cyprus.” Since no one seeks knowledge except that by which he may advance the honor of his reputation, Clio is named first, that is the conception of the search for knowledge. Second is Euterpe, whom in Greek we call well pleasing, because it is the first step to seek knowledge, the second to delight in what you seek. Third is Melpomene, for melenpieomene, that is, applying persistent thought, as it is the first step to find the need; the second, to delight in what you find needful; the third, to pursue the study of what you delight in. Fourth is Thalia, that is, growth, as if she were called tithonlia, that is, putting forth shoots, whence Epicharmus, the writer of comedies, says in his comedy Dipholus: “When he doesn’t see the shoots appear he is consumed with hunger.” Fifth is Polyhymnia, for polymnemen, as we say, making much memory, because memory is necessary after growth. Sixth is Erato, that is, euronchomoeon, which in Latin we call finding the same, because after knowledge and memory it is right hat one should find something similar about oneself. Seventh is Terpsichore, that is pleasant filling, whence Hermes in his book Opimandra says: “Both from a fill of food and an empty body” – since after finding you must also discriminate and judge what you have found. Eighth is Urania, that is, heavenly, for after judging, you select what to say and what to reject: to choose the useful and reject the inferior is a heavenly ability. Ninth is Calliope, that is, she of the excellent voice, whence Homer also says: “The voice of the goddess speaking.” This then is to be the order: first, to find the need for instruction; second, to delight in what you find needful; third, to pursue what you delight in; fourth, to grasp what you pursue; fifth, to remember what you grasp; sixth, to discover in yourself something resembling what you remember; seventh, to judge what you discover; eighth, to discriminate in what you judge; ninth, to make known in attractive form what you select.


Apollo, it is said, by making love to the nymph Clymene, to have sired Phaethon, who, aspiring to his father’s chariot, sparked off destruction by fire for himself and the earth. So always the sun uniting with water must give rise to certain creatures which, because they appear bounding up from the earth, are called apparitions (fanontes), for fanon in Greek means appearing. And even though all things are consumed in the destruction of heat, these creatures must seek the heat of the sun for their growth. His sister are Arethusa and Lampethusa, who bemourn their brother’s destruction by fire with bejeweled and gleaming drops, and shed golden amber from their torn barks; for a sister is an outgrowth of the complete plant, the family group, and they too are produced by the single union of heat and liquid. So these trees which sweat amber when the sun’s glowing heat – as their fruits ripen in the scorching months of June and July – reaches the sign of Cancer and Leo, with a mighty seething through their split barks these same trees pour into the river Eridanus their liquid sap, to be solidified in its waters.


They also associate Apollo with the tripod because the sun has had knowledge of the past, sees the present, and will see the future. They assign to him a bow and arrows, either because his rays leap forth from his globe like arrows, or because as he shows his rays he cuts through all the darkness of uncertainty. It is related that the Python was slain with arrows, and in Greek easy belief is called pithos. They say that he slew the Python because all false belief is crushed like serpents when the true light appears.

Why He Is Depicted Beardless, Although Called Father
Because in his death and rebirth his youth is always renewed, or because he never fails in his strength as does the moon, which waxes and wanes.


If the gods took over thefts. There was no need of a judge for their crimes, since they had the heavenly author of wrongdoing. They say Mercury was in charge of trading, carrying a staff or caduceus wreathed with snakes, furnished with feathered heels, and the divine go-between and thief. Let me explain what his name and appearance mean. They chose Mercury for mercium-curum, for Mercury can be called the complete trader.

Why Feathers
His heels are feathered because the feet of businessmen are everywhere in a rush as if winged.

Why a Staff
They add a staff wreathed in snakes because commerce sometimes gives control and a scepter, somtimes a wound like that given by snakes.

Why a Cap and a Cock
He is depicted with his head covered by a cap because any commerce is always concealed. They place the cock also under his protection, either because any businessman is always on the watch or because at his crowing they rise to transact their affairs.

Why Hermes
In Greek he is also called Hermes, that is, ermeneuse, which in Latin we call translating, for the reason that fluency in languages is needful to a trader. He is said to pass through both realms, the upper and the lower, because now he rushes aloft through the winds, now plunging down he seeks out the lower world through storms.

Why a Thief, Why called Swift
They also choose this god as the patron of thieving because in trading there is no difference for a thief between pillage and perjury or between plunder and sacrilege. The star which is called Stilbos in Greek, and which the pagans associate with him, whereby they have also used his name for one of the days, pursues a more rapid course than all the planets in that it completes its cycle on the seventh day, something which Saturn can do only in twenty-eight years and Jupiter in twelve; whereby also Lucan says: “And Mercury is stayed from its swift motion.”

Why He Slew Argus
Then, too, he is said to have slain Argus, the one encircled with a host of eyes, when he had mown down with a single wound, at once blow from the curved blade of the scythe he carries, this vast crop of eyes in one body, gleaming as they were with lively alertness. What would such a fantastic notion of the Greeks signify except that, with a sly blow of the scythe, the cunning of someone both thief and trader got the better of even a hundred guardians and the same number of artful ones, yet ones useless without barter, whence Argus is the Greek for idle? This is the usual fashion in which Greece and its poetic gossiping, always decked in falsehood and yet lying with good intent, refers to such fabrications


as when Danaë was seduced by a golden shower, not rain but coins,


and Ganymede was seized by an eagle, not a real bird but the spoils of war. For Jove, as the ancient author Anacreon has written, when he had started a war against the Titans – that is, the sons of that Titan who was Saturn’s brother – and had made sacrifice in heaven, as a sign of victory he saw close at hand the auspicious flight of an eagle. For so happy an omen, especially since victory did ensue, he made a golden eagle for his war standards and consecrated it to the might of his protection, whereby also among the Romans, standards of this kind are carried. He seized Ganymede in battle as these standards went before him, just as Europa is said do have been carried off on a bull, that is, onto a ship carrying the picture of a bull, as Isis on a heifer, in the same way onto a ship with that kind of picture. Consequently, as you certainly know for a fact, the Egyptians worship the barge of Isis.


They say that Perseus was the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa. They intended there to be three Gorgons – the first of them Sthenno; the second, Euryale; the third, Medusa – and since their story has been written by Lucan and Ovid, poets perfectly well known in the first teaching stages taken with schoolmasters, I have considered it unnecessary to repeat the tale at length. Theocnidus, the historian of antiquities, relates that there was a King Phorcys, who left his three daughters wealthy. Of these Medusa, who was the more forceful, increased her wealth by her rule and by cultivation and husbandry; whence she is called Gorgo, for georgigo, for in Greek georgi is the name for husbandmen. She is also described as having a snakelike head because she was the more cunning. Perseus, coveting her rich domain, slew her (he is called winged because he came with ships); and carrying off her head, that is, her substance, he grew all the richer by securing her wide territories. Then, invading the kingdom of Atlas, eh forced him to flee into a mountain, whence he is said to have been changed into a mountain, as it were, by the head of the Gorgo, that is, by her substance. But let me explain what the Greeks, inclined as they are to embroider, would signify by this finely spun fabrication. They intended three Gorgons, that is, the three kinds of terror: the first terror is indeed that which weakens the mind; the second, that which fills the mind with terror; the third, that which not only enforces its purpose upon the mind but also its gloom upon the face. From this notion the three Gorgons took their names: first, Sthenno, for stenno is the Greek for weakening, whence we call astenian sickness; second, Euryale, that is, broad extent, whence Homer said: “Troy with its broad streets”; then Medusa, for meidusam, because one cannot look upon her. Thus Perseus with the help of Minerva, that is, manliness aided by wisdom, destroyed these terrors. He flew away with face averted because manliness never considers terror. He is also said to carry a mirror, because all terror is reflected not only in the heart but also in the outward appearance. From her blood Pegasus is said to have been born, shaped in the form of renown; whereby Pegasus is said to have wings, because fame is winged. Therefore also Tiberianus says: “Pegasus neighing thus across the upper air.” Then he is also described as having struck out a fountain for the Muses with his heel, because the Muses either follow their own method of describing the renown of heroes or indicate that of the ancients.


As there is nothing nobler than a well-disposed wife, so there is nothing more savage than an aggressive one. For a prudent one offers her own soul as a pledge for the safety of her husband, to the same degree that a malevolent one counts her own life as nothing compared with his death; thus the legally espoused wife is taken up either with the honeyed sweetness of pleasant ways of with the gall of malice and is either a permanent solace or an endless torture. Admetus, king of Greece, sought Alcestis in marriage; her father had issued an edict that whoever could yoke two opposed wild animals to his chariot might marry her. This Admetus therefore besought Apollo and Hercules, and they harnessed a lion and wild boar to his chariot, and so he married Alcestis. When Admetus fell ill and discovered he was dying, he sought to avert it by entreating Apollo, who said he could do nothing for him in his sickness unless he found one of his relatives who would voluntarily accept death in his place. This his wife undertook; and so Hercules, when he went down to drag away the three-headed dog Cerberus, also freed her from the lower world. They have explained Admetus as an allegory of the mind, and he is named Admetus as one whom fear (metus) could seize upon (adire). Also he desired Alcestis in marriage, for alce in the Attic dialect of Greek is the word for succour, whereby Homer says: “There is no other strength of mind and no other succour.” Thus the mind hoping for succour harnessed two opposed wild beasts to its chariot – that is, adopted two strengths, of mind and body – the lion for strength of mind and the wild boar for strength of body. Then he asked the help of Apollo and Hercules, that is, wisdom and strength. In place of his soul succour exposes itself to death in the form of Alcestis, and strength rescues succour from the shades although it is weakening at the peril of death, as Hercules did with Alcestis.