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Thread: The Queen of the Air: A Study of the Greek Gods of Clouds and Storm

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    The Queen of the Air: A Study of the Greek Gods of Clouds and Storm

    John Ruskin

    The Queen of the Air
    (1869)

    A study of the Greek gods of clouds and storm.

    A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first;
    and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary,
    or, in the common use of the word, unnatural. Thus if I tell you that Hercules killed a water−serpent in the
    lake of Lerna, and if I mean, and you understand, nothing more than that fact, the story, whether true or false,
    is not a myth. But if by telling you this, I mean that Hercules purified the stagnation of many streams from
    deadly miasmata, my story, however simple, is a true myth; only, as, if I leftit in that simplicity, you would
    probably look for nothing beyond, it will be wise in me to surprise your attention by adding some singular
    circumstance; for instance, that the water−snake had several heads, which revived as fast as they were killed,
    and which poisoned even the foot that trod upon them as they slept. And in proportion to the fulness of
    intended meaning I shall probably multiply and refine upon these improbabilities; as, suppose, if, instead of
    desiring only to tell you that Hercules purified a marsh, I wished you to understand that he contended with the
    venom and vapor of envy and evil ambition, whether in other men's souls or in his own, and choked that
    malaria only by supreme toil,—I might tell you that this serpent was formed by the goddess whose pride was
    in the trial of Hercules; and that its place of abode as by a palm−tree; and that for every head of it that was cut
    off, two rose up with renewed life; and that the hero found at last that he could not kill the creature at all by
    cutting its heads off or crushing them, but only by burning them down; and that the midmost of them could
    not be killed even that way, but had to be buried alive. Only in proportion as I mean more, I shall certainly
    appear more absurd in my statement; and at last when I get unendurably significant, all practical persons will
    agree that I was talking mere nonsense from the beginning, and never meant anything at all.

    It is just possible, however, also, that the story−teller may all along have meant nothing but what he said;
    and that, incredible as the events may appear, he himself literally believed—and expected you also to
    believe—all this about Hercules, without any latent moral or history whatever. And it is very necessary, in
    reading traditions of this kind, to determine, first of all, whether you are listening to a simple person, who is
    relating what, at all events, he believes to be true, (and may, therefore, possibly have been so to some extent),
    or to a reserved philosopher, who is veiling a theory of the universe under the grotesque of a fairy tale. It is, in
    general, more likely that the first supposition should be the right one: simple and credulous persons are,
    perhaps fortunately, more common than philosophers; and it is of the highest importance that you should take
    their innocent testimony as it was meant, and not efface, under the graceful explanation which your cultivatedingenuity may suggest, either the evidence their story may contain (such as it is worth) of an extraordinary
    event having really taken place, or the unquestionable light which it will cast upon the character of the person
    by whom it was frankly believed. And to deal with Greek religion honestly, you must at once understand that
    this literal belief was, in the mind of the general people, as deeply rooted as ours in the legends of our own
    sacred book; and that a basis of unmiraculous event was as little suspected, and an explanatory symbolism as
    rarely traced, by them, as by us.

    You must, therefore, observe that I deeply degrade the position which such a myth as that just referred to
    occupied in the Greek mind, by comparing it (for fear of offending you) to our story of St. George and the
    Dragon. Still, the analogy is perfect in minor respects; and though it fails to give you any notion of the Greek
    faith, it will exactly illustrate the manner in which faith laid hold of its objects.




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