The Kingdom above the Clouds
Long, long ago, there lived, in the land which we call Greece, a race of brave men and beautiful women. They thought their own land the best and the fairest in the world; and as they watched the sunsets and the rising of the moon and all the other beautiful things that nature showed them, they were filled with awe and wonder.
So they said, "There must be some mighty people living above us, who rule the sun and the moon and the stars and the oceans and the rivers and the woods and everything else. They are great and happy and good, and they live for ever; they can do whatever they please, and from them come all our joys and sorrows. Let us worship them and sing of them." And they called these mighty people gods and goddesses.
In the northern part of Greece, there stood a lofty mountain called Olympus. Its sides were covered with thick, green woods; and it was so high that its peak seemed to pierce through the clouds, up, up into the sky, till the eye could scarcely follow it. None of the people of Greece had ever climbed to the top of Mount Olympus, and they said it was there that the gods lived, among the clouds and the stars.
They pictured the marble halls, with their great, shining pillars and their thrones of gold and silver. The walls of the palaces, they said, were covered with pictures such as no man's hand had ever painted,—pictures such as we sometimes see in the sunset sky, when the pink and gold and purple cloudlets sink into the west, changing their shape each moment that we gaze at them.
Up in the land above the clouds, it was springtime all the year round. It never rained there and it was never cold; the birds sang from morning till night, and the flowers bloomed from one year's end to the other.
Sometimes the mighty rulers of the sun and the moon and all the world left their homes and came down to visit the people on the earth. Once in a great, great while they came in their own true forms; but far oftener they took on the shape of animals or human beings, so that they might not be recognised.
The people of Greece, who made up all the stories I am going to tell you, believed that if they did anything wrong it would displease the gods, and that they would be punished by sickness or death or some other evil; but if they did what was right, the mighty people would be pleased and would love them and send them wealth and happiness.
So they built great temples of marble, and in them they set up gold and ivory statues of the gods; and there they came, in time of trouble, to ask for help and comfort; and when they were happy they came to offer up their thanks to the kind gods.
The king of the gods was Jupiter, who ruled not only the people of the earth, but the mightier people of the heavens. He it was who hurled the thunderbolts and guided the winds and the waters, and, in a word, ruled over all heaven and earth. His wife was Juno, the queen of heaven, who helped him in his work. I am afraid you will not love Juno very much by the time you have read all the stories I am going to tell you; for she was selfish and jealous, and, like all such people, often made herself and others very unhappy. She had one great favourite, a peacock, which was always with her.
Besides Jupiter and Juno there were many other gods and goddesses; and as you are going to read stories about some of them, I will tell you who they were.
Apollo was the god of the sun, of music, and of love. He was very beautiful, as indeed almost all the gods were; but he was the fairest of them all. He drove his golden sun chariot through the heavens every day, and on his lyre he played sweet musics He could heal all kinds of wounds, and could shoot wonderfully well with his golden arrows.
His twin sister was Diana, goddess of the moon. She drove her silver car at night when Apollo had gone to rest in the western sky. She was also the goddess of hunting; and, in the daytime, she wandered through the green woods, with her arrows at her side, while her fleet hounds sped on in front of her, and a train of young girls and wood nymphs followed.
As Apollo was the most beautiful of all the gods, so Venus, the queen of love and beauty, was the fairest of the goddesses. She was supposed to have sprung from the sea one day, in a cloud of spray, and all the beings who dwelt in the sea, the sea nymphs and the sea gods and Neptune himself, rose with songs of gladness to welcome their queen.
She had a little son named Cupid, who also was the god of love; and he was sometimes called the god of the bow, because he was never seen without his bow and arrows. You will hear later what curious arrows they were. Cupid was always young and rosy and dimpled; he never grew up as the other god children did.
Neptune, who was Jupiter's brother, was the ruler of all the waters of the earth. The gods of the sea, and the mermaids and the river gods as well, were his subjects. His palace beneath the ocean waves was built of seaweeds and corals and shells.
I must not forget to tell you of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and of war. The owl was her favourite bird. She spent much of her time in weaving and embroidering, for she was very fond of this pastime.
And then there was Mercury, fleet-footed Mercury. He was called "The Swift," and no wonder; for he had winged sandals, and could fly faster than the lightest bird. He had a winged cap besides, and a magic staff wreathed with two serpents, with which he could do all sorts of things. He was the messenger of the gods on all their errands between heaven and earth.
Away down in the centre of the earth, there was a gloomy kingdom known as Hades or the land of shades; and the Greeks thought that people who died went down into this dark land. Its ruler was King Pluto. He was very lonely in his sombre palace; and one time, as you shall hear, he came to earth and stole away the daughter of Ceres to live with him in his underground home.
Ceres was the goddess of the earth, and the people looked to her for bountiful harvests, and for the growth of everything that sprang from the earth.
Lastly there was Pan, the god of the shepherds and of the woods. He was a strange creature, half goat and half man, But he was loved by every one, and especially by the shepherds; for he guarded their flocks from harm, and played his pipes and danced with them in many a frolic.
And, if we believe the stories told by the Greeks, in and about the woods and the waters and the fields wandered all the gods I have spoken of. They lived their lives of mingled pleasure and sorrow, just as did the men and women who worshipped them, and pictured them in their palaces of gold and silver and precious stones, up in the land of the clouds and the stars.
The Wonderful World
The Lessons of Nature