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Gods In Exile Post by :apexpac Category :Essays Author :Heinrich Heine Date :November 2011 Read :3373

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Gods In Exile

(Gods in Exile, in which Heine has gathered up some of the mediæval legends concerning the later history of the Greek and Roman gods, was written in the early spring of 1853 (a few pages, however, had been written so long before as 1836), and published in the Revue des Deux Mondes for that year. The translation, by Mr. Fleishman, here used, has been carefully revised, and in part rewritten.

It will be observed that the years between 1837 and 1853 are unrepresented in this volume. During that period--with the exception of the fragment of The Rabbi of Bacharach (which was, however, written earlier) and his book on Börne, both published in 1840--Heine produced very little prose.)


...I am speaking here of that metamorphosis into demons which the Greek and Roman gods underwent when Christianity achieved supreme control of the world. The superstition of the people ascribed to those gods a real but cursed existence, coinciding entirely in this respect with the teaching of the Church. The latter by no means declared the ancient gods to be myths, inventions of falsehood and error, as did the philosophers, but held them to be evil spirits, who, through the victory of Christ, had been hurled from the summit of their power, and now dragged along their miserable existences in the obscurity of dismantled temples or in enchanted groves, and by their diabolic arts, through lust and beauty, particularly through dancing and singing, lured to apostasy unsteadfast Christians who had lost their way in the forest.... I will remind the reader that the perplexities into which the poor old gods fell at the time of the final triumph of Christendom--that is, in the third century--offer striking analogies to former sorrowful events in their god-lives; for they found themselves plunged into the same sad predicament in which they had once before been placed in that most ancient time, in that revolutionary epoch when the Titans broke loose from their confinement in Orcus and, piling Pelion on Ossa, scaled high Olympus. At that time the poor gods were compelled to flee ignominiously and conceal themselves under various disguises on earth. Most of them repaired to Egypt, where, as is well known, for greater safety, they assumed the forms of animals. And in a like manner, when the true Lord of the universe planted the banner of the cross on the heavenly heights, and those iconoclastic zealots, the black band of monks, hunted down the gods with fire and malediction and razed their temples, then these unfortunate heathen divinities were again compelled to take to flight, seeking safety under the most varied disguises and in the most retired hiding-places. Many of these poor refugees, deprived of shelter and ambrosia, were now forced to work at some plebeian trade in order to earn a livelihood. Under these circumstances several, whose shrines had been confiscated, became wood-choppers and day-labourers in Germany, and were compelled to drink beer instead of nectar. It appears that Apollo was reduced to this dire plight, and stooped so low as to accept service with cattle-breeders, and as once before he had tended the cows of Admetus, so now he lived as a shepherd in Lower Austria. Here, however, he aroused suspicion through the marvellous sweetness of his singing and, being recognised by a learned monk as one of the ancient magic-working heathen gods, he was delivered over to the ecclesiastical courts. On the rack he confessed that he was the god Apollo. Before his execution he begged that he might be permitted for the last time to play the zither and sing to its accompaniment. But he played so touchingly and sang so enchantingly, and was so handsome in face and form, that all the women wept; and many of them indeed afterwards sickened. After some lapse of time, it was decided to remove his body from the grave under the impression that he was a vampire, and impale it upon a stake, this being an approved domestic remedy certain to effect the cure of the sick women; but the grave was found empty.

I have but little to communicate concerning the fate of Mars, the ancient god of war. I am not disinclined to believe that during the feudal ages he availed himself of the then prevailing doctrine that might makes right. Lank Schimmelpennig, nephew of the executioner of Münster, once met Mars at Bologna, and conversed with him. Shortly before he had served as a peasant under Froudsberg, and was present at the storming of Rome. Bitter thoughts must have filled his breast when he saw his ancient, favourite city, and the temples wherein he and his brother gods had been so revered, now ignominiously laid waste.

Better than either Mars or Apollo fared the god Bacchus at the great stampede, and the legends relate the following:--In Tyrol there are very large lakes, surrounded by magnificent trees that are mirrored in the blue waters. Trees and water murmur so that one experiences strange feelings of awe when one wanders there alone. On the bank of such a lake stood the hut of a young fisherman, who lived by fishing, and who also acted as ferryman to any travellers who wished to cross the lake. He had a large boat, that was fastened to the trunk of an old tree not far from his dwelling. Here he lived quite alone. Once, about the time of the autumnal equinox, towards midnight, he heard a knocking at his window, and on opening the door he saw three monks, with their heads deeply muffled in their cowls, who seemed to be in great haste. One of them hurriedly asked him for the boat, promising to return it within a few hours. The monks were three, and the fisherman could not hesitate; so he unfastened the boat, and when they had embarked and departed, he went back to his hut and lay down. He was young, and soon fell asleep; but in a few hours he was awakened by the returning monks. When he went out to them, one of them pressed a silver coin into his hand, and then all three hastened away. The fisherman went to look at his boat, which he found made fast. Then he shivered, but not from the night-air. A peculiarly chilling sensation had passed through his limbs, and his heart seemed almost frozen, when the monk who paid the fare touched his hand; the monk's fingers were cold as ice. For some days the fisherman could not forget this circumstance; but youth will soon shake off mysterious influences, and the fisherman thought no more of the occurrence until the following year, when, again just at the time of the autumnal equinoxes, towards midnight, there was a knocking at the window of the hut, and again the three cowled monks appeared, and again demanded the boat. The fisherman delivered up the boat with less anxiety this time, but when after a few hours they returned, and one of the monks again hastily pressed a coin into his hand, he again shuddered at the touch of the icy cold fingers. This happened every year at the same time and in the same manner. At last, as the seventh year drew near, an irresistible desire seized on the fisherman to learn, at all costs, the secret that was hidden under these three cowls. He piled a mass of nets into the boat, so as to form a hiding-place into which he could slip while the monks were preparing to embark. The sombre expected travellers came at the accustomed time, and the fisherman succeeded in hiding himself under the nets unobserved. To his astonishment, the voyage lasted but a short time, whereas it usually took him over an hour to reach the opposite shore; and greater yet was his surprise when here, in a locality with which he had been quite familiar, he beheld a wide forest-glade which he had never before seen, and which was covered with flowers that, to him, were of quite strange kind. Innumerable lamps hung from the trees, and vases filled with blazing rosin stood on high pedestals; the moon, too, was so bright that the fisherman could see all that took place, as distinctly as if it had been mid-day. There were many hundreds of young men and young women, most of them beautiful as pictures, although their faces were all as white as marble, and this circumstance, together with their garments, which consisted of white, very white, tunics with purple borders, girt up, gave them the appearance of moving statues. The women wore on their heads wreaths of vine leaves, either natural or wrought of gold and silver, and their hair was partly plaited over the brow into the shape of a crown, and partly fell in wild locks on their necks. The young men also wore wreaths of vine leaves. Both men and women swinging in their hands golden staffs covered with vine leaves, hastened joyously to greet the new-comers. One of the latter threw aside his cowl, revealing an impertinent fellow of middle age, with a repulsive, libidinous face, and pointed goat-ears, and scandalously extravagant sexuality. The second monk also threw aside his cowl, and there came to view a big-bellied fellow, not less naked, whose bald pate the mischievous women crowned with a wreath of roses. The faces of the two monks, like those of the rest of the assemblage, were white as snow. White as snow also was the face of the third monk, who laughingly brushed the cowl from his head. As he unbound the girdle of his robe, and with a gesture of disgust flung off from him the pious and dirty garment, together with crucifix and rosary, lo! there stood, robed in a tunic brilliant as a diamond, a marvellously beautiful youth with a form of noble symmetry, save that there was something feminine in the rounded hips and the slender waist. His delicately-curved lips, also, and soft, mobile features gave him a somewhat feminine appearance; but his face expressed also a certain daring, almost reckless heroism. The women caressed him with wild enthusiasm, placed an ivy-wreath upon his head, and threw a magnificent leopard-skin over his shoulders. At this moment came swiftly dashing along, drawn by two lions, a golden two-wheeled triumphal chariot. Majestically, yet with a merry glance, the youth leaped on the chariot, guiding the wild steeds with purple reins. At the right of the chariot strode one of his uncassocked companions, whose lewd gestures and unseemly form delighted the beholders, while his comrade, with the bald pate and fat paunch, whom the merry women had placed on an ass, rode at the left of the chariot, carrying in his hand a golden drinking-cup, which was constantly refilled with wine. On moved the chariot, and behind it whirled the romping, dancing, vine-crowned men and women. At the head of the triumphal procession marched the orchestra; the pretty, chubby-cheeked youth, playing the double flute; then the nymph with the high-girt tunic, striking the jingling tambourine with her knuckles; then the equally gracious beauty, with the triangle; then the goat-footed trumpeters, with handsome but lascivious faces, who blew their fanfares on curious sea-shells and fantastically-shaped horns; then the lute-players.

But, dear reader, I forgot that you are a most cultured and well-informed reader, and have long since observed that I have been describing a Bacchanalia and a feast of Dionysius. You have often seen on ancient bas-reliefs, or in the engravings of archæological works, pictures of the triumphal processions held in honour of the god Bacchus; and surely, with your cultivated and classic tastes, you would not be frightened even if at dead of night, in the depths of a lonely forest, the lonely spectres of such a Bacchanalian procession, together with the customary tipsy personnel, should appear bodily before your eyes. At the most you would only give way to a slight voluptuous shudder, an æsthetic awe, at sight of this pale assemblage of graceful phantoms, who have risen from their monumental sarcophagi, or from their hiding-places amid the ruins of ancient temples, to perform once more their ancient, joyous, divine service; once more, with sport and merry-making, to celebrate the triumphal march of the divine liberator, the Saviour of the senses; to dance once more the merry dance of paganism, the can-can of the antique world--to dance it without any hypocritical disguise, without fear of the interference of the police of a spiritualistic morality, with the wild abandonment of the old days, shouting, exulting, rapturous. Evoe Bacche!

But alas, dear reader, the poor fisherman was not, like yourself, versed in mythology; he had never made archæological studies; and terror and fear seized upon him when he beheld the Triumphator and his two wonderful acolytes emerge from their monks' garb. He shuddered at the immodest gestures and leaps of the Bacchantes, Fauns, and Satyrs, who, with their goats' feet and horns, seemed to him peculiarly diabolical, and he regarded the whole assemblage as a congress of spectres and demons, who were seeking by their mysterious rites to bring ruin on all Christians. His hair stood on end at sight of the reckless impossible posture of a Mænad, who, with flowing hair and head thrown back, only balanced herself by the weight of her thyrsus. His own brain seemed to reel as he saw the Corybantes in mad frenzy wounding their own bodies with short swords, seeking voluptuousness in pain itself. The soft and tender, yet so terrible, tones of the music seemed to penetrate to his very soul, like a burning, consuming, excruciating flame. But when he saw that defamed Egyptian symbol, of exaggerated size and crowned with flowers, borne upon a tall pole by an unashamed woman, then sight and hearing forsook the poor fisherman--and he darted back to the boat, and crept under the nets, with chattering teeth and trembling limbs, as though Satan already held him fast by the foot. Soon after, the three monks also returned to the boat and shoved off. When they had disembarked at the original starting-place, the fisherman managed to escape unobserved from his hiding-place, so that they supposed he had merely been behind the willows awaiting their return. One of the monks, as usual, with icy-cold fingers pressed the fare into the fisherman's hand, then all three hurried away.

For the salvation of his own soul, which he believed to be endangered, and also to guard other good Christians from ruin, the fisherman held it his duty to communicate a full account of the mysterious occurrence to the Church authorities; and as the superior of a neighbouring Franciscan monastery was in great repute as a learned exorcist, the fisherman determined to go to him without delay. The rising sun found him on his way to the monastery, where, with modest demeanour, he soon stood before his excellency the superior, who received him seated in an easy-chair in the library, and with hood drawn closely over his face, listened meditatively while the fisherman told his tale of horror. When the recital was finished, the superior raised his head, and as the hood fell back, the fisherman saw, to his dismay, that his excellency was one of the three monks who annually sailed over the lake--the very one, indeed, whom he had the previous night seen as a heathen demon riding in the golden chariot drawn by lions. It was the same marble-white face, the same regular, beautiful features, the same mouth with its delicately-curved lips. And these lips now wore a kindly smile, and from that mouth now issued the gracious and melodious words, "Beloved son in Christ, we willingly believe that you have spent the night in company of the god Bacchus. Your fantastic ghost-story gives ample proof of that. Not that we would say aught unpleasant of this god: at times he is undoubtedly a care-dispeller, and gladdens the heart of man. But he is very dangerous for those who cannot bear much; and to this class you seem to belong. We advise you to partake in future very sparingly of the golden juice of the grape, and not again to trouble the spiritual authorities with the fantasies of a drunken brain. Concerning this last vision of yours, you had better keep a very quiet tongue in your head; otherwise the secular arm of our beadle shall measure out to you twenty-five lashes. And now, beloved son in Christ, go to the monastery kitchen, where brother butler and brother cook will set before you a slight repast."

With this, the reverend father bestowed the customary benediction on the fisherman, and when the latter, bewildered, took himself off to the kitchen and suddenly came face to face with brother cook and brother butler, he almost fell to the earth in affright, for they were the same monks who had accompanied the superior on his midnight excursions across the lake. He recognised one by his fat paunch and bald head, and the other by his lascivious grin and goat-ears. But he held his tongue, and only in later years did he relate his strange story.

Several old chronicles which contain similar legends locate the scene near the city of Speyer, on the Rhine.

Along the coast of East Friesland an analogous tradition is found, in which the ancient conception of the transportation of the dead to the realm of Hades, which underlies all those legends, is most distinctly seen. It is true that none of them contain any mention of Charon, the steersman of the boat: this old fellow seems to have entirely disappeared from folk-lore, and is to be met with only in puppet-shows. But a far more notable mythological personage is to be recognised in the so-called forwarding agent, or dispatcher, who makes arrangements for the transportation of the dead, and pays the customary passage-money into the hands of the boatman; the latter is generally a common fisherman, who officiates as Charon. Notwithstanding his quaint disguise, the true name of this dispatcher may readily be guessed, and I shall therefore relate the legend as faithfully as possible.

The shores of East Friesland that border on the North Sea abound with bays, which are used as harbours, and are called fiords. On the farthest projecting promontory of land generally stands the solitary hut of some fisherman, who here lives, peaceful and contented, with his family. Here nature wears a sad and melancholy aspect. Not even the chirping of a bird is to be heard, only now and then the shrill screech of a sea-gull flying up from its nest among the sand-hills, that announces the coming storm. The monotonous plashings of the restless sea harmonise with the sombre, shifting shadows of the passing clouds. Even the human inhabitants do not sing here, and on these melancholy coasts the strain of a volkslied is never heard. The people who live here are an earnest, honest, matter-of-fact race, proud of their bold spirit and of the liberties which they have inherited from their ancestors. Such a people are not imaginative, and are little given to metaphysical speculations. Fishing is their principal support, added to which is an occasional pittance of passage-money for transporting some traveller to one of the adjacent islands.

It is said that at a certain period of the year, just at mid-day, when the fisherman and his family are seated at table eating their noonday meal, a traveller enters and asks the master of the house to vouchsafe him an audience for a few minutes to speak with him on a matter of business. The fisherman, after vainly inviting the stranger to partake of the meal, grants his request, and they both step aside to a little table. I shall not describe the personal appearance of the stranger in detail, after the tedious manner of novel-writers: a brief enumeration of the salient points will suffice. He is a little man, advanced in years, but well preserved. He is, so to say, a youthful greybeard: plump, but not corpulent; cheeks ruddy as an apple; small eyes, which blink merrily and continually, and on his powdered little head is set a three-cornered little hat. Under his flaming yellow cloak, with its many collars, he wears the old-fashioned dress of a well-to-do Dutch merchant, such as we see depicted in old portraits--namely, a short silk coat of a parrot-green colour, a vest embroidered with flowers, short black trousers, striped stockings, and shoes ornamented with buckles. The latter are so brightly polished that it is hard to understand how the wearer could trudge a-foot through the slimy mud of the coast and yet keep them so clean. His voice is a thin, asthmatic treble, sometimes inclining to be rather lachrymose; but the address and bearing of the little man are as grave and measured as beseem a Dutch merchant. This gravity, however, appears to be more assumed than natural, and is in marked contrast with the searching, roving, swift-darting glances of the eye, and with the ill-repressed fidgettiness of the legs and arms. That the stranger is a Dutch merchant is evidenced not only by his apparel, but also by the mercantile exactitude and caution with which he endeavours to effect as favourable a bargain as possible for his employers. He is, as he says, a forwarding agent, and has received from some of his mercantile friends a commission to transport a certain number of souls, as many as can find room in an ordinary boat, from the coast of East Friesland to the White Island. In fulfilment of this commission, he adds, he wishes to know if the fisherman will this night convey in his boat the aforesaid cargo to the aforesaid island; in which case he is authorised to pay the passage-money in advance, confidently hoping that, in Christian fairness, the fisherman will make his price very moderate. The Dutch merchant (which term is, in fact, a pleonasm, since every Dutchman is a merchant) makes this proposition with the utmost nonchalance, as if it referred to a cargo of cheeses, and not to the souls of the dead. The fisherman is startled at the word "souls," and a cold chill creeps down his back, for he immediately comprehends that the souls of the dead are here meant, and that the stranger is none other than the phantom Dutchman, who has already intrusted several of his fellow-fishermen with the transportation of the souls of the dead, and paid them well for it, too.

These East Frieslanders are, as I have already remarked, a brave, healthy, practical people; in them is lacking that morbid imagination which makes us so impressible to the ghostly and supernatural. Our fisherman's weird dismay lasts but a moment; suppressing the uncanny sensation that is stealing over him, he soon regains his composure, and, intent on securing as high a sum as possible, he assumes an air of supreme indifference. But after a little chaffering the two come to an understanding, and shake hands to seal the bargain. The Dutchman draws forth a dirty leather pouch, filled entirely with little silver pennies of the smallest denomination ever coined in Holland, and in these tiny coins counts out the whole amount of the fare. With instructions to the fisherman to be ready with his boat at the appointed place about the midnight hour when the moon becomes visible, the Dutchman takes leave of the whole family, and, declining their repeated invitations to dine, the grave little figure, dignified as ever, trips lightly away.

At the time agreed upon the fisherman appears at the appointed place. At first the boat is rocked lightly to and fro by the waves; but by the time the full moon has risen above the horizon the fisherman notices that his bark is less easily swayed, and so it gradually sinks deeper and deeper in the stream, until finally the water comes within a hand's-breadth of the boat's bow. This circumstance apprises him that his passengers, the souls, are now aboard, and he pushes off from shore with his cargo. Although he strains his eyes to the utmost, he can distinguish nothing but a few vapoury streaks that seem to be swayed hither and thither, and to intermingle with one another, but assume no definite forms. Listen intently as he may, he hears nothing but an indescribably-faint chirping and rustling. Only now and then a sea-gull with a shrill scream flies swiftly over his head; or near him a fish leaps up from out the stream, and for a moment stares at him with a vacuous look. The night-winds sigh, and the sea-breezes grow more chilly. Everywhere only water, moonlight, and silence! and silent as all around him is the fisherman, who finally reaches the White Island and moors his boat. He sees no one on the strand, but he hears a shrill, asthmatic, wheezy, lachrymose voice, which he recognises as that of the Dutchman. The latter seems to be reading off a list of proper names, with a peculiar, monotonous intonation, as if rehearsing a roll-call. Among the names are some which are known to the fisherman as belonging to persons who have died that year. During the reading of the list, the boat is evidently being gradually lightened of its load, and as soon as the last name is called it rises suddenly and floats free, although but a moment before it was deeply imbedded in the sand of the sea-shore. To the fisherman this is a token that his cargo has been properly delivered, and he calmly rows back to his wife and child, to his beloved home on the fiord.

...Notwithstanding this clever disguise, I have ventured to guess who the important mythological personage is that figures in this tradition. It is none other than the god Mercury, Hermes Psychopompos, the whilom conductor of the dead to Hades. Verily, under that shabby yellow cloak and prosaic tradesman's figure is concealed the youthful and most accomplished god of heathendom, the cunning son of Maia. On his little three-cornered hat not the slightest tuft of a feather is to be seen which might remind the beholder of the winged cap, and the clumsy shoes with steel buckles fail to give the least hint of the winged sandals. This grave and heavy Dutch lead is quite different from the mobile quicksilver, from which the god derived his very name. But the contrast is so exceedingly striking as to betray the god's design, which is the more effectually to disguise himself. Perhaps this mask was not chosen out of mere caprice. Mercury was, as you know, the patron god of thieves and merchants, and, in all probability, in choosing a disguise that should conceal him, and a trade by which to earn his livelihood, he took into consideration his talents and his antecedents.

...And thus it came to pass that the shrewdest and most cunning of the gods became a merchant, and, to adapt himself most thoroughly to his rôle, became the ne plus ultra of merchants--a Dutch merchant. His long practice in the olden time as Psychopompos, as conveyor of the dead to Hades, marks him out as particularly fitted to conduct the transportation of the souls of the dead to the White Island, in the manner just described.

The White Island is occasionally also called Brea, or Britannia. Does this perhaps refer to White Albion, to the chalky cliffs of the English coast? It would be a very humorous idea if England was designated as the land of the dead, as the Plutonian realm, as hell. In such a form, in truth, England has appeared to many a stranger.

In my essay on the Faust legend I discussed at full length the popular superstition concerning Pluto and his dominion. I showed how the old realm of shadows became hell, and how its old gloomy ruler became more and more diabolical. Neither Pluto, god of the nether regions, nor his brother, Neptune, god of the sea, emigrated like the other gods. Even after the final triumph of Christendom they remained in their domains, their respective elements. No matter what silly fables concerning him were invented here above on earth, old Pluto sat by his Proserpine, warm and cosey down below.

Neptune suffered less from calumny than his brother Pluto, and neither church-bell chimes nor organ-strains could offend his ears in the depths of old ocean, where he sat peacefully by the side of his white-bosomed wife, Dame Amphitrite, surrounded by his court of dripping nereids and tritons. Only now and then, when a young sailor crossed the equator, he would dart up from the briny deep, in his hand brandishing the trident, his head crowned with sea-weed, and his flowing, silvery beard reaching down to the navel. Then he would confer on the neophyte the terrible sea-water baptism, accompanying it with a long unctuous harangue, interspersed with coarse sailor jests, to the great delight of the jolly tars. The harangue was frequently interrupted by the spitting of amber quids of chewed tobacco, which Neptune so freely scattered around him. A friend, who gave me a detailed description of the manner in which such a sea-miracle is performed, assured me that the very sailors that laughed most heartily at the droll antics of Neptune never for a moment doubted the existence of such a god, and sometimes when in great danger they even prayed to him.

Neptune, as we have seen, remained monarch of the watery realm; and Pluto, notwithstanding his metamorphosis into Satan, still continued to be prince of the lower regions. They fared better than did their brother Jupiter, who, after the overthrow of their father, Saturn, became ruler of heaven, and as sovereign of the universe resided at Olympus, where, surrounded by his merry troop of gods, goddesses, and nymphs-of-honour, he carried on his ambrosial rule of joy. But when the great catastrophe occurred,--when the rule of the cross, that symbol of suffering, was proclaimed,--then the great Kronides fled, and disappeared amid the tumults and confusion of the transmigration of races. All traces of him were lost, and I have in vain consulted old chronicles and old women: none could give me the least information concerning his fate. With the same purpose in view, I have ransacked many libraries, where I was shown the magnificent codices ornamented with gold and precious stones, true odalisques in the harem of science. To the learned eunuchs who, with such affability, unlocked for me those brilliant treasures, I here return the customary thanks. It appears as if no popular tradition of a medieval Jupiter exists; and all that I could gather concerning him consists of a story told me by my friend, Niels Andersen.

...The events that I am about to relate, said Niels Andersen, occurred on an island, the exact situation of which I cannot tell. Since its discovery no one has been able again to reach it, being prevented by the immense icebergs that tower like a high wall around the island, and seldom, probably, permit a near approach. Only the crew of a Russian whaling-vessel, which a storm had driven so far to the north, ever trod its soil; and since then over a hundred years have elapsed. When the sailors had, by means of a small boat, effected a landing, they found the island to be wild and desolate. Sadly waved the blades of tall sedgy grass over the quicksands; here and there grew a few stunted fir-trees, or barren shrubs. They saw a multitude of rabbits springing around, on which account they named it the Island of Rabbits. Only one miserable hut gave evidence that a human being dwelt there. As the sailors entered the hut they saw an old, very old man, wretchedly clad in a garment of rabbit skins rudely stitched together. He was seated in a stone chair in front of the hearth, trying to warm his emaciated hands and trembling knees by the flaring brushwood fire. At his right side stood an immense bird, evidently an eagle, but which had been roughly treated by time, and shorn of all its plumage save the long bristly quills of its wings, that gave it a highly grotesque, and, at the same time, hideous appearance. At the old man's left, squatted on the earth, was an extraordinarily large hairless goat, which seemed to be very old; although full milky udders, with fresh, rosy nipples, hung at its belly.

Among the sailors were several Greeks, one of whom, not thinking that his words would be understood by the aged inhabitant of the hut, remarked in the Greek language to a comrade, "This old fellow is either a spectre or an evil demon." But at these words the old man suddenly arose from his seat, and to their great surprise the sailors beheld a stately figure, which, in spite of its advanced age, raised itself erect with commanding, yes, with king-like dignity, his head almost touching the rafters. The features, too, although rugged and weather-beaten, showed traces of original beauty, they were so noble and well-proportioned. A few silvery locks fell over his brow, which was furrowed by pride and age. His eyes had a dim and fixed look, but occasionally they would still gleam piercingly; and from his mouth were heard in the melodious and sonorous words of the ancient Greek language, "You are mistaken, young man; I am neither a spectre nor an evil demon; I am an unhappy old man, who once knew better days. But who are ye?"

The sailors explained the accident which had befallen them, and then inquired concerning the island. The information, however, was very meagre. The old man told them that since time immemorial he had inhabited this island, whose bulwark of ice served him as a secure asylum against his inexorable foes. He subsisted principally by catching rabbits, and every year, when the floating icebergs had settled, a few bands of savages crossed over on sleds, and to them he sold rabbit-skins, receiving in exchange various articles of indispensable necessity. The whales, which sometimes came swimming close to the island, were his favourite company. But it gave him pleasure to hear again his native tongue, for he too was a Greek. He entreated his countrymen to give him an account of the present condition of Greece. That the cross had been torn down from the battlements of Grecian cities apparently caused the old man a malicious satisfaction; but it did not altogether please him when he heard that the crescent had been planted there instead. It was strange that none of the sailors knew the names of the cities concerning which the old man inquired, and which, as he assured them, had flourished in his time. In like manner the names of the present cities and villages in Greece, which were mentioned by the sailors, were unknown to him; at this the old man would shake his head sadly, and the sailors looked at one another perplexed. They noticed that he knew exactly all the localities and geographical peculiarities of Greece; and he described so accurately and vividly the bays, the peninsulas, the mountain-ridges, even the knolls and most trifling rocky elevations, that his ignorance of these localities was all the more surprising. With especial interest, with a certain anxiety even, he questioned them concerning an ancient temple, which in his time, he assured them, had been the most beautiful in all Greece; but none of his hearers knew the name, which he pronounced with a loving tenderness. But finally, when the old man had again described the site of the temple, with the utmost particularity, a young sailor recognised the place by the description.

The village wherein he was born, said the young man, was situated hard by, and when a boy he had often tended his father's swine at the very place where there had been found ruins of an ancient structure, indicating a magnificent grandeur in the past. Now, only a few large marble pillars remained standing; some were plain, unadorned columns, others were surmounted by the square stones of a gable. From the cracks of the masonry the blooming honeysuckle-vines and red bell-flowers trailed downwards. Other pillars--among the number some of rose-coloured marble--lay shattered on the ground, and the costly marble head-pieces, ornamented with beautiful sculpture, representing foliage and flowers, were overgrown by rank creepers and grasses. Half buried in the earth lay huge marble blocks, some of which were squares, such as were used for the walls; others were three-cornered slabs for roof-pieces. Over them waved a large, wild fig-tree, which had grown up out of the ruins. Under the shadow of that tree, continued the young man, he had passed whole hours in examining the strange figures carved on the large marble blocks; they seemed to be pictorial representations of all sorts of sports and combats, and were very pleasing to look at, but, alas! much injured by exposure, and overgrown with moss and ivy. His father, whom he had questioned in regard to the mysterious signification of these pillars and sculptures, told him that these were the ruins of an ancient pagan temple, and had once been the abode of a wicked heathen god, who had here wantoned in lewd debauchery, incest, and unnatural vices. Notwithstanding this, the unenlightened heathen were accustomed to slaughter in his honour a hundred oxen at a time, and the hollowed marble block into which was gathered the blood of the sacrifices was yet in existence. It was, in fact, the very trough which they were in the habit of using as a receptacle for refuse wherewith to feed the swine.

So spoke the young sailor. But the old man heaved a sigh that betrayed the most terrible anguish. Tottering, he sank into his stone chair, covered his face with his hands, and wept like a child. The great, gaunt bird, with a shrill screech, flapped its immense wings, and menaced the strangers with claws and beak. The old goat licked its master's hands, and bleated mournfully as in consolation.

At this strange sight, an uncanny terror seized upon the sailors: they hurriedly left the hut, and were glad when they could no longer hear the sobbing of the old man, the screaming of the bird, and the bleating of the goat. When they were safely on board the boat, they narrated their adventure. Among the crew was a learned Russian, professor of philosophy at the university of Kazan; and he declared the matter to be highly important. With his forefinger held knowingly to the side of his nose, he assured the sailors that the old man of the island was undoubtedly the ancient god Jupiter, son of Saturn and Rhea. The bird at his side was clearly the eagle that once carried in its claws the terrible thunderbolts. And the old goat was, in all probability, none other than Althea, Jupiter's old nurse, who had suckled him in Crete, and now in exile again nourished him with her milk.

This is the story as told to me by Niels Andersen; and I must confess that it filled my soul with a profound melancholy. Decay is secretly undermining all that is great in the universe, and the gods themselves must finally succumb to the same miserable destiny. The iron law of fate so wills it, and even the greatest of the immortals must submissively bow his head. He of whom Homer sang, and whom Phidias sculptured in gold and ivory, he at whose glance earth trembled, he, the lover of Leda, Alcmena, Semele, Danaë, Callisto, Io, Leto, Europa, etc.--even he is compelled to hide himself behind the icebergs of the North Pole, and in order to prolong his wretched existence must deal in rabbit-skins, like a shabby Savoyard!

I do not doubt that there are people who will derive a malicious pleasure from such a spectacle. They are, perhaps, the descendants of those unfortunate oxen who, in hecatombs, were slaughtered on the altars of Jupiter. Rejoice! avenged is the blood of your ancestors, those poor martyrs of superstition. But we, who have no hereditary grudge rankling in us, we are touched at the sight of fallen greatness, and withhold not our holiest compassion.


(The end)
Heinrich Heine's essay: Gods In Exile

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