Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/55

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45
A FLOCK OF MYTHOLOGICAL CROWS.

dead. In the last book of the "Râmâyana," we also find that, when the gods were fleeing before the demons, Yama, the god of the dead, borrowed the plumage of the crow in order to escape, in payment for which service he gave the crow the privilege of eating the funereal food.

In the Grecian mythology, at least as early as the days of Hesiod, the character of the crow or raven (κοραξ), as a prophet of evil, had already been established (see ante, page 43); yet we find it here also sacred to the sun-god and usually associated with the same malignant animals as in the Hindoo mythology.

Our Hellenic myths say that, "once upon a time, Apollo sent his feathered attendant, the raven, who was then pure white, to bring water for sacrifice, but the raven, finding a fig-tree with fruit nearly ripe, waited until it should mature, and he could appease his hunger; then, having to account for his delay, he took a water-snake out of the fountain, placed it in the pitcher, and brought it to the god, and told him that the snake had daily drunk the fountain dry. But Apollo was not to be deceived by any such story, and, as a punishment for his crime, he turned the raven black, and condemned him to be tormented with thirst during the season that figs are ripening."[1]

Another says that "Apollo was in love with a beautiful nymph of Thessaly named Koronis, but she was false to the god, and was surprised with another lover by the raven, who flew off without heeding her entreaties and told his master; the god in a transport of jealousy slew the faithless damsel, and then, angry at the tattling raven for bringing him the unwelcome tidings, he turned his plumage black."[2]

In the Grecian myth of the battle between the gods and the giants, Apollo is said to have disguised himself in the plumage of the crow, as we have before seen was done by Yama, in the Hindoo version of the story.

In the Roman mythology there were wanting many of the idealistic conceptions of the Greek mind, and even the glorious Apollo was not given a place in the Roman pantheon until a late day. Cicero says, "The whole religion of the Romans at first consisted of sacrifices and divination by birds."[3]

Besides the sacred geese and chickens which were always on hand and kept in proper condition to consummate the "tripudium solistimum," whenever the good of the state required it, the Roman college of augurs divided all other birds, for the purposes of divination, into two general classes—Alites, those from which the augury was taken by observing their direction and manner of flight; and Oscineo, those in which the augury was taken from the voice or cry. Of the latter class none were considered more sacred or more certainly ominous than the crow and raven, though Cicero says, "The croak of a

  1. Eratosthenes.
  2. Ovid.
  3. Cicero, "De Nat. Deorum."