Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/56

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46
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

raven on the right hand or a crow on the left was reckoned a good omen."[1]

Early Roman history records more than one instance when the hoarse croak of the raven and warning voice of the crow have been heard and heeded in the councils of the nation, and sometimes even turned the doubtful issues of a battle. In the war with the Gauls which occurred in the consulship of Camillus, Livy tells us that "when the opposing armies were drawn up ready to join in battle, a Gaul of gigantic size stepped to the front and defied any one of the Romans to meet him in single combat. His challenge was accepted by Marcus Valerius, who was assisted in the fight by a crow, that, suddenly appearing, lit on the helmet of the Gaul and attacked him with beak and talons until Valerius slew him, when the crow flew away to the east. The death of the Gallic champion brought on a general battle, in which the Gauls were beaten and forced to retreat. After this remarkable event, Marcus Valerius was surnamed Corvus."[2]

Pliny tells of a sedition that occurred in Rome in consequence of the killing of a raven, and, though we can hardly relegate this probably historic incident to the domain of mythology, yet it will serve to show the peculiar veneration in which these birds were held by the ancient Romans. He says:

"A raven, that had been bred upon the top of the temple of Castor, flew down into the shop of a shoemaker which stood opposite; the shoemaker took much delight in its visits, and taught it to speak, after which it would fly every morning to the rostra overlooking the forum, whence, addressing each by name, it would salute Tiberius, then the Cæsars, Germanicus and Drusus, after which it would greet the Roman people as they passed, and then return to the shop. For many years it was constant in its attendance; but at length another shoemaker, envious of the popularity of his fellow craftsman, killed it; upon which the people became so enraged at the cruel and irreligious wretch that they drove him from the city and eventually put him to death. The funeral of the bird was celebrated with almost endless obsequies; the body was placed upon a litter carried by Ethiopians, preceded by a piper, and was borne to the pile with garlands of every size and description."[3]

Among the Scandinavian gods, the highest throne was assigned to Odin—the Alfader. And, though there was but little in his cruel and relentless character to remind us of the bright and life-giving Vishnu, or the glorious and benignant Apollo, yet there is no doubt but what he was another apotheosis of the sun, only with attributes so changed as to suit the ideal of a stern and warlike race, who had not only brute and human foes to contend against, but even to wage continual war against Nature herself. In the Norse mythology, both

  1. Cicero, "De Divinatione."
  2. Livy, lib. vii, chap. xxvi.
  3. Pliny, "Hist. Nat.," lib. x, chap. Ix.