Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/20

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10
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

earthquake or hurricane, vast and fatal desert, or frowning mountain; but by its pleasing diversity it stimulated, without overwhelming, his soul. That portion of the Aryans that, upon their migration from the old Bactrian home, reached the shores of the Ægean, found there a land that fostered still more these traits. Here nature was picturesque and diversified, without the stupendous magnitudes that overawe the soul. Above him, the sky was bluest of the blue. The marble hills formed continual pictures. The streams rippled cheerily down their songful beds. The wavelets chased each other playfully in the light zephyrs. All the aspects of earth and sea and sky were bright and gladsome, and conspired to stimulate the imagination of the Greek.

Hellenic religion came thus, by right, to be a happy and luxuriant faith, full of pretty fancies, putting man at ease with the divine, and personifying the gods under the most familiar and graceful shapes:

Sunbeams upon distant hill,
Gliding apace with shadows in their tram,
Might, with small help from fancy, be transformed
Into fleet oreads, sporting visibly.”

The wind was fancied a divine harper, who makes music in the tree-tops, and drives the flocks of the sun — the fleecy clouds — where he wills. The murmuring spring was imaged as a gentle nymph; and within each fine tree was an imprisoned dryad. In short, the diversified and charming scenery supplied an unequaled wealth of religious and mythic lore. And, as man, in this climate, exempt from the debilitating heats of the tropics and the stunting of too severe cold, reached the ideal of bodily perfection, the human form became, not unnaturally, to the Greek, the noblest type under which he could represent the divine. The gods were humanized — stronger and more beautiful beings, to be sure, than ordinary men, but possessed of the same forms, members, and passions.

The course which the Norsemen took when they, in their turn, went forth from the common Aryan home, was less propitious. It led them to a land where the summer was short and the sun soon had to wage a bitter and losing war for long months with frost and snow; a land where the fiords were heavily sealed with ice, and man had a bitter task to keep the wolf of starvation and death from his door. The sternness and gloom of the land were reflected in the Northman's thought and faith. Woden, the stormful, Thor, the thunderer, and Loki, the vengeful and cunning destroyer, become the chief figures in his myths. The interest centers in the struggles of the Aesir, the deities of light and beneficence, against the frost-giants and their allies or servants — the midgard-serpent, the fenris-wolf, and the dreaded Hel — varied personifications of darkness, cold, and death.

Delighting himself, as the Norseman did, in the vigorous exercise and the hearty feasting, to which the frosty air stimulated, his gods