Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/711

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693
SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT THE DOLPHIN.

this was believed, it became a sure evidence to the Greeks that the animal must have once been a man, one of the wild, piratical, Tyrrhenians whom Dionysus in punishment changed into a dolphin. Out of this grew the idea of the moral attributes that wore ascribed to the animal, its parental love, its humors, etc. Thus it became still more appropriately a symbol of the sea and a constant companion of Neptune, while its speed was compared with that of the horse, a creature of Neptune's. It was the dolphin that hunted up Amphitrite when she fled to the depths of the sea to avoid a marriage with Neptune, and guarded her till the god led her home as his spouse; and Neptune, in recognition of its skill and fidelity, made it his sacred animal, and set it as a constellation in the northwestern sky. Thus it came also that Ulysses, the ideal sailor, carried the symbol of the dolphin on his shield and wore it engraved on his signet-ring.

These mystic views of the animal were impressed on other people, and found expression in new tales and forms. Conrad, of Megenburg, the first German naturalist, introduced them to the Germans in the fourteenth century, to whom he described the dolphin as an animal without malice, living to be a hundred years old, loving music and friendly to men, and told the story of Arion and the boys with the dolphin. The Greek myths were also translated to the Christian saints' legends, and we have in the latter stories of wonderful deliverances of God-beloved persons, like those which had so often appeared in the Hellenic epics of a thousand years before; and the dolphin thus found its way into the ancient Christian symbolism, where it figured as an emblem of love, of marriage-fidelity, and of the Christian; for it was regarded as a fish, and the fish was used (after the text in Matthew iv, 19, "I will make you fishers of men") to designate souls gained by baptism or conversion. Therefore it is often found on baptismal basins, and on grave-stones in the catacombs to indicate that the person resting there was a Christian; and it occurs, with an anchor, on the lids of Christian coffins. This curious and peculiar symbolism is less wonderful when we reflect that ancient Christian art was wont, in its dread of anthropomorphism, to betake itself to zoöraorphism, and that it represented Christ himself by a fish. In the Belgian legends, the largest fish of the country, the sturgeon, figures instead of the dolphin as the deliverer and leader, and carries St. Amalberga over the Thames when she wishes to go to a cloister. In the German legend, Notburga is assisted across the Neckar by a stag.

These considerations will help to explain much that is mysterious in myth, legend, and art, in reference to the dolphin. It is quite obvious also that ancient artists prized this animal the more because it belonged to the beautiful forms of nature. The graceful lines of its body, contrasted with the relatively monotonous outlines of the fishes, commended it to their regard, and were appreciated by artists on account of the animation which the animal's movements in the water imparted