Roman myths, legends and tales
Valerius and the raven (by M. Moravius Horatius Piscinus)
Once, long ago, a great army of Gauls came against the City of Rome. They wanted to burn down the Romans' houses, steal their gold, and take away the Roman women and children as they had done once before. The Romans formed their own army and rushed out of the city gates to stop the Gauls.
Between the two armies there stepped forward a giant of a Gaul. He wore a cloak of many colours. He carried a great shield painted with gold and a long iron sword. The giant Gaul began to strike his shield with the loud bang of his sword, so that everyone would be silent.
"Listen to me, you Romans," the giant shouted. "Let the bravest Roman come forward to fight with me. If I should win, or should he, then we will know whether the Gauls or the Romans are the better men."
The Romans were silent. They knew that they could not refuse the Gaul's challenge, yet none wanted to face the giant alone. Finally a young tribune, Marcus Valerius, stepped forward. He asked the Roman consul Camillus if he could fight the giant.
"Young Valerius," said Camillus, "may the Gods be with you. Go now. Show these Gauls that the Romans are a brave people and will not be conquered."
Marcus Valerius gathered up his sword and shield and stepped forward to do battle with the giant Gaul. The giant looked down on young Valerius. Seeing how small Valerius was, the giant began to laugh. Then he stuck out his tongue, made horrible faces to frighten Valerius, and jumped up and down to shake the ground. But Valerius showed no fear. He stood in silence, waiting for the giant to attack.
Suddenly a marvelous thing happened. A large, black raven flew down and landed on Valerius' helmet.
"Do not be afraid, Valerius," said the raven, "for today, whether by a god or a goddess I am sent, know that they will favor you and guard you against this boastful giant."
Filled with courage, young Valerius rushed forward towards the Gaul. The raven, too, flew forward, attacking the giant with his beak and claws so that the Gaul could not see Valerius. The giant swung his mighty sword around, trying to crash it down on young Valerius' head. But the Gods were with Valerius and caused the giant to miss. Valerius ducked below the Gaul's sword, pushed aside his shield, and then slew the giant.
The other Gauls, seeing what had happened, grew angry and rushed forward. The entire army of the Gauls came to attack Valerius all at once. But then Valerius' friends came forward to help him. Camillus ordered the other soldiers to charge, too.
"Soldiers of Rome," shouted Camillus, "do as Valerius has done. With bravery and courage, face the Gauls as Valerius has faced their giant."
Soon the Roman army drove the Gauls away. They marched back to Rome victorious, hailing Valerius as their hero. Next, even though he was so young, they elected Marcus Valerius to be the new consul after Camillus. From that day on he became known as Valerius Corvus, Valerius the Raven.
Story of Apuleius (summarised by M. Pomponius Lupus)
Lucius, a young man, is travelling across Thessalia, known for its many witches and magicians. Before arriving at Milo, his host who lives in the city Hypata, he is joined on his way there by Aristomenes, who tells him a horrible story about a certain Socrates. This man was the victim of a powerful witch and Aristomenes urges Lucius to be careful, especially around women, since you never know if they are just women, or witches.
While walking through Hypata, Lucius meets Byrrhena, an old friend of his family. After chatting for some time Lucius tells her that he is staying at the house of Milo. Byrrhena immediately warns him that the wife of Milo, Pamphile, is into black magic, but rather than scaring Lucius, she makes him more curious.
Back at the house of Milo, our Lucius has another reason to stay a little longer, namely the young slave Photis, who makes his nights ... a little more comfortable. After a few days in which nothing happened, Lucius is invited by Byrrhena for the Deus Risus festival. After drinking more than was good for young Lucius, he is on his way to the house of Milo, when he is suddenly ambushed by three robbers. Bringing his sword proved to be a good idea and Lucius managed to kill all three bandits.
The next day, Lucius is arrested and brought before the town judges who allow him to speak on his own behalf. As he ends his plea, the whole town starts laughing at him and the truth is revealed: it appears that Lucius hasn't killed anyone, he has merely stabbed three leather wine bags to death and the entire trial was nothing more than a present for the Deus Risus. Overcome with shame and not sure how this could have happened Lucius runs to the house of Milo and doesn't leave the house for some time.
After a few days Photis tells him how it was possible and she shows Lucius how Pamphile can turn herself into a bird. Now, he has to believe that Pamphile indeed is a witch and that she played the trick with the wine bags on him. Photis offers to help Lucius get back at her and gives him a potion that should turn him into a bird as well, so that he can show Pamphile that he's a magician himself. Unfortunately, it all goes wrong, Photis gives him the wrong potion and poor Lucius turns into a donkey. As if that wasn't enough, that very night the house of Milo is attacked by a group of outlaws who use Lucius to carry the loot back to their hide-out...
While being dragged towards the hide-out, Lucius searches for roses along the path to end the spell that made him a donkey, but he finds nothing but cabbages. He manages to escape but a farmer sees him and tries to catch the poor donkey. Lucius attacks the farmer en nearly kills him, but then it's his turn again to be on the run as the angry townsfolk chase him away with dogs. He runs into the arms of the bandits who now make him carry a double load and in a near-death condition he reaches their hide-out.
There, Lucius again hears several stories being told by the robbers and he also hears the famous story of Amor and Psyche, that an old woman, in charge of the cooking, tells to a kidnapped young girl (Charite), in an attempt to cheer her up.
This entire book consists of the story of Amor and Psyche, which is a very nice little story in itself really, here's the link :
Bulfinch's Fables: Amor and Psyche
Lucius again manages to escape and Charite tags along this time, but they don't get far. The old cooking woman is hanged as the robbers think that she has helped them escape. Their plans for Lucius and Charite are far worse: they intend to sew Charite in the belly of Lucius the donkey and then let them rot in the sun...
Haemus, the newest member of the bandits proves to be Tlepolemus, the fiancÚ of Charite. With the help of some sleeping potion, he overcomes all bandits and frees both Charite and the donkey.
After their wedding (of Tlepolemus and Charite that is :-)) it goes downhill again for poor Lucius. He is set to work in a mill and is often tortured by a young slave. In an outburst of rage, Lucius kills the slave, after which the boy's mother attempts to murder the "crazy donkey". Lucius can scare her off, but as she runs to town he hears that he will be butchered the next morning.
The next day, however, the slaves that were going to execute Lucius hear that both Tlepolemus and Charite have died. Their master, Tlepolemus, was murdered by a jealous friend, Thrasyllus, who wanted to marry Charite. But she mixed something in Thrasyllus' drink, which made him fall asleep. Taking the opportunity Charite blinds Thrasyllus en throws herself on the blade of her former husband. Thrasyllus himself locks himself up in the grave of Charite and dies of hunger.
At this news, the slaves flee towards the mountains and drag Lucius with them. After being attacked by large hounds, some more bandits and even a dragon, they make it to the next tow, where another horrible story is told. This time about a slave who slept with the wife of his master. The poor slave was tied to a tree, just above an ant hill, covered in honey and left there until he died. As for Lucius, he is sold to a bunch of priests, belonging to the Syrian goddess and is forced to carry the statue of the Dea Syria.
Nothing but sorrow and grief in this book for Lucius, he is bought and sold numerous times, is forced to work in a mill, hears some more horrible stories and can finally escape with a soldier, who frees him from his last master who was abusing him.
After some travelling the soldier sells Lucius to a magistrate, Thiasus of Corinth, thinking that this man will treat the sad donkey better than his former owners did. At first, Lucius is doing well, he eats well and Thiasus even offers him wine and learns him some tricks. His "magic" donkey is then presented to the rest of the upper class and performs his newly learned tricks so that they reward him with even more wine.
But something had to happen of course and something did; a rich lady in the crowd falls in love with the donkey and when Thiasus sees his donkey in bed with this woman, he decides to show this latest trick to the entire city and sends Lucius to the theatre. Here is supposed to do his "trick" again with a woman who was sentenced to death the day before after which both will be devoured by wild animals...quite the spectacle.
Luckily Lucius manages to escape in the earlier parts of the show and runs towards the port of Corinth where he lies down in the sand and falls asleep.
During a full moon, Lucius prays to Isis and after having cleaned himself seven times in the waves, she appears to him in a dream and gives Lucius her instructions for the next day. As he was told to do, Lucius walks around in the parade of Isis until a priest sees him and places a crown of roses on the donkey's head, who finally turns back into Lucius ! As a token of gratitude he becomes a priest of Isis himself and was last seen spreading her religion in Rome.
Pyramus & Thisbe (by Ti. Dionysius Draco)
Pyramus, a handsome boy, and Thisbe, a beautiful girl lived next to each other in a city known as Babylon. When they were young, they played with each other and when they were old enough, they wanted to get married. Their parents however, hated each other and to keep them from marrying, they locked them up in the house whenever Pyramus or Thisbe were on the streets.
The two lovers had found a way to keep in touch with each other; every night, they went to the courtyard and hugged the wall that kept them apart. The could talk to each other and every time that they would meet, they told each other how much they loved the other. Until one time, after months of talking and whispering to each other, Pyramus had an idea. They would sneak out of the house the next evening and they would meet each other near the brook at he edge of the city.
Thisbe was able to sneak out of the house and covered her face with a veil. She hurried to the brook and waited at the trunk of a mulberry tree. It was a full moon that night and when she saw a shadow, she thought it was here beloved Pyramus. However when she looked closer, she saw it was a lion. Its face covered in blood from his prey. He came here every night to drink, but now, he found something strange near the brook. It was Thisbes veil wich she dropped when she fled into a nearby cave. The lion tore the veil to pieces and bloodied it. But the lion didn't like its taste so he drank and went away.
When Pyramus arrived, he immediately saw the veil of wich he knew belonged to Thisbe. The veil was torn and bloodied and when he saw tracks of the lion, he feared the worst. He blamed himself for leading her to this dangerous place and arriving too late. Blinded by his own sorrow and guilt, he unsheated his dagger and thrust it into his chest.
Thisbe, who had been waiting in the cave, looked around the corner to see if the lion had already gone away when she saw Pyramus' lifeless body lying at against the trunk of the mulberry tree. She cried over his body for a long time and then she realised how they could finally be together. She pulled the dagger out of her lovers chest and killed herself with it. Now they were joined together for eternity in death.
And to remind everybody of the undying love between Pyramus and Thisbe, the gods decided that the white fruits of the mulberry tree should be coloured black, the colour of mourning.
Three tales by Aesopos (told by Ti. Dionysius Draco)
The Miller, his Son and their Ass
A Miller and his son were driving their Ass to a neighboring fair to sell him. They had not gone far when they met with a troop of women collected round a well, talking and laughing. "Look there," cried one of them, "did you ever see such fellows, to be trudging along the road on foot when they might ride?' The old man hearing this, quickly made his son mount the Ass, and continued to walk along merrily by his side.
Presently they came up to a group of old men in earnest debate. "There," said one of them, "it proves what I was a-saying. What respect is shown to old age in these days? Do you see that idle lad riding while his old father has to walk? Get down, you young scapegrace, and let the old man rest his weary limbs." Upon this the old man made his son dismount, and got up himself.
In this manner they had not proceeded far when they met a company of women and children: "Why, you lazy old fellow," cried several tongues at once, "how can you ride upon the beast, while that poor little lad there can hardly keep pace by the side of you?' The good-natured Miller immediately took up his son behind him.
They had now almost reached the town. "Pray, honest friend," said a citizen, "is that Ass your own?' "Yes," replied the old man. "O, one would not have thought so," said the other, "by the way you load him. Why, you two fellows are better able to carry the poor beast than he you." "Anything to please you," said the old man; "we can but try." So, alighting with his son, they tied the legs of the Ass together and with the help of a pole endeavored to carry him on their shoulders over a bridge near the entrance to the town.
This entertaining sight brought the people in crowds to laugh at it, till the Ass, not liking the noise nor the strange handling that he was subject to, broke the cords that bound him and, tumbling off the pole, fell into the river. Upon this, the old man, vexed and ashamed, made the best of his way home again, convinced that by endeavoring to please everybody he had pleased nobody, and lost his Ass in the bargain.
The Salt Merchant and his Ass
A Peddler drove his Ass to the seashore to buy salt. His road home lay across a stream into which his Ass, making a false step, fell by accident and rose up again with his load considerably lighter, as the water melted the sack. The Peddler retraced his steps and refilled his panniers with a larger quantity of salt than before. When he came again to the stream, the Ass fell down on purpose in the same spot, and, regaining his feet with the weight of his load much diminished, brayed triumphantly as if he had obtained what he desired. The Peddler saw through his trick and drove him for the third time to the coast, where he bought a cargo of sponges instead of salt. The Ass, again playing the fool, fell down on purpose when he reached the stream, but the sponges became swollen with water, greatly increasing his load. And thus his trick recoiled on him, for he now carried on his back a double burden.
The Buffoon and the Countryman
A rich nobleman once opened the theaters without charge to the people, and gave a public notice that he would handsomely reward any person who invented a new amusement for the occasion. Various public performers contended for the prize. Among them came a Buffoon well known among the populace for his jokes, and said that he had a kind of entertainment which had never been brought out on any stage before. This report being spread about made a great stir, and the theater was crowded in every part.
The Buffoon appeared alone upon the platform, without any apparatus or confederates, and the very sense of expectation caused an intense silence. He suddenly bent his head towards his bosom and imitated the squeaking of a little pig so admirably with his voice that the audience declared he had a porker under his cloak, and demanded that it should be shaken out. When that was done and nothing was found, they cheered the actor, and loaded him with the loudest applause. A Countryman in the crowd, observing all that has passed, said, "So help me, Hercules, he shall not beat me at that trick!" and at once proclaimed that he would do the same thing on the next day, though in a much more natural way. On the morrow a still larger crowd assembled in the theater, but now partiality for their favorite actor very generally prevailed, and the audience came rather to ridicule the Countryman than to see the spectacle.
Both of the performers appeared on the stage. The Buffoon grunted and squeaked away first, and obtained, as on the preceding day, the applause and cheers of the spectators. Next the Countryman commenced, and pretending that he concealed a little pig beneath his clothes (which in truth he did, but not suspected by the audience ) contrived to take hold of and to pull his ear causing the pig to squeak. The Crowd, however, cried out with one consent that the Buffoon had given a far more exact imitation, and clamored for the Countryman to be kicked out of the theater. On this the rustic produced the little pig from his cloak and showed by the most positive proof the greatness of their mistake. "Look here," he said, "this shows what sort of judges you are."
Herakles in Italia, by Livius (told by Ti. Coruncianus)
Herculem in ea loca Geryone interempto boves mira specie abegisse memorant, ac prope Tiberim fluuium, qua prae se armentum agens nando traiecerat, loco herbido ut quiete et pabulo laeto reficeret boves et ipsum fessum via procubuisse. Ibi cum eum cibo uinoque gravatum sopor oppressisset, pastor accola eius loci, nomine Cacus, ferox viribus, captus pulchritudine boum cum avertere eam praedam vellet, quia si agendo armentum in speluncam compulisset ipsa uestigia quaerentem dominum eo deductura erant, aversos boves eximium quemque pulchritudine caudis in speluncam traxit. Hercules ad primam auroram somno excitus cum gregem perlustrasset oculis et partem abesse numero sensisset, pergit ad proximam speluncam, si forte eo uestigia ferrent. Quae ubi omnia foras versa vidit nec in partem aliam ferre, confusus atque incertus animi ex loco infesto agere porro armentum occepit. Inde cum actae boves quaedam ad desiderium, ut fit, relictarum mugissent, reddita inclusarum ex spelunca boum vox Herculem convertit. Quem cum vadentem ad speluncam Cacus vi prohibere conatus esset, ictus claua fidem pastorum nequiquam invocans morte occubuit. [T. Livius 1.7]
According to the tales, Hercules after killing Geryon arrived in these regions driving the cattle of the slain king which were exceedingly beautiful. Close to the Tiber, near the spot where he had swum across with them, Hercules came upon a grassy meadow; here weary from walking he lay down to rest and allowed the cattle to rest themselves in the fertile pasture. Drowsy with food and drink he fell asleep and while he slept a shepherd of the region named Cacus, a ferocious man, encountered the cattle and was taken by their beauty instantly. Wanting to steal them, he understood that if he drove them to his cave in the normal fashion their tracks could not but help to guide their master there soon after he began to search for them. So Cacus took some of the finest of the bunch and dragged them backwards by their tails to his cave. At dawn Hercules awoke and looking over the heard he noticed that some of the beasts were missing, to the nearest cave he went in the hope traces of them lead there, he saw that all the tracks lead away from the place. Confused and uncertain, Hercules took the rest of his heard from the evil place. Then as they left, some of the oxen began to call to the absent cattle because they missed them and from the cave came an answering call. Hercules returned to the cave and when Cacus saw him coming he tried to repel him by force. Hercules saved the cattle and slew Cacus as he called for help in vain.