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November--The Ninth Month

On the thirteenth of this "ninth" month the Romans held a feast in honour of Jupiter, the ruler of gods and men. From the clouded top of Mount Olympus he held sway over the whole world, and even the gods had to bow to his supreme will. Terrible indeed was it to anger any of the gods, but no punishment was more swift and sure than that sent by Jupiter when he was enraged. We have seen how with his thunderbolt he slew the proud and reckless Phaeton, and we have another example in the story of Bellerophon. This hero, who was staying at the court of a Grecian king, was set the task of killing the Chimaera, a terrible monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, a dragon's tail, and breath of fire. While sorrowfully wondering how he could possibly perform so difficult a task, Bellerophon suddenly found before him the goddess Minerva, who asked him the cause of his trouble. As soon as she had learnt of his task she promised to help him, and, giving him a golden bridle, told him to bridle the horse Pegasus.

Now Pegasus was a winged horse which the sea-god Neptune had made from the drops of blood that fell into the sea from the head of the Gorgon Medusa, slain by Perseus. He was perfectly white and of great speed, and, as Bellerophon well knew, came down to earth to drink at a certain spring. Bellerophon waited in hiding by this spring, and taking Pegasus by surprise, jumped upon his back. The winged horse at once flew up to a great height, trying to unseat Bellerophon; but the hero succeeded in putting on Minerva's golden bridle, when Pegasus at once became gentle. Bellerophon then set off on his task, and suddenly swooping down from the sky upon the Chimaera, overcame and killed the dreadful monster. His task accomplished, he might now have lived in happiness, but he became filled with pride because of the wonderful flights he had made on Pegasus. One day, as he soared up higher and higher, he began to think himself equal to the gods, and wished to join them on Mount Olympus. This angered Jupiter, who sent a gadfly which stung Pegasus. Suddenly rearing up, the winged horse threw the proud Bellerophon far down to the earth beneath.

The goddess, Minerva, who appeared to Bellerophon, was a daughter of Jupiter, but she was born in a very strange way, for she sprang out of her father's head, clothed in bright armour, and with a spear in her hand. She became the Goddess of Wisdom (as we have seen in the story of Paris), of the arts and the sciences, and of spinning and weaving. Her skill in weaving is shown by the following story.

There once lived in Greece a girl named Arachne, who was so clever at needlework that at last in her pride she boasted that she could weave more skilfully than Minerva herself. Minerva, angered by these words, one day came down to Arachne's home, and accepted the challenge which she had so rashly made. The story is thus told by the poet Spenser in "The Fate of the Butterflie":

  "Minerva did the challenge not refuse,
  But deigned with her the paragon to make;
  So to their work they sit, and each doth choose
  What story she will for her tapet take".

Arachne pictured the story of Jupiter when, disguised as a white bull, he carried off Europa to the land which afterwards bore the name Europe. Minerva chose for her work the story of her own contest with the sea-god Neptune as to which of them should have the honour of naming a new city that had been built in Greece. Jupiter had said that the honour would be given to the one who gave the most useful gift to man, and he called all the gods together to judge the contest. Neptune struck the ground with his trident and there sprang forth a horse. The gods were filled with wonder at the sight of the noble animal, and when Neptune explained how useful it would be to man, they all thought that the victory would be his. Minerva then produced an olive tree; at this all the gods laughed with scorn, but when the goddess, heedless of their laughter, had explained how all its parts--the wood, the fruit, and the leaves--could be used by man, how it was the sign of peace while the horse was the symbol of war, they decided that Minerva had won, and since her name among the Greeks was Athene, she gave to the city the name of Athens.

All this the goddess wove in her tapestry:
"Then sets she forth, how with her weapon dread
She smote the ground, the which straight forth did yield
A fruitful Olive tree, with berries spread,
That all the gods admired: then all the story
She compassed with a wreath of Olives hoary.
Amongst the leaves she made a Butterfly,
With excellent device and wondrous sleight,
Flutt'ring among the Olives wantonly,
That seemed to live, so like it was in sight;
The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie,
The silken down with which his back is dight,
His broad outstretched horns, his hairy thighs,
His glorious colours, and his glistening eyes.
Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid
And mastered with workmanship so rare,
She stood astonied long, nor ought gainsaid;
And with fast-fixed eyes on her did stare,
And by her silence, sugn of one dismayed,
The victory did yield her as her share."

Then in anger and despair, the unhappy girl hanged herself, and Minerva turned her dangling body into a spider, and bade her for ever spin and weave.

The Angles and Saxons had two names for this month of November: "Windmonath", that is, "wind month", and "Blodmonath", that is, "blood month". The latter name arose from the fact that during this month they slaughtered large numbers of cattle to last them through the cold and dreary winter.

Next: Chapter XII. December--The Tenth Month