“Even after the final triumph of Christendom they remained in their domains, their respective elements.”

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

In my essay on the Faust legend I discussed at full length the popular superstition concerning Pluto and his dominion. I showed how the old realm of shadows became hell, and how its old gloomy ruler became more and more diabolical. Neither Pluto, god of the nether regions, nor his brother, Neptune, god of the sea, emigrated like the other gods. Even after the final triumph of Christendom they remained in their domains, their respective elements. No matter what silly fables concerning him were invented here above on earth, old Pluto sat by his Proserpine, warm and cosey down below.

Neptune suffered less from calumny than his brother Pluto, and neither church-bell chimes nor organ-strains could offend his ears in the depths of old ocean, where he sat peacefully by the side of his white-bosomed wife, Dame Amphitrite, surrounded by his court of dripping nereids and tritons. Only now and then, when a young sailor crossed the equator, he would dart up from the briny deep, in his hand brandishing the trident, his head crowned with sea-weed, and his flowing, silvery beard reaching down to the navel. Then he would confer on the neophyte the terrible sea-water baptism, accompanying it with a long unctuous harangue, interspersed with coarse sailor jests, to the great delight of the jolly tars. The harangue was frequently interrupted by the spitting of amber quids of chewed tobacco, which Neptune so freely scattered around him. A friend, who gave me a detailed description of the manner in which such a sea-miracle is performed, assured me that the very sailors that laughed most heartily at the droll antics of Neptune never for a moment doubted the existence of such a god, and sometimes when in great danger they even prayed to him.

Neptune, as we have seen, remained monarch of the watery realm; and Pluto, notwithstanding his metamorphosis into Satan, still continued to be prince of the lower regions. They fared better than did their brother Jupiter, who, after the overthrow of their father, Saturn, became ruler of heaven, and as sovereign of the universe resided at Olympus, where, surrounded by his merry troop of gods, goddesses, and nymphs-of-honour, he carried on his ambrosial rule of joy. But when the great catastrophe occurred,—when the rule of the cross, that symbol of suffering, was proclaimed, — then the great Kronides fled, and disappeared amid the tumults and confusion of the transmigration of races. All traces of him were lost, and I have in vain consulted old chronicles and old women: none could give me the least information concerning his fate. With the same purpose in view, I have ransacked many libraries, where I was shown the magnificent codices ornamented with gold and precious stones, true odalisques in the harem of science. To the learned eunuchs who, with such affability, unlocked for me those brilliant treasures, I here return the customary thanks. It appears as if no popular tradition of a medieval Jupiter exists; . . . .

— Heinrich Heine, “Gods in Exile

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