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Apollo's Lyre

Tales beyond belief

The Myth of Apollo's Lyre
Mercury was the child of Maia, the eldest of the Pleiades, and lived with his mother in a cave among the mountains. One day, when he was only just big enough to walk, he ran out of doors to play in the sunshine, and saw a spotted tortoise-shell lying in the grass. He laughed with pleasure at sight of the pretty thing, and quickly carried it into the cave.

Then he bored holes in the edge of the shell, fastened hollow reeds inside, and with a piece of leather and strings made a lyre of it. This was the first lyre that was ever made, and most wonderful music lay hidden in it.

That night, when his mother was asleep, Mercury crept slyly out of his cradle and went out into the moonlight; he ran to the pastures where Apollo's white cattle were sleeping, and stole fifty of the finest heifers. Then he threw his baby-shoes into the ocean, and bound great limbs of tamarisk to his feet, so that no one would be able to tell who had been walking in the soft sand. After this, he drove the cattle hither and thither in great glee for a while, and then took them down the mountain and shut them into a cave - but one would think from the tracks left in the sand that the cattle had been driven up, instead of down the mountain.

A peasant, who was hoeing in his vineyard by the light of the full moon, saw this wonderful baby pass by, driving the cattle, and could hardly believe his own eyes. No one else saw Mercury; and just at sunrise, the little mischief went home to his mother's cave, slipped in through the keyhole, and in a twinkling was in his cradle with his tortoise-shell lyre held tightly in his arms, looking as if he had been sleeping there all night.

Apollo soon missed his cattle. It happened that the man who had been hoeing his grape-vines by moonlight was still working in the same field. When Apollo asked him whether he had seen any one driving cattle over that road, the man described the baby that he had seen, with the curious shoes, and told him how it had driven the cattle backward and forward, and up and down.

By daylight, the road looked as if the wind had been playing havoc with the young evergreens. Their twigs were scattered here and there, and great branches seemed to have been broken off and blown about in the sand. There were no tracks of any living thing, except the tracks of the cattle, which led in all directions. This was very confusing, but Apollo, knowing that no baby, except his own baby brother, could drive cattle, went straight to Maia's cave.

There lay Mercury in his cradle, fast asleep. When Apollo accused him of stealing his white cattle, he sat up and rubbed his eyes, and said innocently that he did not know what cattle were; he had just heard the word for the first time. But Apollo was angry, and insisted that the baby should go with him to Jupiter, to have the dispute settled.

When the two brothers came before Jupiter's throne, Mercury kept on saying that he had never seen any cattle and did not know what they were; but as he said so, he gave Jupiter such a roguish wink that he made the god laugh heartily. Then he suddenly caught up his lyre, and began to play. The music was so beautiful that all the gods in Olympus held their breath to listen. Even Jupiter's fierce eagle nodded his head to the measures. When Mercury stopped playing, Apollo declared that such music was well worth the fifty cattle, and agreed to say no more about the theft. This so pleased Mercury that he gave Apollo the lyre.

Then Apollo, in return for the gift of the wonderful lyre, gave Mercury a golden wand, called the caduceus, which had power over sleep and dreams, and wealth and happiness. At a later time two wings fluttered from the top of this wand, and two golden snakes were twined round it. Besides presenting Mercury with the caduceus, Apollo made him herdsman of the wonderful white cattle. Mercury now drove the fifty heifers back to their pastures. So the quarrel was made up, and the two brothers, Apollo and Mercury, became the best of friends.

On a day when the wind is blowing and driving fleecy white clouds before it, perhaps, if you look up, you will see the white cattle of Apollo. But you will have to look very sharp to see the herdsman, Mercury.

The Legend and Myth of Apollo's Lyre

The Myth of Apollo's Lyre
The story of Apollo's Lyre is featured in the book entitled Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde, published in 1904 by D. C. Heath and Company.

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