History of Greece - Early Mythology

The history of the Grecian states commences about 1800 years before Christ, when the Egyptians on the opposite side of the Mediterranean. were in a high state of civilization; but the portion of history which precedes 884 B.C. is understood to be fabulous, and entitled to little credit.

According to the Greek poets, the original inhabitants of the country, denominated Pelasgians, were a race of savages, who lived in caves, and clothed themselves with the skins of the wild beasts. Uranus, an Egyptian prince, landed in the country, and became the father of a family of giants, named Titans, who rebelled against, and dethroned him. His son Saturn, who reigned in his stead, in order to prevent the like misfortune from befalling himself, ordered all his own children to be put to death as soon as they were born. But one named Jupiter was concealed by the mother, and reared in the island of Crete, from which in time he returned, and deposed his father. The Titans, jealous of this new prince, rebelled against him, but were vanished and expelled for ever from the country.

Jupiter divided his dominions with his brothers Neptune and Pluto.

The countries which he reserved to himself he governed with great wisdom, holding his court on Mount Olympus, a hill in Thessaly, 9000 feet in height, and the loftiest in Greece. Any truth which there might be in the story of the Titans and their princes was completely disguised by the poets, and by the popular imagination. Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, were looked back to, not as mortals, but as deities and the top of Mount Olympus was supposed to be the heavenly residence of gods, by whom the affairs of mortals were governed. And for ages after the dawn of philosophy, these deified sons of Saturn, and numberless others connected with them, were the objects of the national worship, not only among the Greeks, but also among the Romans.

At an uncertain but very early date an Asiatic people named the Hellenes immigrated into Greece, in some cases expelling the Pelasgi, and in others intermingling with them, so that in process of time all the inhabitants of Greece came to be called Hellenes. They were, however, divided into several tribes the principal of which were the Dorians, Aeolians, and Ionians, each of whom spoke a dialect differing in some respect from those made use of by the others. These dialects were named the Doric, Aeolic, and Ionic, in reference to the tribes which used them and a fourth, which was afterwards formed from the Ionic, was named the Attic, from its being spoken by the inhabitants of Attica.

In the year 1856 B.C., Inachus a Phoenician adventurer, is said to have arrived in Greece at the head of a small band of his countrymen. Phoenicia, a petty state on the coast of the Mediterranean, in Asia Minor, was at this time one of a few countries, including Egypt and Assyria, in which some degree of civilization prevailed, while all the rest of the people of the earth remained in their original barbarism like the Pelasgians before the supposed arrival of Uranus. Navigation for the purposes of commerce, and the art of writing, are said to have originated with the Phoenicans. On their arrival in Greece, Inachus and his friends founded the city of Argos, at the head of what is now called the Gulf of Napoli, in the Peloponnesus.

Three hundred years after this event (1556 B.C.), a colony, led by an Egyptian named Cecrops, arrived in Attica, and founded the celebrated city of Athens, fortifying a high rock which rose precipitously above the site afterwards occupied by the town.

Egypt is situated in the north-eastern part of Africa. It is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, and is watered by the great river Nile, the periodical overflowings of which by supplying the moisture necessary for vegetation, render the soil very fertile. From this country, which had at a very early period made considerable advances in some of the arts and sciences (see ANCIENT HISTORY), Cecrops imparted much valuable knowledge to the rude inhabitants of Attica, whom he had persuaded or obliged to acknowledge him as their chief or king. He placed his rocky fastness under the protection of an Egyptian goddess, from whose Greek name, Athena (afterwards changed by the Latins into Minerva), the city which subsequently rose around the eminence was called Athens.

About the year 1493 B.C., Cadmus, a Phoenician, founded the city of Thebes in Boeotia and among other useful things which he communicated to the Greeks, lie is said to have taught them alphabetical writing, although it is certain that that art did not come into common use in Greece until several centuries after this period.

The city of Corinth, situated on the narrow isthmus which connects the Peloponnesus with the mainland of Greece, was founded in the year 1520 B.C., and from its very advantageous position on the arm of the sea to which it anciently gave its name, but which is now known as the Gulf of Lepanto, it very soon became a place of considerable commercial importance. Sparta or Lacedaemon, the celebrated capital of Laconia in the Peloponnesus, is said to have been founded about 1520 B. C . by Lelex, an Egyptian.

In the year 1485 B.C., an Egyptian named Danaus, accompanied by a party of his countrymen, arrived at Argos, the inhabitants of which must have been at that period in an exceedingly rude state, since it is said that he excited their gratitude so much by teaching them to dig wells, when the streams from which they were supplied with water were dried up with the heat, that they elected him as their king.