Mystagogus poeticus

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Introductory notes

Alexander Ross (c. 1590–1654) was a Scottish writer and divine. He was vicar of St. Mary's Church, Carisbrooke and was appointed chaplain-in-ordinary to Charles I. A prolific writer in Latin and English, he translated the Quran into English from the French translation of Du Ryer. The Mystagogus Poeticus or, the Muses Interpreter (1647) is a major contribution to the interpretation of myth, and derews liberay on earlier works of its kind. Ross favours a style of multiple interpretation of myth – civil, physical and moral – often ending with a specifically Christian reading. The examples chosen here are of the myths of Apollo and the Eumenides.

The historicall Mysteries and
mysticall Histories of the ancient
Greek and Latine poets
Here Apollo's Temple is opened,
the Muses Treasures discovered and the
Gardens of Parnassus disclosed whence ma-
ny flowers of usefull delightfull and
rare observations never touched
by any other Mythologist,
are collected.

Et prodesse volunt, & delectare Poetae.
Printed for Richard Whitaker at the Kings arms in Pauls Church-yard. M. DC. XL VII

PUBLISHED FOR Richard Whitaker


[Page 21]

1.1. APOLLO.

HEe was the son of Jupiter and Laton, born in Delos; hee kill'd the Serpent Python, the Giant Tysion, Marsyas the Musician, and the Cyclops that made Jupiters thunder, [Page 22] with which his son Aesculapius was slain; for which fact Jupiter banished him, and drove him to feed Admetus his sheep, and to help Neptune in building of the wars of Troy: hee was the god of Wisdome, of Physick, of Musick, and Arching.


  1. BY Apollo may be meant God himself: for as they painted Apollo with his harp, and tho three Graces in one hand, with a shield and two arrows in the other; so by this perhaps they meant that God was not onely a punisher of wickednesse, but a rewarder of goodnesse; as hee had two arrowes, so be hath many punishments: but yet he hath the comfortable harp of his mercy to sweeten them in the other hand; and having but two arrowes, hath three graces, to shew that hee hath more mercies then punishments: and therefore the same hand that holds the arrowes, holds also the shield, to shew that even when his arrowes flye at us, yet with his shield hee defends and supports us. God shot his arrowes at Abraham, when hee raised so many Kings against him; yet at the same time hee forbids him to feare; for faith hee, I am thy shield, Gen. 15.1. And that by Apollo was meant the supreme God, is plain by the Alsyrians, in joyning the pictures of Apollo and Jupiter together, whom they painted with a whip in one hand, and the thunder in the other, to shew, that God hath diversitie of punishments, according to the diversitie of offences, some gentle, some more rigorous. For this cause the Egyptians represented him by a Scepter with an Eye, to signifie both his knowledge and providence, by which the world is guided: And they painted him with wings, to signifie the of his motion; by which it appears, that Jupiter and Apollo were with them one and the same god.
  2. I finde that Apollo is painted with one side of his head shaved, the other hairy; by which I think they meant, that while the Sun shined to one hemispere, [Page 23] the other was dark; for by his hair they meant his beams, and by his baldnesse darknesse, caused by his absence.
  3. By Apollo is ordinarily understood the unne, which as his name sheweth, is both the destroyer and preserver of things; he is the son of Jupiter, because he is a part of heaven, or because he was created by God; he was born of Latona, because God brought light out of darknesse, and the Sun out of the Chaos; born in Delos, which signifieth manifestation, for the Sun discovereth all things; he kill'd Python the Serpent, because the Sun by his heat disperseth all purrefied vapours, and cleareth the air from mists; for of purrefaction venemous beasts are procreated; so he kill'd Jupiters Thundermaker, because the Sun cleers the air, and consumes those exhalations and moistures, of which Thunder is ingendred.

When Apollo was born, Diana his sister, who was first born, was the Midwife to bring forth Apollo; that may signifie that the Sun is freed from his eclipse and darknesse, when the Moon departeth from him; he is still Beardlesse, to shew his perpetuall youth, his long hair shews his beams; he feedeth sheep, because his heat produceth grasse; hee is carried in a Chariot drawn with four horses, to shew his motion, and the four seasons of the year, or the four parts of the Artificiall day, as his horses names do shew, Atythraeus, Actaeon, Lampos, Philogeus; for he is red in the morning, cleer about nine of the clock, in his full splendour at noon, and draws to the earth in the evening; hee is the god of Wisdom, not by infusing the habit or essence thereof, but by preparing and fitting the Organs for the use and exercise thereof; therefore Southern people are more subtile, wise and ingenious, then the Northern. And because from the Sun divers predictions are gathered of the alteration of Weather, and other sublunary mutations, [Page 24] he was called the great Prophet, and god of Divination; hee was also called the god of physick, both because Physicall herbs have their strength from the Sun, and often-times the spring cureth the winter diseases, and the summer the infirmities of the spring; he was called the god of musick, because he cleers up the spirits of all things; therefore the birds do welcome his approach with their melodious harmonie; therefore the Swan was dedicated to him, and the grashoppers also; and as in musick, so in his motion and operations there is a harmony; and because he fits the air, which is the medium of musick and of all sounds; the Muses for this cause are in his custodie; which were inlarged from three to nine, according as the number of strings increased in musicall instruments; he was called an Archer because his beames like arrows fly every where; His Tripos, which some will have to be a table called also Cortina, from Pythons skin, with which it was covered, others a threefooted vessell, others a threefooted chair, wherein they fate that prophesied; I say, this Tripos may signifie the three circles in the Zodiack, which every yeer hee toucheth, to wit, the Ecliptick, and the two Tropicks.

They that died suddenly, or of any violent disease were said to be killed by Apollo, because the Sun with extreme heat doth cause famine and infection Feavers. Thus he was said to shoot with his arrows Amphions children; to him were dedicated the strong Bull, the white Swan, the quick-sighted Raven; to signifie the power, and beauty, and piercing light of the Sun; which because it detecteth obscure things, hee was called a Prophet the Olive, Palm, and Baytree also were dedicated to him, both because the Olive and Palm grow not but in hot countries; and because they are, as the Baytree, usefull in physick, and of an hot quality like the Sun, therefore he was said to be in love with Daphne, the daughter of the River [Page 25] Peneus, because on the banks of that River are good store of Baytrees: his shooes and garments were of gold, to shew his colour; hee with Neptune built the walls of Troy, to shew, that without Gods assistance no City or State can stand or be built.

His love which hee bare to the flower Hyacinthus, is to show, that flowers doe bud and prosper by the Sun, and die with cold winds; therefore Zephyrus was the cause of his death: and perhaps Apollo and Neptune were said to build Troys walls, because morter and brick are made by the help of heat and water; or because Laomedon either stole or borrowed some treasure out of the Temples of Apollo and Neptune. Our Saviour Christ is the true Apollo, both a destroyer of Satans Kingdome, and a saver of his people; for [...]is as much as to loose by paying the price of redemption; hee is the Sun of righteousnesse, by whose beams and arrowes, that is, his word, Python the divell is subdued: he is the Son of God, and the God of Wisdom, the great Prophet, the Son of Latona, that is, of an obscure maid: the true God of physick, who cureth all our infirmities; and the God of musick too, for that harmony of affections and communion of Saints in the Church is from him; hee hath subdued our Giants, that is, our spirituall foes, by whose malice the thunder of Gods wrath was kindled against us: Hee is immortall, and the good Shepherd who hath laid downe his life for his sheep; having for his sheeps sake forsaken his Fathers glory; and hee it is who hath built the walls of Jerusalem.

Apollo was never so much in love with Hyacinthus, as Christ was with the sons of men. As the Sun amongst the Planets, so is a King amongst his subjects; King is Apoll, the destroyer of the wicked, and a preserver of good men; the light and life, and beauty of his people; a God of wisdome amongst them, to guide them with good lawes; a God of physick, to cut off rotten and hurtfull members, to purge out all grosse humours, that is, bad manners, with the pils of justice, and to cheer up with [Page 26] cordi ls or rewards the sound and solid parts of the politick body; hee is a God of musick also, for where there is no King or head, there can be no harmony nor concord; hee is a prophet, to foresee and prevent those dangers which the people cannot; hee is a subduer of Pythons and Giants, that is, of all pestiferous disturbers and oppressors of the State: his arrowes are his Lawes and power, which reacheth thorow all the parts of his dominion: hee is a good shepherd; and Kings are so called; and a King thus qualified shall be like the Sun, still glorious, immortall, youthfull, and green like the Palm, Olive, and Baytree; but if hee doth degenerate into a tyrant, then hee is the cause of mortality, as the Sun is, when hee inflames the air with excessive heat.


[Page 89]


THese were the three Furies, the daughters as Pluto and roserpina, or of hell, darknesse, night, and earth; in heaven they were called Dirae, in earth Harpiae, in hell Furiae: they had snakes instead of hairs, brasen feet, torches in one hand, and whips in the other, and wings to fly with.


  1. THe Ancients did worship the Furies with sacrifices altars and temples, as they did the other gods; not, that these might doe them any good, but that they might doe them no hurt: There they worshipped the gods Aerrunci, so called ab averrun ando, or Aver endo, that they might forbeare to hurt them. It is the part of every wise man not to exasperate a potent adversary, but to mitigate his furie. Thus wee must deale with tyrants; though they doe not love us, yet wee must fawne upon them, that they may not wrong us.
  2. There was a temple in Achaia dedicated to the Furies, into which whosoever went, that was guilty of murther, incest, or such like impieties, fell presently distracted and mad. I doubt mee that temple is yet extant among us, and that too many have been in it, there is such mannesse, and so many distractions and distempers among us.
  3. Commonly these three furies are taken for the tortures of an evill conscience, proceeding from the guilt of sinne; they cause feare, and furie, as the word Erinnys signifieth; hell is the place of their aboad, and where they are, there is hell; the tortures whereof are begun in the conscience of wicked men.
  4. There are three unruly passions in men, [Page 90] answering to these three furies: covetousnesse is All to, which never giveth over seeking wealth; and indeed this is the greatest of all the furies, and will not suffer the miser to eat and enjoy the goods that hee hath gotten:
    Furiarum maxima, juxia
    Accubat, & manibus prohibes contingere me sas. Ae n. 6.

This is an Harpie indeed, not only delighting in rapine, but polluting every thing it hath, Contacts omnia foed immundo, Aen. 3. this may be called Jupiters dog, or rather a dog in the m nger, neither eating himselfe, nor suffering others to hear. The second furie is Megaera, that is, Envie, full of poyson and snakie hairs. The third is This phone, which is Inordinate anger, or a revengefull disposition: the burning torch and wings shew the nature of anger: all these have their beginning and being from Hell, from Darknesse, and Night; even from Satan, and the two-fold darknesse that is in us, to wit, the ignorance of our understanding, and the corruption of our will: but as the Furies had no accesse unto Apollo's temple, but were placed in the porch, (ul ic sque sedent in lumine Dirae, Aenead. 8.) although otherwise they were had in great veneration: so neither have they accesse unto the mindes of good men, which are the temples of the holy Ghost. Gods three judgements which hee sends to punish us, to wit, plague, famine, and sword, are the three furies: Megaera is the plague, it sweeps and takes away multitudes: the famine is Alecto, which is never satissied: and the sword is this phone, a revenger of sin, and a murtherer. These have their seat in hell, as they are sent from, or raised by Satan; and in heaven also as they are sent by God, without whose permission Satan can do nothing: they may be called Harpies from [...], as the Furies were, because they snatch and carry all things headlong with them: and Dirae,quas Dei irae, being the effects of Gods anger; they are Jupiters [Page 91] dogs, the executioners of Gods wrath, and devourers of sinners; they come swistly with wings, and tread hard with their brazen feet: the plague is the snake that poysoneth, the famine is the torch that consumeth and burneth, the sword is the whip that draweth bloud. Ministers should be Eumenides, from [...], that is, gracious, benevolent, of a good minde, as the word signifieth, being properly taken. They should have the wisdome of Serpents in their heads, the torch of Gods word in one hand, the whip of Discipline in the other; the wings of contemplation, and the brazen feet of a constant and shining conversation.

This is a selection from the original text


harmony, heat, incest, music, sheep, weather

Source text

Title: Mystagogus poeticus, or, The muses interpreter: explaining the historicall mysteries and mysticall histories of the ancient Greek and Latine poets Here Apollo's temple is opened, the muses treasures discovered and the gardens of parnassus disclosed whence ma- ny flowers of usefull delightfull and rare observations never touched by any other mythologist, are collected.

Author: Alexander Ross

Publisher: Kings Arms

Publication date: 1647

Place of publication: London

Provenance/location: Procured from EEBO Date: 1647 Bibliographic name / number: Wing / R1964 Physical description: [14], 275, [22] p. Copy from: Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery Reel position: Wing / 475:01

Digital edition

Original author(s): Alexander Ross

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) title page
  • 2 ) Apollo
  • 3 ) Eumenides


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: Britain > nonfiction prose > classical works

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.