Thomas Bulfinch > The Age of Fable > Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes > XXXII. b. Elysium
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Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867).  Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes.  1913.

XXXII. b.  Elysium
 
VIRGIL, we have seen, places his Elysium under the earth, and assigns it for a residence to the spirits of the blessed. But in Homer Elysium forms no part of the realms of the dead. He places it on the west of the earth, near Ocean, and describes it as a happy land, where there is neither snow, nor cold, nor rain, and always fanned by the delightful breezes of Zephyrus. Hither favored heroes pass without dying and live happy under the rule of Rhadamanthus. The Elysium of Hesiod and Pindar is in the Isles of the Blessed, or Fortunate Islands, in the Western Ocean. From these sprang the legend of the happy island Atlantis. This blissful region may have been wholly imaginary, but possibly may have sprung from the reports of some storm-driven mariners who had caught a glimpse of the coast of America.   1
  J. R. Lowell, in one of his shorter poems, claims for the present age some of the privileges of that happy realm. Addressing the Past, he says:
        “Whatever of true life there was in thee,
Leaps in our age’s veins.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .
Here, ’mid the bleak waves of our strife and care,
  Float the green ‘Fortunate Isles,’
Where all thy hero-spirits dwell and share
  Our martyrdoms and toils.
    The present moves attended
With all of brave and excellent and fair
    That made the old time splendid.”
   2
  Milton also alludes to the same fable in “Paradise Lost,” Book III., 1. 568:
        “Like those Hesperian gardens famed of old,
Fortunate fields and groves and flowery vales,
Thrice happy isles.”
   3
  And in Book II. he characterizes the rivers of Erebus according to the meaning of their names in the Greek language:
        “Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate,
Sad Acheron of sorrow black and deep;
Cocytus named of lamentation loud
Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegethon
Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.
Far off from these a slow and silent stream,
Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls
Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks
Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain.”
   4

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