When we go back to the early history of any people, we find that fact and fiction are strangely blended, and that the stories told are largely made up of traditions distorted and exaggerated by imagination and time. The myth, however, is valuable as representing the first steps of a nation in the evolution of its literature from a barbaric state, and as indicating special national characteristics.
The myths of Greece, for example, are chiefly derived from the traditions extant when the alphabet was invented, and are preserved in the poetic stories of Homer and Virgil. Combined, they make that mythology which grew up in Greece, and which now so largely permeates the literature of every civilized language.
The first stories given in this book are myths. They stand first in the order of precedence because they stand first in the order of time.
The myths are followed by a few parables and fables, forms of stories which from the earliest times have been used to apply some well-established principle of morals to practical conduct.
Next follow legends, where we are called upon to separate the probable from the improbable, the true from the false. Herodotus, the father of history, wrote his account of the "Persian Empire" several hundred years after the events took place which he has recorded. The stories had been preserved to his day by tradition.
In the traditional stories and in the truer records which follow, the pupil will see the play of the same emotions and passions which actuate men at the present time, and the careers of the great conquerors, Frederic and Napoleon, differ little essentially from those of Alexander and Cæsar. Tyranny remains the same forever, encroaching upon human liberty and limiting the field of human conduct. It will be seen also that from the state of barbarism there has been a gradual evolution which more and more places men under the protection of equal laws...