April–The Month of Venus
This month of April has only thirty days, which is the number said to have been given to it by Romulus. The king who came after him gave it only twenty-nine, but Caesar, when he altered the calendar, gave it thirty again.
The name April comes from the Latin word aperire, which means “to open”, and the month was no doubt so named because it is during April that the earth, which has been bound by the sharp frosts of winter, once again opens beneath the warm rays of the sun; the withered sheaths fall away from the ripened buds, which, opening out, disclose to our eyes their long hidden treasures of beautiful colour.
We find that the month was sacred to Venus, the Roman Goddess of Beauty, and some people think for this reason that the name April comes not from aperire, but from Aphrilis, which in turn comes from Aphrodite, the name given to the Goddess of Beauty by the Greeks.
Venus is said to have sprung from the foam of the sea, and to have made her way to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, where, because of her wonderful beauty and grace, she was welcomed as the Goddess of Love and Beauty. All the gods fell in love with her, but she scorned them all, and Jupiter, to punish her for her pride, ordered her to marry Vulcan, the God of Fire, who was deformed and very rough in his manner. He had been thrown from the top of Mount Olympus by Jupiter in a fit of anger. Had he not been a god, he would, of course, have been killed by the fall, but he escaped with a broken leg which made him lame for the rest of his life. He now lived on the earth, and spent his time at the forge making many wonderful and useful things from the metals which he found buried in the mountains. He built gorgeous palaces of gold for the gods, which he decorated with precious stones, forged the terrible thunderbolts used by Jupiter, and also made the arrows used by Venus’s son, Cupid. Vulcan was naturally worshiped by all blacksmiths and workers in metal, and a great festival called the Vulcanalia was held in his honour.
Cupid, whom we have just mentioned, was the God of Love; he never grew up, but remained a little chubby boy, with beautiful wings. He always carried a bow, and with his arrows pierced the hearts of young men and maidens in order to make them fall in love with one another.
Another son of Venus was Aeneas, the great hero who was supposed to have been the founder of the Roman race. He escaped from Troy, when at the end of ten years’ siege it fell into the hands of the Greeks, and after many adventures reached a part of Italy, called Latium, where in later times his descendants, Romulus and Remus, founded the city of Rome.
The story of Aeneas has been wonderfully told by the Roman poet Virgil in his great work called the Aeneid. In this book Virgil wishes to show that Augustus, the emperor of his time, being a descendant of Aeneas, was also descended from the gods, since Aeneas was said to be the son of Venus.
Part of the story of Troy, or Ilium, is told in the Iliad of Homer, the great Greek poet. We read there of the fierce struggles which took place before the walls of the city, of deeds of strength and valour, and particularly of the final combat between the great heroes Hector the Trojan and Achilles the Greek, in which the Trojan was killed. In spite of many successes in the field, the Greeks were unable to gain an entry into the city, nor were the Trojans able to drive the Greeks from the shore, and it seemed as if neither side would ever secure the victory.
At last Ulysses, a Greek prince who was renowned for his cunning, formed a plan for entering the city and thus finally bringing to an end the war that had lasted for ten years. The Greeks built a wooden horse of such size that a number of men could be hidden within its hollow sides. This horse, filled with fighting men led by Ulysses, was left on the shore, while the army embarked in their ships and sailed away as if tired of the endless struggle. The Greeks also left behind a cunning slave, named Sinon, who was to play an important part in the plot. The Trojans, overjoyed at the departure of the Greeks, flocked down to the shore and crowded round the enormous wooden horse, full of wonderment at its strangeness. Many wished to drag it into the city at once, while some were filled with suspicion and urged their companions to distrust anything made by their enemies. Sinon, when questioned by the Trojans, pretended that he had been ill-treated by the Greeks, and spoke with hatred and anger against them. He explained that the horse was an offering to the sea god, Neptune, whose help the Greeks would need on their journey home, and he advised the Trojans to seize it and take it into the city. In spite even of those who suggested that armed men might be hidden in the horse, the Trojans dragged it into the city with great triumph, pulling down part of the wall to admit it, since it was too large to go through the gates.
Then followed a night of feast and revelry; the Trojans in their excitement laid aside their armour and their weapons, and gave themselves up to wild merrymaking. The smoky flare of the torches lit up a scene of mad delight. Suddenly shouts of alarm arose on every side, followed by the clash of weapons. Armed men poured in on the astonished Trojans, and in a short time Troy was in the hands of the Greeks. Under cover of the darkness and the noise Ulysses and his companions had crept from their hiding-place, had overpowered the careless sentries, and opened the gates for the Greek army, whose ships had returned in the night. Thus, through the help of the clever Ulysses, the Greeks overcame the army that had so often beaten them in the field, and by a trick brought to a victorious end the great Trojan war, for which the Goddess Venus had been responsible, as we shall read in a later chapter.
The Old English name for the month of April was Oster-monath or Easter-monath, because it was the month sacred to Eastre, or Ostara, the Goddess of Spring; the same name is still kept by the Germans, who call it Ostermonath. The time of year known as Easter is named after this goddess, and though Easter is now a Christian festival, it was in the first place a feast held by the Saxons in honour of their goddess Eastre. It was the custom for the people to give one another presents of coloured eggs, because the egg is supposed to represent the beginning of life, and the feast was held in the spring-time, when Nature awakes to a new life from the death of winter. The custom, which we still have, of sending Easter eggs to our friends, is therefore a very, very old one indeed.