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SEMIRAMIS THE DOVE.
In one widely celebrated name we find a link between the subjects of misnomers and names out of the signification of which legendary tales have arisen. The exquisite music of Rossini, superbly rendered by Giulietta Grisi, has made the name of Semiramide more familiar to our ears than perhaps that of any other heroine of antiquity.
Her actual story is like an Eastern romance, though it begins and ends with a legend suggested by the signification of her name—Semiramis signifying in Syriac a dove. The gentle and innocent dove was, however, no fit name for the Assyrian queen, at once warlike and voluptuous; nor was it given to her as a characteristic appellation. Yet to her (in whom many
learned writers behold the original of the Syrian goddess, Astarte, adopted by the Greeks as Aphrodite, and by the Latins as Venus) doves were especially consecrated. The car of the goddess of love and beauty is always represented as drawn by them, and in honour of her doves were themselves worshipped in many parts of the East.
The Syrian town of Askelon, devoted to the worship of Astarte, was remarkable for its innumerable flocks of pigeons and doves, for it was there considered sacrilege for one of these birds to be killed. Near Askelon, in the 'ancient little village of Hamami, which signifies a Dove, we find at once the birth-place of the renowned Semiramis and the derivation of her name. Of such obscure birth was the magnificent queen, that to conceal the reality a fable was invented, assigning to her a celestial origin and a supernatural bringing up. Overshadowed by the wings of doves, she was said to have been also fed by them with milk brought in their beaks from the neighbouring village.
But the future queen of Assyria was, in truth, a child of shame, abandoned by her mother. The helpless little one was found by a compassionate shepherd of Hamami, who carried her to his humble home. There she grew up, gifted with remarkable beauty and talent, the name given to her having been compounded from that of her foster father, Simma, and Hamami, her native village. Married in early youth to the governor of Syria, Semiramis was taken by her husband to the Assyrian court, or rather to the camp, where Ninus the king carried on in person the siege of Bactria. Hitherto the besiegers had been unsuccessful; but it is said that the baffled generals were taught a lesson in their own art by the beautiful stranger, who not only planned the attack, but herself led the inspired troops to victory.
Transported with wonder and admiration at so marvellous a creation as a lovely woman who in courage equalled the bravest, in skill surpassed the wisest of his warriors, Ninus commanded Onnes to give up his wife to him. The unfortunate husband, reluctant to obey, was put
to death, and the Assyrian monarch hastened to crown Semiramis as his queen. Devoted to her through life, Ninus at his death left to her the government of his kingdom, in which, after a splendid reign of forty-two years, she was succeeded by their son Ninyas.
There is no need to linger on her world-wide fame, her surpassing beauty, and marvellous achievements in peace and war; but her name and story form a striking illustration of the fact, that in the signification of names a key is often to be found to the strange wild legends of other times. In Semiramis, the Dove, is revealed the secret of her supposed supernatural nursing mothers, and her imaginary translation to heaven after death in the form of a dove.
The story of Wolf-fed Romulus is explained by Lupa, his nurse's name; and many like fables may
be found to have sprung from like sources. Monkish chronicles are full of similar fanciful tales. The legend of St. René, who was said to have risen from the grave seven days after his burial, originated in his name, which, derived from the Latin Renatus, signifies born again. This name, adopted in the early Church as significant of a new spiritual life, suggested to credulous miracle-seekers in after times the marvel of St. René rising to a new bodily life.
To St. Athanasius, whose Greek name signifies Immortality, the Greek Church attributes the miraculous power of having caused a wolf to
act as his obedient messenger—the simple fact being, that Athanasius sent to a monastery some herbs gathered with his own hands, and he chose for his messenger an individual bearing the name of Lycos, in Greek signifying a Wolf. Of this celebrated Patriarch of Alexandria, the · Father of Orthodoxy,' as he has been called, it was said in the sixth century, · Whenever you meet with a sentence of Athanasius, and have not paper at hand, write it down on your clothes.' *
In a work on Popular Superstitions, by M. de la Mothe A. Vayer, a long list is given of saints, the signification of whose names has led to a belief in supernatural powers possessed by them in connection with subjects corresponding to such signification.
The lame address their prayers for relief from their infirmity to St. Claude, Bishop of Besançon A.D. 581, his name being derived from the Latin Claudius, signifying lame.
With greater plausibility the blind seek assistance from the martyred saints of the fourth century-St. Clair, derived from the Latin, signifying clear, bright; and St. Lucia, also from the Latin, signifying light. From this signification is said to have also arisen the legend of St. Lucia's having being deprived of her eyes, of which we find no mention in the early history of the Christian Church.
Stanley's Eastern Church.
The story grew out of the pictured representations of this fair girl, a native of Syracuse-one of the many martyrs in Diocletian's reign. Oíd painters, delighting in symbols and devices, introduced into their pictures of St. Lucia an eye, or eyes, as significant of her name. As time went on, a story grew, till the imaginary legend was coarsely rendered by the saint's carrying her eyes on a plate, while her other hand displayed the awl with which they were supposed to have been bored out.
A nobler, truer reading of her name was Dante's Santa Lucia, as the type of celestial light or wisdom: as such she is beautifully represented bearing a shining lamp.*
Some of these superstitions connected with the names of saints have neither a foundation of truth nor poetical imagery to plead for them. It is supposed in France to be unlucky for grain to be sown on St. Leger's day (October 2)—the martyred Bishop's name, signifying light, wanting in weight, is thought to affect the growth of the plant and make it light in the ear.
The shoemaker's choice of a patron is said by some to have simply arisen from his name Crispin, derived from the Latin crepis (borrowed from the Greek), signifying a slipper. But it would seem certain that the brothers Crispin and Crispianus, who were born at Rome, and travelled
* Mrs. Jameson's Sacred and Legendary Art.