Old Grasshopper Gray
A Greek Legend
That is what Bessie Allen said to the little creature she held between her thumb and fingers. Did you ever say that rhyme? I should not wonder if you had said it an hundred times.
The grasshopper in Bessie's fingers seemed very ready to give her brown molasses from his little mouth and then she let him hop away while she went to catch another. She did not want that molasses; all she wanted was the fun of catching the little "hoppity-hops," as she sometimes called them.
"Come, catch me! I'm a hopper," called her five-year-old brother Willie. And she saw the little fellow hopping through the grass.
Bessie had so much fun trying to catch this new "grasshopper gray," that she forgot all about the little creatures she had been pinching.
At last she had her arms around her brother Willie.
"Now you are caught," she said. "Give me some molasses."
And then they both laughed so hard that their mother heard as she came to the door to look for them.
That night their mother said to their father:
"I have a new name for Willie."
"What is it?" asked their father.
"Tithonus," said their mother.
"When I was in school one of my lessons was about the beautiful goddess Aurora. She was said to open the rosy gates of dawn with her own fingers, so that the wonderful horses of Apollo might pass through to follow their shining track through the sky. She was so beautiful that Tithonus, who lived on the earth, always watched for the sunrise, that he might see Aurora. After a while she began to watch for him, too. She looked down every morning on the wakening world and found that he was almost the only one among mortals who enjoyed the glorious colors Apollo painted in the sky with his arrows of light. One morning she dared to sing to him, and then he answered that it was Aurora, and not Apollo, for whom he was watching each morning at sunrise. She loved him for this and became his wife.
"Being a goddess, she could live for ever, and she wanted Tithonus to live forever, too. The gods and goddesses never drink wine or water, but ambrosia from golden goblets. She brought a golden goblet of ambrosia to Tithonus on the earth, and, after he had taken a drink, told him the happy news that now he should live forever. But she had forgotten to ask of the gods for him the gift of eternal youth.
"For many years they loved each other dearly. Then Aurora saw that Tithonus was growing into a little old man.
"When he was one hundred years old he was shrunken to the size of a boy of ten.
"When he was two hundred years old he was no larger than a baby, only he was very lively, and could run as fast as a man.
"When he was three hundred years old Aurora could scarcely find him, save as his song told her where he was. With his head bent down to the ground he did not look like a man, and he made his home by the dusty roadside. But every sunrise he sat upon the tallest spear of grass he could find and chirped to Aurora as she opened the gates of dawn for Apollo. After years and years Aurora forgot all about the little gray grasshopper, but I don't think Tithonus has forgotten her, for he and all his grasshopper friends chirp the same song as when he first came to live among them."
"Poor old Tithonus!" said Bessie.
"Why, no," said her father; "mother said he could never die. Maybe it was Tithonus who gave you molasses to-day. Yes, perhaps that was ambrosia instead of molasses that the gray grasshopper dropped from his lips."
"Oh, don't tell any more!" laughed both Willie and Bessie. "We won't catch another grasshopper."
Sources And Further Reading
Project Gutenberg Classic Myths Retold by Mary Catherine Judd with drawings entirely from classic sources