A Song to Mithras

(notes by Donald Mackenzie and Philip Holberton)



This poem was published in Puck of Pook’s Hill in 1906, in association with the story “On the Great Wall”, and reprinted in numerous subsequent editions of that collection, and in Songs from Books.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1, line 1]  Mithras god of the sun, war, justice, and contract in the ancient Persian religion. Mithraism had a sudden flourishing in the Roman world from the early second century AD onwards. It was popular among soldiers (cf. Kipling’s story “The Church that was at Antioch” in Limits and Renewals); dedications and sanctuaries have been found along the military frontier in Britain and elsewhere.

Most of the adherents known from inscriptions are soldiers, officials in the service of the emperor, imperial slaves, and freedmen. See the background notes to “A Centurion of the Thirtieth” and “On the Great Wall” earlier in this volume.

[Verse 3, line 2] Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again! Mithras was god of the sun, so sunset and dawn represented his death and rebirth.

[Verse 4, line 1] here where the great bull dies The slaying of a bull by Mithras is a key episode in the Mithraic mythology of creation and is often represented in reliefs or frescoes in Mithraic temples. (The statue above is in the British Museum.)  Modern scholarship does not, however, support the view that the sacrifice of a bull figured in Mithraic ritual.


©Donald Mackenzie and Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved