Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales For My Children by Charles Kingsley

The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales For My Children
by Charles Kingsley
The Heroes
Some of you have heard already of the old Greeks; and all of
you, as you grow up, will hear more and more of them. Those
of you who are boys will, perhaps, spend a great deal of time
in reading Greek books; and the girls, though they may not
learn Greek, will be sure to come across a great many stories
taken from Greek history, and to see, I may say every day,
things which we should not have had if it had not been for
these old Greeks. You can hardly find a well-written book
which has not in it Greek names, and words, and proverbs; you
cannot walk through a great town without passing Greek
buildings; you cannot go into a well-furnished room without
seeing Greek statues and ornaments, even Greek patterns of
furniture and paper; so strangely have these old Greeks left
their mark behind them upon this modern world in which we now
live. And as you grow up, and read more and more, you will
find that we owe to these old Greeks the beginners of all our
mathematics and geometry - that is, the science and knowledge
of numbers, and of the shapes of things, and of the forces
which make things move and stand at rest; and the beginnings
of our geography and astronomy; and of our laws, and freedom,
and politics - that is, the science of how to rule a country,
and make it peaceful and strong. And we owe to them, too,
the beginning of our logic - that is, the study of words and
of reasoning; and of our metaphysics - that is, the study of
our own thoughts and souls. And last of all, they made their
language so beautiful that foreigners used to take to it
instead of their own; and at last Greek became the common
language of educated people all over the old world, from
Persia and Egypt even to Spain and Britain. And therefore it
was that the New Testament was written in Greek, that it
might be read and understood by all the nations of the Roman
empire; so that, next to the Jews, and the Bible which the
Jews handed down to us, we owe more to these old Greeks than
to any people upon earth.
Now you must remember one thing - that 'Greeks' was not their
real name. They called themselves always 'Hellens,' but the
Romans miscalled them Greeks; and we have taken that wrong
name from the Romans - it would take a long time to tell you
why. They were made up of many tribes and many small
separate states; and when you hear in this book of Minuai,
and Athenians, and other such names, you must remember that
they were all different tribes and peoples of the one great
Hellen race, who lived in what we now call Greece, in the
islands of the Archipelago, and along the coast of Asia Minor
(Ionia, as they call it), from the Hellespont to Rhodes, and
had afterwards colonies and cities in Sicily, and South Italy
(which was called Great Greece), and along the shores of the
Black Sea at Sinope, and Kertch, and at Sevastopol. And
after that, again, they spread under Alexander the Great, and
conquered Egypt, and Syria, and Persia, and the whole East.
But that was many hundred years after my stories; for then
there were no Greeks on the Black Sea shores, nor in Sicily,
or Italy, or anywhere but in Greece and in Ionia. And if you
are puzzled by the names of places in this book, you must
take the maps and find them out. It will be a pleasanter way
of learning geography than out of a dull lesson-book.
Now, I love these old Hellens heartily; and I should be very
ungrateful to them if I did not, considering all that they
have taught me; and they seem to me like brothers, though
they have all been dead and gone many hundred years ago. So
as you must learn about them, whether you choose or not, I
wish to be the first to introduce you to them, and to say,
'Come hither, children, at this blessed Christmas time, when
all God's creatures should rejoice together, and bless Him
who redeemed them all. Come and see old friends of mine,
whom I knew long ere you were born. They are come to visit
us at Christmas, out of the world where all live to God; and
to tell you some of their old fairy tales, which they loved
when they were young like you.'
For nations begin at first by being children like you, though
they are made up of grown men. They are children at first
like you - men and women with children's hearts; frank, and
affectionate, and full of trust, and teachable, and loving to
see and learn all the wonders round them; and greedy also,
too often, and passionate and silly, as children are.
Thus these old Greeks were teachable, and learnt from all the
nations round. From the Phoenicians they learnt
shipbuilding, and some say letters beside; and from the
Assyrians they learnt painting, and carving, and building in
wood and stone; and from the Egyptians they learnt astronomy,
and many things which you would not understand. In this they
were like our own forefathers the Northmen, of whom you love
to hear, who, though they were wild and rough themselves,
were humble, and glad to learn from every one. Therefore God
rewarded these Greeks, as He rewarded our forefathers, and
made them wiser than the people who taught them in everything
they learnt; for He loves to see men and children openhearted,
and willing to be taught; and to him who uses what
he has got, He gives more and more day by day. So these
Greeks grew wise and powerful, and wrote poems which will
live till the world's end, which you must read for yourselves
some day, in English at least, if not in Greek. And they
learnt to carve statues, and build temples, which are still
among the wonders of the world; and many another wondrous
thing God taught them, for which we are the wiser this day.
For you must not fancy, children, that because these old
Greeks were heathens, therefore God did not care for them,
and taught them nothing.
The Bible tells us that it was not so, but that God's mercy
is over all His works, and that He understands the hearts of
all people, and fashions all their works. And St. Paul told
these old Greeks in after times, when they had grown wicked
and fallen low, that they ought to have known better, because
they were God's offspring, as their own poets had said; and
that the good God had put them where they were, to seek the
Lord, and feel after Him, and find Him, though He was not far
from any one of them. And Clement of Alexandria, a great
Father of the Church, who was as wise as he was good, said
that God had sent down Philosophy to the Greeks from heaven,
as He sent down the Gospel to the Jews.
For Jesus Christ, remember, is the Light who lights every man
who comes into the world. And no one can think a right
thought, or feel a right feeling, or understand the real
truth of anything in earth and heaven, unless the good Lord
Jesus teaches him by His Spirit, which gives man
But these Greeks, as St. Paul told them, forgot what God had
taught them, and, though they were God's offspring,
worshipped idols of wood and stone, and fell at last into sin
and shame, and then, of course, into cowardice and slavery,
till they perished out of that beautiful land which God had
given them for so many years.
For, like all nations who have left anything behind them,
beside mere mounds of earth, they believed at first in the
One True God who made all heaven and earth. But after a
while, like all other nations, they began to worship other
gods, or rather angels and spirits, who (so they fancied)
lived about their land. Zeus, the Father of gods and men
(who was some dim remembrance of the blessed true God), and
Hera his wife, and Phoebus Apollo the Sun-god, and Pallas
Athene who taught men wisdom and useful arts, and Aphrodite
the Queen of Beauty, and Poseidon the Ruler of the Sea, and
Hephaistos the King of the Fire, who taught men to work in
metals. And they honoured the Gods of the Rivers, and the
Nymph-maids, who they fancied lived in the caves, and the
fountains, and the glens of the forest, and all beautiful
wild places. And they honoured the Erinnues, the dreadful
sisters, who, they thought, haunted guilty men until their
sins were purged away. And many other dreams they had, which
parted the One God into many; and they said, too, that these
gods did things which would be a shame and sin for any man to
do. And when their philosophers arose, and told them that
God was One, they would not listen, but loved their idols,
and their wicked idol feasts, till they all came to ruin.
But we will talk of such sad things no more.
But, at the time of which this little book speaks, they had
not fallen as low as that. They worshipped no idols, as far
as I can find; and they still believed in the last six of the
ten commandments, and knew well what was right and what was
wrong. And they believed (and that was what gave them
courage) that the gods loved men, and taught them, and that
without the gods men were sure to come to ruin. And in that
they were right enough, as we know - more right even than
they thought; for without God we can do nothing, and all
wisdom comes from Him.
Now, you must not think of them in this book as learned men,
living in great cities, such as they were afterwards, when
they wrought all their beautiful works, but as country
people, living in farms and walled villages, in a simple,
hard-working way; so that the greatest kings and heroes
cooked their own meals, and thought it no shame, and made
their own ships and weapons, and fed and harnessed their own
horses; and the queens worked with their maid-servants, and
did all the business of the house, and spun, and wove, and
embroidered, and made their husbands' clothes and their own.
So that a man was honoured among them, not because he
happened to be rich, but according to his skill, and his
strength, and courage, and the number of things which he
could do. For they were but grown-up children, though they
were right noble children too; and it was with them as it is
now at school - the strongest and cleverest boy, though he be
poor, leads all the rest.
Now, while they were young and simple they loved fairy tales,
as you do now. All nations do so when they are young: our
old forefathers did, and called their stories 'Sagas.' I
will read you some of them some day - some of the Eddas, and
the VoluspÖ, and Beowulf, and the noble old Romances. The
old Arabs, again, had their tales, which we now call the
'Arabian Nights.' The old Romans had theirs, and they called
them 'Fabulae,' from which our word 'fable' comes; but the
old Hellens called theirs 'Muthoi,' from which our new word
'myth' is taken. But next to those old Romances, which were
written in the Christian middle age, there are no fairy tales
like these old Greek ones, for beauty, and wisdom, and truth,
and for making children love noble deeds, and trust in God to
help them through.
Now, why have I called this book 'The Heroes'? Because that
was the name which the Hellens gave to men who were brave and
skilful, and dare do more than other men. At first, I think,
that was all it meant: but after a time it came to mean
something more; it came to mean men who helped their country;
men in those old times, when the country was half-wild, who
killed fierce beasts and evil men, and drained swamps, and
founded towns, and therefore after they were dead, were
honoured, because they had left their country better than
they found it. And we call such a man a hero in English to
this day, and call it a 'heroic' thing to suffer pain and
grief, that we may do good to our fellow-men. We may all do
that, my children, boys and girls alike; and we ought to do
it, for it is easier now than ever, and safer, and the path
more clear. But you shall hear how the Hellens said their
heroes worked, three thousand years ago. The stories are not
all true, of course, nor half of them; you are not simple
enough to fancy that; but the meaning of them is true, and
true for ever, and that is - Do right, and God will help
ADVENT, 1855.
ONCE upon a time there were two princes who were twins.
Their names were Acrisius and Proetus, and they lived in the
pleasant vale of Argos, far away in Hellas. They had
fruitful meadows and vineyards, sheep and oxen, great herds
of horses feeding down in Lerna Fen, and all that men could
need to make them blest: and yet they were wretched, because
they were jealous of each other. From the moment they were
born they began to quarrel; and when they grew up each tried
to take away the other's share of the kingdom, and keep all
for himself. So first Acrisius drove out Proetus; and he
went across the seas, and brought home a foreign princess for
his wife, and foreign warriors to help him, who were called
Cyclopes; and drove out Acrisius in his turn; and then they
fought a long while up and down the land, till the quarrel
was settled, and Acrisius took Argos and one half the land,
and Proetus took Tiryns and the other half. And Proetus and
his Cyclopes built around Tiryns great walls of unhewn stone,
which are standing to this day.
But there came a prophet to that hard-hearted Acrisius and
prophesied against him, and said, 'Because you have risen up
against your own blood, your own blood shall rise up against
you; because you have sinned against your kindred, by your
kindred you shall be punished. Your daughter Danae shall
bear a son, and by that son's hands you shall die. So the
Gods have ordained, and it will surely come to pass.'
And at that Acrisius was very much afraid; but he did not
mend his ways. He had been cruel to his own family, and,
instead of repenting and being kind to them, he went on to be
more cruel than ever: for he shut up his fair daughter Danae
in a cavern underground, lined with brass, that no one might
come near her. So he fancied himself more cunning than the
Gods: but you will see presently whether he was able to
escape them.
Now it came to pass that in time Danae bore a son; so
beautiful a babe that any but King Acrisius would have had
pity on it. But he had no pity; for he took Danae and her
babe down to the seashore, and put them into a great chest
and thrust them out to sea, for the winds and the waves to
carry them whithersoever they would.
The north-west wind blew freshly out of the blue mountains,
and down the pleasant vale of Argos, and away and out to sea.
And away and out to sea before it floated the mother and her
babe, while all who watched them wept, save that cruel
father, King Acrisius.
So they floated on and on, and the chest danced up and down
upon the billows, and the baby slept upon its mother's
breast: but the poor mother could not sleep, but watched and
wept, and she sang to her baby as they floated; and the song
which she sang you shall learn yourselves some day.
And now they are past the last blue headland, and in the open
sea; and there is nothing round them but the waves, and the
sky, and the wind. But the waves are gentle, and the sky is
clear, and the breeze is tender and low; for these are the
days when Halcyone and Ceyx build their nests, and no storms
ever ruffle the pleasant summer sea.
And who were Halcyone and Ceyx? You shall hear while the
chest floats on. Halcyone was a fairy maiden, the daughter
of the beach and of the wind. And she loved a sailor-boy,
and married him; and none on earth were so happy as they.
But at last Ceyx was wrecked; and before he could swim to the
shore the billows swallowed him up. And Halcyone saw him
drowning, and leapt into the sea to him; but in vain. Then
the Immortals took pity on them both, and changed them into
two fair sea-birds; and now they build a floating nest every
year, and sail up and down happily for ever upon the pleasant
seas of Greece.
So a night passed, and a day, and a long day it was for
Danae; and another night and day beside, till Danae was faint
with hunger and weeping, and yet no land appeared. And all
the while the babe slept quietly; and at last poor Danae
drooped her head and fell asleep likewise with her cheek
against the babe's.
After a while she was awakened suddenly; for the chest was
jarring and grinding, and the air was full of sound. She
looked up, and over her head were mighty cliffs, all red in
the setting sun, and around her rocks and breakers, and
flying flakes of foam. She clasped her hands together, and
shrieked aloud for help. And when she cried, help met her:
for now there came over the rocks a tall and stately man, and
looked down wondering upon poor Danae tossing about in the
chest among the waves.
He wore a rough cloak of frieze, and on his head a broad hat
to shade his face; in his hand he carried a trident for
spearing fish, and over his shoulder was a casting-net; but
Danae could see that he was no common man by his stature, and
his walk, and his flowing golden hair and beard; and by the
two servants who came behind him, carrying baskets for his
fish. But she had hardly time to look at him, before he had
laid aside his trident and leapt down the rocks, and thrown
his casting-net so surely over Danae and the chest, that he
drew it, and her, and the baby, safe upon a ledge of rock.
Then the fisherman took Danae by the hand, and lifted her out
of the chest, and said -
'O beautiful damsel, what strange chance has brought you to
this island in so flail a ship? Who are you, and whence?
Surely you are some king's daughter; and this boy has
somewhat more than mortal.'
And as he spoke he pointed to the babe; for its face shone
like the morning star.
But Danae only held down her head, and sobbed out -
'Tell me to what land I have come, unhappy that I am; and
among what men I have fallen!'
And he said, 'This isle is called Seriphos, and I am a
Hellen, and dwell in it. I am the brother of Polydectes the
king; and men call me Dictys the netter, because I catch the
fish of the shore.'
Then Danae fell down at his feet, and embraced his knees, and
cried -
'Oh, sir, have pity upon a stranger, whom a cruel doom has
driven to your land; and let me live in your house as a
servant; but treat me honourably, for I was once a king's
daughter, and this my boy (as you have truly said) is of no
common race. I will not be a charge to you, or eat the bread
of idleness; for I am more skilful in weaving and embroidery
than all the maidens of my land.'
And she was going on; but Dictys stopped her, and raised her
up, and said -
'My daughter, I am old, and my hairs are growing gray; while
I have no children to make my home cheerful. Come with me
then, and you shall be a daughter to me and to my wife, and
this babe shall be our grandchild. For I fear the Gods, and
show hospitality to all strangers; knowing that good deeds,
like evil ones, always return to those who do them.'
So Danae was comforted, and went home with Dictys the good
fisherman, and was a daughter to him and to his wife, till
fifteen years were past.
FIFTEEN years were past and gone, and the babe was now grown
to be a tall lad and a sailor, and went many voyages after
merchandise to the islands round. His mother called him
Perseus; but all the people in Seriphos said that he was not
the son of mortal man, and called him the son of Zeus, the
king of the Immortals. For though he was but fifteen, he was
taller by a head than any man in the island; and he was the
most skilful of all in running and wrestling and boxing, and
in throwing the quoit and the javelin, and in rowing with the
oar, and in playing on the harp, and in all which befits a
man. And he was brave and truthful, gentle and courteous,
for good old Dictys had trained him well; and well it was for
Perseus that he had done so. For now Danae and her son fell
into great danger, and Perseus had need of all his wit to
defend his mother and himself.
I said that Dictys' brother was Polydectes, king of the
island. He was not a righteous man, like Dictys; but greedy,
and cunning, and cruel. And when he saw fair Danae, he
wanted to marry her. But she would not; for she did not love
him, and cared for no one but her boy, and her boy's father,
whom she never hoped to see again. At last Polydectes became
furious; and while Perseus was away at sea he took poor Danae
away from Dictys, saying, 'If you will not be my wife, you
shall be my slave.' So Danae was made a slave, and had to
fetch water from the well, and grind in the mill, and perhaps
was beaten, and wore a heavy chain, because she would not
marry that cruel king. But Perseus was far away over the
seas in the isle of Samos, little thinking how his mother was
languishing in grief.
Now one day at Samos, while the ship was lading, Perseus
wandered into a pleasant wood to get out of the sun, and sat
down on the turf and fell asleep. And as he slept a strange
dream came to him - the strangest dream which he had ever had
in his life.
There came a lady to him through the wood, taller than he, or
any mortal man; but beautiful exceedingly, with great gray
eyes, clear and piercing, but strangely soft and mild. On
her head was a helmet, and in her hand a spear. And over her
shoulder, above her long blue robes, hung a goat-skin, which
bore up a mighty shield of brass, polished like a mirror.
She stood and looked at him with her clear gray eyes; and
Perseus saw that her eye-lids never moved, nor her eyeballs,
but looked straight through and through him, and into his
very heart, as if she could see all the secrets of his soul,
and knew all that he had ever thought or longed for since the
day that he was born. And Perseus dropped his eyes,
trembling and blushing, as the wonderful lady spoke.
'Perseus, you must do an errand for me.'
'Who are you, lady? And how do you know my name?'
'I am Pallas Athene; and I know the thoughts of all men's
hearts, and discern their manhood or their baseness. And
from the souls of clay I turn away, and they are blest, but
not by me. They fatten at ease, like sheep in the pasture,
and eat what they did not sow, like oxen in the stall. They
grow and spread, like the gourd along the ground; but, like
the gourd, they give no shade to the traveller, and when they
are ripe death gathers them, and they go down unloved into
hell, and their name vanishes out of the land.
'But to the souls of fire I give more fire, and to those who
are manful I give a might more than man's. These are the
heroes, the sons of the Immortals, who are blest, but not
like the souls of clay. For I drive them forth by strange
paths, Perseus, that they may fight the Titans and the
monsters, the enemies of Gods and men. Through doubt and
need, danger and battle, I drive them; and some of them are
slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or where; and
some of them win noble names, and a fair and green old age;
but what will be their latter end I know not, and none, save
Zeus, the father of Gods and men. Tell me now, Perseus,
which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?'
Then Perseus answered boldly: 'Better to die in the flower
of youth, on the chance of winning a noble name, than to live
at ease like the sheep, and die unloved and unrenowned.'
Then that strange lady laughed, and held up her brazen
shield, and cried: 'See here, Perseus; dare you face such a
monster as this, and slay it, that I may place its head upon
this shield?'
And in the mirror of the shield there appeared a face, and as
Perseus looked on it his blood ran cold. It was the face of
a beautiful woman; but her cheeks were pale as death, and her
brows were knit with everlasting pain, and her lips were thin
and bitter like a snake's; and instead of hair, vipers
wreathed about her temples, and shot out their forked
tongues; while round her head were folded wings like an
eagle's, and upon her bosom claws of brass.
And Perseus looked awhile, and then said: 'If there is
anything so fierce and foul on earth, it were a noble deed to
kill it. Where can I find the monster?'
Then the strange lady smiled again, and said: 'Not yet; you
are too young, and too unskilled; for this is Medusa the
Gorgon, the mother of a monstrous brood. Return to your
home, and do the work which waits there for you. You must
play the man in that before I can think you worthy to go in
search of the Gorgon.'
Then Perseus would have spoken, but the strange lady
vanished, and he awoke; and behold, it was a dream. But day
and night Perseus saw before him the face of that dreadful
woman, with the vipers writhing round her head.
So he returned home; and when he came to Seriphos, the first
thing which he heard was that his mother was a slave in the
house of Polydectes.
Grinding his teeth with rage, he went out, and away to the
king's palace, and through the men's rooms, and the women's
rooms, and so through all the house (for no one dared stop
him, so terrible and fair was he), till he found his mother
sitting on the floor, turning the stone hand-mill, and
weeping as she turned it. And he lifted her up, and kissed
her, and bade her follow him forth. But before they could
pass out of the room Polydectes came in, raging. And when
Perseus saw him, he flew upon him as the mastiff flies on the
boar. 'Villain and tyrant!' he cried; 'is this your respect
for the Gods, and thy mercy to strangers and widows? You
shall die!' And because he had no sword he caught up the
stone hand-mill, and lifted it to dash out Polydectes'
But his mother clung to him, shrieking, 'Oh, my son, we are
strangers and helpless in the land; and if you kill the king,
all the people will fall on us, and we shall both die.'
Good Dictys, too, who had come in, entreated him. 'Remember
that he is my brother. Remember how I have brought you up,
and trained you as my own son, and spare him for my sake.'
Then Perseus lowered his hand; and Polydectes, who had been
trembling all this while like a coward, because he knew that
he was in the wrong, let Perseus and his mother pass.
Perseus took his mother to the temple of Athene, and there
the priestess made her one of the temple-sweepers; for there
they knew she would be safe, and not even Polydectes would
dare to drag her away from the altar. And there Perseus, and
the good Dictys, and his wife, came to visit her every day;
while Polydectes, not being able to get what he wanted by
force, cast about in his wicked heart how he might get it by
Now he was sure that he could never get back Danae as long as
Perseus was in the island; so he made a plot to rid himself
of him. And first he pretended to have forgiven Perseus, and
to have forgotten Danae; so that, for a while, all went as
smoothly as ever.
Next he proclaimed a great feast, and invited to it all the
chiefs, and landowners, and the young men of the island, and
among them Perseus, that they might all do him homage as
their king, and eat of his banquet in his hall.
On the appointed day they all came; and as the custom was
then, each guest brought his present with him to the king:
one a horse, another a shawl, or a ring, or a sword; and
those who had nothing better brought a basket of grapes, or
of game; but Perseus brought nothing, for he had nothing to
bring, being but a poor sailor-lad.
He was ashamed, however, to go into the king's presence
without his gift; and he was too proud to ask Dictys to lend
him one. So he stood at the door sorrowfully, watching the
rich men go in; and his face grew very red as they pointed at
him, and smiled, and whispered, 'What has that foundling to
Now this was what Polydectes wanted; and as soon as he heard
that Perseus stood without, he bade them bring him in, and
asked him scornfully before them all, 'Am I not your king,
Perseus, and have I not invited you to my feast? Where is
your present, then?'
Perseus blushed and stammered, while all the proud men round
laughed, and some of them began jeering him openly. 'This
fellow was thrown ashore here like a piece of weed or driftwood,
and yet he is too proud to bring a gift to the king.'
'And though he does not know who his father is, he is vain
enough to let the old women call him the son of Zeus.'
And so forth, till poor Perseus grew mad with shame, and
hardly knowing what he said, cried out, - 'A present! who are
you who talk of presents? See if I do not bring a nobler one
than all of yours together!'
So he said boasting; and yet he felt in his heart that he was
braver than all those scoffers, and more able to do some
glorious deed.
'Hear him! Hear the boaster! What is it to be?' cried they
all, laughing louder than ever.
Then his dream at Samos came into his mind, and he cried
aloud, 'The head of the Gorgon.'
He was half afraid after he had said the words for all
laughed louder than ever, and Polydectes loudest of all.
'You have promised to bring me the Gorgon's head? Then never
appear again in this island without it. Go!'
Perseus ground his teeth with rage, for he saw that he had
fallen into a trap; but his promise lay upon him, and he went
out without a word.
Down to the cliffs he went, and looked across the broad blue
sea; and he wondered if his dream were true, and prayed in
the bitterness of his soul.
'Pallas Athene, was my dream true? and shall I slay the
Gorgon? If thou didst really show me her face, let me not
come to shame as a liar and boastful. Rashly and angrily I
promised; but cunningly and patiently will I perform.'
But there was no answer, nor sign; neither thunder nor any
appearance; not even a cloud in the sky.
And three times Perseus called weeping, 'Rashly and angrily I
promised; but cunningly and patiently will I perform.'
Then he saw afar off above the sea a small white cloud, as
bright as silver. And it came on, nearer and nearer, till
its brightness dazzled his eyes.
Perseus wondered at that strange cloud, for there was no
other cloud all round the sky; and he trembled as it touched
the cliff below. And as it touched, it broke, and parted,
and within it appeared Pallas Athene, as he had seen her at
Samos in his dream, and beside her a young man more lightlimbed
than the stag, whose eyes were like sparks of fire.
By his side was a scimitar of diamond, all of one clear
precious stone, and on his feet were golden sandals, from the
heels of which grew living wings.
They looked upon Perseus keenly, and yet they never moved
their eyes; and they came up the cliffs towards him more
swiftly than the sea-gull, and yet they never moved their
feet, nor did the breeze stir the robes about their limbs;
only the wings of the youth's sandals quivered, like a hawk's
when he hangs above the cliff. And Perseus fell down and
worshipped, for he knew that they were more than man.
But Athene stood before him and spoke gently, and bid him
have no fear. Then -
'Perseus,' she said, 'he who overcomes in one trial merits
thereby a sharper trial still. You have braved Polydectes,
and done manfully. Dare you brave Medusa the Gorgon?'
And Perseus said, 'Try me; for since you spoke to me in Samos
a new soul has come into my breast, and I should be ashamed
not to dare anything which I can do. Show me, then, how I
can do this!'
'Perseus,' said Athene, 'think well before you attempt; for
this deed requires a seven years' journey, in which you
cannot repent or turn back nor escape; but if your heart
fails you, you must die in the Unshapen Land, where no man
will ever find your bones.'
'Better so than live here, useless and despised,' said
Perseus. 'Tell me, then, oh tell me, fair and wise Goddess,
of your great kindness and condescension, how I can do but
this one thing, and then, if need be, die!'
Then Athene smiled and said -
'Be patient, and listen; for if you forget my words, you will
indeed die. You must go northward to the country of the
Hyperboreans, who live beyond the pole, at the sources of the
cold north wind, till you find the three Gray Sisters, who
have but one eye and one tooth between them. You must ask
them the way to the Nymphs, the daughters of the Evening
Star, who dance about the golden tree, in the Atlantic island
of the west. They will tell you the way to the Gorgon, that
you may slay her, my enemy, the mother of monstrous beasts.
Once she was a maiden as beautiful as morn, till in her pride
she sinned a sin at which the sun hid his face; and from that
day her hair was turned to vipers, and her hands to eagle's
claws; and her heart was filled with shame and rage, and her
lips with bitter venom; and her eyes became so terrible that
whosoever looks on them is turned to stone; and her children
are the winged horse and the giant of the golden sword; and
her grandchildren are Echidna the witch-adder, and Geryon the
three-headed tyrant, who feeds his herds beside the herds of
hell. So she became the sister of the Gorgons, Stheino and
Euryte the abhorred, the daughters of the Queen of the Sea.
Touch them not, for they are immortal; but bring me only
Medusa's head.'
'And I will bring it!' said Perseus; 'but how am I to escape
her eyes? Will she not freeze me too into stone?'
'You shall take this polished shield,' said Athene, 'and when
you come near her look not at her herself, but at her image
in the brass; so you may strike her safely. And when you
have struck off her head, wrap it, with your face turned
away, in the folds of the goat-skin on which the shield
hangs, the hide of Amaltheie, the nurse of the AEgis-holder.
So you will bring it safely back to me, and win to yourself
renown, and a place among the heroes who feast with the
Immortals upon the peak where no winds blow.'
Then Perseus said, 'I will go, though I die in going. But
how shall I cross the seas without a ship? And who will show
me my way? And when I find her, how shall I slay her, if her
scales be iron and brass?'
Then the young man spoke: 'These sandals of mine will bear
you across the seas, and over hill and dale like a bird, as
they bear me all day long; for I am Hermes, the far-famed
Argus-slayer, the messenger of the Immortals who dwell on
Then Perseus fell down and worshipped, while the young man
spoke again:
'The sandals themselves will guide you on the road, for they
are divine and cannot stray; and this sword itself, the
Argus-slayer, will kill her, for it is divine, and needs no
second stroke. Arise, and gird them on, and go forth.'
So Perseus arose, and girded on the sandals and the sword.
And Athene cried, 'Now leap from the cliff and be gone.'
But Perseus lingered.
'May I not bid farewell to my mother and to Dictys? And may
I not offer burnt-offerings to you, and to Hermes the farfamed
Argus-slayer, and to Father Zeus above?'
'You shall not bid farewell to your mother, lest your heart
relent at her weeping. I will comfort her and Dictys until
you return in peace. Nor shall you offer burnt-offerings to
the Olympians; for your offering shall be Medusa's head.
Leap, and trust in the armour of the Immortals.'
Then Perseus looked down the cliff and shuddered; but he was
ashamed to show his dread. Then he thought of Medusa and the
renown before him, and he leaped into the empty air.
And behold, instead of falling he floated, and stood, and ran
along the sky. He looked back, but Athene had vanished, and
Hermes; and the sandals led him on northward ever, like a
crane who follows the spring toward the Ister fens.
SO Perseus started on his journey, going dry-shod over land
and sea; and his heart was high and joyful, for the winged
sandals bore him each day a seven days' journey.
And he went by Cythnus, and by Ceos, and the pleasant
Cyclades to Attica; and past Athens and Thebes, and the
Copaic lake, and up the vale of Cephissus, and past the peaks
of OEta and Pindus, and over the rich Thessalian plains, till
the sunny hills of Greece were behind him, and before him
were the wilds of the north. Then he passed the Thracian
mountains, and many a barbarous tribe, Paeons and Dardans and
Triballi, till he came to the Ister stream, and the dreary
Scythian plains. And he walked across the Ister dry-shod,
and away through the moors and fens, day and night toward the
bleak north-west, turning neither to the right hand nor the
left, till he came to the Unshapen Land, and the place which
has no name.
And seven days he walked through it, on a path which few can
tell; for those who have trodden it like least to speak of
it, and those who go there again in dreams are glad enough
when they awake; till he came to the edge of the everlasting
night, where the air was full of feathers, and the soil was
hard with ice; and there at last he found the three Gray
Sisters, by the shore of the freezing sea, nodding upon a
white log of drift-wood, beneath the cold white winter moon;
and they chaunted a low song together, 'Why the old times
were better than the new.'
There was no living thing around them, not a fly, not a moss
upon the rocks. Neither seal nor sea-gull dare come near,
lest the ice should clutch them in its claws. The surge
broke up in foam, but it fell again in flakes of snow; and it
frosted the hair of the three Gray Sisters, and the bones in
the ice-cliff above their heads. They passed the eye from
one to the other, but for all that they could not see; and
they passed the tooth from one to the other, but for all that
they could not eat; and they sat in the full glare of the
moon, but they were none the warmer for her beams. And
Perseus pitied the three Gray Sisters; but they did not pity
So he said, 'Oh, venerable mothers, wisdom is the daughter of
old age. You therefore should know many things. Tell me, if
you can, the path to the Gorgon.'
Then one cried, 'Who is this who reproaches us with old age?'
And another, 'This is the voice of one of the children of
And he, 'I do not reproach, but honour your old age, and I am
one of the sons of men and of the heroes. The rulers of
Olympus have sent me to you to ask the way to the Gorgon.'
Then one, 'There are new rulers in Olympus, and all new
things are bad.' And another, 'We hate your rulers, and the
heroes, and all the children of men. We are the kindred of
the Titans, and the Giants, and the Gorgons, and the ancient
monsters of the deep.' And another, 'Who is this rash and
insolent man who pushes unbidden into our world?' And the
first, 'There never was such a world as ours, nor will be; if
we let him see it, he will spoil it all.'
Then one cried, 'Give me the eye, that I may see him;' and
another, 'Give me the tooth, that I may bite him.' But
Perseus, when he saw that they were foolish and proud, and
did not love the children of men, left off pitying them, and
said to himself, 'Hungry men must needs be hasty; if I stay
making many words here, I shall be starved.' Then he stepped
close to them, and watched till they passed the eye from hand
to hand. And as they groped about between themselves, he
held out his own hand gently, till one of them put the eye
into it, fancying that it was the hand of her sister. Then
he sprang back, and laughed, and cried -
'Cruel and proud old women, I have your eye; and I will throw
it into the sea, unless you tell me the path to the Gorgon,
and swear to me that you tell me right.'
Then they wept, and chattered, and scolded; but in vain.
They were forced to tell the truth, though, when they told
it, Perseus could hardly make out the road.
'You must go,' they said, 'foolish boy, to the southward,
into the ugly glare of the sun, till you come to Atlas the
Giant, who holds the heaven and the earth apart. And you
must ask his daughters, the Hesperides, who are young and
foolish like yourself. And now give us back our eye, for we
have forgotten all the rest.'
So Perseus gave them back their eye; but instead of using it,
they nodded and fell fast asleep, and were turned into blocks
of ice, till the tide came up and washed them all away. And
now they float up and down like icebergs for ever, weeping
whenever they meet the sunshine, and the fruitful summer and
the warm south wind, which fill young hearts with joy.
But Perseus leaped away to the southward, leaving the snow
and the ice behind: past the isle of the Hyperboreans, and
the tin isles, and the long Iberian shore, while the sun rose
higher day by day upon a bright blue summer sea. And the
terns and the sea-gulls swept laughing round his head, and
called to him to stop and play, and the dolphins gambolled up
as he passed, and offered to carry him on their backs. And
all night long the sea-nymphs sang sweetly, and the Tritons
blew upon their conchs, as they played round Galataea their
queen, in her car of pearled shells. Day by day the sun rose
higher, and leaped more swiftly into the sea at night, and
more swiftly out of the sea at dawn; while Perseus skimmed
over the billows like a sea-gull, and his feet were never
wetted; and leapt on from wave to wave, and his limbs were
never weary, till he saw far away a mighty mountain, all
rose-red in the setting sun. Its feet were wrapped in
forests, and its head in wreaths of cloud; and Perseus knew
that it was Atlas, who holds the heavens and the earth apart.
He came to the mountain, and leapt on shore, and wandered
upward, among pleasant valleys and waterfalls, and tall trees
and strange ferns and flowers; but there was no smoke rising
from any glen, nor house, nor sign of man.
At last he heard sweet voices singing; and he guessed that he
was come to the garden of the Nymphs, the daughters of the
Evening Star.
They sang like nightingales among the thickets, and Perseus
stopped to hear their song; but the words which they spoke he
could not understand; no, nor no man after him for many a
hundred years. So he stepped forward and saw them dancing,
hand in hand around the charmed tree, which bent under its
golden fruit; and round the tree-foot was coiled the dragon,
old Ladon the sleepless snake, who lies there for ever,
listening to the song of the maidens, blinking and watching
with dry bright eyes.
Then Perseus stopped, not because he feared the dragon, but
because he was bashful before those fair maids; but when they
saw him, they too stopped, and called to him with trembling
voices -
'Who are you? Are you Heracles the mighty, who will come to
rob our garden, and carry off our golden fruit?' And he
answered -
'I am not Heracles the mighty, and I want none of your golden
fruit. Tell me, fair Nymphs, the way which leads to the
Gorgon, that I may go on my way and slay her.'
'Not yet, not yet, fair boy; come dance with us around the
tree in the garden which knows no winter, the home of the
south wind and the sun. Come hither and play with us awhile;
we have danced alone here for a thousand years, and our
hearts are weary with longing for a playfellow. So come,
come, come!'
'I cannot dance with you, fair maidens; for I must do the
errand of the Immortals. So tell me the way to the Gorgon,
lest I wander and perish in the waves.'
Then they sighed and wept; and answered - 'The Gorgon! she
will freeze you into stone.'
'It is better to die like a hero than to live like an ox in a
stall. The Immortals have lent me weapons, and they will
give me wit to use them.'
Then they sighed again and answered, 'Fair boy, if you are
bent on your own ruin, be it so. We know not the way to the
Gorgon; but we will ask the giant Atlas, above upon the
mountain peak, the brother of our father, the silver Evening
Star. He sits aloft and sees across the ocean, and far away
into the Unshapen Land.'
So they went up the mountain to Atlas their uncle, and
Perseus went up with them. And they found the giant
kneeling, as he held the heavens and the earth apart.
They asked him, and he answered mildly, pointing to the seaboard
with his mighty hand, 'I can see the Gorgons lying on
an island far away, but this youth can never come near them,
unless he has the hat of darkness, which whosoever wears
cannot be seen.'
Then cried Perseus, 'Where is that hat, that I may find it?'
But the giant smiled. 'No living mortal can find that hat,
for it lies in the depths of Hades, in the regions of the
dead. But my nieces are immortal, and they shall fetch it
for you, if you will promise me one thing and keep your
Then Perseus promised; and the giant said, 'When you come
back with the head of Medusa, you shall show me the beautiful
horror, that I may lose my feeling and my breathing, and
become a stone for ever; for it is weary labour for me to
hold the heavens and the earth apart.'
Then Perseus promised, and the eldest of the Nymphs went
down, and into a dark cavern among the cliffs, out of which
came smoke and thunder, for it was one of the mouths of Hell.
And Perseus and the Nymphs sat down seven days, and waited
trembling, till the Nymph came up again; and her face was
pale, and her eyes dazzled with the light, for she had been
long in the dreary darkness; but in her hand was the magic
Then all the Nymphs kissed Perseus, and wept over him a long
while; but he was only impatient to be gone. And at last
they put the hat upon his head, and he vanished out of their
But Perseus went on boldly, past many an ugly sight, far away
into the heart of the Unshapen Land, beyond the streams of
Ocean, to the isles where no ship cruises, where is neither
night nor day, where nothing is in its right place, and
nothing has a name; till he heard the rustle of the Gorgons'
wings and saw the glitter of their brazen talons; and then he
knew that it was time to halt, lest Medusa should freeze him
into stone.
He thought awhile with himself, and remembered Athene's
words. He rose aloft into the air, and held the mirror of
the shield above his head, and looked up into it that he
might see all that was below him.
And he saw the three Gorgons sleeping as huge as elephants.
He knew that they could not see him, because the hat of
darkness hid him; and yet he trembled as he sank down near
them, so terrible were those brazen claws.
Two of the Gorgons were foul as swine, and lay sleeping
heavily, as swine sleep, with their mighty wings outspread;
but Medusa tossed to and fro restlessly, and as she tossed
Perseus pitied her, she looked so fair and sad. Her plumage
was like the rainbow, and her face was like the face of a
nymph, only her eyebrows were knit, and her lips clenched,
with everlasting care and pain; and her long neck gleamed so
white in the mirror that Perseus had not the heart to strike,
and said, 'Ah, that it had been either of her sisters!'
But as he looked, from among her tresses the vipers' heads
awoke, and peeped up with their bright dry eyes, and showed
their fangs, and hissed; and Medusa, as she tossed, threw
back her wings and showed her brazen claws; and Perseus saw
that, for all her beauty, she was as foul and venomous as the
Then he came down and stepped to her boldly, and looked
steadfastly on his mirror, and struck with Herpe stoutly
once; and he did not need to strike again.
Then he wrapped the head in the goat-skin, turning away his
eyes, and sprang into the air aloft, faster than he ever
sprang before.
For Medusa's wings and talons rattled as she sank dead upon
the rocks; and her two foul sisters woke, and saw her lying
Into the air they sprang yelling and looked for him who had
done the deed. Thrice they swung round and round, like hawks
who beat for a partridge; and thrice they snuffed round and
round, like hounds who draw upon a deer. At last they struck
upon the scent of the blood, and they checked for a moment to
make sure; and then on they rushed with a fearful howl, while
the wind rattled hoarse in their wings.
On they rushed, sweeping and flapping, like eagles after a
hare; and Perseus' blood ran cold, for all his courage, as he
saw them come howling on his track; and he cried, 'Bear me
well now, brave sandals, for the hounds of Death are at my
And well the brave sandals bore him, aloft through cloud and
sunshine, across the shoreless sea; and fast followed the
hounds of Death, as the roar of their wings came down the
wind. But the roar came down fainter and fainter, and the
howl of their voices died away; for the sandals were too
swift, even for Gorgons, and by nightfall they were far
behind, two black specks in the southern sky, till the sun
sank and he saw them no more.
Then he came again to Atlas, and the garden of the Nymphs;
and when the giant heard him coming he groaned, and said,
'Fulfil thy promise to me.' Then Perseus held up to him the
Gorgon's head, and he had rest from all his toil; for he
became a crag of stone, which sleeps for ever far above the
Then he thanked the Nymphs, and asked them, 'By what road
shall I go homeward again, for I wandered far round in coming
And they wept and cried, 'Go home no more, but stay and play
with us, the lonely maidens, who dwell for ever far away from
Gods and men.'
But he refused, and they told him his road, and said, 'Take
with you this magic fruit, which, if you eat once, you will
not hunger for seven days. For you must go eastward and
eastward ever, over the doleful Lybian shore, which Poseidon
gave to Father Zeus, when he burst open the Bosphorus and the
Hellespont, and drowned the fair Lectonian land. And Zeus
took that land in exchange, a fair bargain, much bad ground
for a little good, and to this day it lies waste and desert
with shingle, and rock, and sand.'
Then they kissed Perseus, and wept over him, and he leapt
down the mountain, and went on, lessening and lessening like
a sea-gull, away and out to sea.
SO Perseus flitted onward to the north-east, over many a
league of sea, till he came to the rolling sand-hills and the
dreary Lybian shore.
And he flitted on across the desert: over rock-ledges, and
banks of shingle, and level wastes of sand, and shell-drifts
bleaching in the sunshine, and the skeletons of great seamonsters,
and dead bones of ancient giants, strewn up and
down upon the old sea-floor. And as he went the blood-drops
fell to the earth from the Gorgon's head, and became
poisonous asps and adders, which breed in the desert to this
Over the sands he went, - he never knew how far or how long,
feeding on the fruit which the Nymphs had given him, till he
saw the hills of the Psylli, and the Dwarfs who fought with
cranes. Their spears were of reeds and rushes, and their
houses of the egg-shells of the cranes; and Perseus laughed,
and went his way to the north-east, hoping all day long to
see the blue Mediterranean sparkling, that he might fly
across it to his home.
But now came down a mighty wind, and swept him back southward
toward the desert. All day long he strove against it; but
even the winged sandals could not prevail. So he was forced
to float down the wind all night; and when the morning dawned
there was nothing to be seen, save the same old hateful waste
of sand.
And out of the north the sandstorms rushed upon him, bloodred
pillars and wreaths, blotting out the noonday sun; and
Perseus fled before them, lest he should be choked by the
burning dust. At last the gale fell calm, and he tried to go
northward again; but again came down the sandstorms, and
swept him back into the waste, and then all was calm and
cloudless as before. Seven days he strove against the
storms, and seven days he was driven back, till he was spent
with thirst and hunger, and his tongue clove to the roof of
his mouth. Here and there he fancied that he saw a fair
lake, and the sunbeams shining on the water; but when he came
to it it vanished at his feet, and there was nought but
burning sand. And if he had not been of the race of the
Immortals, he would have perished in the waste; but his life
was strong within him, because it was more than man's.
Then he cried to Athene, and said -
'Oh, fair and pure, if thou hearest me, wilt thou leave me
here to die of drought? I have brought thee the Gorgon's
head at thy bidding, and hitherto thou hast prospered my
journey; dost thou desert me at the last? Else why will not
these immortal sandals prevail, even against the desert
storms? Shall I never see my mother more, and the blue
ripple round Seriphos, and the sunny hills of Hellas?'
So he prayed; and after he had prayed there was a great
The heaven was still above his head, and the sand was still
beneath his feet; and Perseus looked up, but there was
nothing but the blinding sun in the blinding blue; and round
him, but there was nothing but the blinding sand.
And Perseus stood still a while, and waited, and said,
'Surely I am not here without the will of the Immortals, for
Athene will not lie. Were not these sandals to lead me in
the right road? Then the road in which I have tried to go
must be a wrong road.'
Then suddenly his ears were opened, and he heard the sound of
running water.
And at that his heart was lifted up, though he scarcely dare
believe his ears; and weary as he was, he hurried forward,
though he could scarcely stand upright; and within a bowshot
of him was a glen in the sand, and marble rocks, and datetrees,
and a lawn of gay green grass. And through the lawn a
streamlet sparkled and wandered out beyond the trees, and
vanished in the sand.
The water trickled among the rocks, and a pleasant breeze
rustled in the dry date-branches and Perseus laughed for joy,
and leapt down the cliff, and drank of the cool water, and
ate of the dates, and slept upon the turf, and leapt up and
went forward again: but not toward the north this time; for
he said, 'Surely Athene hath sent me hither, and will not
have me go homeward yet. What if there be another noble deed
to be done, before I see the sunny hills of Hellas?'
So he went east, and east for ever, by fresh oases and
fountains, date-palms, and lawns of grass, till he saw before
him a mighty mountain-wall, all rose-red in the setting sun.
Then he towered in the air like an eagle, for his limbs were
strong again; and he flew all night across the mountain till
the day began to dawn, and rosy-fingered Eos came blushing up
the sky. And then, behold, beneath him was the long green
garden of Egypt and the shining stream of Nile.
And he saw cities walled up to heaven, and temples, and
obelisks, and pyramids, and giant Gods of stone. And he came
down amid fields of barley, and flax, and millet, and
clambering gourds; and saw the people coming out of the gates
of a great city, and setting to work, each in his place,
among the water-courses, parting the streams among the plants
cunningly with their feet, according to the wisdom of the
Egyptians. But when they saw him they all stopped their
work, and gathered round him, and cried -
'Who art thou, fair youth? and what bearest thou beneath thy
goat-skin there? Surely thou art one of the Immortals; for
thy skin is white like ivory, and ours is red like clay. Thy
hair is like threads of gold, and ours is black and curled.
Surely thou art one of the Immortals;' and they would have
worshipped him then and there; but Perseus said -
'I am not one of the Immortals; but I am a hero of the
Hellens. And I have slain the Gorgon in the wilderness, and
bear her head with me. Give me food, therefore, that I may
go forward and finish my work.'
Then they gave him food, and fruit, and wine; but they would
not let him go. And when the news came into the city that
the Gorgon was slain, the priests came out to meet him, and
the maidens, with songs and dances, and timbrels and harps;
and they would have brought him to their temple and to their
king; but Perseus put on the hat of darkness, and vanished
away out of their sight.
Therefore the Egyptians looked long for his return, but in
vain, and worshipped him as a hero, and made a statue of him
in Chemmis, which stood for many a hundred years; and they
said that he appeared to them at times, with sandals a cubit
long; and that whenever he appeared the season was fruitful,
and the Nile rose high that year.
Then Perseus went to the eastward, along the Red Sea shore;
and then, because he was afraid to go into the Arabian
deserts, he turned northward once more, and this time no
storm hindered him.
He went past the Isthmus, and Mount Casius, and the vast
Serbonian bog, and up the shore of Palestine, where the darkfaced
AEthiops dwelt.
He flew on past pleasant hills and valleys, like Argos
itself, or Lacedaemon, or the fair Vale of Tempe. But the
lowlands were all drowned by floods, and the highlands
blasted by fire, and the hills heaved like a babbling
cauldron, before the wrath of King Poseidon, the shaker of
the earth.
And Perseus feared to go inland, but flew along the shore
above the sea; and he went on all the day, and the sky was
black with smoke; and he went on all the night, and the sky
was red with flame.
And at the dawn of day he looked toward the cliffs; and at
the water's edge, under a black rock, he saw a white image
'This,' thought he, 'must surely be the statue of some sea-
God; I will go near and see what kind of Gods these
barbarians worship.'
So he came near; but when he came, it was no statue, but a
maiden of flesh and blood; for he could see her tresses
streaming in the breeze; and as he came closer still, he
could see how she shrank and shivered when the waves
sprinkled her with cold salt spray. Her arms were spread
above her head, and fastened to the rock with chains of
brass; and her head drooped on her bosom, either with sleep,
or weariness, or grief. But now and then she looked up and
wailed, and called her mother; yet she did not see Perseus,
for the cap of darkness was on his head.
Full of pity and indignation, Perseus drew near and looked
upon the maid. Her cheeks were darker than his were, and her
hair was blue-black like a hyacinth; but Perseus thought, 'I
have never seen so beautiful a maiden; no, not in all our
isles. Surely she is a king's daughter. Do barbarians treat
their kings' daughters thus? She is too fair, at least, to
have done any wrong I will speak to her.'
And, lifting the hat from his head, he flashed into her
sight. She shrieked with terror, and tried to hide her face
with her hair, for she could not with her hands; but Perseus
cried -
'Do not fear me, fair one; I am a Hellen, and no barbarian.
What cruel men have bound you? But first I will set you
And he tore at the fetters, but they were too strong for him;
while the maiden cried -
'Touch me not; I am accursed, devoted as a victim to the sea-
Gods. They will slay you, if you dare to set me free.'
'Let them try,' said Perseus; and drawing, Herpe from his
thigh, he cut through the brass as if it had been flax.
'Now,' he said, 'you belong to me, and not to these sea-Gods,
whosoever they may be!' But she only called the more on her
'Why call on your mother? She can be no mother to have left
you here. If a bird is dropped out of the nest, it belongs
to the man who picks it up. If a jewel is cast by the
wayside, it is his who dare win it and wear it, as I will win
you and will wear you. I know now why Pallas Athene sent me
hither. She sent me to gain a prize worth all my toil and
And he clasped her in his arms, and cried, 'Where are these
sea-Gods, cruel and unjust, who doom fair maids to death? I
carry the weapons of Immortals. Let them measure their
strength against mine! But tell me, maiden, who you are, and
what dark fate brought you here.'
And she answered, weeping -
"I am the daughter of Cepheus, King of Iopa, and my mother is
Cassiopoeia of the beautiful tresses, and they called me
Andromeda, as long as life was mine. And I stand bound here,
hapless that I am, for the sea-monster's food, to atone for
my mother's sin. For she boasted of me once that I was
fairer than Atergatis, Queen of the Fishes; so she in her
wrath sent the sea-floods, and her brother the Fire King sent
the earthquakes, and wasted all the land, and after the
floods a monster bred of the slime, who devours all living
things. And now he must devour me, guiltless though I am -
me who never harmed a living thing, nor saw a fish upon the
shore but I gave it life, and threw it back into the sea; for
in our land we eat no fish, for fear of Atergatis their
queen. Yet the priests say that nothing but my blood can
atone for a sin which I never committed.'
But Perseus laughed, and said, 'A sea-monster? I have fought
with worse than him: I would have faced Immortals for your
sake; how much more a beast of the sea?'
Then Andromeda looked up at him, and new hope was kindled in
her breast, so proud and fair did he stand, with one hand
round her, and in the other the glittering sword. But she
only sighed, and wept the more, and cried -
'Why will you die, young as you are? Is there not death and
sorrow enough in the world already? It is noble for me to
die, that I may save the lives of a whole people; but you,
better than them all, why should I slay you too? Go you your
way; I must go mine.'
But Perseus cried, 'Not so; for the Lords of Olympus, whom I
serve, are the friends of the heroes, and help them on to
noble deeds. Led by them, I slew the Gorgon, the beautiful
horror; and not without them do I come hither, to slay this
monster with that same Gorgon's head. Yet hide your eyes
when I leave you, lest the sight of it freeze you too to
But the maiden answered nothing, for she could not believe
his words. And then, suddenly looking up, she pointed to the
sea, and shrieked -
'There he comes, with the sunrise, as they promised. I must
die now. How shall I endure it? Oh, go! Is it not dreadful
enough to be torn piece-meal, without having you to look on?'
And she tried to thrust him away.
But he said, 'I go; yet promise me one thing ere I go: that
if I slay this beast you will be my wife, and come back with
me to my kingdom in fruitful Argos, for I am a king's heir.
Promise me, and seal it with a kiss.'
Then she lifted up her face, and kissed him; and Perseus
laughed for joy, and flew upward, while Andromeda crouched
trembling on the rock, waiting for what might befall.
On came the great sea-monster, coasting along like a huge
black galley, lazily breasting the ripple, and stopping at
times by creek or headland to watch for the laughter of girls
at their bleaching, or cattle pawing on the sand-hills, or
boys bathing on the beach. His great sides were fringed with
clustering shells and sea-weeds, and the water gurgled in and
out of his wide jaws, as he rolled along, dripping and
glistening in the beams of the morning sun.
At last he saw Andromeda, and shot forward to take his prey,
while the waves foamed white behind him, and before him the
fish fled leaping.
Then down from the height of the air fell Perseus like a
shooting star; down to the crests of the waves, while
Andromeda hid her face as he shouted; and then there was
silence for a while.
At last she looked up trembling, and saw Perseus springing
toward her; and instead of the monster a long black rock,
with the sea rippling quietly round it.
Who then so proud as Perseus, as he leapt back to the rock,
and lifted his fair Andromeda in his arms, and flew with her
to the cliff-top, as a falcon carries a dove?
Who so proud as Perseus, and who so joyful as all the AEthiop
people? For they had stood watching the monster from the
cliffs, wailing for the maiden's fate. And already a
messenger had gone to Cepheus and Cassiopoeia, where they sat
in sackcloth and ashes on the ground, in the innermost palace
chambers, awaiting their daughter's end. And they came, and
all the city with them, to see the wonder, with songs and
with dances, with cymbals and harps, and received their
daughter back again, as one alive from the dead.
Then Cepheus said, 'Hero of the Hellens, stay here with me
and be my son-in-law, and I will give you the half of my
'I will be your son-in-law,' said Perseus, 'but of your
kingdom I will have none, for I long after the pleasant land
of Greece, and my mother who waits for me at home.'
Then Cepheus said, 'You must not take my daughter away at
once, for she is to us like one alive from the dead. Stay
with us here a year, and after that you shall return with
honour.' And Perseus consented; but before he went to the
palace he bade the people bring stones and wood, and built
three altars, one to Athene, and one to Hermes, and one to
Father Zeus, and offered bullocks and rams.
And some said, 'This is a pious man;' yet the priests said,
'The Sea Queen will be yet more fierce against us, because
her monster is slain.' But they were afraid to speak aloud,
for they feared the Gorgon's head. So they went up to the
palace; and when they came in, there stood in the hall
Phineus, the brother of Cepheus, chafing like a bear robbed
of her whelps, and with him his sons, and his servants, and
many an armed man; and he cried to Cepheus -
'You shall not marry your daughter to this stranger, of whom
no one knows even the name. Was not Andromeda betrothed to
my son? And now she is safe again, has he not a right to
claim her?'
But Perseus laughed, and answered, 'If your son is in want of
a bride, let him save a maiden for himself. As yet he seems
but a helpless bride-groom. He left this one to die, and
dead she is to him. I saved her alive, and alive she is to
me, but to no one else. Ungrateful man! have I not saved
your land, and the lives of your sons and daughters, and will
you requite me thus? Go, or it will be worse for you.' But
all the men-at-arms drew their swords, and rushed on him like
wild beasts.
Then he unveiled the Gorgon's head, and said, 'This has
delivered my bride from one wild beast: it shall deliver her
from many.' And as he spoke Phineus and all his men-at-arms
stopped short, and stiffened each man as he stood; and before
Perseus had drawn the goat-skin over the face again, they
were all turned into stone.
Then Persons bade the people bring levers and roll them out;
and what was done with them after that I cannot tell.
So they made a great wedding-feast, which lasted seven whole
days, and who so happy as Perseus and Andromeda?
But on the eighth night Perseus dreamed a dream; and he saw
standing beside him Pallas Athene, as he had seen her in
Seriphos, seven long years before; and she stood and called
him by name, and said -
'Perseus, you have played the man, and see, you have your
reward. Know now that the Gods are just, and help him who
helps himself. Now give me here Herpe the sword, and the
sandals, and the hat of darkness, that I may give them back
to their owners; but the Gorgon's head you shall keep a
while, for you will need it in your land of Greece. Then you
shall lay it up in my temple at Seriphos, that I may wear it
on my shield for ever, a terror to the Titans and the
monsters, and the foes of Gods and men. And as for this
land, I have appeased the sea and the fire, and there shall
be no more floods nor earthquakes. But let the people build
altars to Father Zeus, and to me, and worship the Immortals,
the Lords of heaven and earth.'
And Perseus rose to give her the sword, and the cap, and the
sandals; but he woke, and his dream vanished away. And yet
it was not altogether a dream; for the goat-skin with the
head was in its place; but the sword, and the cap, and the
sandals were gone, and Perseus never saw them more.
Then a great awe fell on Perseus; and he went out in the
morning to the people, and told his dream, and bade them
build altars to Zeus, the Father of Gods and men, and to
Athene, who gives wisdom to heroes; and fear no more the
earthquakes and the floods, but sow and build in peace. And
they did so for a while, and prospered; but after Perseus was
gone they forgot Zeus and Athene, and worshipped again
Atergatis the queen, and the undying fish of the sacred lake,
where Deucalion's deluge was swallowed up, and they burnt
their children before the Fire King, till Zeus was angry with
that foolish people, and brought a strange nation against
them out of Egypt, who fought against them and wasted them
utterly, and dwelt in their cities for many a hundred years.
AND when a year was ended Perseus hired Phoenicians from
Tyre, and cut down cedars, and built himself a noble galley;
and painted its cheeks with vermilion, and pitched its sides
with pitch; and in it he put Andromeda, and all her dowry of
jewels, and rich shawls, and spices from the East; and great
was the weeping when they rowed away. But the remembrance of
his brave deed was left behind; and Andromeda's rock was
shown at Iopa in Palestine till more than a thousand years
were past.
So Perseus and the Phoenicians rowed to the westward, across
the sea of Crete, till they came to the blue AEgean and the
pleasant Isles of Hellas, and Seriphos, his ancient home.
Then he left his galley on the beach, and went up as of old;
and he embraced his mother, and Dictys his good fosterfather,
and they wept over each other a long while, for it
was seven years and more since they had met.
Then Perseus went out, and up to the hall of Polydectes; and
underneath the goat-skin he bore the Gorgon's head.
And when he came into the hall, Polydectes sat at the tablehead,
and all his nobles and landowners on either side, each
according to his rank, feasting on the fish and the goat's
flesh, and drinking the blood-red wine. The harpers harped,
and the revellers shouted, and the wine-cups rang merrily as
they passed from hand to hand, and great was the noise in the
hall of Polydectes.
Then Persons stood upon the threshold, and called to the king
by name. But none of the guests knew Perseus, for he was
changed by his long journey. He had gone out a boy, and he
was come home a hero; his eye shone like an eagle's, and his
beard was like a lion's beard, and he stood up like a wild
bull in his pride.
But Polydectes the wicked knew him, and hardened his heart
still more; and scornfully he called -
'Ah, foundling! have you found it more easy to promise than
to fulfil?'
'Those whom the Gods help fulfil their promises; and those
who despise them, reap as they have sown. Behold the
Gorgon's head!'
Then Perseus drew back the goat-skin, and held aloft the
Gorgon's head.
Pale grew Polydectes and his guests as they looked upon that
dreadful face. They tried to rise up from their seats: but
from their seats they never rose, but stiffened, each man
where he sat, into a ring of cold gray stones.
Then Perseus turned and left them, and went down to his
galley in the bay; and he gave the kingdom to good Dictys,
and sailed away with his mother and his bride.
And Polydectes and his guests sat still, with the wine-cups
before them on the board, till the rafters crumbled down
above their heads, and the walls behind their backs, and the
table crumbled down between them, and the grass sprung up
about their feet: but Polydectes and his guests sit on the
hillside, a ring of gray stones until this day.
But Perseus rowed westward toward Argos, and landed, and went
up to the town. And when he came, he found that Acrisius his
grandfather had fled. For Proetus his wicked brother had
made war against him afresh; and had come across the river
from Tiryns, and conquered Argos, and Acrisius had fled to
Larissa, in the country of the wild Pelasgi.
Then Perseus called the Argives together, and told them who
he was, and all the noble deeds which he had done. And all
the nobles and the yeomen made him king, for they saw that he
had a royal heart; and they fought with him against Argos,
and took it, and killed Proetus, and made the Cyclopes serve
them, and build them walls round Argos, like the walls which
they had built at Tiryns; and there were great rejoicings in
the vale of Argos, because they had got a king from Father
But Perseus' heart yearned after his grandfather, and he
said, 'Surely he is my flesh and blood, and he will love me
now that I am come home with honour: I will go and find him,
and bring him home, and we will reign together in peace.'
So Perseus sailed away with his Phoenicians, round Hydrea and
Sunium, past Marathon and the Attic shore, and through
Euripus, and up the long Euboean sea, till he came to the
town of Larissa, where the wild Pelasgi dwelt.
And when he came there, all the people were in the fields,
and there was feasting, and all kinds of games; for
Teutamenes their king wished to honour Acrisius, because he
was the king of a mighty land.
So Perseus did not tell his name, but went up to the games
unknown; for he said, 'If I carry away the prize in the
games, my grandfather's heart will be softened toward me.'
So he threw off his helmet, and his cuirass, and all his
clothes, and stood among the youths of Larissa, while all
wondered at him, and said, 'Who is this young stranger, who
stands like a wild bull in his pride? Surely he is one of
the heroes, the sons of the Immortals, from Olympus.'
And when the games began, they wondered yet more; for Perseus
was the best man of all at running, and leaping, and
wrestling and throwing the javelin; and he won four crowns,
and took them, and then he said to himself, 'There is a fifth
crown yet to be won: I will win that, and lay them all upon
the knees of my grandfather.'
And as he spoke, he saw where Acrisius sat, by the side of
Teutamenes the king, with his white beard flowing down upon
his knees, and his royal staff in his hand; and Perseus wept
when he looked at him, for his heart yearned after his kin;
and he said, 'Surely he is a kingly old man, yet he need not
be ashamed of his grandson.'
Then he took the quoits, and hurled them, five fathoms beyond
all the rest; and the people shouted, 'Further yet, brave
stranger! There has never been such a hurler in this land.'
Then Perseus put out all his strength, and hurled. But a
gust of wind came from the sea, and carried the quoit aside,
and far beyond all the rest; and it fell on the foot of
Acrisius, and he swooned away with the pain.
Perseus shrieked, and ran up to him; but when they lifted the
old man up he was dead, for his life was slow and feeble.
Then Perseus rent his clothes, and cast dust upon his head,
and wept a long while for his grandfather. At last he rose,
and called to all the people aloud, and said -
'The Gods are true, and what they have ordained must be. I
am Perseus, the grandson of this dead man, the far-famed
slayer of the Gorgon.'
Then he told them how the prophecy had declared that he
should kill his grandfather, and all the story of his life.
So they made a great mourning for Acrisius, and burnt him on
a right rich pile; and Perseus went to the temple, and was
purified from the guilt of the death, because he had done it
Then he went home to Argos, and reigned there well with fair
Andromeda; and they had four sons and three daughters, and
died in a good old age.
And when they died, the ancients say, Athene took them up
into the sky, with Cepheus and Cassiopoeia. And there on
starlight nights you may see them shining still; Cepheus with
his kingly crown, and Cassiopoeia in her ivory chair,
plaiting her star-spangled tresses, and Perseus with the
Gorgon's head, and fair Andromeda beside him, spreading her
long white arms across the heaven, as she stood when chained
to the stone for the monster.
All night long, they shine, for a beacon to wandering
sailors; but all day they feast with the Gods, on the still
blue peaks of Olympus.
I HAVE told you of a hero who fought with wild beasts and
with wild men; but now I have a tale of heroes who sailed
away into a distant land, to win themselves renown for ever,
in the adventure of the Golden Fleece.
Whither they sailed, my children, I cannot clearly tell. It
all happened long ago; so long that it has all grown dim,
like a dream which you dreamt last year. And why they went I
cannot tell: some say that it was to win gold. It may be
so; but the noblest deeds which have been done on earth have
not been done for gold. It was not for the sake of gold that
the Lord came down and died, and the Apostles went out to
preach the good news in all lands. The Spartans looked for
no reward in money when they fought and died at Thermopylae;
and Socrates the wise asked no pay from his countrymen, but
lived poor and barefoot all his days, only caring to make men
good. And there are heroes in our days also, who do noble
deeds, but not for gold. Our discoverers did not go to make
themselves rich when they sailed out one after another into
the dreary frozen seas; nor did the ladies who went out last
year to drudge in the hospitals of the East, making
themselves poor, that they might be rich in noble works. And
young men, too, whom you know, children, and some of them of
your own kin, did they say to themselves, 'How much money
shall I earn?' when they went out to the war, leaving wealth,
and comfort, and a pleasant home, and all that money can
give, to face hunger and thirst, and wounds and death, that
they might fight for their country and their Queen? No,
children, there is a better thing on earth than wealth, a
better thing than life itself; and that is, to have done
something before you die, for which good men may honour you,
and God your Father smile upon your work.
Therefore we will believe - why should we not? - of these
same Argonauts of old, that they too were noble men, who
planned and did a noble deed; and that therefore their fame
has lived, and been told in story and in song, mixed up, no
doubt, with dreams and fables, and yet true and right at
heart. So we will honour these old Argonauts, and listen to
their story as it stands; and we will try to be like them,
each of us in our place; for each of us has a Golden Fleece
to seek, and a wild sea to sail over ere we reach it, and
dragons to fight ere it be ours.
And what was that first Golden Fleece? I do not know, nor
care. The old Hellens said that it hung in Colchis, which we
call the Circassian coast, nailed to a beech-tree in the war-
God's wood; and that it was the fleece of the wondrous ram
who bore Phrixus and Helle across the Euxine sea. For
Phrixus and Helle were the children of the cloud-nymph, and
of Athamas the Minuan king. And when a famine came upon the
land, their cruel step-mother Ino wished to kill them, that
her own children might reign, and said that they must be
sacrificed on an altar, to turn away the anger of the Gods.
So the poor children were brought to the altar, and the
priest stood ready with his knife, when out of the clouds
came the Golden Ram, and took them on his back, and vanished.
Then madness came upon that foolish king, Athamas, and ruin
upon Ino and her children. For Athamas killed one of them in
his fury, and Ino fled from him with the other in her arms,
and leaped from a cliff into the sea, and was changed into a
dolphin, such as you have seen, which wanders over the waves
for ever sighing, with its little one clasped to its breast.
But the people drove out King Athamas, because he had killed
his child; and he roamed about in his misery, till he came to
the Oracle in Delphi. And the Oracle told him that he must
wander for his sin, till the wild beasts should feast him as
their guest. So he went on in hunger and sorrow for many a
weary day, till he saw a pack of wolves. The wolves were
tearing a sheep; but when they saw Athamas they fled, and
left the sheep for him, and he ate of it; and then he knew
that the oracle was fulfilled at last. So he wandered no
more; but settled, and built a town, and became a king again.
But the ram carried the two children far away over land and
sea, till he came to the Thracian Chersonese, and there Helle
fell into the sea. So those narrow straits are called
'Hellespont,' after her; and they bear that name until this
Then the ram flew on with Phrixus to the north-east across
the sea which we call the Black Sea now; but the Hellens call
it Euxine. And at last, they say, he stopped at Colchis, on
the steep Circassian coast; and there Phrixus married
Chalciope, the daughter of Aietes the king; and offered the
ram in sacrifice; and Aietes nailed the ram's fleece to a
beech, in the grove of Ares the war-God.
And after awhile Phrixus died, and was buried, but his spirit
had no rest; for he was buried far from his native land, and
the pleasant hills of Hellas. So he came in dreams to the
heroes of the Minuai, and called sadly by their beds, 'Come
and set my spirit free, that I may go home to my fathers and
to my kinsfolk, and the pleasant Minuan land.'
And they asked, 'How shall we set your spirit free?'
'You must sail over the sea to Colchis, and bring home the
golden fleece; and then my spirit will come back with it, and
I shall sleep with my fathers and have rest.'
He came thus, and called to them often; but when they woke
they looked at each other, and said, 'Who dare sail to
Colchis, or bring home the golden fleece?' And in all the
country none was brave enough to try it; for the man and the
time were not come.
Phrixus had a cousin called AEson, who was king in Iolcos by
the sea. There he ruled over the rich Minuan heroes, as
Athamas his uncle ruled in Boeotia; and, like Athamas, he was
an unhappy man. For he had a step-brother named Pelias, of
whom some said that he was a nymph's son, and there were dark
and sad tales about his birth. When he was a babe he was
cast out on the mountains, and a wild mare came by and kicked
him. But a shepherd passing found the baby, with its face
all blackened by the blow; and took him home, and called him
Pelias, because his face was bruised and black. And he grew
up fierce and lawless, and did many a fearful deed; and at
last he drove out AEson his step-brother, and then his own
brother Neleus, and took the kingdom to himself, and ruled
over the rich Minuan heroes, in Iolcos by the sea.
And AEson, when he was driven out, went sadly away out of the
town, leading his little son by the hand; and he said to
himself, 'I must hide the child in the mountains; or Pelias
will surely kill him, because he is the heir.'
So he went up from the sea across the valley, through the
vineyards and the olive groves, and across the torrent of
Anauros, toward Pelion the ancient mountain, whose brows are
white with snow.
He went up and up into the mountain, over marsh, and crag,
and down, till the boy was tired and footsore, and AEson had
to bear him in his arms, till he came to the mouth of a
lonely cave, at the foot of a mighty cliff.
Above the cliff the snow-wreaths hung, dripping and cracking
in the sun; but at its foot around the cave's mouth grew all
fair flowers and herbs, as if in a garden, ranged in order,
each sort by itself. There they grew gaily in the sunshine,
and the spray of the torrent from above; while from the cave
came the sound of music, and a man's voice singing to the
Then AEson put down the lad, and whispered -
'Fear not, but go in, and whomsoever you shall find, lay your
hands upon his knees, and say, "In the name of Zeus, the
father of Gods and men, I am your guest from this day
Then the lad went in without trembling, for he too was a
hero's son; but when he was within, he stopped in wonder to
listen to that magic song.
And there he saw the singer lying upon bear-skins and
fragrant boughs: Cheiron, the ancient centaur, the wisest of
all things beneath the sky. Down to the waist he was a man,
but below he was a noble horse; his white hair rolled down
over his broad shoulders, and his white beard over his broad
brown chest; and his eyes were wise and mild, and his
forehead like a mountain-wall.
And in his hands he held a harp of gold, and struck it with a
golden key; and as he struck, he sang till his eyes
glittered, and filled all the cave with light.
And he sang of the birth of Time, and of the heavens and the
dancing stars; and of the ocean, and the ether, and the fire,
and the shaping of the wondrous earth. And he sang of the
treasures of the hills, and the hidden jewels of the mine,
and the veins of fire and metal, and the virtues of all
healing herbs, and of the speech of birds, and of prophecy,
and of hidden things to come.
Then he sang of health, and strength, and manhood, and a
valiant heart; and of music, and hunting, and wrestling, and
all the games which heroes love: and of travel, and wars,
and sieges, and a noble death in fight; and then he sang of
peace and plenty, and of equal justice in the land; and as he
sang the boy listened wide-eyed, and forgot his errand in the
And at the last old Cheiron was silent, and called the lad
with a soft voice.
And the lad ran trembling to him, and would have laid his
hands upon his knees; but Cheiron smiled, and said, 'Call
hither your father AEson, for I know you, and all that has
befallen, and saw you both afar in the valley, even before
you left the town.'
Then AEson came in sadly, and Cheiron asked him, 'Why camest
you not yourself to me, AEson the AEolid?'
And AEson said -
'I thought, Cheiron will pity the lad if he sees him come
alone; and I wished to try whether he was fearless, and dare
venture like a hero's son. But now I entreat you by Father
Zeus, let the boy be your guest till better times, and train
him among the sons of the heroes, that he may avenge his
father's house.'
Then Cheiron smiled, and drew the lad to him, and laid his
hand upon his golden locks, and said, 'Are you afraid of my
horse's hoofs, fair boy, or will you be my pupil from this
'I would gladly have horse's hoofs like you, if I could sing
such songs as yours.'
And Cheiron laughed, and said, 'Sit here by me till sundown,
when your playfellows will come home, and you shall learn
like them to be a king, worthy to rule over gallant men.'
Then he turned to AEson, and said, 'Go back in peace, and
bend before the storm like a prudent man. This boy shall not
cross the Anauros again, till he has become a glory to you
and to the house of AEolus.'
And AEson wept over his son and went away; but the boy did
not weep, so full was his fancy of that strange cave, and the
centaur, and his song, and the playfellows whom he was to
Then Cheiron put the lyre into his hands, and taught him how
to play it, till the sun sank low behind the cliff, and a
shout was heard outside.
And then in came the sons of the heroes, AEneas, and
Heracles, and Peleus, and many another mighty name.
And great Cheiron leapt up joyfully, and his hoofs made the
cave resound, as they shouted, 'Come out, Father Cheiron;
come out and see our game.' And one cried, 'I have killed
two deer;' and another, 'I took a wild cat among the crags;'
and Heracles dragged a wild goat after him by its horns, for
he was as huge as a mountain crag; and Coeneus carried a
bear-cub under each arm, and laughed when they scratched and
bit, for neither tooth nor steel could wound him.
And Cheiron praised them all, each according to his deserts.
Only one walked apart and silent, Asclepius, the too-wise
child, with his bosom full of herbs and flowers, and round
his wrist a spotted snake; he came with downcast eyes to
Cheiron, and whispered how he had watched the snake cast its
old skin, and grow young again before his eyes, and how he
had gone down into a village in the vale, and cured a dying
man with a herb which he had seen a sick goat eat.
And Cheiron smiled, and said, 'To each Athene and Apollo give
some gift, and each is worthy in his place; but to this child
they have given an honour beyond all honours, to cure while
others kill.'
Then the lads brought in wood, and split it, and lighted a
blazing fire; and others skinned the deer and quartered them,
and set them to roast before the fire; and while the venison
was cooking they bathed in the snow-torrent, and washed away
the dust and sweat.
And then all ate till they could eat no more (for they had
tasted nothing since the dawn), and drank of the clear spring
water, for wine is not fit for growing lads. And when the
remnants were put away, they all lay down upon the skins and
leaves about the fire, and each took the lyre in turn, and
sang and played with all his heart.
And after a while they all went out to a plot of grass at the
cave's mouth, and there they boxed, and ran, and wrestled,
and laughed till the stones fell from the cliffs.
Then Cheiron took his lyre, and all the lads joined hands;
and as be played, they danced to his measure, in and out, and
round and round. There they danced hand in hand, till the
night fell over land and sea, while the black glen shone with
their broad white limbs and the gleam of their golden hair.
And the lad danced with them, delighted, and then slept a
wholesome sleep, upon fragrant leaves of bay, and myrtle, and
marjoram, and flowers of thyme; and rose at the dawn, and
bathed in the torrent, and became a schoolfellow to the
heroes' sons, and forgot Iolcos, and his father, and all his
former life. But he grew strong, and brave and cunning, upon
the pleasant downs of Pelion, in the keen hungry mountain
air. And he learnt to wrestle, and to box, and to hunt, and
to play upon the harp; and next he learnt to ride, for old
Cheiron used to mount him on his back; and he learnt the
virtues of all herbs and how to cure all wounds; and Cheiron
called him Jason the healer, and that is his name until this
AND ten years came and went, and Jason was grown to be a
mighty man. Some of his fellows were gone, and some were
growing up by his side. Asclepius was gone into Peloponnese
to work his wondrous cures on men; and some say he used to
raise the dead to life. And Heracles was gone to Thebes to
fulfil those famous labours which have become a proverb among
men. And Peleus had married a sea-nymph, and his wedding is
famous to this day. And AEneas was gone home to Troy, and
many a noble tale you will read of him, and of all the other
gallant heroes, the scholars of Cheiron the just. And it
happened on a day that Jason stood on the mountain, and
looked north and south and east and west; and Cheiron stood
by him and watched him, for he knew that the time was come.
And Jason looked and saw the plains of Thessaly, where the
Lapithai breed their horses; and the lake of Boibe, and the
stream which runs northward to Peneus and Tempe; and he
looked north, and saw the mountain wall which guards the
Magnesian shore; Olympus, the seat of the Immortals, and
Ossa, and Pelion, where he stood. Then he looked east and saw
the bright blue sea, which stretched away for ever toward the
dawn. Then he looked south, and saw a pleasant land, with
white-walled towns and farms, nestling along the shore of a
land-locked bay, while the smoke rose blue among the trees;
and he knew it for the bay of Pagasai, and the rich lowlands
of Haemonia, and Iolcos by the sea.
Then he sighed, and asked, 'Is it true what the heroes tell
me - that I am heir of that fair land?'
'And what good would it be to you, Jason, if you were heir of
that fair land?'
'I would take it and keep it.'
'A strong man has taken it and kept it long. Are you
stronger than Pelias the terrible?'
'I can try my strength with his,' said Jason; but Cheiron
sighed, and said -
'You have many a danger to go through before you rule in
Iolcos by the sea: many a danger and many a woe; and strange
troubles in strange lands, such as man never saw before.'
'The happier I,' said Jason, 'to see what man never saw
And Cheiron sighed again, and said, 'The eaglet must leave
the nest when it is fledged. Will you go to Iolcos by the
sea? Then promise me two things before you go.'
Jason promised, and Cheiron answered, 'Speak harshly to no
soul whom you may meet, and stand by the word which you shall
Jason wondered why Cheiron asked this of him; but he knew
that the Centaur was a prophet, and saw things long before
they came. So he promised, and leapt down the mountain, to
take his fortune like a man.
He went down through the arbutus thickets, and across the
downs of thyme, till he came to the vineyard walls, and the
pomegranates and the olives in the glen; and among the olives
roared Anauros, all foaming with a summer flood.
And on the bank of Anauros sat a woman, all wrinkled, gray,
and old; her head shook palsied on her breast, and her hands
shook palsied on her knees; and when she saw Jason, she spoke
whining, 'Who will carry me across the flood?'
Jason was bold and hasty, and was just going to leap into the
flood: and yet he thought twice before he leapt, so loud
roared the torrent down, all brown from the mountain rains,
and silver-veined with melting snow; while underneath he
could hear the boulders rumbling like the tramp of horsemen
or the roll of wheels, as they ground along the narrow
channel, and shook the rocks on which he stood.
But the old woman whined all the more, 'I am weak and old,
fair youth. For Hera's sake, carry me over the torrent.'
And Jason was going to answer her scornfully, when Cheiron's
words came to his mind.
So he said, 'For Hera's sake, the Queen of the Immortals on
Olympus, I will carry you over the torrent, unless we both
are drowned midway.'
Then the old dame leapt upon his back, as nimbly as a goat;
and Jason staggered in, wondering; and the first step was up
to his knees.
The first step was up to his knees, and the second step was
up to his waist; and the stones rolled about his feet, and
his feet slipped about the stones; so he went on staggering,
and panting, while the old woman cried from off his back -
'Fool, you have wet my mantle! Do you make game of poor old
souls like me?'
Jason had half a mind to drop her, and let her get through
the torrent by herself; but Cheiron's words were in his mind,
and he said only, 'Patience, mother; the best horse may
stumble some day.'
At last he staggered to the shore, and set her down upon the
bank; and a strong man he needed to have been, or that wild
water he never would have crossed.
He lay panting awhile upon the bank, and then leapt up to go
upon his journey; but he cast one look at the old woman, for
he thought, 'She should thank me once at least.'
And as he looked, she grew fairer than all women, and taller
than all men on earth; and her garments shone like the summer
sea, and her jewels like the stars of heaven; and over her
forehead was a veil woven of the golden clouds of sunset; and
through the veil she looked down on him, with great soft
heifer's eyes; with great eyes, mild and awful, which filled
all the glen with light.
And Jason fell upon his knees, and hid his face between his
And she spoke, 'I am the Queen of Olympus, Hera the wife of
Zeus. As thou hast done to me, so will I do to thee. Call
on me in the hour of need, and try if the Immortals can
And when Jason looked up, she rose from off the earth, like a
pillar of tall white cloud, and floated away across the
mountain peaks, toward Olympus the holy hill.
Then a great fear fell on Jason: but after a while he grew
light of heart; and he blessed old Cheiron, and said, 'Surely
the Centaur is a prophet, and guessed what would come to
pass, when he bade me speak harshly to no soul whom I might
Then he went down toward Iolcos; and as he walked he found
that he had lost one of his sandals in the flood.
And as he went through the streets, the people came out to
look at him, so tall and fair was he; but some of the elders
whispered together; and at last one of them stopped Jason,
and called to him, 'Fair lad, who are you, and whence come
you; and what is your errand in the town?'
'My name, good father, is Jason, and I come from Pelion up
above; and my errand is to Pelias your king; tell me then
where his palace is.'
But the old man started, and grew pale, and said, 'Do you not
know the oracle, my son, that you go so boldly through the
town with but one sandal on?'
'I am a stranger here, and know of no oracle; but what of my
one sandal? I lost the other in Anauros, while I was
struggling with the flood.'
Then the old man looked back to his companions; and one
sighed, and another smiled; at last he said, 'I will tell
you, lest you rush upon your ruin unawares. The oracle in
Delphi has said that a man wearing one sandal should take the
kingdom from Pelias, and keep it for himself. Therefore
beware how you go up to his palace, for he is the fiercest
and most cunning of all kings.'
Then Jason laughed a great laugh, like a war-horse in his
pride. 'Good news, good father, both for you and me. For
that very end I came into the town.'
Then he strode on toward the palace of Pelias, while all the
people wondered at his bearing.
And he stood in the doorway and cried, 'Come out, come out,
Pelias the valiant, and fight for your kingdom like a man.'
Pelias came out wondering, and 'Who are you, bold youth?' he
'I am Jason, the son of AEson, the heir of all this land.'
Then Pelias lifted up his hands and eyes, and wept, or seemed
to weep; and blessed the heavens which had brought his nephew
to him, never to leave him more. 'For,' said he, 'I have but
three daughters, and no son to be my heir. You shall be my
heir then, and rule the kingdom after me, and marry
whichsoever of my daughters you shall choose; though a sad
kingdom you will find it, and whosoever rules it a miserable
man. But come in, come in, and feast.'
So he drew Jason in, whether he would or not, and spoke to
him so lovingly and feasted him so well, that Jason's anger
passed; and after supper his three cousins came into the
hall, and Jason thought that he should like well enough to
have one of them for his wife.
But at last he said to Pelias, 'Why do you look so sad, my
uncle? And what did you mean just now when you said that
this was a doleful kingdom, and its ruler a miserable man?'
Then Pelias sighed heavily again and again and again, like a
man who had to tell some dreadful story, and was afraid to
begin; but at last -
'For seven long years and more have I never known a quiet
night; and no more will he who comes after me, till the
golden fleece be brought home.'
Then he told Jason the story of Phrixus, and of the golden
fleece; and told him, too, which was a lie, that Phrixus'
spirit tormented him, calling to him day and night. And his
daughters came, and told the same tale (for their father had
taught them their parts), and wept, and said, 'Oh who will
bring home the golden fleece, that our uncle's spirit may
rest; and that we may have rest also, whom he never lets
sleep in peace?'
Jason sat awhile, sad and silent; for he had often heard of
that golden fleece; but he looked on it as a thing hopeless
and impossible for any mortal man to win it.
But when Pelias saw him silent, he began to talk of other
things, and courted Jason more and more, speaking to him as
if he was certain to be his heir, and asking his advice about
the kingdom; till Jason, who was young and simple, could not
help saying to himself, 'Surely he is not the dark man whom
people call him. Yet why did he drive my father out?' And
he asked Pelias boldly, 'Men say that you are terrible, and a
man of blood; but I find you a kind and hospitable man; and
as you are to me, so will I be to you. Yet why did you drive
my father out?'
Pelias smiled, and sighed. 'Men have slandered me in that,
as in all things. Your father was growing old and weary, and
he gave the kingdom up to me of his own will. You shall see
him to-morrow, and ask him; and he will tell you the same.'
Jason's heart leapt in him when he heard that he was to see
his father; and he believed all that Pelias said, forgetting
that his father might not dare to tell the truth.
'One thing more there is,' said Pelias, 'on which I need your
advice; for, though you are young, I see in you a wisdom
beyond your years. There is one neighbour of mine, whom I
dread more than all men on earth. I am stronger than he now,
and can command him; but I know that if he stay among us, he
will work my ruin in the end. Can you give me a plan, Jason,
by which I can rid myself of that man?'
After awhile Jason answered, half laughing, 'Were I you, I
would send him to fetch that same golden fleece; for if he
once set forth after it you would never be troubled with him
And at that a bitter smile came across Pelias' lips, and a
flash of wicked joy into his eyes; and Jason saw it, and
started; and over his mind came the warning of the old man,
and his own one sandal, and the oracle, and he saw that he
was taken in a trap.
But Pelias only answered gently, 'My son, he shall be sent
'You mean me?' cried Jason, starting up, 'because I came here
with one sandal?' And he lifted his fist angrily, while
Pelias stood up to him like a wolf at bay; and whether of the
two was the stronger and the fiercer it would be hard to
But after a moment Pelias spoke gently, 'Why then so rash, my
son? You, and not I, have said what is said; why blame me
for what I have not done? Had you bid me love the man of
whom I spoke, and make him my son-in-law and heir, I would
have obeyed you; and what if I obey you now, and send the man
to win himself immortal fame? I have not harmed you, or him.
One thing at least I know, that he will go, and that gladly;
for he has a hero's heart within him, loving glory, and
scorning to break the word which he has given.'
Jason saw that he was entrapped; but his second promise to
Cheiron came into his mind, and he thought, 'What if the
Centaur were a prophet in that also, and meant that I should
win the fleece!' Then he cried aloud -
'You have well spoken, cunning uncle of mine! I love glory,
and I dare keep to my word. I will go and fetch this golden
fleece. Promise me but this in return, and keep your word as
I keep mine. Treat my father lovingly while I am gone, for
the sake of the all-seeing Zeus; and give me up the kingdom
for my own on the day that I bring back the golden fleece.'
Then Pelias looked at him and almost loved him, in the midst
of all his hate; and said, 'I promise, and I will perform.
It will be no shame to give up my kingdom to the man who wins
that fleece.' Then they swore a great oath between them; and
afterwards both went in, and lay down to sleep.
But Jason could not sleep for thinking of his mighty oath,
and how he was to fulfil it, all alone, and without wealth or
friends. So he tossed a long time upon his bed, and thought
of this plan and of that; and sometimes Phrixus seemed to
call him, in a thin voice, faint and low, as if it came from
far across the sea, 'Let me come home to my fathers and have
rest.' And sometimes he seemed to see the eyes of Hera, and
to hear her words again - 'Call on me in the hour of need,
and see if the Immortals can forget.'
And on the morrow he went to Pelias, and said, 'Give me a
victim, that I may sacrifice to Hera.' So he went up, and
offered his sacrifice; and as he stood by the altar Hera sent
a thought into his mind; and he went back to Pelias, and said
'If you are indeed in earnest, give me two heralds, that they
may go round to all the princes of the Minuai, who were
pupils of the Centaur with me, that we may fit out a ship
together, and take what shall befall.'
At that Pelias praised his wisdom, and hastened to send the
heralds out; for he said in his heart, 'Let all the princes
go with him, and, like him, never return; for so I shall be
lord of all the Minuai, and the greatest king in Hellas.'
SO the heralds went out, and cried to all the heroes of the
Minuai, 'Who dare come to the adventure of the golden
And Hera stirred the hearts of all the princes, and they came
from all their valleys to the yellow sands of Pagasai. And
first came Heracles the mighty, with his lion's skin and
club, and behind him Hylas his young squire, who bore his
arrows and his bow; and Tiphys, the skilful steersman; and
Butes, the fairest of all men; and Castor and Polydeuces the
twins, the sons of the magic swan; and Caeneus, the strongest
of mortals, whom the Centaurs tried in vain to kill, and
overwhelmed him with trunks of pine-trees, but even so he
would not die; and thither came Zetes and Calais, the winged
sons of the north wind; and Peleus, the father of Achilles,
whose bride was silver-footed Thetis, the goddess of the sea.
And thither came Telamon and Oileus, the fathers of the two
Aiantes, who fought upon the plains of Troy; and Mopsus, the
wise soothsayer, who knew the speech of birds; and Idmon, to
whom Phoebus gave a tongue to prophesy of things to come; and
Ancaios, who could read the stars, and knew all the circles
of the heavens; and Argus, the famed shipbuilder, and many a
hero more, in helmets of brass and gold with tall dyed horsehair
crests, and embroidered shirts of linen beneath their
coats of mail, and greaves of polished tin to guard their
knees in fight; with each man his shield upon his shoulder,
of many a fold of tough bull's hide, and his sword of
tempered bronze in his silver-studded belt; and in his right
hand a pair of lances, of the heavy white ash-staves.
So they came down to Iolcos, and all the city came out to
meet them, and were never tired with looking at their height,
and their beauty, and their gallant bearing and the glitter
of their inlaid arms. And some said, 'Never was such a
gathering of the heroes since the Hellens conquered the
land.' But the women sighed over them, and whispered, 'Alas!
they are all going to their death!'
Then they felled the pines on Pelion, and shaped them with
the axe, and Argus taught them to build a galley, the first
long ship which ever sailed the seas. They pierced her for
fifty oars - an oar for each hero of the crew - and pitched
her with coal-black pitch, and painted her bows with
vermilion; and they named her ARGO after Argus, and worked at
her all day long. And at night Pelias feasted them like a
king, and they slept in his palace-porch.
But Jason went away to the northward, and into the land of
Thrace, till he found Orpheus, the prince of minstrels, where
he dwelt in his cave under Rhodope, among the savage Cicon
tribes. And he asked him, 'Will you leave your mountains,
Orpheus, my fellow-scholar in old times, and cross Strymon
once more with me, to sail with the heroes of the Minuai, and
bring home the golden fleece, and charm for us all men and
all monsters with your magic harp and song?'
Then Orpheus sighed, 'Have I not had enough of toil and of
weary wandering, far and wide since I lived in Cheiron's
cave, above Iolcos by the sea? In vain is the skill and the
voice which my goddess mother gave me; in vain have I sung
and laboured; in vain I went down to the dead, and charmed
all the kings of Hades, to win back Eurydice my bride. For I
won her, my beloved, and lost her again the same day, and
wandered away in my madness, even to Egypt and the Libyan
sands, and the isles of all the seas, driven on by the
terrible gadfly, while I charmed in vain the hearts of men,
and the savage forest beasts, and the trees, and the lifeless
stones, with my magic harp and song, giving rest, but finding
none. But at last Calliope my mother delivered me, and
brought me home in peace; and I dwell here in the cave alone,
among the savage Cicon tribes, softening their wild hearts
with music and the gentle laws of Zeus. And now I must go
out again, to the ends of all the earth, far away into the
misty darkness, to the last wave of the Eastern Sea. But
what is doomed must be, and a friend's demand obeyed; for
prayers are the daughters of Zeus, and who honours them
honours him.'
Then Orpheus rose up sighing, and took his harp, and went
over Strymon. And he led Jason to the south-west, up the
banks of Haliacmon and over the spurs of Pindus, to Dodona
the town of Zeus, where it stood by the side of the sacred
lake, and the fountain which breathed out fire, in the
darkness of the ancient oakwood, beneath the mountain of the
hundred springs. And he led him to the holy oak, where the
black dove settled in old times, and was changed into the
priestess of Zeus, and gave oracles to all nations round.
And he bade him cut down a bough, and sacrifice to Hera and
to Zeus; and they took the bough and came to Iolcos, and
nailed it to the beak-head of the ship.
And at last the ship was finished, and they tried to launch
her down the beach; but she was too heavy for them to move
her, and her keel sank deep into the sand. Then all the
heroes looked at each other blushing; but Jason spoke, and
said, 'Let us ask the magic bough; perhaps it can help us in
our need.'
Then a voice came from the bough, and Jason heard the words
it said, and bade Orpheus play upon the harp, while the
heroes waited round, holding the pine-trunk rollers, to help
her toward the sea.
Then Orpheus took his harp, and began his magic song - 'How
sweet it is to ride upon the surges, and to leap from wave to
wave, while the wind sings cheerful in the cordage, and the
oars flash fast among the foam! How sweet it is to roam
across the ocean, and see new towns and wondrous lands, and
to come home laden with treasure, and to win undying fame!'
And the good ship ARGO heard him, and longed to be away and
out at sea; till she stirred in every timber, and heaved from
stem to stern, and leapt up from the sand upon the rollers,
and plunged onward like a gallant horse; and the heroes fed
her path with pine-trunks, till she rushed into the
whispering sea.
Then they stored her well with food and water, and pulled the
ladder up on board, and settled themselves each man to his
oar, and kept time to Orpheus' harp; and away across the bay
they rowed southward, while the people lined the cliffs; and
the women wept, while the men shouted, at the starting of
that gallant crew.
AND what happened next, my children, whether it be true or
not, stands written in ancient songs, which you shall read
for yourselves some day. And grand old songs they are,
written in grand old rolling verse; and they call them the
Songs of Orpheus, or the Orphics, to this day. And they tell
how the heroes came to Aphetai, across the bay, and waited
for the south-west wind, and chose themselves a captain from
their crew: and how all called for Heracles, because he was
the strongest and most huge; but Heracles refused, and called
for Jason, because he was the wisest of them all. So Jason
was chosen captain; and Orpheus heaped a pile of wood, and
slew a bull, and offered it to Hera, and called all the
heroes to stand round, each man's head crowned with olive,
and to strike their swords into the bull. Then he filled a
golden goblet with the bull's blood, and with wheaten flour,
and honey, and wine, and the bitter salt-sea water, and bade
the heroes taste. So each tasted the goblet, and passed it
round, and vowed an awful vow: and they vowed before the
sun, and the night, and the blue-haired sea who shakes the
land, to stand by Jason faithfully in the adventure of the
golden fleece; and whosoever shrank back, or disobeyed, or
turned traitor to his vow, then justice should minister
against him, and the Erinnues who track guilty men.
Then Jason lighted the pile, and burnt the carcase of the
bull; and they went to their ship and sailed eastward, like
men who have a work to do; and the place from which they went
was called Aphetai, the sailing-place, from that day forth.
Three thousand years and more they sailed away, into the
unknown Eastern seas; and great nations have come and gone
since then, and many a storm has swept the earth; and many a
mighty armament, to which ARGO would be but one small boat;
English and French, Turkish and Russian, have sailed those
waters since; yet the fame of that small ARGO lives for ever,
and her name is become a proverb among men.
So they sailed past the Isle of Sciathos, with the Cape of
Sepius on their left, and turned to the northward toward
Pelion, up the long Magnesian shore. On their right hand was
the open sea, and on their left old Pelion rose, while the
clouds crawled round his dark pine-forests, and his caps of
summer snow. And their hearts yearned for the dear old
mountain, as they thought of pleasant days gone by, and of
the sports of their boyhood, and their hunting, and their
schooling in the cave beneath the cliff. And at last Peleus
spoke, 'Let us land here, friends, and climb the dear old
hill once more. We are going on a fearful journey; who knows
if we shall see Pelion again? Let us go up to Cheiron our
master, and ask his blessing ere we start. And I have a boy,
too, with him, whom he trains as he trained me once - the son
whom Thetis brought me, the silver-footed lady of the sea,
whom I caught in the cave, and tamed her, though she changed
her shape seven times. For she changed, as I held her, into
water, and to vapour, and to burning flame, and to a rock,
and to a black-maned lion, and to a tall and stately tree.
But I held her and held her ever, till she took her own shape
again, and led her to my father's house, and won her for my
bride. And all the rulers of Olympus came to our wedding,
and the heavens and the earth rejoiced together, when an
Immortal wedded mortal man. And now let me see my son; for
it is not often I shall see him upon earth: famous he will
be, but short-lived, and die in the flower of youth.'
So Tiphys the helmsman steered them to the shore under the
crags of Pelion; and they went up through the dark pineforests
towards the Centaur's cave.
And they came into the misty hall, beneath the snow-crowned
crag; and saw the great Centaur lying, with his huge limbs
spread upon the rock; and beside him stood Achilles, the
child whom no steel could wound, and played upon his harp
right sweetly, while Cheiron watched and smiled.
Then Cheiron leapt up and welcomed them, and kissed them
every one, and set a feast before them of swine's flesh, and
venison, and good wine; and young Achilles served them, and
carried the golden goblet round. And after supper all the
heroes clapped their hands, and called on Orpheus to sing;
but he refused, and said, 'How can I, who am the younger,
sing before our ancient host?' So they called on Cheiron to
sing, and Achilles brought him his harp; and he began a
wondrous song; a famous story of old time, of the fight
between the Centaurs and the Lapithai, which you may still
see carved in stone. (1) He sang how his brothers came to
ruin by their folly, when they were mad with wine; and how
they and the heroes fought, with fists, and teeth, and the
goblets from which they drank; and how they tore up the pinetrees
in their fury, and hurled great crags of stone, while
the mountains thundered with the battle, and the land was
wasted far and wide; till the Lapithai drove them from their
home in the rich Thessalian plains to the lonely glens of
Pindus, leaving Cheiron all alone. And the heroes praised
his song right heartily; for some of them had helped in that
great fight.
Then Orpheus took the lyre, and sang of Chaos, and the making
of the wondrous World, and how all things sprang from Love,
who could not live alone in the Abyss. And as he sang, his
voice rose from the cave, above the crags, and through the
tree-tops, and the glens of oak and pine. And the trees
bowed their heads when they heard it, and the gray rocks
cracked and rang, and the forest beasts crept near to listen,
and the birds forsook their nests and hovered round. And old
Cheiron claps his hands together, and beat his hoofs upon the
ground, for wonder at that magic song.
Then Peleus kissed his boy, and wept over him, and they went
down to the ship; and Cheiron came down with them, weeping,
and kissed them one by one, and blest them, and promised to
them great renown. And the heroes wept when they left him,
till their great hearts could weep no more; for he was kind
and just and pious, and wiser than all beasts and men. Then
he went up to a cliff, and prayed for them, that they might
come home safe and well; while the heroes rowed away, and
watched him standing on his cliff above the sea, with his
great hands raised toward heaven, and his white locks waving
in the wind; and they strained their eyes to watch him to the
last, for they felt that they should look on him no more.
So they rowed on over the long swell of the sea, past
Olympus, the seat of the Immortals, and past the wooded bays
of Athos, and Samothrace the sacred isle; and they came past
Lemnos to the Hellespont, and through the narrow strait of
Abydos, and so on into the Propontis, which we call Marmora
now. And there they met with Cyzicus, ruling in Asia over
the Dolions, who, the songs say, was the son of AEneas, of
whom you will hear many a tale some day. For Homer tells us
how he fought at Troy, and Virgil how he sailed away and
founded Rome; and men believed until late years that from him
sprang our old British kings. Now Cyzicus, the songs say,
welcomed the heroes, for his father had been one of Cheiron's
scholars; so he welcomed them, and feasted them, and stored
their ship with corn and wine, and cloaks and rugs, the songs
say, and shirts, of which no doubt they stood in need.
But at night, while they lay sleeping, came down on them
terrible men, who lived with the bears in the mountains, like
Titans or giants in shape; for each of them had six arms, and
they fought with young firs and pines. But Heracles killed
them all before morn with his deadly poisoned arrows; but
among them, in the darkness, he slew Cyzicus the kindly
Then they got to their ship and to their oars, and Tiphys
bade them cast off the hawsers and go to sea. But as he
spoke a whirlwind came, and spun the ARGO round, and twisted
the hawsers together, so that no man could loose them. Then
Tiphys dropped the rudder from his hand, and cried, 'This
comes from the Gods above.' But Jason went forward, and
asked counsel of the magic bough.
Then the magic bough spoke, and answered, 'This is because
you have slain Cyzicus your friend. You must appease his
soul, or you will never leave this shore.'
Jason went back sadly, and told the heroes what he had heard.
And they leapt on shore, and searched till dawn; and at dawn
they found the body, all rolled in dust and blood, among the
corpses of those monstrous beasts. And they wept over their
kind host, and laid him on a fair bed, and heaped a huge
mound over him, and offered black sheep at his tomb, and
Orpheus sang a magic song to him, that his spirit might have
rest. And then they held games at the tomb, after the custom
of those times, and Jason gave prizes to each winner. To
Ancaeus he gave a golden cup, for he wrestled best of all;
and to Heracles a silver one, for he was the strongest of
all; and to Castor, who rode best, a golden crest; and
Polydeuces the boxer had a rich carpet, and to Orpheus for
his song a sandal with golden wings. But Jason himself was
the best of all the archers, and the Minuai crowned him with
an olive crown; and so, the songs say, the soul of good
Cyzicus was appeased and the heroes went on their way in
But when Cyzicus' wife heard that he was dead she died
likewise of grief; and her tears became a fountain of clear
water, which flows the whole year round.
Then they rowed away, the songs say, along the Mysian shore,
and past the mouth of Rhindacus, till they found a pleasant
bay, sheltered by the long ridges of Arganthus, and by high
walls of basalt rock. And there they ran the ship ashore
upon the yellow sand, and furled the sail, and took the mast
down, and lashed it in its crutch. And next they let down
the ladder, and went ashore to sport and rest.
And there Heracles went away into the woods, bow in hand, to
hunt wild deer; and Hylas the fair boy slipt away after him,
and followed him by stealth, until he lost himself among the
glens, and sat down weary to rest himself by the side of a
lake; and there the water nymphs came up to look at him, and
loved him, and carried him down under the lake to be their
playfellow, for ever happy and young. And Heracles sought
for him in vain, shouting his name till all the mountains
rang; but Hylas never heard him, far down under the sparkling
lake. So while Heracles wandered searching for him, a fair
breeze sprang up, and Heracles was nowhere to be found; and
the ARGO sailed away, and Heracles was left behind, and never
saw the noble Phasian stream.
Then the Minuai came to a doleful land, where Amycus the
giant ruled, and cared nothing for the laws of Zeus, but
challenged all strangers to box with him, and those whom he
conquered he slew. But Polydeuces the boxer struck him a
harder blow than he ever felt before, and slew him; and the
Minuai went on up the Bosphorus, till they came to the city
of Phineus, the fierce Bithynian king; for Zetes and Calais
bade Jason land there, because they had a work to do.
And they went up from the shore toward the city, through
forests white with snow; and Phineus came out to meet them
with a lean and woful face, and said, 'Welcome, gallant
heroes, to the land of bitter blasts, the land of cold and
misery; yet I will feast you as best I can.' And he led them
in, and set meat before them; but before they could put their
hands to their mouths, down came two fearful monsters, the
like of whom man never saw; for they had the faces and the
hair of fair maidens, but the wings and claws of hawks; and
they snatched the meat from off the table, and flew shrieking
out above the roofs.
Then Phineus beat his breast and cried, 'These are the
Harpies, whose names are the Whirlwind and the Swift, the
daughters of Wonder and of the Amber-nymph, and they rob us
night and day. They carried off the daughters of Pandareus,
whom all the Gods had blest; for Aphrodite fed them on
Olympus with honey and milk and wine; and Hera gave them
beauty and wisdom, and Athene skill in all the arts; but when
they came to their wedding, the Harpies snatched them both
away, and gave them to be slaves to the Erinnues, and live in
horror all their days. And now they haunt me, and my people,
and the Bosphorus, with fearful storms; and sweep away our
food from off our tables, so that we starve in spite of all
our wealth.'
Then up rose Zetes and Calais, the winged sons of the Northwind,
and said, 'Do you not know us, Phineus, and these wings
which grow upon our backs?' And Phineus hid his face in
terror; but he answered not a word.
'Because you have been a traitor, Phineus, the Harpies haunt
you night and day. Where is Cleopatra our sister, your wife,
whom you keep in prison? and where are her two children, whom
you blinded in your rage, at the bidding of an evil woman,
and cast them out upon the rocks? Swear to us that you will
right our sister, and cast out that wicked woman; and then we
will free you from your plague, and drive the whirlwind
maidens to the south; but if not, we will put out your eyes,
as you put out the eyes of your own sons.'
Then Phineus swore an oath to them, and drove out the wicked
woman; and Jason took those two poor children, and cured
their eyes with magic herbs.
But Zetes and Calais rose up sadly and said, 'Farewell now,
heroes all; farewell, our dear companions, with whom we
played on Pelion in old times; for a fate is laid upon us,
and our day is come at last, in which we must hunt the
whirlwinds over land and sea for ever; and if we catch them
they die, and if not, we die ourselves.'
At that all the heroes wept; but the two young men sprang up,
and aloft into the air after the Harpies, and the battle of
the winds began.
The heroes trembled in silence as they heard the shrieking of
the blasts; while the palace rocked and all the city, and
great stones were torn from the crags, and the forest pines
were hurled earthward, north and south and east and west, and
the Bosphorus boiled white with foam, and the clouds were
dashed against the cliffs.
But at last the battle ended, and the Harpies fled screaming
toward the south, and the sons of the North-wind rushed after
them, and brought clear sunshine where they passed. For many
a league they followed them, over all the isles of the
Cyclades, and away to the south-west across Hellas, till they
came to the Ionian Sea, and there they fell upon the
Echinades, at the mouth of the Achelous; and those isles were
called the Whirlwind Isles for many a hundred years. But
what became of Zetes and Calais I know not, for the heroes
never saw them again: and some say that Heracles met them,
and quarrelled with them, and slew them with his arrows; and
some say that they fell down from weariness and the heat of
the summer sun, and that the Sun-god buried them among the
Cyclades, in the pleasant Isle of Tenos; and for many hundred
years their grave was shown there, and over it a pillar,
which turned to every wind. But those dark storms and
whirlwinds haunt the Bosphorus until this day.
But the Argonauts went eastward, and out into the open sea,
which we now call the Black Sea, but it was called the Euxine
then. No Hellen had ever crossed it, and all feared that
dreadful sea, and its rocks, and shoals, and fogs, and bitter
freezing storms; and they told strange stories of it, some
false and some half-true, how it stretched northward to the
ends of the earth, and the sluggish Putrid Sea, and the
everlasting night, and the regions of the dead. So the
heroes trembled, for all their courage, as they came into
that wild Black Sea, and saw it stretching out before them,
without a shore, as far as eye could see.
And first Orpheus spoke, and warned them, 'We shall come now
to the wandering blue rocks; my mother warned me of them,
Calliope, the immortal muse.'
And soon they saw the blue rocks shining like spires and
castles of gray glass, while an ice-cold wind blew from them
and chilled all the heroes' hearts. And as they neared they
could see them heaving, as they rolled upon the long seawaves,
crashing and grinding together, till the roar went up
to heaven. The sea sprang up in spouts between them, and
swept round them in white sheets of foam; but their heads
swung nodding high in air, while the wind whistled shrill
among the crags.
The heroes' hearts sank within them, and they lay upon their
oars in fear; but Orpheus called to Tiphys the helmsman,
'Between them we must pass; so look ahead for an opening, and
be brave, for Hera is with us.' But Tiphys the cunning
helmsman stood silent, clenching his teeth, till he saw a
heron come flying mast-high toward the rocks, and hover
awhile before them, as if looking for a passage through.
Then he cried, 'Hera has sent us a pilot; let us follow the
cunning bird.'
Then the heron flapped to and fro a moment, till he saw a
hidden gap, and into it he rushed like an arrow, while the
heroes watched what would befall.
And the blue rocks clashed together as the bird fled swiftly
through; but they struck but a feather from his tail, and
then rebounded apart at the shock.
Then Tiphys cheered the heroes, and they shouted; and the
oars bent like withes beneath their strokes as they rushed
between those toppling ice-crags and the cold blue lips of
death. And ere the rocks could meet again they had passed
them, and were safe out in the open sea.
And after that they sailed on wearily along the Asian coast,
by the Black Cape and Thyneis, where the hot stream of
Thymbris falls into the sea, and Sangarius, whose waters
float on the Euxine, till they came to Wolf the river, and to
Wolf the kindly king. And there died two brave heroes, Idmon
and Tiphys the wise helmsman: one died of an evil sickness,
and one a wild boar slew. So the heroes heaped a mound above
them, and set upon it an oar on high, and left them there to
sleep together, on the far-off Lycian shore. But Idas killed
the boar, and avenged Tiphys; and Ancaios took the rudder and
was helmsman, and steered them on toward the east.
And they went on past Sinope, and many a mighty river's
mouth, and past many a barbarous tribe, and the cities of the
Amazons, the warlike women of the East, till all night they
heard the clank of anvils and the roar of furnace-blasts, and
the forge-fires shone like sparks through the darkness in the
mountain glens aloft; for they were come to the shores of the
Chalybes, the smiths who never tire, but serve Ares the cruel
War-god, forging weapons day and night.
And at day-dawn they looked eastward, and midway between the
sea and the sky they saw white snow-peaks hanging, glittering
sharp and bright above the clouds. And they knew that they
were come to Caucasus, at the end of all the earth: Caucasus
the highest of all mountains, the father of the rivers of the
East. On his peak lies chained the Titan, while a vulture
tears his heart; and at his feet are piled dark forests round
the magic Colchian land.
And they rowed three days to the eastward, while Caucasus
rose higher hour by hour, till they saw the dark stream of
Phasis rushing headlong to the sea, and, shining above the
tree-tops, the golden roofs of King Aietes, the child of the
Then out spoke Ancaios the helmsman, 'We are come to our goal
at last, for there are the roofs of Aietes, and the woods
where all poisons grow; but who can tell us where among them
is hid the golden fleece? Many a toil must we bear ere we
find it, and bring it home to Greece.'
But Jason cheered the heroes, for his heart was high and
bold; and he said, 'I will go alone up to Aietes, though he
be the child of the Sun, and win him with soft words. Better
so than to go altogether, and to come to blows at once.' But
the Minuai would not stay behind, so they rowed boldly up the
And a dream came to Aietes, and filled his heart with fear.
He thought he saw a shining star, which fell into his
daughter's lap; and that Medeia his daughter took it gladly,
and carried it to the riverside, and cast it in, and there
the whirling river bore it down, and out into the Euxine Sea.
Then he leapt up in fear, and bade his servants bring his
chariot, that he might go down to the river-side and appease
the nymphs, and the heroes whose spirits haunt the bank. So
he went down in his golden chariot, and his daughters by his
side, Medeia the fair witch-maiden, and Chalciope, who had
been Phrixus' wife, and behind him a crowd of servants and
soldiers, for he was a rich and mighty prince.
And as he drove down by the reedy river he saw ARGO sliding
up beneath the bank, and many a hero in her, like Immortals
for beauty and for strength, as their weapons glittered round
them in the level morning sunlight, through the white mist of
the stream. But Jason was the noblest of all; for Hera, who
loved him, gave him beauty and tallness and terrible manhood.
And when they came near together and looked into each other's
eyes the heroes were awed before Aietes as he shone in his
chariot, like his father the glorious Sun; for his robes were
of rich gold tissue, and the rays of his diadem flashed fire;
and in his hand he bore a jewelled sceptre, which glittered
like the stars; and sternly he looked at them under his
brows, and sternly he spoke and loud -
'Who are you, and what want you here, that you come to the
shore of Cutaia? Do you take no account of my rule, nor of
my people the Colchians who serve me, who never tired yet in
the battle, and know well how to face an invader?'
And the heroes sat silent awhile before the face of that
ancient king. But Hera the awful goddess put courage into
Jason's heart, and he rose and shouted loudly in answer, 'We
are no pirates nor lawless men. We come not to plunder and
to ravage, or carry away slaves from your land; but my uncle,
the son of Poseidon, Pelias the Minuan king, he it is who has
set me on a quest to bring home the golden fleece. And these
too, my bold comrades, they are no nameless men; for some are
the sons of Immortals, and some of heroes far renowned. And
we too never tire in battle, and know well how to give blows
and to take: yet we wish to be guests at your table: it
will be better so for both.'
Then Aietes' race rushed up like a whirlwind, and his eyes
flashed fire as he heard; but he crushed his anger down in
his breast, and spoke mildly a cunning speech -
'If you will fight for the fleece with my Colchians, then
many a man must die. But do you indeed expect to win from me
the fleece in fight? So few you are that if you be worsted I
can load your ship with your corpses. But if you will be
ruled by me, you will find it better far to choose the best
man among you, and let him fulfil the labours which I demand.
Then I will give him the golden fleece for a prize and a
glory to you all.'
So saying, he turned his horses and drove back in silence to
the town. And the Minuai sat silent with sorrow, and longed
for Heracles and his strength; for there was no facing the
thousands of the Colchians and the fearful chance of war.
But Chalciope, Phrixus' widow, went weeping to the town; for
she remembered her Minuan husband, and all the pleasures of
her youth, while she watched the fair faces of his kinsmen,
and their long locks of golden hair. And she whispered to
Medeia her sister, 'Why should all these brave men die? why
does not my father give them up the fleece, that my husband's
spirit may have rest?'
And Medeia's heart pitied the heroes, and Jason most of all;
and she answered, 'Our father is stern and terrible, and who
can win the golden fleece?' But Chalciope said, 'These men
are not like our men; there is nothing which they cannot dare
nor do.'
And Medeia thought of Jason and his brave countenance, and
said, 'If there was one among them who knew no fear, I could
show him how to win the fleece.'
So in the dusk of evening they went down to the river-side,
Chalciope and Medeia the witch-maiden, and Argus, Phrixus'
son. And Argus the boy crept forward, among the beds of
reeds, till he came where the heroes were sleeping, on the
thwarts of the ship, beneath the bank, while Jason kept ward
on shore, and leant upon his lance full of thought. And the
boy came to Jason, and said -
'I am the son of Phrixus, your Cousin; and Chalciope my
mother waits for you, to talk about the golden fleece.'
Then Jason went boldly with the boy, and found the two
princesses standing; and when Chalciope saw him she wept, and
took his hands, and cried - 'O cousin of my beloved, go home
before you die!'
'It would be base to go home now, fair princess, and to have
sailed all these seas in vain.' Then both the princesses
besought him; but Jason said, 'It is too late.'
'But you know not,' said Medeia, 'what he must do who would
win the fleece. He must tame the two brazen-footed bulls,
who breathe devouring flame; and with them he must plough ere
nightfall four acres in the field of Ares; and he must sow
them with serpents' teeth, of which each tooth springs up
into an armed man. Then he must fight with all those
warriors; and little will it profit him to conquer them, for
the fleece is guarded by a serpent, more huge than any
mountain pine; and over his body you must step if you would
reach the golden fleece.'
Then Jason laughed bitterly. 'Unjustly is that fleece kept
here, and by an unjust and lawless king; and unjustly shall I
die in my youth, for I will attempt it ere another sun be
Then Medeia trembled, and said, 'No mortal man can reach that
fleece unless I guide him through. For round it, beyond the
river, is a wall full nine ells high, with lofty towers and
buttresses, and mighty gates of threefold brass; and over the
gates the wall is arched, with golden battlements above. And
over the gateway sits Brimo, the wild witch-huntress of the
woods, brandishing a pine-torch in her hands, while her mad
hounds howl around. No man dare meet her or look on her, but
only I her priestess, and she watches far and wide lest any
stranger should come near.'
'No wall so high but it may be climbed at last, and no wood
so thick but it may be crawled through; no serpent so wary
but he may be charmed, or witch-queen so fierce but spells
may soothe her; and I may yet win the golden fleece, if a
wise maiden help bold men.'
And he looked at Medeia cunningly, and held her with his
glittering eye, till she blushed and trembled, and said -
'Who can face the fire of the bulls' breath, and fight ten
thousand armed men?'
'He whom you help,' said Jason, flattering her, 'for your
fame is spread over all the earth. Are you not the queen of
all enchantresses, wiser even than your sister Circe, in her
fairy island in the West?'
'Would that I were with my sister Circe in her fairy island
in the West, far away from sore temptation and thoughts which
tear the heart! But if it must be so - for why should you
die? - I have an ointment here; I made it from the magic iceflower
which sprang from Prometheus' wound, above the clouds
on Caucasus, in the dreary fields of snow. Anoint yourself
with that, and you shall have in you seven men's strength;
and anoint your shield with it, and neither fire nor sword
can harm you. But what you begin you must end before sunset,
for its virtue lasts only one day. And anoint your helmet
with it before you sow the serpents' teeth; and when the sons
of earth spring up, cast your helmet among their ranks, and
the deadly crop of the War-god's field will mow itself, and
Then Jason fell on his knees before her, and thanked her and
kissed her hands; and she gave him the vase of ointment, and
fled trembling through the reeds. And Jason told his
comrades what had happened, and showed them the box of
ointment; and all rejoiced but Idas, and he grew mad with
And at sunrise Jason went and bathed, and anointed himself
from head to foot, and his shield, and his helmet, and his
weapons, and bade his comrades try the spell. So they tried
to bend his lance, but it stood like an iron bar; and Idas in
spite hewed at it with his sword, but the blade flew to
splinters in his face. Then they hurled their lances at his
shield, but the spear-points turned like lead; and Caineus
tried to throw him, but he never stirred a foot; and
Polydeuces struck him with his fist a blow which would have
killed an ox, but Jason only smiled, and the heroes danced
about him with delight; and he leapt, and ran, and shouted in
the joy of that enormous strength, till the sun rose, and it
was time to go and to claim Aietes' promise.
So he sent up Telamon and Aithalides to tell Aietes that he
was ready for the fight; and they went up among the marble
walls, and beneath the roofs of gold, and stood in Aietes'
hall, while he grew pale with rage.
'Fulfil your promise to us, child of the blazing Sun. Give
us the serpents' teeth, and let loose the fiery bulls; for we
have found a champion among us who can win the golden
And Aietes bit his lips, for he fancied that they had fled
away by night: but he could not go back from his promise; so
he gave them the serpents' teeth.
Then he called for his chariot and his horses, and sent
heralds through all the town; and all the people went out
with him to the dreadful War-god's field.
And there Aietes sat upon his throne, with his warriors on
each hand, thousands and tens of thousands, clothed from head
to foot in steel chain-mail. And the people and the women
crowded to every window and bank and wall; while the Minuai
stood together, a mere handful in the midst of that great
And Chalciope was there and Argus, trembling, and Medeia,
wrapped closely in her veil; but Aietes did not know that she
was muttering cunning spells between her lips.
Then Jason cried, 'Fulfil your promise, and let your fiery
bulls come forth.'
Then Aietes bade open the gates, and the magic bulls leapt
out. Their brazen hoofs rang upon the ground, and their
nostrils sent out sheets of flame, as they rushed with
lowered heads upon Jason; but he never flinched a step. The
flame of their breath swept round him, but it singed not a
hair of his head; and the bulls stopped short and trembled
when Medeia began her spell.
Then Jason sprang upon the nearest and seized him by the
horn; and up and down they wrestled, till the bull fell
grovelling on his knees; for the heart of the brute died
within him, and his mighty limbs were loosed, beneath the
steadfast eye of that dark witch-maiden and the magic whisper
of her lips.
So both the bulls were tamed and yoked; and Jason bound them
to the plough, and goaded them onward with his lance till he
had ploughed the sacred field.
And all the Minuai shouted; but Aietes bit his lips with
rage, for the half of Jason's work was over, and the sun was
yet high in heaven.
Then he took the serpents' teeth and sowed them, and waited
what would befall. But Medeia looked at him and at his
helmet, lest he should forget the lesson she had taught.
And every furrow heaved and bubbled, and out of every clod
arose a man. Out of the earth they rose by thousands, each
clad from head to foot in steel, and drew their swords and
rushed on Jason, where he stood in the midst alone.
Then the Minuai grew pale with fear for him; but Aietes
laughed a bitter laugh. 'See! if I had not warriors enough
already round me, I could call them out of the bosom of the
But Jason snatched off his helmet, and hurled it into the
thickest of the throng. And blind madness came upon them,
suspicion, hate, and fear; and one cried to his fellow, 'Thou
didst strike me!' and another, 'Thou art Jason; thou shalt
die!' So fury seized those earth-born phantoms, and each
turned his hand against the rest; and they fought and were
never weary, till they all lay dead upon the ground. Then
the magic furrows opened, and the kind earth took them home
into her breast and the grass grew up all green again above
them, and Jason's work was done.
Then the Minuai rose and shouted, till Prometheus heard them
from his crag. And Jason cried, 'Lead me to the fleece this
moment, before the sun goes down.'
But Aietes thought, 'He has conquered the bulls, and sown and
reaped the deadly crop. Who is this who is proof against all
magic? He may kill the serpent yet.' So he delayed, and sat
taking counsel with his princes till the sun went down and
all was dark. Then he bade a herald cry, 'Every man to his
home for to-night. To-morrow we will meet these heroes, and
speak about the golden fleece.'
Then he turned and looked at Medeia. 'This is your doing,
false witch-maid! You have helped these yellow-haired
strangers, and brought shame upon your father and yourself!'
Medeia shrank and trembled, and her face grew pale with fear;
and Aietes knew that she was guilty, and whispered, 'If they
win the fleece, you die!'
But the Minuai marched toward their ship, growling like lions
cheated of their prey; for they saw that Aietes meant to mock
them, and to cheat them out of all their toil. And Oileus
said, 'Let us go to the grove together, and take the fleece
by force.'
And Idas the rash cried, 'Let us draw lots who shall go in
first; for, while the dragon is devouring one, the rest can
slay him and carry off the fleece in peace.' But Jason held
them back, though he praised them; for he hoped for Medeia's
And after awhile Medeia came trembling, and wept a long while
before she spoke. And at last -
'My end is come, and I must die; for my father has found out
that I have helped you. You he would kill if he dared; but
he will not harm you, because you have been his guests. Go
then, go, and remember poor Medeia when you are far away
across the sea.' But all the heroes cried -
'If you die, we die with you; for without you we cannot win
the fleece, and home we will not go without it, but fall here
fighting to the last man.'
'You need not die,' said Jason. 'Flee home with us across
the sea. Show us first how to win the fleece; for you can do
it. Why else are you the priestess of the grove? Show us
but how to win the fleece, and come with us, and you shall be
my queen, and rule over the rich princes of the Minuai, in
Iolcos by the sea.'
And all the heroes pressed round, and vowed to her that she
should be their queen.
Medeia wept, and shuddered, and hid her face in her hands;
for her heart yearned after her sisters and her playfellows,
and the home where she was brought up as a child. But at
last she looked up at Jason, and spoke between her sobs -
'Must I leave my home and my people, to wander with strangers
across the sea? The lot is cast, and I must endure it. I
will show you how to win the golden fleece. Bring up your
ship to the wood-side, and moor her there against the bank;
and let Jason come up at midnight, and one brave comrade with
him, and meet me beneath the wall.'
Then all the heroes cried together, 'I will go!' 'and I!'
'and I!' And Idas the rash grew mad with envy; for he longed
to be foremost in all things. But Medeia calmed them, and
said, 'Orpheus shall go with Jason, and bring his magic harp;
for I hear of him that he is the king of all minstrels, and
can charm all things on earth.'
And Orpheus laughed for joy, and clapped his hands, because
the choice had fallen on him; for in those days poets and
singers were as bold warriors as the best.
So at midnight they went up the bank, and found Medeia; and
beside came Absyrtus her young brother, leading a yearling
Then Medeia brought them to a thicket beside the War-god's
gate; and there she bade Jason dig a ditch, and kill the
lamb, and leave it there, and strew on it magic herbs and
honey from the honeycomb.
Then sprang up through the earth, with the red fire flashing
before her, Brimo the wild witch-huntress, while her mad
hounds howled around. She had one head like a horse's, and
another like a ravening hound's, and another like a hissing
snake's, and a sword in either hand. And she leapt into the
ditch with her hounds, and they ate and drank their fill,
while Jason and Orpheus trembled, and Medeia hid her eyes.
And at last the witch-queen vanished, and fled with her
hounds into the woods; and the bars of the gates fell down,
and the brazen doors flew wide, and Medeia and the heroes ran
forward and hurried through the poison wood, among the dark
stems of the mighty beeches, guided by the gleam of the
golden fleece, until they saw it hanging on one vast tree in
the midst. And Jason would have sprung to seize it; but
Medeia held him back, and pointed, shuddering, to the treefoot,
where the mighty serpent lay, coiled in and out among
the roots, with a body like a mountain pine. His coils
stretched many a fathom, spangled with bronze and gold; and
half of him they could see, but no more, for the rest lay in
the darkness far beyond.
And when he saw them coming he lifted up his head, and
watched them with his small bright eyes, and flashed his
forked tongue, and roared like the fire among the woodlands,
till the forest tossed and groaned. For his cries shook the
trees from leaf to root, and swept over the long reaches of
the river, and over Aietes' hall, and woke the sleepers in
the city, till mothers clasped their children in their fear.
But Medeia called gently to him, and he stretched out his
long spotted neck, and licked her hand, and looked up in her
face, as if to ask for food. Then she made a sign to
Orpheus, and he began his magic song.
And as he sung, the forest grew calm again, and the leaves on
every tree hung still; and the serpent's head sank down, and
his brazen coils grew limp, and his glittering eyes closed
lazily, till he breathed as gently as a child, while Orpheus
called to pleasant Slumber, who gives peace to men, and
beasts, and waves.
Then Jason leapt forward warily, and stept across that mighty
snake, and tore the fleece from off the tree-trunk; and the
four rushed down the garden, to the bank where the ARGO lay.
There was a silence for a moment, while Jason held the golden
fleece on high. Then he cried, 'Go now, good ARGO, swift and
steady, if ever you would see Pelion more.'
And she went, as the heroes drove her, grim and silent all,
with muffled oars, till the pine-wood bent like willow in
their hands, and stout ARGO groaned beneath their strokes.
On and on, beneath the dewy darkness, they fled swiftly down
the swirling stream; underneath black walls, and temples, and
the castles of the princes of the East; past sluice-mouths,
and fragrant gardens, and groves of all strange fruits; past
marshes where fat kine lay sleeping, and long beds of
whispering reeds; till they heard the merry music of the
surge upon the bar, as it tumbled in the moonlight all alone.
Into the surge they rushed, and ARGO leapt the breakers like
a horse; for she knew the time was come to show her mettle,
and win honour for the heroes and herself.
Into the surge they rushed, and ARGO leapt the breakers like
a horse, till the heroes stopped all panting, each man upon
his oar, as she slid into the still broad sea.
Then Orpheus took his harp and sang a paean, till the heroes'
hearts rose high again; and they rowed on stoutly and
steadfastly, away into the darkness of the West.
SO they fled away in haste to the westward; but Aietes manned
his fleet and followed them. And Lynceus the quick-eyed saw
him coming, while he was still many a mile away, and cried,
'I see a hundred ships, like a flock of white swans, far in
the east.' And at that they rowed hard, like heroes; but the
ships came nearer every hour.
Then Medeia, the dark witch-maiden, laid a cruel and a
cunning plot; for she killed Absyrtus her young brother, and
cast him into the sea, and said, 'Ere my father can take up
his corpse and bury it, he must wait long, and be left far
And all the heroes shuddered, and looked one at the other for
shame; yet they did not punish that dark witch-woman, because
she had won for them the golden fleece.
And when Aietes came to the place he saw the floating corpse;
and he stopped a long while, and bewailed his son, and took
him up, and went home. But he sent on his sailors toward the
westward, and bound them by a mighty curse - 'Bring back to
me that dark witch-woman, that she may die a dreadful death.
But if you return without her, you shall die by the same
death yourselves.'
So the Argonauts escaped for that time: but Father Zeus saw
that foul crime; and out of the heavens he sent a storm, and
swept the ship far from her course. Day after day the storm
drove her, amid foam and blinding mist, till they knew no
longer where they were, for the sun was blotted from the
skies. And at last the ship struck on a shoal, amid low
isles of mud and sand, and the waves rolled over her and
through her, and the heroes lost all hope of life.
Then Jason cried to Hera, 'Fair queen, who hast befriended us
till now, why hast thou left us in our misery, to die here
among unknown seas? It is hard to lose the honour which we
have won with such toil and danger, and hard never to see
Hellas again, and the pleasant bay of Pagasai.'
Then out and spoke the magic bough which stood upon the
ARGO'S beak, 'Because Father Zeus is angry, all this has
fallen on you; for a cruel crime has been done on board, and
the sacred ship is foul with blood.'
At that some of the heroes cried, 'Medeia is the murderess.
Let the witch-woman bear her sin, and die!' And they seized
Medeia, to hurl her into the sea, and atone for the young
boy's death; but the magic bough spoke again, 'Let her live
till her crimes are full. Vengeance waits for her, slow and
sure; but she must live, for you need her still. She must
show you the way to her sister Circe, who lives among the
islands of the West. To her you must sail, a weary way, and
she shall cleanse you from your guilt.'
Then all the heroes wept aloud when they heard the sentence
of the oak; for they knew that a dark journey lay before
them, and years of bitter toil. And some upbraided the dark
witch-woman, and some said, 'Nay, we are her debtors still;
without her we should never have won the fleece.' But most
of them bit their lips in silence, for they feared the
witch's spells.
And now the sea grew calmer, and the sun shone out once more,
and the heroes thrust the ship off the sand-bank, and rowed
forward on their weary course under the guiding of the dark
witch-maiden, into the wastes of the unknown sea.
Whither they went I cannot tell, nor how they came to Circe's
isle. Some say that they went to the westward, and up the
Ister (2) stream, and so came into the Adriatic, dragging
their ship over the snowy Alps. And others say that they
went southward, into the Red Indian Sea, and past the sunny
lands where spices grow, round AEthiopia toward the West; and
that at last they came to Libya, and dragged their ship
across the burning sands, and over the hills into the Syrtes,
where the flats and quicksands spread for many a mile,
between rich Cyrene and the Lotus-eaters' shore. But all
these are but dreams and fables, and dim hints of unknown
But all say that they came to a place where they had to drag
their ship across the land nine days with ropes and rollers,
till they came into an unknown sea. And the best of all the
old songs tells us how they went away toward the North, till
they came to the slope of Caucasus, where it sinks into the
sea; and to the narrow Cimmerian Bosphorus, (3) where the
Titan swam across upon the bull; and thence into the lazy
waters of the still Maeotid lake. (4) And thence they went
northward ever, up the Tanais, which we call Don, past the
Geloni and Sauromatai, and many a wandering shepherd-tribe,
and the one-eyed Arimaspi, of whom old Greek poets tell, who
steal the gold from the Griffins, in the cold Riphaian hills.
And they passed the Scythian archers, and the Tauri who eat
men, and the wandering Hyperboreai, who feed their flocks
beneath the pole-star, until they came into the northern
ocean, the dull dead Cronian Sea. (6) And there ARGO would
move on no longer; and each man clasped his elbow, and leaned
his head upon his hand, heart-broken with toil and hunger,
and gave himself up to death. But brave Ancaios the helmsman
cheered up their hearts once more, and bade them leap on
land, and haul the ship with ropes and rollers for many a
weary day, whether over land, or mud, or ice, I know not, for
the song is mixed and broken like a dream. And it says next,
how they came to the rich nation of the famous long-lived
men; and to the coast of the Cimmerians, who never saw the
sun, buried deep in the glens of the snow mountains; and to
the fair land of Hermione, where dwelt the most righteous of
all nations; and to the gates of the world below, and to the
dwelling-place of dreams.
And at last Ancaios shouted, 'Endure a little while, brave
friends, the worst is surely past; for I can see the pure
west wind ruffle the water, and hear the roar of ocean on the
sands. So raise up the mast, and set the sail, and face what
comes like men.'
Then out spoke the magic bough, 'Ah, would that I had
perished long ago, and been whelmed by the dread blue rocks,
beneath the fierce swell of the Euxine! Better so, than to
wander for ever, disgraced by the guilt of my princes; for
the blood of Absyrtus still tracks me, and woe follows hard
upon woe. And now some dark horror will clutch me, if I come
near the Isle of Ierne. (7) Unless you will cling to the
land, and sail southward and southward for ever, I shall
wander beyond the Atlantic, to the ocean which has no shore.'
Then they blest the magic bough, and sailed southward along
the land. But ere they could pass Ierne, the land of mists
and storms, the wild wind came down, dark and roaring, and
caught the sail, and strained the ropes. And away they drove
twelve nights, on the wide wild western sea, through the
foam, and over the rollers, while they saw neither sun nor
stars. And they cried again, 'We shall perish, for we know
not where we are. We are lost in the dreary damp darkness,
and cannot tell north from south.'
But Lynceus the long-sighted called gaily from the bows,
'Take heart again, brave sailors; for I see a pine-clad isle,
and the halls of the kind Earth-mother, with a crown of
clouds around them.'
But Orpheus said, 'Turn from them, for no living man can land
there: there is no harbour on the coast, but steep-walled
cliffs all round.'
So Ancaios turned the ship away; and for three days more they
sailed on, till they came to Aiaia, Circe's home, and the
fairy island of the West. (8)
And there Jason bid them land, and seek about for any sign of
living man. And as they went inland Circe met them, coming
down toward the ship; and they trembled when they saw her,
for her hair, and face, and robes shone like flame.
And she came and looked at Medeia; and Medeia hid her face
beneath her veil.
And Circe cried, 'Ah, wretched girl, have you forgotten all
your sins, that you come hither to my island, where the
flowers bloom all the year round? Where is your aged father,
and the brother whom you killed? Little do I expect you to
return in safety with these strangers whom you love. I will
send you food and wine: but your ship must not stay here,
for it is foul with sin, and foul with sin its crew.'
And the heroes prayed her, but in vain, and cried, 'Cleanse
us from our guilt!' But she sent them away, and said, 'Go on
to Malea, and there you may be cleansed, and return home.'
Then a fair wind rose, and they sailed eastward by Tartessus
on the Iberian shore, till they came to the Pillars of
Hercules, and the Mediterranean Sea. And thence they sailed
on through the deeps of Sardinia, and past the Ausonian
islands, and the capes of the Tyrrhenian shore, till they
came to a flowery island, upon a still bright summer's eve.
And as they neared it, slowly and wearily, they heard sweet
songs upon the shore. But when Medeia heard it, she started,
and cried, 'Beware, all heroes, for these are the rocks of
the Sirens. You must pass close by them, for there is no
other channel; but those who listen to that song are lost.'
Then Orpheus spoke, the king of all minstrels, 'Let them
match their song against mine. I have charmed stones, and
trees, and dragons, how much more the hearts of men!' So he
caught up his lyre, and stood upon the poop, and began his
magic song.
And now they could see the Sirens on Anthemousa, the flowery
isle; three fair maidens sitting on the beach, beneath a red
rock in the setting sun, among beds of crimson poppies and
golden asphodel. Slowly they sung and sleepily, with silver
voices, mild and clear, which stole over the golden waters,
and into the hearts of all the heroes, in spite of Orpheus'
And all things stayed around and listened; the gulls sat in
white lines along the rocks; on the beach great seals lay
basking, and kept time with lazy heads; while silver shoals
of fish came up to hearken, and whispered as they broke the
shining calm. The Wind overhead hushed his whistling, as he
shepherded his clouds toward the west; and the clouds stood
in mid blue, and listened dreaming, like a flock of golden
And as the heroes listened, the oars fell from their hands,
and their heads drooped on their breasts, and they closed
their heavy eyes; and they dreamed of bright still gardens,
and of slumbers under murmuring pines, till all their toil
seemed foolishness, and they thought of their renown no more.
Then one lifted his head suddenly, and cried, 'What use in
wandering for ever? Let us stay here and rest awhile.' And
another, 'Let us row to the shore, and hear the words they
sing.' And another, 'I care not for the words, but for the
music. They shall sing me to sleep, that I may rest.'
And Butes, the son of Pandion, the fairest of all mortal men,
leapt out and swam toward the shore, crying, 'I come, I come,
fair maidens, to live and die here, listening to your song.'
Then Medeia clapped her hands together, and cried, 'Sing
louder, Orpheus, sing a bolder strain; wake up these hapless
sluggards, or none of them will see the land of Hellas more.'
Then Orpheus lifted his harp, and crashed his cunning hand
across the strings; and his music and his voice rose like a
trumpet through the still evening air; into the air it rushed
like thunder, till the rocks rang and the sea; and into their
souls it rushed like wine, till all hearts beat fast within
their breasts.
And he sung the song of Perseus, how the Gods led him over
land and sea, and how he slew the loathly Gorgon, and won
himself a peerless bride; and how he sits now with the Gods
upon Olympus, a shining star in the sky, immortal with his
immortal bride, and honoured by all men below.
So Orpheus sang, and the Sirens, answering each other across
the golden sea, till Orpheus' voice drowned the Sirens', and
the heroes caught their oars again.
And they cried, 'We will be men like Perseus, and we will
dare and suffer to the last. Sing us his song again, brave
Orpheus, that we may forget the Sirens and their spell.'
And as Orpheus sang, they dashed their oars into the sea, and
kept time to his music, as they fled fast away; and the
Sirens' voices died behind them, in the hissing of the foam
along their wake.
But Butes swam to the shore, and knelt down before the
Sirens, and cried, 'Sing on! sing on!' But he could say no
more, for a charmed sleep came over him, and a pleasant
humming in his ears; and he sank all along upon the pebbles,
and forgot all heaven and earth, and never looked at that sad
beach around him, all strewn with the bones of men.
Then slowly rose up those three fair sisters, with a cruel
smile upon their lips; and slowly they crept down towards
him, like leopards who creep upon their prey; and their hands
were like the talons of eagles as they stept across the bones
of their victims to enjoy their cruel feast.
But fairest Aphrodite saw him from the highest Idalian peak,
and she pitied his youth and his beauty, and leapt up from
her golden throne; and like a falling star she cleft the sky,
and left a trail of glittering light, till she stooped to the
Isle of the Sirens, and snatched their prey from their claws.
And she lifted Butes as he lay sleeping, and wrapt him in
golden mist; and she bore him to the peak of Lilybaeum, and
he slept there many a pleasant year.
But when the Sirens saw that they were conquered, they
shrieked for envy and rage, and leapt from the beach into the
sea, and were changed into rocks until this day.
Then they came to the straits by Lilybaeum, and saw Sicily,
the three-cornered island, under which Enceladus the giant
lies groaning day and night, and when he turns the earth
quakes, and his breath bursts out in roaring flames from the
highest cone of AEtna, above the chestnut woods. And there
Charybdis caught them in its fearful coils of wave, and
rolled mast-high about them, and spun them round and round;
and they could go neither back nor forward, while the
whirlpool sucked them in.
And while they struggled they saw near them, on the other
side the strait, a rock stand in the water, with its peak
wrapt round in clouds - a rock which no man could climb,
though he had twenty hands and feet, for the stone was smooth
and slippery, as if polished by man's hand; and halfway up a
misty cave looked out toward the west.
And when Orpheus saw it he groaned, and struck his hands
together. And 'Little will it help us,' he cried, 'to escape
the jaws of the whirlpool; for in that cave lives Scylla, the
sea-hag with a young whelp's voice; my mother warned me of
her ere we sailed away from Hellas; she has six heads, and
six long necks, and hides in that dark cleft. And from her
cave she fishes for all things which pass by - for sharks,
and seals, and dolphins, and all the herds of Amphitrite.
And never ship's crew boasted that they came safe by her
rock, for she bends her long necks down to them, and every
mouth takes up a man. And who will help us now? For Hera
and Zeus hate us, and our ship is foul with guilt; so we must
die, whatever befalls.'
Then out of the depths came Thetis, Peleus' silver-footed
bride, for love of her gallant husband, and all her nymphs
around her; and they played like snow-white dolphins, diving
on from wave to wave, before the ship, and in her wake, and
beside her, as dolphins play. And they caught the ship, and
guided her, and passed her on from hand to hand, and tossed
her through the billows, as maidens toss the ball. And when
Scylla stooped to seize her, they struck back her ravening
heads, and foul Scylla whined, as a whelp whines, at the
touch of their gentle hands. But she shrank into her cave
affrighted - for all bad things shrink from good - and ARGO
leapt safe past her, while a fair breeze rose behind. Then
Thetis and her nymphs sank down to their coral caves beneath
the sea, and their gardens of green and purple, where live
flowers bloom all the year round; while the heroes went on
rejoicing, yet dreading what might come next.
After that they rowed on steadily for many a weary day, till
they saw a long high island, and beyond it a mountain land.
And they searched till they found a harbour, and there rowed
boldly in. But after awhile they stopped, and wondered, for
there stood a great city on the shore, and temples and walls
and gardens, and castles high in air upon the cliffs. And on
either side they saw a harbour, with a narrow mouth, but wide
within; and black ships without number, high and dry upon the
Then Ancaios, the wise helmsman, spoke, 'What new wonder is
this? I know all isles, and harbours, and the windings of
all seas; and this should be Corcyra, where a few wild goatherds
dwell. But whence come these new harbours and vast
works of polished stone?'
But Jason said, 'They can be no savage people. We will go in
and take our chance.'
So they rowed into the harbour, among a thousand black-beaked
ships, each larger far than ARGO, toward a quay of polished
stone. And they wondered at that mighty city, with its roofs
of burnished brass, and long and lofty walls of marble, with
strong palisades above. And the quays were full of people,
merchants, and mariners, and slaves, going to and fro with
merchandise among the crowd of ships. And the heroes' hearts
were humbled, and they looked at each other and said, 'We
thought ourselves a gallant crew when we sailed from Iolcos
by the sea; but how small we look before this city, like an
ant before a hive of bees.'
Then the sailors hailed them roughly from the quay, 'What men
are you? - we want no strangers here, nor pirates. We keep
our business to ourselves.'
But Jason answered gently, with many a flattering word, and
praised their city and their harbour, and their fleet of
gallant ships. 'Surely you are the children of Poseidon, and
the masters of the sea; and we are but poor wandering
mariners, worn out with thirst and toil. Give us but food
and water, and we will go on our voyage in peace.'
Then the sailors laughed, and answered, 'Stranger, you are no
fool; you talk like an honest man, and you shall find us
honest too. We are the children of Poseidon, and the masters
of the sea; but come ashore to us, and you shall have the
best that we can give.'
So they limped ashore, all stiff and weary, with long ragged
beards and sunburnt cheeks, and garments torn and weatherstained,
and weapons rusted with the spray, while the sailors
laughed at them (for they were rough-tongued, though their
hearts were frank and kind). And one said, 'These fellows
are but raw sailors; they look as if they had been sea-sick
all the day.' And another, 'Their legs have grown crooked
with much rowing, till they waddle in their walk like ducks.'
At that Idas the rash would have struck them; but Jason held
him back, till one of the merchant kings spoke to them, a
tall and stately man.
'Do not be angry, strangers; the sailor boys must have their
jest. But we will treat you justly and kindly, for strangers
and poor men come from God; and you seem no common sailors by
your strength, and height, and weapons. Come up with me to
the palace of Alcinous, the rich sea-going king, and we will
feast you well and heartily; and after that you shall tell us
your name.'
But Medeia hung back, and trembled, and whispered in Jason's
ear, 'We are betrayed, and are going to our ruin, for I see
my countrymen among the crowd; dark-eyed Colchi in steel
mail-shirts, such as they wear in my father's land.'
'It is too late to turn,' said Jason. And he spoke to the
merchant king, 'What country is this, good sir; and what is
this new-built town?'
'This is the land of the Phaeaces, beloved by all the
Immortals; for they come hither and feast like friends with
us, and sit by our side in the hall. Hither we came from
Liburnia to escape the unrighteous Cyclopes; for they robbed
us, peaceful merchants, of our hard-earned wares and wealth.
So Nausithous, the son of Poseidon, brought us hither, and
died in peace; and now his son Alcinous rules us, and Arete
the wisest of queens.'
So they went up across the square, and wondered still more as
they went; for along the quays lay in order great cables, and
yards, and masts, before the fair temple of Poseidon, the
blue-haired king of the seas. And round the square worked
the ship-wrights, as many in number as ants, twining ropes,
and hewing timber, and smoothing long yards and oars. And
the Minuai went on in silence through clean white marble
streets, till they came to the hall of Alcinous, and they
wondered then still more. For the lofty palace shone aloft
in the sun, with walls of plated brass, from the threshold to
the innermost chamber, and the doors were of silver and gold.
And on each side of the doorway sat living dogs of gold, who
never grew old or died, so well Hephaistos had made them in
his forges in smoking Lemnos, and gave them to Alcinous to
guard his gates by night. And within, against the walls,
stood thrones on either side, down the whole length of the
hall, strewn with rich glossy shawls; and on them the
merchant kings of those crafty sea-roving Phaeaces sat eating
and drinking in pride, and feasting there all the year round.
And boys of molten gold stood each on a polished altar, and
held torches in their hands, to give light all night to the
guests. And round the house sat fifty maid-servants, some
grinding the meal in the mill, some turning the spindle, some
weaving at the loom, while their hands twinkled as they
passed the shuttle, like quivering aspen leaves.
And outside before the palace a great garden was walled
round, filled full of stately fruit-trees, gray olives and
sweet figs, and pomegranates, pears, and apples, which bore
the whole year round. For the rich south-west wind fed them,
till pear grew ripe on pear, fig on fig, and grape on grape,
all the winter and the spring. And at the farther end gay
flower-beds bloomed through all seasons of the year; and two
fair fountains rose, and ran, one through the garden grounds,
and one beneath the palace gate, to water all the town. Such
noble gifts the heavens had given to Alcinous the wise.
So they went in, and saw him sitting, like Poseidon, on his
throne, with his golden sceptre by him, in garments stiff
with gold, and in his hand a sculptured goblet, as he pledged
the merchant kings; and beside him stood Arete, his wise and
lovely queen, and leaned against a pillar as she spun her
golden threads.
Then Alcinous rose, and welcomed them, and bade them sit and
eat; and the servants brought them tables, and bread, and
meat, and wine.
But Medeia went on trembling toward Arete the fair queen, and
fell at her knees, and clasped them, and cried, weeping, as
she knelt -
'I am your guest, fair queen, and I entreat you by Zeus, from
whom prayers come. Do not send me back to my father to die
some dreadful death; but let me go my way, and bear my
burden. Have I not had enough of punishment and shame?'
'Who are you, strange maiden? and what is the meaning of your
'I am Medeia, daughter of Aietes, and I saw my countrymen
here to-day; and I know that they are come to find me, and
take me home to die some dreadful death.'
Then Arete frowned, and said, 'Lead this girl in, my maidens;
and let the kings decide, not I.'
And Alcinous leapt up from his throne, and cried, 'Speak,
strangers, who are you? And who is this maiden?'
'We are the heroes of the Minuai,' said Jason; 'and this
maiden has spoken truth. We are the men who took the golden
fleece, the men whose fame has run round every shore. We
came hither out of the ocean, after sorrows such as man never
saw before. We went out many, and come back few, for many a
noble comrade have we lost. So let us go, as you should let
your guests go, in peace; that the world may say, "Alcinous
is a just king."'
But Alcinous frowned, and stood deep in thought; and at last
he spoke -
'Had not the deed been done which is done, I should have said
this day to myself, "It is an honour to Alcinous, and to his
children after him, that the far-famed Argonauts are his
guests." But these Colchi are my guests, as you are; and for
this month they have waited here with all their fleet, for
they have hunted all the seas of Hellas, and could not find
you, and dared neither go farther, nor go home.'
'Let them choose out their champions, and we will fight them,
man for man.'
'No guests of ours shall fight upon our island, and if you go
outside they will outnumber you. I will do justice between
you, for I know and do what is right.'
Then he turned to his kings, and said, 'This may stand over
till to-morrow. To-night we will feast our guests, and hear
the story of all their wanderings, and how they came hither
out of the ocean.'
So Alcinous bade the servants take the heroes in, and bathe
them, and give them clothes. And they were glad when they
saw the warm water, for it was long since they had bathed.
And they washed off the sea-salt from their limbs, and
anointed themselves from head to foot with oil, and combed
out their golden hair. Then they came back again into the
hall, while the merchant kings rose up to do them honour.
And each man said to his neighbour, 'No wonder that these men
won fame. How they stand now like Giants, or Titans, or
Immortals come down from Olympus, though many a winter has
worn them, and many a fearful storm. What must they have
been when they sailed from Iolcos, in the bloom of their
youth, long ago?'
Then they went out to the garden; and the merchant princes
said, 'Heroes, run races with us. Let us see whose feet are
'We cannot race against you, for our limbs are stiff from
sea; and we have lost our two swift comrades, the sons of the
north wind. But do not think us cowards: if you wish to try
our strength, we will shoot, and box, and wrestle, against
any men on earth.'
And Alcinous smiled, and answered, 'I believe you, gallant
guests; with your long limbs and broad shoulders, we could
never match you here. For we care nothing here for boxing,
or for shooting with the bow; but for feasts, and songs, and
harping, and dancing, and running races, to stretch our limbs
on shore.'
So they danced there and ran races, the jolly merchant kings,
till the night fell, and all went in.
And then they ate and drank, and comforted their weary souls,
till Alcinous called a herald, and bade him go and fetch the
The herald went out, and fetched the harper, and led him in
by the hand; and Alcinous cut him a piece of meat, from the
fattest of the haunch, and sent it to him, and said, 'Sing to
us, noble harper, and rejoice the heroes' hearts.'
So the harper played and sang, while the dancers danced
strange figures; and after that the tumblers showed their
tricks, till the heroes laughed again.
Then, 'Tell me, heroes,' asked Alcinous, 'you who have sailed
the ocean round, and seen the manners of all nations, have
you seen such dancers as ours here, or heard such music and
such singing? We hold ours to be the best on earth.'
'Such dancing we have never seen,' said Orpheus; 'and your
singer is a happy man, for Phoebus himself must have taught
him, or else he is the son of a Muse, as I am also, and have
sung once or twice, though not so well as he.'
'Sing to us, then, noble stranger,' said Alcinous; 'and we
will give you precious gifts.'
So Orpheus took his magic harp, and sang to them a stirring
song of their voyage from Iolcos, and their dangers, and how
they won the golden fleece; and of Medeia's love, and how she
helped them, and went with them over land and sea; and of all
their fearful dangers, from monsters, and rocks, and storms,
till the heart of Arete was softened, and all the women wept.
And the merchant kings rose up, each man from off his golden
throne, and clapped their hands, and shouted, 'Hail to the
noble Argonauts, who sailed the unknown sea!'
Then he went on, and told their journey over the sluggish
northern main, and through the shoreless outer ocean, to the
fairy island of the west; and of the Sirens, and Scylla, and
Charybdis, and all the wonders they had seen, till midnight
passed and the day dawned; but the kings never thought of
sleep. Each man sat still and listened, with his chin upon
his hand.
And at last, when Orpheus had ended, they all went thoughtful
out, and the heroes lay down to sleep, beneath the sounding
porch outside, where Arete had strewn them rugs and carpets,
in the sweet still summer night.
But Arete pleaded hard with her husband for Medeia, for her
heart was softened. And she said, 'The Gods will punish her,
not we. After all, she is our guest and my suppliant, and
prayers are the daughters of Zeus. And who, too, dare part
man and wife, after all they have endured together?'
And Alcinous smiled. 'The minstrel's song has charmed you:
but I must remember what is right, for songs cannot alter
justice; and I must be faithful to my name. Alcinous I am
called, the man of sturdy sense; and Alcinous I will be.'
But for all that Arete besought him, until she won him round.
So next morning he sent a herald, and called the kings into
the square, and said, 'This is a puzzling matter: remember
but one thing. These Minuai live close by us, and we may
meet them often on the seas; but Aietes lives afar off, and
we have only heard his name. Which, then, of the two is it
safer to offend - the men near us, or the men far off?'
The princes laughed, and praised his wisdom; and Alcinous
called the heroes to the square, and the Colchi also; and
they came and stood opposite each other, but Medeia stayed in
the palace. Then Alcinous spoke, 'Heroes of the Colchi, what
is your errand about this lady?'
'To carry her home with us, that she may die a shameful
death; but if we return without her, we must die the death
she should have died.'
'What say you to this, Jason the AEolid?' said Alcinous,
turning to the Minuai.
'I say,' said the cunning Jason, 'that they are come here on
a bootless errand. Do you think that you can make her follow
you, heroes of the Colchi - her, who knows all spells and
charms? She will cast away your ships on quicksands, or call
down on you Brimo the wild huntress; or the chains will fall
from off her wrists, and she will escape in her dragon-car;
or if not thus, some other way, for she has a thousand plans
and wiles. And why return home at all, brave heroes, and
face the long seas again, and the Bosphorus, and the stormy
Euxine, and double all your toil? There is many a fair land
round these coasts, which waits for gallant men like you.
Better to settle there, and build a city, and let Aietes and
Colchis help themselves.'
Then a murmur rose among the Colchi, and some cried 'He has
spoken well;' and some, 'We have had enough of roving, we
will sail the seas no more!' And the chief said at last, 'Be
it so, then; a plague she has been to us, and a plague to the
house of her father, and a plague she will be to you. Take
her, since you are no wiser; and we will sail away toward the
Then Alcinous gave them food, and water, and garments, and
rich presents of all sorts; and he gave the same to the
Minuai, and sent them all away in peace.
So Jason kept the dark witch-maiden to breed him woe and
shame; and the Colchi went northward into the Adriatic, and
settled, and built towns along the shore.
Then the heroes rowed away to the eastward, to reach Hellas,
their beloved land; but a storm came down upon them, and
swept them far away toward the south. And they rowed till
they were spent with struggling, through the darkness and the
blinding rain; but where they were they could not tell, and
they gave up all hope of life. And at last touched the
ground, and when daylight came waded to the shore; and saw
nothing round but sand and desolate salt pools, for they had
come to the quicksands of the Syrtis, and the dreary treeless
flats which lie between Numidia and Cyrene, on the burning
shore of Africa. And there they wandered starving for many a
weary day, ere they could launch their ship again, and gain
the open sea. And there Canthus was killed, while he was
trying to drive off sheep, by a stone which a herdsman threw.
And there too Mopsus died, the seer who knew the voices of
all birds; but he could not foretell his own end, for he was
bitten in the foot by a snake, one of those which sprang from
the Gorgon's head when Perseus carried it across the sands.
At last they rowed away toward the northward, for many a
weary day, till their water was spent, and their food eaten;
and they were worn out with hunger and thirst. But at last
they saw a long steep island, and a blue peak high among the
clouds; and they knew it for the peak of Ida, and the famous
land of Crete. And they said, 'We will land in Crete, and
see Minos the just king, and all his glory and his wealth; at
least he will treat us hospitably, and let us fill our watercasks
upon the shore.'
But when they came nearer to the island they saw a wondrous
sight upon the cliffs. For on a cape to the westward stood a
giant, taller than any mountain pine, who glittered aloft
against the sky like a tower of burnished brass. He turned
and looked on all sides round him, till he saw the ARGO and
her crew; and when he saw them he came toward them, more
swiftly than the swiftest horse, leaping across the glens at
a bound, and striding at one step from down to down. And
when he came abreast of them he brandished his arms up and
down, as a ship hoists and lowers her yards, and shouted with
his brazen throat like a trumpet from off the hills, 'You are
pirates, you are robbers! If you dare land here, you die.'
Then the heroes cried, 'We are no pirates. We are all good
men and true, and all we ask is food and water;' but the
giant cried the more -
'You are robbers, you are pirates all; I know you; and if you
land, you shall die the death.'
Then he waved his arms again as a signal, and they saw the
people flying inland, driving their flocks before them, while
a great flame arose among the hills. Then the giant ran up a
valley and vanished, and the heroes lay on their oars in
But Medeia stood watching all from under her steep black
brows, with a cunning smile upon her lips, and a cunning plot
within her heart. At last she spoke, 'I know this giant. I
heard of him in the East. Hephaistos the Fire King made him
in his forge in AEtna beneath the earth, and called him
Talus, and gave him to Minos for a servant, to guard the
coast of Crete. Thrice a day he walks round the island, and
never stops to sleep; and if strangers land he leaps into his
furnace, which flames there among the hills; and when he is
red-hot he rushes on them, and burns them in his brazen
Then all the heroes cried, 'What shall we do, wise Medeia?
We must have water, or we die of thirst. Flesh and blood we
can face fairly; but who can face this red-hot brass?'
'I can face red-hot brass, if the tale I hear be true. For
they say that he has but one vein in all his body, filled
with liquid fire; and that this vein is closed with a nail:
but I know not where that nail is placed. But if I can get
it once into these hands, you shall water your ship here in
Then she bade them put her on shore, and row off again, and
wait what would befall.
And the heroes obeyed her unwillingly, for they were ashamed
to leave her so alone; but Jason said, 'She is dearer to me
than to any of you, yet I will trust her freely on shore; she
has more plots than we can dream of in the windings of that
fair and cunning head.'
So they left the witch-maiden on the shore; and she stood
there in her beauty all alone, till the giant strode back
red-hot from head to heel, while the grass hissed and smoked
beneath his tread.
And when he saw the maiden alone, he stopped; and she looked
boldly up into his face without moving, and began her magic
'Life is short, though life is sweet; and even men of brass
and fire must die. The brass must rust, the fire must cool,
for time gnaws all things in their turn. Life is short,
though life is sweet: but sweeter to live for ever; sweeter
to live ever youthful like the Gods, who have ichor in their
veins - ichor which gives life, and youth, and joy, and a
bounding heart.'
Then Talus said, 'Who are you, strange maiden, and where is
this ichor of youth?'
Then Medeia held up a flask of crystal, and said, 'Here is
the ichor of youth. I am Medeia the enchantress; my sister
Circe gave me this, and said, "Go and reward Talus, the
faithful servant, for his fame is gone out into all lands."
So come, and I will pour this into your veins, that you may
live for ever young.'
And he listened to her false words, that simple Talus, and
came near; and Medeia said, 'Dip yourself in the sea first,
and cool yourself, lest you burn my tender hands; then show
me where the nail in your vein is, that I may pour the ichor
Then that simple Talus dipped himself in the sea, till it
hissed, and roared, and smoked; and came and knelt before
Medeia, and showed her the secret nail.
And she drew the nail out gently, but she poured no ichor in;
and instead the liquid fire spouted forth, like a stream of
red-hot iron. And Talus tried to leap up, crying, 'You have
betrayed me, false witch-maiden!' But she lifted up her
hands before him, and sang, till he sank beneath her spell.
And as he sank, his brazen limbs clanked heavily, and the
earth groaned beneath his weight; and the liquid fire ran
from his heel, like a stream of lava, to the sea; and Medeia
laughed, and called to the heroes, 'Come ashore, and water
your ship in peace.'
So they came, and found the giant lying dead; and they fell
down, and kissed Medeia's feet; and watered their ship, and
took sheep and oxen, and so left that inhospitable shore.
At last, after many more adventures, they came to the Cape of
Malea, at the south-west point of the Peloponnese. And there
they offered sacrifices, and Orpheus purged them from their
guilt. Then they rode away again to the northward, past the
Laconian shore, and came all worn and tired by Sunium, and up
the long Euboean Strait, until they saw once more Pelion, and
Aphetai, and Iolcos by the sea.
And they ran the ship ashore; but they had no strength left
to haul her up the beach; and they crawled out on the
pebbles, and sat down, and wept till they could weep no more.
For the houses and the trees were all altered; and all the
faces which they saw were strange; and their joy was
swallowed up in sorrow, while they thought of their youth,
and all their labour, and the gallant comrades they had lost.
And the people crowded round, and asked them 'Who are you,
that you sit weeping here?'
'We are the sons of your princes, who sailed out many a year
ago. We went to fetch the golden fleece, and we have brought
it, and grief therewith. Give us news of our fathers and our
mothers, if any of them be left alive on earth.'
Then there was shouting, and laughing, and weeping; and all
the kings came to the shore, and they led away the heroes to
their homes, and bewailed the valiant dead.
Then Jason went up with Medeia to the palace of his uncle
Pelias. And when he came in Pelias sat by the hearth,
crippled and blind with age; while opposite him sat AEson,
Jason's father, crippled and blind likewise; and the two old
men's heads shook together as they tried to warm themselves
before the fire.
And Jason fell down at his father's knees, and wept, and
called him by his name. And the old man stretched his hands
out, and felt him, and said, 'Do not mock me, young hero. My
son Jason is dead long ago at sea.'
'I am your own son Jason, whom you trusted to the Centaur
upon Pelion; and I have brought home the golden fleece, and a
princess of the Sun's race for my bride. So now give me up
the kingdom, Pelias my uncle, and fulfil your promise as I
have fulfilled mine.'
Then his father clung to him like a child, and wept, and
would not let him go; and cried, 'Now I shall not go down
lonely to my grave. Promise me never to leave me till I
AND now I wish that I could end my story pleasantly; but it
is no fault of mine that I cannot. The old songs end it
sadly, and I believe that they are right and wise; for though
the heroes were purified at Malea, yet sacrifices cannot make
bad hearts good, and Jason had taken a wicked wife, and he
had to bear his burden to the last.
And first she laid a cunning plot to punish that poor old
Pelias, instead of letting him die in peace.
For she told his daughters, 'I can make old things young
again; I will show you how easy it is to do.' So she took an
old ram and killed him, and put him in a cauldron with magic
herbs; and whispered her spells over him, and he leapt out
again a young lamb. So that 'Medeia's cauldron' is a proverb
still, by which we mean times of war and change, when the
world has become old and feeble, and grows young again
through bitter pains.
Then she said to Pelias' daughters, 'Do to your father as I
did to this ram, and he will grow young and strong again.'
But she only told them half the spell; so they failed, while
Medeia mocked them; and poor old Pelias died, and his
daughters came to misery. But the songs say she cured AEson,
Jason's father, and he became young, and strong again.
But Jason could not love her, after all her cruel deeds. So
he was ungrateful to her, and wronged her; and she revenged
herself on him. And a terrible revenge she took - too
terrible to speak of here. But you will hear of it
yourselves when you grow up, for it has been sung in noble
poetry and music; and whether it be true or not, it stands
for ever as a warning to us not to seek for help from evil
persons, or to gain good ends by evil means. For if we use
an adder even against our enemies, it will turn again and
sting us.
But of all the other heroes there is many a brave tale left,
which I have no space to tell you, so you must read them for
yourselves; - of the hunting of the boar in Calydon, which
Meleager killed; and of Heracles' twelve famous labours; and
of the seven who fought at Thebes; and of the noble love of
Castor and Polydeuces, the twin Dioscouroi - how when one
died the other would not live without him, so they shared
their immortality between them; and Zeus changed them into
the two twin stars which never rise both at once.
And what became of Cheiron, the good immortal beast? That,
too, is a sad story; for the heroes never saw him more. He
was wounded by a poisoned arrow, at Pholoe among the hills,
when Heracles opened the fatal wine-jar, which Cheiron had
warned him not to touch. And the Centaurs smelt the wine,
and flocked to it, and fought for it with Heracles; but he
killed them all with his poisoned arrows, and Cheiron was
left alone. Then Cheiron took up one of the arrows, and
dropped it by chance upon his foot; and the poison ran like
fire along his veins, and he lay down and longed to die; and
cried, 'Through wine I perish, the bane of all my race. Why
should I live for ever in this agony? Who will take my
immortality, that I may die?'
Then Prometheus answered, the good Titan, whom Heracles had
set free from Caucasus, 'I will take your immortality and
live for ever, that I may help poor mortal men.' So Cheiron
gave him his immortality, and died, and had rest from pain.
And Heracles and Prometheus wept over him, and went to bury
him on Pelion; but Zeus took him up among the stars, to live
for ever, grand and mild, low down in the far southern sky.
And in time the heroes died, all but Nestor, the silvertongued
old man; and left behind them valiant sons, but not
so great as they had been. Yet their fame, too, lives till
this day, for they fought at the ten years' siege of Troy:
and their story is in the book which we call Homer, in two of
the noblest songs on earth - the 'Iliad,' which tells us of
the siege of Troy, and Achilles' quarrel with the kings; and
the 'Odyssey,' which tells the wanderings of Odysseus,
through many lands for many years, and how Alcinous sent him
home at last, safe to Ithaca his beloved island, and to
Penelope his faithful wife, and Telemachus his son, and
Euphorbus the noble swineherd, and the old dog who licked his
hand and died. We will read that sweet story, children, by
the fire some winter night. And now I will end my tale, and
begin another and a more cheerful one, of a hero who became a
worthy king, and won his people's love.
ONCE upon a time there was a princess in Troezene, Aithra,
the daughter of Pittheus the king. She had one fair son,
named Theseus, the bravest lad in all the land; and Aithra
never smiled but when she looked at him, for her husband had
forgotten her, and lived far away. And she used to go up to
the mountain above Troezene, to the temple of Poseidon and
sit there all day looking out across the bay, over Methana,
to the purple peaks of AEgina and the Attic shore beyond.
And when Theseus was full fifteen years old she took him up
with her to the temple, and into the thickets of the grove
which grew in the temple-yard. And she led him to a tall
plane-tree, beneath whose shade grew arbutus, and lentisk,
and purple heather-bushes. And there she sighed, and said,
'Theseus, my son, go into that thicket and you will find at
the plane-tree foot a great flat stone; lift it, and bring me
what lies underneath.'
Then Theseus pushed his way in through the thick bushes, and
saw that they had not been moved for many a year. And
searching among their roots he found a great flat stone, all
overgrown with ivy, and acanthus, and moss. He tried to lift
it, but he could not. And he tried till the sweat ran down
his brow from heat, and the tears from his eyes for shame;
but all was of no avail. And at last he came back to his
mother, and said, 'I have found the stone, but I cannot lift
it; nor do I think that any man could in all Troezene.'
Then she sighed, and said, 'The Gods wait long; but they are
just at last. Let it be for another year. The day may come
when you will be a stronger man than lives in all Troezene.'
Then she took him by the hand, and went into the temple and
prayed, and came down again with Theseus to her home.
And when a full year was past she led Theseus up again to the
temple, and bade him lift the stone; but he could not.
Then she sighed, and said the same words again, and went
down, and came again the next year; but Theseus could not
lift the stone then, nor the year after; and he longed to ask
his mother the meaning of that stone, and what might lie
underneath it; but her face was so sad that he had not the
heart to ask.
So he said to himself, 'The day shall surely come when I will
lift that stone, though no man in Troezene can.' And in
order to grow strong he spent all his days in wrestling, and
boxing, and hurling, and taming horses, and hunting the boar
and the bull, and coursing goats and deer among the rocks;
till upon all the mountains there was no hunter so swift as
Theseus; and he killed Phaia the wild sow of Crommyon, which
wasted all the land; till all the people said, 'Surely the
Gods are with the lad.'
And when his eighteenth year was past, Aithra led him up
again to the temple, and said, 'Theseus, lift the stone this
day, or never know who you are.' And Theseus went into the
thicket, and stood over the stone, and tugged at it; and it
moved. Then his spirit swelled within him, and he said, 'If
I break my heart in my body, it shall up.' And he tugged at
it once more, and lifted it, and rolled it over with a shout.
And when he looked beneath it, on the ground lay a sword of
bronze, with a hilt of glittering gold, and by it a pair of
golden sandals; and he caught them up, and burst through the
bushes like a wild boar, and leapt to his mother, holding
them high above his head.
But when she saw them she wept long in silence, hiding her
fair face in her shawl; and Theseus stood by her wondering,
and wept also, he knew not why. And when she was tired of
weeping, she lifted up her head, and laid her finger on her
lips, and said, 'Hide them in your bosom, Theseus my son, and
come with me where we can look down upon the sea.'
Then they went outside the sacred wall, and looked down over
the bright blue sea; and Aithra said -
'Do you see this land at our feet?'
And he said, 'Yes; this is Troezene, where I was born and
And she said, 'It is but a little land, barren and rocky, and
looks towards the bleak north-east. Do you see that land
'Yes; that is Attica, where the Athenian people dwell.'
'That is a fair land and large, Theseus my son; and it looks
toward the sunny south; a land of olive-oil and honey, the
joy of Gods and men. For the Gods have girdled it with
mountains, whose veins are of pure silver, and their bones of
marble white as snow; and there the hills are sweet with
thyme and basil, and the meadows with violet and asphodel,
and the nightingales sing all day in the thickets, by the
side of ever-flowing streams. There are twelve towns well
peopled, the homes of an ancient race, the children of
Kekrops the serpent king, the son of Mother Earth, who wear
gold cicalas among the tresses of their golden hair; for like
the cicalas they sprang from the earth, and like the cicalas
they sing all day, rejoicing in the genial sun. What would
you do, son Theseus, if you were king of such a land?'
Then Theseus stood astonished, as he looked across the broad
bright sea, and saw the fair Attic shore, from Sunium to
Hymettus and Pentelicus, and all the mountain peaks which
girdle Athens round. But Athens itself he could not see, for
purple AEgina stood before it, midway across the sea.
Then his heart grew great within him, and he said, 'If I were
king of such a land I would rule it wisely and well in wisdom
and in might, that when I died all men might weep over my
tomb, and cry, "Alas for the shepherd of his people!"'
And Aithra smiled, and said, 'Take, then, the sword and the
sandals, and go to AEgeus, king of Athens, who lives on
Pallas' hill; and say to him, "The stone is lifted, but whose
is the pledge beneath it?" Then show him the sword and the
sandals, and take what the Gods shall send.'
But Theseus wept, 'Shall I leave you, O my mother?'
But she answered, 'Weep not for me. That which is fated must
be; and grief is easy to those who do nought but grieve.
Full of sorrow was my youth, and full of sorrow my womanhood.
Full of sorrow was my youth for Bellerophon, the slayer of
the Chimaera, whom my father drove away by treason; and full
of sorrow my womanhood, for thy treacherous father and for
thee; and full of sorrow my old age will be (for I see my
fate in dreams), when the sons of the Swan shall carry me
captive to the hollow vale of Eurotas, till I sail across the
seas a slave, the handmaid of the pest of Greece. Yet shall
I be avenged, when the golden-haired heroes sail against
Troy, and sack the palaces of Ilium; then my son shall set me
free from thraldom, and I shall hear the tale of Theseus'
fame. Yet beyond that I see new sorrows; but I can bear them
as I have borne the past.'
Then she kissed Theseus, and wept over him; and went into the
temple, and Theseus saw her no more.
SO Theseus stood there alone, with his mind full of many
hopes. And first he thought of going down to the harbour and
hiring a swift ship, and sailing across the bay to Athens;
but even that seemed too slow for him, and he longed for
wings to fly across the sea, and find his father. But after
a while his heart began to fail him; and he sighed, and said
within himself -
'What if my father have other sons about him whom he loves?
What if he will not receive me? And what have I done that he
should receive me? He has forgotten me ever since I was
born: why should he welcome me now?'
Then he thought a long while sadly; and at the last he cried
aloud, 'Yes! I will make him love me; for I will prove
myself worthy of his love. I will win honour and renown, and
do such deeds that AEgeus shall be proud of me, though he had
fifty other sons! Did not Heracles win himself honour,
though he was opprest, and the slave of Eurystheus? Did he
not kill all robbers and evil beasts, and drain great lakes
and marshes, breaking the hills through with his club?
Therefore it was that all men honoured him, because he rid
them of their miseries, and made life pleasant to them and
their children after them. Where can I go, to do as Heracles
has done? Where can I find strange adventures, robbers, and
monsters, and the children of hell, the enemies of men? I
will go by land, and into the mountains, and round by the way
of the Isthmus. Perhaps there I may hear of brave
adventures, and do something which shall win my father's
So he went by land, and away into the mountains, with his
father's sword upon his thigh, till he came to the Spider
mountains, which hang over Epidaurus and the sea, where the
glens run downward from one peak in the midst, as the rays
spread in the spider's web.
And he went up into the gloomy glens, between the furrowed
marble walls, till the lowland grew blue beneath his feet and
the clouds drove damp about his head.
But he went up and up for ever, through the spider's web of
glens, till he could see the narrow gulfs spread below him,
north and south, and east and west; black cracks half-choked
with mists, and above all a dreary down.
But over that down he must go, for there was no road right or
left; so he toiled on through bog and brake, till he came to
a pile of stones.
And on the stones a man was sitting, wrapt in a bearskin
cloak. The head of the bear served him for a cap, and its
teeth grinned white around his brows; and the feet were tied
about his throat, and their claws shone white upon his chest.
And when he saw Theseus he rose, and laughed till the glens
'And who art thou, fair fly, who hast walked into the
spider's web?' But Theseus walked on steadily, and made no
answer; but he thought, 'Is this some robber? and has an
adventure come already to me?' But the strange man laughed
louder than ever, and said -
'Bold fly, know you not that these glens are the web from
which no fly ever finds his way out again, and this down the
spider's house, and I the spider who sucks the flies? Come
hither, and let me feast upon you; for it is of no use to run
away, so cunning a web has my father Hephaistos spread for me
when he made these clefts in the mountains, through which no
man finds his way home.'
But Theseus came on steadily, and asked -
'And what is your name among men, bold spider? and where are
your spider's fangs?'
Then the strange man laughed again -
'My name is Periphetes, the son of Hephaistos and Anticleia
the mountain nymph. But men call me Corynetes the clubbearer;
and here is my spider's fang.'
And he lifted from off the stones at his side a mighty club
of bronze.
'This my father gave me, and forged it himself in the roots
of the mountain; and with it I pound all proud flies till
they give out their fatness and their sweetness. So give me
up that gay sword of yours, and your mantle, and your golden
sandals, lest I pound you, and by ill-luck you die.'
But Theseus wrapt his mantle round his left arm quickly, in
hard folds, from his shoulder to his hand, and drew his
sword, and rushed upon the club-bearer, and the club-bearer
rushed on him.
Thrice he struck at Theseus, and made him bend under the
blows like a sapling; but Theseus guarded his head with his
left arm, and the mantle which was wrapt around it.
And thrice Theseus sprang upright after the blow, like a
sapling when the storm is past; and he stabbed at the clubbearer
with his sword, but the loose folds of the bearskin
saved him.
Then Theseus grew mad, and closed with him, and caught him by
the throat, and they fell and rolled over together; but when
Theseus rose up from the ground the club-bearer lay still at
his feet.
Then Theseus took his club and his bearskin, and left him to
the kites and crows, and went upon his journey down the glens
on the farther slope, till he came to a broad green valley,
and saw flocks and herds sleeping beneath the trees.
And by the side of a pleasant fountain, under the shade of
rocks and trees, were nymphs and shepherds dancing; but no
one piped to them while they danced.
And when they saw Theseus they shrieked; and the shepherds
ran off, and drove away their flocks, while the nymphs dived
into the fountain like coots, and vanished.
Theseus wondered and laughed: 'What strange fancies have
folks here who run away from strangers, and have no music
when they dance!' But he was tired, and dusty, and thirsty;
so he thought no more of them, but drank and bathed in the
clear pool, and then lay down in the shade under a planetree,
while the water sang him to sleep, as it tinkled down
from stone to stone.
And when he woke he heard a whispering, and saw the nymphs
peeping at him across the fountain from the dark mouth of a
cave, where they sat on green cushions of moss. And one
said, 'Surely he is not Periphetes;' and another, 'He looks
like no robber, but a fair and gentle youth.'
Then Theseus smiled, and called them, 'Fair nymphs, I am not
Periphetes. He sleeps among the kites and crows; but I have
brought away his bearskin and his club.'
Then they leapt across the pool, and came to him, and called
the shepherds back. And he told them how he had slain the
club-bearer: and the shepherds kissed his feet and sang,
'Now we shall feed our flocks in peace, and not be afraid to
have music when we dance; for the cruel club-bearer has met
his match, and he will listen for our pipes no more.' Then
they brought him kid's flesh and wine, and the nymphs brought
him honey from the rocks, and he ate, and drank, and slept
again, while the nymphs and shepherds danced and sang. And
when he woke, they begged him to stay; but he would not. 'I
have a great work to do,' he said; 'I must be away toward the
Isthmus, that I may go to Athens.'
But the shepherds said, 'Will you go alone toward Athens?
None travel that way now, except in armed troops.'
'As for arms, I have enough, as you see. And as for troops,
an honest man is good enough company for himself. Why should
I not go alone toward Athens?'
'If you do, you must look warily about you on the Isthmus,
lest you meet Sinis the robber, whom men call Pituocamptes
the pine-bender; for he bends down two pine-trees, and binds
all travellers hand and foot between them, and when he lets
the trees go again their bodies are torn in sunder.'
'And after that,' said another, 'you must go inland, and not
dare to pass over the cliffs of Sciron; for on the left hand
are the mountains, and on the right the sea, so that you have
no escape, but must needs meet Sciron the robber, who will
make you wash his feet; and while you are washing them he
will kick you over the cliff, to the tortoise who lives
below, and feeds upon the bodies of the dead.'
And before Theseus could answer, another cried, 'And after
that is a worse danger still, unless you go inland always,
and leave Eleusis far on your right. For in Eleusis rules
Kerkuon the cruel king, the terror of all mortals, who killed
his own daughter Alope in prison. But she was changed into a
fair fountain; and her child he cast out upon the mountains,
but the wild mares gave it milk. And now he challenges all
comers to wrestle with him, for he is the best wrestler in
all Attica, and overthrows all who come; and those whom he
overthrows he murders miserably, and his palace-court is full
of their bones.'
Then Theseus frowned, and said, 'This seems indeed an illruled
land, and adventures enough in it to be tried. But if
I am the heir of it, I will rule it and right it, and here is
my royal sceptre.'
And he shook his club of bronze, while the nymphs and
shepherds clung round him, and entreated him not to go.
But on he went nevertheless, till he could see both the seas
and the citadel of Corinth towering high above all the land.
And he past swiftly along the Isthmus, for his heart burned
to meet that cruel Sinis; and in a pine-wood at last he met
him, where the Isthmus was narrowest and the road ran between
high rocks. There he sat upon a stone by the wayside, with a
young fir-tree for a club across his knees, and a cord laid
ready by his side; and over his head, upon the fir-tops, hung
the bones of murdered men.
Then Theseus shouted to him, 'Holla, thou valiant pinebender,
hast thou two fir-trees left for me?'
And Sinis leapt to his feet, and answered, pointing to the
bones above his head, 'My larder has grown empty lately, so I
have two fir-trees ready for thee.' And he rushed on
Theseus, lifting his club, and Theseus rushed upon him.
Then they hammered together till the greenwoods rang; but the
metal was tougher than the pine, and Sinis' club broke right
across, as the bronze came down upon it. Then Theseus heaved
up another mighty stroke, and smote Sinis down upon his face;
and knelt upon his back, and bound him with his own cord, and
said, 'As thou hast done to others, so shall it be done to
thee.' Then he bent down two young fir-trees, and bound
Sinis between them for all his struggling and his prayers;
and let them go, and ended Sinis, and went on, leaving him to
the hawks and crows.
Then he went over the hills toward Megara, keeping close
along the Saronic Sea, till he came to the cliffs of Sciron,
and the narrow path between the mountain and the sea.
And there he saw Sciron sitting by a fountain, at the edge of
the cliff. On his knees was a mighty club; and he had barred
the path with stones, so that every one must stop who came
Then Theseus shouted to him, and said, 'Holla, thou tortoisefeeder,
do thy feet need washing to-day?'
And Sciron leapt to his feet, and answered - 'My tortoise is
empty and hungry, and my feet need washing to-day.' And he
stood before his barrier, and lifted up his club in both
Then Theseus rushed upon him; and sore was the battle upon
the cliff, for when Sciron felt the weight of the bronze
club, he dropt his own, and closed with Theseus, and tried to
hurl him by main force over the cliff. But Theseus was a
wary wrestler, and dropt his own club, and caught him by the
throat and by the knee, and forced him back against the wall
of stones, and crushed him up against them, till his breath
was almost gone. And Sciron cried panting, 'Loose me, and I
will let thee pass.' But Theseus answered, 'I must not pass
till I have made the rough way smooth;' and he forced him
back against the wall till it fell, and Sciron rolled head
over heels.
Then Theseus lifted him up all bruised, and said, 'Come
hither and wash my feet.' And he drew his sword, and sat
down by the well, and said, 'Wash my feet, or I cut you
And Sciron washed his feet trembling; and when it was done,
Theseus rose, and cried, 'As thou hast done to others, so
shall it be done to thee. Go feed thy tortoise thyself;' and
he kicked him over the cliff into the sea.
And whether the tortoise ate him, I know not; for some say
that earth and sea both disdained to take his body, so foul
it was with sin. So the sea cast it out upon the shore, and
the shore cast it back into the sea, and at last the waves
hurled it high into the air in anger; and it hung there long
without a grave, till it was changed into a desolate rock,
which stands there in the surge until this day.
This at least is true, which Pausanias tells, that in the
royal porch at Athens he saw the figure of Theseus modelled
in clay, and by him Sciron the robber falling headlong into
the sea.
Then he went a long day's journey, past Megara, into the
Attic land, and high before him rose the snow-peaks of
Cithaeron, all cold above the black pine-woods, where haunt
the Furies, and the raving Bacchae, and the Nymphs who drive
men wild, far aloft upon the dreary mountains, where the
storms howl all day long. And on his right hand was the sea
always, and Salamis, with its island cliffs, and the sacred
strait of the sea-fight, where afterwards the Persians fled
before the Greeks. So he went all day until the evening,
till he saw the Thriasian plain, and the sacred city of
Eleusis, where the Earth-mother's temple stands. For there
she met Triptolemus, when all the land lay waste, Demeter the
kind Earth-mother, and in her hands a sheaf of corn. And she
taught him to plough the fallows, and to yoke the lazy kine;
and she taught him to sow the seed-fields, and to reap the
golden grain; and sent him forth to teach all nations, and
give corn to labouring men. So at Eleusis all men honour
her, whosoever tills the land; her and Triptolemus her
beloved, who gave corn to labouring men.
And he went along the plain into Eleusis, and stood in the
market-place, and cried -
'Where is Kerkuon, the king of the city? I must wrestle a
fall with him to-day.'
Then all the people crowded round him, and cried, 'Fair
youth, why will you die? Hasten out of the city, before the
cruel king hears that a stranger is here.'
But Theseus went up through the town, while the people wept
and prayed, and through the gates of the palace-yard, and
through the piles of bones and skulls, till he came to the
door of Kerkuon's hall, the terror of all mortal men.
And there he saw Kerkuon sitting at the table in the hall
alone; and before him was a whole sheep roasted, and beside
him a whole jar of wine. And Theseus stood and called him,
'Holla, thou valiant wrestler, wilt thou wrestle a fall today?'
And Kerkuon looked up and laughed, and answered, 'I will
wrestle a fall to-day; but come in, for I am lonely and thou
weary, and eat and drink before thou die.'
Then Theseus went up boldly, and sat down before Kerkuon at
the board; and he ate his fill of the sheep's flesh, and
drank his fill of the wine; and Theseus ate enough for three
men, but Kerkuon ate enough for seven.
But neither spoke a word to the other, though they looked
across the table by stealth; and each said in his heart, 'He
has broad shoulders; but I trust mine are as broad as his.'
At last, when the sheep was eaten and the jar of wine drained
dry, King Kerkuon rose, and cried, 'Let us wrestle a fall
before we sleep.'
So they tossed off all their garments, and went forth in the
palace-yard; and Kerkuon bade strew fresh sand in an open
space between the bones.
And there the heroes stood face to face, while their eyes
glared like wild bulls'; and all the people crowded at the
gates to see what would befall.
And there they stood and wrestled, till the stars shone out
above their heads; up and down and round, till the sand was
stamped hard beneath their feet. And their eyes flashed like
stars in the darkness, and their breath went up like smoke in
the night air; but neither took nor gave a footstep, and the
people watched silent at the gates.
But at last Kerkuon grew angry, and caught Theseus round the
neck, and shook him as a mastiff shakes a rat; but he could
not shake him off his feet.
But Theseus was quick and wary, and clasped Kerkuon round the
waist, and slipped his loin quickly underneath him, while he
caught him by the wrist; and then he hove a mighty heave, a
heave which would have stirred an oak, and lifted Kerkuon,
and pitched him right over his shoulder on the ground.
Then he leapt on him, and called, 'Yield, or I kill thee!'
but Kerkuon said no word; for his heart was burst within him
with the fall, and the meat, and the wine.
Then Theseus opened the gates, and called in all the people;
and they cried, 'You have slain our evil king; be you now our
king, and rule us well.'
'I will be your king in Eleusis, and I will rule you right
and well; for this cause I have slain all evil-doers - Sinis,
and Sciron, and this man last of all.'
Then an aged man stepped forth, and said, 'Young hero, hast
thou slain Sinis? Beware then of AEgeus, king of Athens, to
whom thou goest, for he is near of kin to Sinis.'
'Then I have slain my own kinsman,' said Theseus, 'though
well he deserved to die. Who will purge me from his death,
for rightfully I slew him, unrighteous and accursed as he
And the old man answered -
'That will the heroes do, the sons of Phytalus, who dwell
beneath the elm-tree in Aphidnai, by the bank of silver
Cephisus; for they know the mysteries of the Gods. Thither
you shall go and be purified, and after you shall be our
So he took an oath of the people of Eleusis, that they would
serve him as their king, and went away next morning across
the Thriasian plain, and over the hills toward Aphidnai, that
he might find the sons of Phytalus.
And as he was skirting the Vale of Cephisus, along the foot
of lofty Parnes, a very tall and strong man came down to meet
him, dressed in rich garments. On his arms were golden
bracelets, and round his neck a collar of jewels; and he came
forward, bowing courteously, and held out both his hands, and
spoke -
'Welcome, fair youth, to these mountains; happy am I to have
met you! For what greater pleasure to a good man, than to
entertain strangers? But I see that you are weary. Come up
to my castle, and rest yourself awhile.'
'I give you thanks,' said Theseus: 'but I am in haste to go
up the valley, and to reach Aphidnai in the Vale of
'Alas! you have wandered far from the right way, and you
cannot reach Aphidnai to-night, for there are many miles of
mountain between you and it, and steep passes, and cliffs
dangerous after nightfall. It is well for you that I met
you, for my whole joy is to find strangers, and to feast them
at my castle, and hear tales from them of foreign lands.
Come up with me, and eat the best of venison, and drink the
rich red wine, and sleep upon my famous bed, of which all
travellers say that they never saw the like. For whatsoever
the stature of my guest, however tall or short, that bed fits
him to a hair, and he sleeps on it as he never slept before.'
And he laid hold on Theseus' hands, and would not let him go.
Theseus wished to go forwards: but he was ashamed to seem
churlish to so hospitable a man; and he was curious to see
that wondrous bed; and beside, he was hungry and weary: yet
he shrank from the man, he knew not why; for, though his
voice was gentle and fawning, it was dry and husky like a
toad's; and though his eyes were gentle, they were dull and
cold like stones. But he consented, and went with the man up
a glen which led from the road toward the peaks of Parnes,
under the dark shadow of the cliffs.
And as they went up, the glen grew narrower, and the cliffs
higher and darker, and beneath them a torrent roared, half
seen between bare limestone crags. And around there was
neither tree nor bush, while from the white peaks of Parnes
the snow-blasts swept down the glen, cutting and chilling
till a horror fell on Theseus as he looked round at that
doleful place. And he asked at last, 'Your castle stands, it
seems, in a dreary region.'
'Yes; but once within it, hospitality makes all things
cheerful. But who are these?' and he looked back, and
Theseus also; and far below, along the road which they had
left, came a string of laden asses, and merchants walking by
them, watching their ware.
'Ah, poor souls!' said the stranger. 'Well for them that I
looked back and saw them! And well for me too, for I shall
have the more guests at my feast. Wait awhile till I go down
and call them, and we will eat and drink together the
livelong night. Happy am I, to whom Heaven sends so many
guests at once!'
And he ran back down the hill, waving his hand and shouting,
to the merchants, while Theseus went slowly up the steep
But as he went up he met an aged man, who had been gathering
driftwood in the torrent-bed. He had laid down his faggot in
the road, and was trying to lift it again to his shoulder.
And when he saw Theseus, he called to him, and said -
'O fair youth, help me up with my burden, for my limbs are
stiff and weak with years.'
Then Theseus lifted the burden on his back. And the old man
blest him, and then looked earnestly upon him, and said -
'Who are you, fair youth, and wherefore travel you this
doleful road?'
'Who I am my parents know; but I travel this doleful road
because I have been invited by a hospitable man, who promises
to feast me, and to make me sleep upon I know not what
wondrous bed.'
Then the old man clapped his hands together and cried -
'O house of Hades, man-devouring! will thy maw never be full?
Know, fair youth, that you are going to torment and to death,
for he who met you (I will requite your kindness by another)
is a robber and a murderer of men. Whatsoever stranger he
meets he entices him hither to death; and as for this bed of
which he speaks, truly it fits all comers, yet none ever rose
alive off it save me.'
'Why?' asked Theseus, astonished.
'Because, if a man be too tall for it, he lops his limbs till
they be short enough, and if he be too short, he stretches
his limbs till they be long enough: but me only he spared,
seven weary years agone; for I alone of all fitted his bed
exactly, so he spared me, and made me his slave. And once I
was a wealthy merchant, and dwelt in brazen-gated Thebes; but
now I hew wood and draw water for him, the torment of all
mortal men.'
Then Theseus said nothing; but he ground his teeth together.
'Escape, then,' said the old man, 'for he will have no pity
on thy youth. But yesterday he brought up hither a young man
and a maiden, and fitted them upon his bed; and the young
man's hands and feet he cut off, but the maiden's limbs he
stretched until she died, and so both perished miserably -
but I am tired of weeping over the slain. And therefore he
is called Procrustes the stretcher, though his father called
him Damastes. Flee from him: yet whither will you flee?
The cliffs are steep, and who can climb them? and there is no
other road.'
But Theseus laid his hand upon the old man's month, and said,
'There is no need to flee;' and he turned to go down the
'Do not tell him that I have warned you, or he will kill me
by some evil death;' and the old man screamed after him down
the glen; but Theseus strode on in his wrath.
And he said to himself, 'This is an ill-ruled land; when
shall I have done ridding it of monsters?' And as he spoke,
Procrustes came up the hill, and all the merchants with him,
smiling and talking gaily. And when he saw Theseus, he
cried, 'Ah, fair young guest, have I kept you too long
But Theseus answered, 'The man who stretches his guests upon
a bed and hews off their hands and feet, what shall be done
to him, when right is done throughout the land?'
Then Procrustes' countenance changed, and his cheeks grew as
green as a lizard, and he felt for his sword in haste; but
Theseus leapt on him, and cried -
'Is this true, my host, or is it false?' and he clasped
Procrustes round waist and elbow, so that he could not draw
his sword.
'Is this true, my host, or is it false?' But Procrustes
answered never a word.
Then Theseus flung him from him, and lifted up his dreadful
club; and before Procrustes could strike him he had struck,
and felled him to the ground.
And once again he struck him; and his evil soul fled forth,
and went down to Hades squeaking, like a bat into the
darkness of a cave.
Then Theseus stript him of his gold ornaments, and went up to
his house, and found there great wealth and treasure, which
he had stolen from the passers-by. And he called the people
of the country, whom Procrustes had spoiled a long time, and
parted the spoil among them, and went down the mountains, and
And he went down the glens of Parnes, through mist, and
cloud, and rain, down the slopes of oak, and lentisk, and
arbutus, and fragrant bay, till he came to the Vale of
Cephisus, and the pleasant town of Aphidnai, and the home of
the Phytalid heroes, where they dwelt beneath a mighty elm.
And there they built an altar, and bade him bathe in
Cephisus, and offer a yearling ram, and purified him from the
blood of Sinis, and sent him away in peace.
And he went down the valley by Acharnai, and by the silverswirling
stream, while all the people blessed him, for the
fame of his prowess had spread wide, till he saw the plain of
Athens, and the hill where Athene dwells.
So Theseus went up through Athens, and all the people ran out
to see him; for his fame had gone before him and every one
knew of his mighty deeds. And all cried, 'Here comes the
hero who slew Sinis, and Phaia the wild sow of Crommyon, and
conquered Kerkuon in wrestling, and slew Procrustes the
pitiless.' But Theseus went on sadly and steadfastly, for
his heart yearned after his father; and he said, 'How shall I
deliver him from these leeches who suck his blood?'
So he went up the holy stairs, and into the Acropolis, where
AEgeus' palace stood; and he went straight into AEgeus' hall,
and stood upon the threshold, and looked round.
And there he saw his cousins sitting about the table at the
wine: many a son of Pallas, but no AEgeus among them. There
they sat and feasted, and laughed, and passed the wine-cup
round; while harpers harped, and slave-girls sang, and the
tumblers showed their tricks.
Loud laughed the sons of Pallas, and fast went the wine-cup
round; but Theseus frowned, and said under his breath, 'No
wonder that the land is full of robbers, while such as these
bear rule.'
Then the Pallantids saw him, and called to him, half-drunk
with wine, 'Holla, tall stranger at the door, what is your
will to-day?'
'I come hither to ask for hospitality.'
'Then take it, and welcome. You look like a hero and a bold
warrior; and we like such to drink with us.'
'I ask no hospitality of you; I ask it of AEgeus the king,
the master of this house.'
At that some growled, and some laughed, and shouted, 'Heyday!
we are all masters here.'
'Then I am master as much as the rest of you,' said Theseus,
and he strode past the table up the hall, and looked around
for AEgeus; but he was nowhere to be seen.
The Pallantids looked at him, and then at each other, and
each whispered to the man next him, 'This is a forward
fellow; he ought to be thrust out at the door.' But each
man's neighbour whispered in return, 'His shoulders are
broad; will you rise and put him out?' So they all sat still
where they were.
Then Theseus called to the servants, and said, 'Go tell King
AEgeus, your master, that Theseus of Troezene is here, and
asks to be his guest awhile.'
A servant ran and told AEgeus, where he sat in his chamber
within, by Medeia the dark witch-woman, watching her eye and
hand. And when AEgeus heard of Troezene he turned pale and
red again, and rose from his seat trembling, while Medeia
watched him like a snake.
'What is Troezene to you?' she asked. But he said hastily,
'Do you not know who this Theseus is? The hero who has
cleared the country from all monsters; but that he came from
Troezene, I never heard before. I must go out and welcome
So AEgeus came out into the hall; and when Theseus saw him,
his heart leapt into his mouth, and he longed to fall on his
neck and welcome him; but he controlled himself, and said,
'My father may not wish for me, after all. I will try him
before I discover myself;' and he bowed low before AEgeus,
and said, 'I have delivered the king's realm from many
monsters; therefore I am come to ask a reward of the king.'
And old AEgeus looked on him, and loved him, as what fond
heart would not have done? But he only sighed, and said -
'It is little that I can give you, noble lad, and nothing
that is worthy of you; for surely you are no mortal man, or
at least no mortal's son.'
'All I ask,' said Theseus, 'is to eat and drink at your
'That I can give you,' said AEgeus, 'if at least I am master
in my own hall.'
Then he bade them put a seat for Theseus, and set before him
the best of the feast; and Theseus sat and ate so much, that
all the company wondered at him: but always he kept his club
by his side.
But Medeia the dark witch-woman had been watching him all the
while. She saw how AEgeus turned red and pale when the lad
said that he came from Troezene. She saw, too, how his heart
was opened toward Theseus; and how Theseus bore himself
before all the sons of Pallas, like a lion among a pack of
curs. And she said to herself, 'This youth will be master
here; perhaps he is nearer to AEgeus already than mere fancy.
At least the Pallantilds will have no chance by the side of
such as he.'
Then she went back into her chamber modestly, while Theseus
ate and drank; and all the servants whispered, 'This, then,
is the man who killed the monsters! How noble are his looks,
and how huge his size! Ah, would that he were our master's
But presently Medeia came forth, decked in all her jewels,
and her rich Eastern robes, and looking more beautiful than
the day, so that all the guests could look at nothing else.
And in her right hand she held a golden cup, and in her left
a flask of gold; and she came up to Theseus, and spoke in a
sweet, soft, winning voice -
'Hail to the hero, the conqueror, the unconquered, the
destroyer of all evil things! Drink, hero, of my charmed
cup, which gives rest after every toil, which heals all
wounds, and pours new life into the veins. Drink of my cup,
for in it sparkles the wine of the East, and Nepenthe, the
comfort of the Immortals.'
And as she spoke, she poured the flask into the cup; and the
fragrance of the wine spread through the hall, like the scent
of thyme and roses.
And Theseus looked up in her fair face and into her deep dark
eyes. And as he looked, he shrank and shuddered; for they
were dry like the eyes of a snake. And he rose, and said,
'The wine is rich and fragrant, and the wine-bearer as fair
as the Immortals; but let her pledge me first herself in the
cup, that the wine may be the sweeter from her lips.'
Then Medeia turned pale, and stammered, 'Forgive me, fair
hero; but I am ill, and dare drink no wine.'
And Theseus looked again into her eyes, and cried, 'Thou
shalt pledge me in that cup, or die.' And he lifted up his
brazen club, while all the guests looked on aghast.
Medeia shrieked a fearful shriek, and dashed the cup to the
ground, and fled; and where the wine flowed over the marble
pavement, the stone bubbled, and crumbled, and hissed, under
the fierce venom of the draught.
But Medeia called her dragon chariot, and sprang into it and
fled aloft, away over land and sea, and no man saw her more.
And AEgeus cried, 'What hast thou done?' But Theseus pointed
to the stone, 'I have rid the land of an enchantment: now I
will rid it of one more.'
And he came close to AEgeus, and drew from his bosom the
sword and the sandals, and said the words which his mother
bade him.
And AEgeus stepped back a pace, and looked at the lad till
his eyes grew dim; and then he cast himself on his neck and
wept, and Theseus wept on his neck, till they had no strength
left to weep more.
Then AEgeus turned to all the people, and cried, 'Behold my
son, children of Cecrops, a better man than his father was
before him.'
Who, then, were mad but the Pallantids, though they had been
mad enough before? And one shouted, 'Shall we make room for
an upstart, a pretender, who comes from we know not where?'
And another, 'If he be one, we are more than one; and the
stronger can hold his own.' And one shouted one thing, and
one another; for they were hot and wild with wine: but all
caught swords and lances off the wall, where the weapons hung
around, and sprang forward to Theseus, and Theseus sprang
forward to them.
And he cried, 'Go in peace, if you will, my cousins; but if
not, your blood be on your own heads.' But they rushed at
him; and then stopped short and railed him, as curs stop and
bark when they rouse a lion from his lair.
But one hurled a lance from the rear rank, which past close
by Theseus' head; and at that Theseus rushed forward, and the
fight began indeed. Twenty against one they fought, and yet
Theseus beat them all; and those who were left fled down into
the town, where the people set on them, and drove them out,
till Theseus was left alone in the palace, with AEgeus his
new-found father. But before nightfall all the town came up,
with victims, and dances, and songs; and they offered
sacrifices to Athene, and rejoiced all the night long,
because their king had found a noble son, and an heir to his
royal house.
So Theseus stayed with his father all the winter: and when
the spring equinox drew near, all the Athenians grew sad and
silent, and Theseus saw it, and asked the reason; but no one
would answer him a word.
Then he went to his father, and asked him: but AEgeus turned
away his face and wept.
'Do not ask, my son, beforehand, about evils which must
happen: it is enough to have to face them when they come.'
And when the spring equinox came, a herald came to Athens,
and stood in the market, and cried, 'O people and King of
Athens, where is your yearly tribute?' Then a great
lamentation arose throughout the city. But Theseus stood up
to the herald, and cried -
'And who are you, dog-faced, who dare demand tribute here?
If I did not reverence your herald's staff, I would brain you
with this club.'
And the herald answered proudly, for he was a grave and
ancient man -
'Fair youth, I am not dog-faced or shameless; but I do my
master's bidding, Minos, the King of hundred-citied Crete,
the wisest of all kings on earth. And you must be surely a
stranger here, or you would know why I come, and that I come
by right.'
'I am a stranger here. Tell me, then, why you come.'
'To fetch the tribute which King AEgeus promised to Minos,
and confirmed his promise with an oath. For Minos conquered
all this land, and Megara which lies to the east, when he
came hither with a great fleet of ships, enraged about the
murder of his son. For his son Androgeos came hither to the
Panathenaic games, and overcame all the Greeks in the sports,
so that the people honoured him as a hero. But when AEgeus
saw his valour, he envied him, and feared lest he should join
the sons of Pallas, and take away the sceptre from him. So
he plotted against his life, and slew him basely, no man
knows how or where. Some say that he waylaid him by Oinoe,
on the road which goes to Thebes; and some that he sent him
against the bull of Marathon, that the beast might kill him.
But AEgeus says that the young men killed him from envy,
because he had conquered them in the games. So Minos came
hither and avenged him, and would not depart till this land
had promised him tribute - seven youths and seven maidens
every year, who go with me in a black-sailed ship, till they
come to hundred-citied Crete.'
And Theseus ground his teeth together, and said, 'Wert thou
not a herald I would kill thee for saying such things of my
father; but I will go to him, and know the truth.' So he
went to his father, and asked him; but he turned away his
head and wept, and said, 'Blood was shed in the land
unjustly, and by blood it is avenged. Break not my heart by
questions; it is enough to endure in silence.'
Then Theseus groaned inwardly, and said, 'I will go myself
with these youths and maidens, and kill Minos upon his royal
And AEgeus shrieked, and cried, 'You shall not go, my son,
the light of my old age, to whom alone I look to rule this
people after I am dead and gone. You shall not go, to die
horribly, as those youths and maidens die; for Minos thrusts
them into a labyrinth, which Daidalos made for him among the
rocks, - Daidalos the renegade, the accursed, the pest of
this his native land. From that labyrinth no one can escape,
entangled in its winding ways, before they meet the Minotaur,
the monster who feeds upon the flesh of men. There he
devours them horribly, and they never see this land again.'
Then Theseus grew red, and his ears tingled, and his heart
beat loud in his bosom. And he stood awhile like a tall
stone pillar on the cliffs above some hero's grave; and at
last he spoke -
'Therefore all the more I will go with them, and slay the
accursed beast. Have I not slain all evil-doers and
monsters, that I might free this land? Where are Periphetes,
and Sinis, and Kerkuon, and Phaia the wild sow? Where are
the fifty sons of Pallas? And this Minotaur shall go the
road which they have gone, and Minos himself, if he dare stay
'But how will you slay him, my son? For you must leave your
club and your armour behind, and be cast to the monster,
defenceless and naked like the rest.'
And Theseus said, 'Are there no stones in that labyrinth; and
have I not fists and teeth? Did I need my club to kill
Kerkuon, the terror of all mortal men?'
Then AEgeus clung to his knees; but he would not hear; and at
last he let him go, weeping bitterly, and said only this one
word -
'Promise me but this, if you return in peace, though that may
hardly be: take down the black sail of the ship (for I shall
watch for it all day upon the cliffs), and hoist instead a
white sail, that I may know afar off that you are safe.'
And Theseus promised, and went out, and to the market-place
where the herald stood, while they drew lots for the youths
and maidens, who were to sail in that doleful crew. And the
people stood wailing and weeping, as the lot fell on this one
and on that; but Theseus strode into the midst, and cried -
'Here is a youth who needs no lot. I myself will be one of
the seven.'
And the herald asked in wonder, 'Fair youth, know you whither
you are going?'
And Theseus said, 'I know. Let us go down to the blacksailed
So they went down to the black-sailed ship, seven maidens,
and seven youths, and Theseus before them all, and the people
following them lamenting. But Theseus whispered to his
companions, 'Have hope, for the monster is not immortal.
Where are Periphetes, and Sinis, and Sciron, and all whom I
have slain?' Then their hearts were comforted a little; but
they wept as they went on board, and the cliffs of Sunium
rang, and all the isles of the AEgean Sea, with the voice of
their lamentation, as they sailed on toward their deaths in
AND at last they came to Crete, and to Cnossus, beneath the
peaks of Ida, and to the palace of Minos the great king, to
whom Zeus himself taught laws. So he was the wisest of all
mortal kings, and conquered all the AEgean isles; and his
ships were as many as the sea-gulls, and his palace like a
marble hill. And he sat among the pillars of the hall, upon
his throne of beaten gold, and around him stood the speaking
statues which Daidalos had made by his skill. For Daidalos
was the most cunning of all Athenians, and he first invented
the plumb-line, and the auger, and glue, and many a tool with
which wood is wrought. And he first set up masts in ships,
and yards, and his son made sails for them: but Perdix his
nephew excelled him; for he first invented the saw and its
teeth, copying it from the back-bone of a fish; and invented,
too, the chisel, and the compasses, and the potter's wheel
which moulds the clay. Therefore Daidalos envied him, and
hurled him headlong from the temple of Athene; but the
Goddess pitied him (for she loves the wise), and changed him
into a partridge, which flits for ever about the hills. And
Daidalos fled to Crete, to Minos, and worked for him many a
year, till he did a shameful deed, at which the sun hid his
face on high.
Then he fled from the anger of Minos, he and Icaros his son
having made themselves wings of feathers, and fixed the
feathers with wax. So they flew over the sea toward Sicily;
but Icaros flew too near the sun; and the wax of his wings
was melted, and he fell into the Icarian Sea. But Daidalos
came safe to Sicily, and there wrought many a wondrous work;
for he made for King Cocalos a reservoir, from which a great
river watered all the land, and a castle and a treasury on a
mountain, which the giants themselves could not have stormed;
and in Selinos he took the steam which comes up from the
fires of AEtna, and made of it a warm bath of vapour, to cure
the pains of mortal men; and he made a honeycomb of gold, in
which the bees came and stored their honey, and in Egypt he
made the forecourt of the temple of Hephaistos in Memphis,
and a statue of himself within it, and many another wondrous
work. And for Minos he made statues which spoke and moved,
and the temple of Britomartis, and the dancing-hall of
Ariadne, which he carved of fair white stone. And in
Sardinia he worked for Iîlaos, and in many a land beside,
wandering up and down for ever with his cunning, unlovely and
accursed by men.
But Theseus stood before Minos, and they looked each other in
the face. And Minos bade take them to prison, and cast them
to the monster one by one, that the death of Androgeos might
be avenged. Then Theseus cried -
'A boon, O Minos! Let me be thrown first to the beast. For
I came hither for that very purpose, of my own will, and not
by lot.'
'Who art thou, then, brave youth?'
'I am the son of him whom of all men thou hatest most, AEgeus
the king of Athens, and I am come here to end this matter.'
And Minos pondered awhile, looking steadfastly at him, and he
thought, 'The lad means to atone by his own death for his
father's sin;' and he answered at last mildly -
'Go back in peace, my son. It is a pity that one so brave
should die.'
But Theseus said, 'I have sworn that I will not go back till
I have seen the monster face to face.'
And at that Minos frowned, and said, 'Then thou shalt see
him; take the madman away.'
And they led Theseus away into the prison, with the other
youths and maids.
But Ariadne, Minos' daughter, saw him, as she came out of her
white stone hall; and she loved him for his courage and his
majesty, and said, 'Shame that such a youth should die!' And
by night she went down to the prison, and told him all her
heart; and said -
'Flee down to your ship at once, for I have bribed the guards
before the door. Flee, you and all your friends, and go back
in peace to Greece; and take me, take me with you! for I dare
not stay after you are gone; for my father will kill me
miserably, if he knows what I have done.'
And Theseus. stood silent awhile; for he was astonished and
confounded by her beauty: but at last he said, 'I cannot go
home in peace, till I have seen and slain this Minotaur, and
avenged the deaths of the youths and maidens, and put an end
to the terrors of my land.'
'And will you kill the Minotaur? How, then?'
'I know not, nor do I care: but he must be strong if he be
too strong for me.'
Then she loved him all the more, and said, 'But when you have
killed him, how will you find your way out of the labyrinth?'
'I know not, neither do I care: but it must be a strange
road, if I do not find it out before I have eaten up the
monster's carcase.'
Then she loved him all the more, and said - 'Fair youth, you
are too bold; but I can help you, weak as I am. I will give
you a sword, and with that perhaps you may slay the beast;
and a clue of thread, and by that, perhaps, you may find your
way out again. Only promise me that if you escape safe you
will take me home with you to Greece; for my father will
surely kill me, if he knows what I have done.'
Then Theseus laughed, and said, 'Am I not safe enough now?'
And he hid the sword in his bosom, and rolled up the clue in
his hand; and then he swore to Ariadne, and fell down before
her, and kissed her hands and her feet; and she wept over him
a long while, and then went away; and Theseus lay down and
slept sweetly.
And when the evening came, the guards came in and led him
away to the labyrinth.
And he went down into that doleful gulf, through winding
paths among the rocks, under caverns, and arches, and
galleries, and over heaps of fallen stone. And he turned on
the left hand, and on the right hand, and went up and down,
till his head was dizzy; but all the while he held his clue.
For when he went in he had fastened it to a stone, and left
it to unroll out of his hand as he went on; and it lasted him
till he met the Minotaur, in a narrow chasm between black
And when he saw him he stopped awhile, for he had never seen
so strange a beast. His body was a man's: but his head was
the head of a bull; and his teeth were the teeth of a lion,
and with them he tore his prey. And when he saw Theseus he
roared, and put his head down, and rushed right at him.
But Theseus stept aside nimbly, and as he passed by, cut him
in the knee; and ere he could turn in the narrow path, he
followed him, and stabbed him again and again from behind,
till the monster fled bellowing wildly; for he never before
had felt a wound. And Theseus followed him at full speed,
holding the clue of thread in his left hand.
Then on, through cavern after cavern, under dark ribs of
sounding stone, and up rough glens and torrent-beds, among
the sunless roots of Ida, and to the edge of the eternal
snow, went they, the hunter and the hunted, while the hills
bellowed to the monster's bellow.
And at last Theseus came up with him, where he lay panting on
a slab among the snow, and caught him by the horns, and
forced his head back, and drove the keen sword through his
Then he turned, and went back limping and weary, feeling his
way down by the clue of thread, till he came to the mouth of
that doleful place and saw waiting for him, whom but Ariadne!
And he whispered 'It is done!' and showed her the sword; and
she laid her finger on her lips, and led him to the prison,
and opened the doors, and set all the prisoners free, while
the guards lay sleeping heavily; for she had silenced them
with wine.
Then they fled to their ship together, and leapt on board,
and hoisted up the sail; and the night lay dark around them,
so that they passed through Minos' ships, and escaped all
safe to Naxos; and there Ariadne became Theseus' wife.
BUT that fair Ariadne never came to Athens with her husband.
Some say that Theseus left her sleeping on Naxos among the
Cyclades; and that Dionusos the wine-king found her, and took
her up into the sky, as you shall see some day in a painting
of old Titian's - one of the most glorious pictures upon
earth. And some say that Dionusos drove away Theseus, and
took Ariadne from him by force: but however that may be, in
his haste or in his grief, Theseus forgot to put up the white
sail. Now AEgeus his father sat and watched on Sunium day
after day, and strained his old eyes across the sea to see
the ship afar. And when he saw the black sail, and not the
white one, he gave up Theseus for dead, and in his grief he
fell into the sea, and died; so it is called the AEgean to
this day.
And now Theseus was king of Athens, and he guarded it and
ruled it well.
For he killed the bull of Marathon, which had killed
Androgeos, Minos' son; and he drove back the famous Amazons,
the warlike women of the East, when they came from Asia, and
conquered all Hellas, and broke into Athens itself. But
Theseus stopped them there, and conquered them, and took
Hippolute their queen to be his wife. Then he went out to
fight against the Lapithai, and Peirithoos their famous king:
but when the two heroes came face to face they loved each
other, and embraced, and became noble friends; so that the
friendship of Theseus and Peirithoos is a proverb even now.
And he gathered (so the Athenians say) all the boroughs of
the land together, and knit them into one strong people,
while before they were all parted and weak: and many another
wise thing he did, so that his people honoured him after he
was dead, for many a hundred years, as the father of their
freedom and their laws. And six hundred years after his
death, in the famous fight at Marathon, men said that they
saw the ghost of Theseus, with his mighty brazen club,
fighting in the van of battle against the invading Persians,
for the country which he loved. And twenty years after
Marathon his bones (they say) were found in Scuros, an isle
beyond the sea; and they were bigger than the bones of mortal
man. So the Athenians brought them home in triumph; and all
the people came out to welcome them; and they built over them
a noble temple, and adorned it with sculptures and paintings
in which we are told all the noble deeds of Theseus, and the
Centaurs, and the Lapithai, and the Amazons; and the ruins of
it are standing still.
But why did they find his bones in Scuros? Why did he not
die in peace at Athens, and sleep by his father's side?
Because after his triumph he grew proud, and broke the laws
of God and man. And one thing worst of all he did, which
brought him to his grave with sorrow. For he went down (they
say beneath the earth) with that bold Peirithoos his friend
to help him to carry off Persephone, the queen of the world
below. But Peirithoos was killed miserably, in the dark
fire-kingdoms under ground; and Theseus was chained to a rock
in everlasting pain. And there he sat for years, till
Heracles the mighty came down to bring up the three-headed
dog who sits at Pluto's gate. So Heracles loosed him from
his chain, and brought him up to the light once more.
But when he came back his people had forgotten him, and
Castor and Polydeuces, the sons of the wondrous Swan, had
invaded his land, and carried off his mother Aithra for a
slave, in revenge for a grievous wrong.
So the fair land of Athens was wasted, and another king ruled
it, who drove out Theseus shamefully, and he fled across the
sea to Scuros. And there he lived in sadness, in the house
of Lucomedes the king, till Lucomedes killed him by
treachery, and there was an end of all his labours.
So it is still, my children, and so it will be to the end.
In those old Greeks, and in us also, all strength and virtue
come from God. But if men grow proud and self-willed, and
misuse God's fair gifts, He lets them go their own ways, and
fall pitifully, that the glory may be His alone. God help us
all, and give us wisdom, and courage to do noble deeds! but
God keep pride from us when we have done them, lest we fall,
and come to shame!
(1) In the Elgin Marbles.
(2) The Danube.
(3) Between the Crimaea and Circassia.
(4) The Sea of Azov.
(5) The Ural Mountains?
(6) The Baltic?
(7) Britain?
(8) The Azores?

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