Old Greek Folk Stories Told Anew
Josephine Preston Peabody
Part 1 out of 2
OLD GREEK FOLK STORIES
JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
Hawthorne, in his _Wonder-Book_ and _Tanglewood Tales_, has told, in a
manner familiar to multitudes of American children and to many more who
once were children, a dozen of the old Greek folk stories. They have
served to render the persons and scenes known as no classical
dictionary would make them known. But Hawthorne chose a few out of the
many myths which are constantly appealing to the reader not only of
ancient but of modern literature. The group contained in the collection
which follows will help to fill out the list; it is designed to serve
as a complement to the _Wonder-Book_ and _Tanglewood Tales_, so that
the references to the stories in those collections are brief and
allusive only. In order to make the entire series more useful, the
index added to this number of the _Riverside Literature Series_ is made
to include also the stories contained in the other numbers of the
series which contain Hawthorne's two books. Thus the index serves as a
tolerably full clue to the best-known characters in Greek mythology.
_Once upon a time, men made friends with the Earth. They listened to
all that woods and waters might say; their eyes were keen to see
wonders in silent country places and in the living creatures that had
not learned to be afraid. To this wise world outside the people took
their joy and sorrow; and because they loved the Earth, she answered
_It was not strange that Pan himself sometimes brought home a
shepherd's stray lamb. It was not strange, if one broke the branches of
a tree, that some fair life within wept at the hurt. Even now, the
Earth is glad with us in springtime, and we grieve for her when the
leaves go. But in the old days there was a closer union, clearer speech
between men and all other creatures, Earth and the stars about her._
_Out of the life that they lived together, there have come down to us
these wonderful tales; and, whether they be told well or ill, they are
too good to be forgotten._
THE JUDGMENT OF MIDAS
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
ICARUS AND DAEDALUS
ADMETUS AND THE SHEPHERD
I. DIANA AND ACTAEON
II. DIANA AND ENDYMION
THE CALYDONIAN HUNT
PYRAMUS AND THISBE
PYGMALION AND GALATEA
CUPID AND PSYCHE
THE TRIAL OF PSYCHE
STORIES OP THE TROJAN WAR
I. THE APPLE OF DISCORD
II. THE ROUSING OF THE HEROES
III. THE WOODEN HORSE
THE HOUSE OF AGAMEMNON
THE ADVENTURES OF ODYSSEUS
I. THE CURSE OF POLYPHEMUS
II. THE WANDERING OF ODYSSEUS
III. THE HOME-COMING
Pan led a merrier life than all the other gods together. He was beloved
alike by shepherds and countrymen, and by the fauns and satyrs, birds
and beasts, of his own kingdom. The care of flocks and herds was his,
and for home he had all the world of woods and waters; he was lord of
everything out-of-doors! Yet he felt the burden of it no more than he
felt the shadow of a leaf when he danced, but spent the days in
laughter and music among his fellows. Like him, the fauns and satyrs
had furry, pointed ears, and little horns that sprouted above their
brows; in fact, they were all enough like wild creatures to seem no
strangers to anything untamed. They slept in the sun, piped in the
shade, and lived on wild grapes and the nuts that every squirrel was
ready to share with them.
The woods were never lonely. A man might wander away into those
solitudes and think himself friendless; but here and there a river
knew, and a tree could tell, a story of its own. Beautiful creatures
they were, that for one reason or another had left off human shape.
Some had been transformed against their will, that they might do no
more harm to their fellow-men. Some were changed through the pity of
the gods, that they might share the simple life of Pan, mindless of
mortal cares, glad in rain and sunshine, and always close to the heart
of the Earth.
There was Dryope, for instance, the lotus-tree. Once a careless, happy
woman, walking among the trees with her sister Iole and her own baby,
she had broken a lotus that held a live nymph hidden, and blood dripped
from the wounded plant. Too late, Dryope saw her heedlessness; and
there her steps had taken root, and there she had said good-by to her
child, and prayed Iole to bring him sometimes to play beneath her
shadow. Poor mother-tree! Perhaps she took comfort with the birds and
gave a kindly shelter to some nest.
There, too, was Echo, once a wood-nymph who angered the goddess Juno
with her waste of words, and was compelled now to wait till others
spoke, and then to say nothing but their last word, like any
mocking-bird. One day she saw and loved the youth Narcissus, who was
searching the woods for his hunting companions. "Come hither!" he
called, and Echo cried "Hither!" eager to speak at last. "Here am
I,--come!" he repeated, looking about for the voice. "I come," said
Echo, and she stood before him. But the youth, angry at such mimicry,
only stared at her and hastened away. From that time she faded to a
voice, and to this day she lurks hidden and silent till you call.
But Narcissus himself was destined to fall in love with a shadow. For,
leaning over the edge of a brook one day, he saw his own beautiful face
looking up at him like a water-nymph. He leaned nearer, and the face
rose towards him, but when he touched the surface it was gone in a
hundred ripples. Day after day he besought the lovely creature to have
pity and to speak; but it mocked him with his own tears and smiles, and
he forgot all else, until he changed into a flower that leans over to
see its image in the pool.
There, too, was the sunflower Clytie, once a maiden who thought nothing
so beautiful as the sun-god Phoebus Apollo. All the day long she used
to look after him as he journeyed across the heavens in his golden
chariot, until she came to be a fair rooted plant that ever turns its
head to watch the sun.
Many like were there. Daphne the laurel, Hyacinthus (once a beautiful
youth, slain by mischance), who lives and renews his bloom as a
flower,--these and a hundred others. The very weeds were friendly....
But there were wise, immortal voices in certain caves and trees. Men
called them Oracles; for here the gods spoke in answer to the prayers
of folk in sorrow or bewilderment. Sometimes they built a temple around
such a befriending voice, and kings would journey far to hear it speak.
As for Pan, only one grief had he, and in the end a glad thing came of
One day, when he was loitering in Arcadia, he saw the beautiful
wood-nymph Syrinx. She was hastening to join Diana at the chase, and
she herself was as swift and lovely as any bright bird that one longs
to capture. So Pan thought, and he hurried after to tell her. But
Syrinx turned, caught one glimpse of the god's shaggy locks and bright
eyes, and the two little horns on his head (he was much like a wild
thing, at a look), and she sprang away down the path in terror.
Begging her to listen, Pan followed; and Syrinx, more and more
frightened by the patter of his hoofs, never heeded him, but went as
fast as light till she came to the brink of the river. Only then she
paused, praying her friends, the water-nymphs, for some way of escape.
The gentle, bewildered creatures, looking up through the water, could
think of but one device.
Just as the god overtook Syrinx and stretched out his arms to her, she
vanished like a mist, and he found himself grasping a cluster of tall
reeds. Poor Pan!
The breeze that sighed whenever he did--and oftener--shook the reeds
and made a sweet little sound,--a sudden music. Pan heard it, half
"Is it your voice, Syrinx?" he said. "Shall we sing together?"
He bound a number of the reeds side by side; to this day, shepherds
know how. He blew across the hollow pipes and they made music!
THE JUDGMENT OF MIDAS
Pan came at length to be such a wonderful piper with his syrinx (for so
he named his flute) that he challenged Apollo to make better music if
he could. Now the sun-god was also the greatest of divine musicians,
and he resolved to punish the vanity of the country-god, and so
consented to the test. For judge they chose the mountain Tmolus, since
no one is so old and wise as the hills. And, since Tmolus could not
leave his home, to him went Pan and Apollo, each with his followers,
oreads and dryads, fauns, satyrs, and centaurs.
Among the worshippers of Pan was a certain Midas, who had a strange
story. Once a king of great wealth, he had chanced to befriend
Dionysus, god of the vine; and when he was asked to choose some good
gift in return, he prayed that everything he touched might be turned
into gold. Dionysus smiled a little when he heard this foolish prayer,
but he granted it. Within two days, King Midas learned the secret of
that smile, and begged the god to take away the gift that was a curse.
He had touched everything that belonged to him, and little joy did he
have of his possessions! His palace was as yellow a home as a dandelion
to a bee, but not half so sweet. Row upon row of stiff golden trees
stood in his garden; they no longer knew a breeze when they heard it.
When he sat down to eat, his feast turned to treasure uneatable. He
learned that a king may starve, and he came to see that gold cannot
replace the live, warm gifts of the Earth. Kindly Dionysus took back
the charm, but from that day King Midas so hated gold that he chose to
live far from luxury, among the woods and fields. Even here he was not
to go free from misadventure.
Tmolus gave the word, and Pan uprose with his syrinx, and blew upon the
reeds a melody so wild and yet so coaxing that the squirrels came, as
if at a call, and the birds hopped down in rows. The trees swayed with
a longing to dance, and the fauns looked at one another and laughed for
joy. To their furry little ears, it was the sweetest music that could
But Tmolus bowed before Apollo, and the sun-god rose with his golden
lyre in his hands. As he moved, light shook out of his radiant hair as
raindrops are showered from the leaves. His trailing robes were purple,
like the clouds that temper the glory of a sunset, so that one may look
upon it. He touched the strings of his lyre, and all things were silent
with joy. He made music, and the woods dreamed. The fauns and satyrs
were quite still; and the wild creatures crouched, blinking, under a
charm of light that they could not understand. To hear such a music
cease was like bidding farewell to father and mother.
With one accord they fell at the feet of Apollo, and Tmolus proclaimed
the victory his. Only one voice disputed that award.
Midas refused to acknowledge Apollo lord of music,--perhaps because the
looks of the god dazzled his eyes unpleasantly, and put him in mind of
his foolish wish years before. For him there was no music in a golden
But Apollo would not leave such dull ears unpunished. At a word from
him they grew long, pointed, furry, and able to turn this way and that
(like a poplar leaf),--a plain warning to musicians. Midas had the ears
of an ass, for every one to see!
For a long time the poor man hid this oddity with such skill that we
might never have heard of it. But one of his servants learned the
secret, and suffered so much from keeping it to himself that he had to
unburden his mind at last. Out into the meadows he went, hollowed a
little place in the turf, whispered the strange news into it quite
softly, and heaped the earth over again. Alas! a bed of reeds sprang up
there before long, and whispered in turn to the grass-blades. Year
after year they grew again, ever gossipping among themselves; and to
this day, with every wind that sets them nodding together, they murmur,
laughing, "_Midas has the ears of an ass: Oh, hush, hush!_"
In the early days of the universe, there was a great struggle for
empire between Zeus and the Titans. The Titans, giant powers of heaven
and earth, were for seizing whatever they wanted, with no more ado than
a whirlwind. Prometheus, the wisest of all their race, long tried to
persuade them that good counsel would avail more than violence; but
they refused to listen. Then, seeing that such rulers would soon turn
heaven and earth into chaos again, Prometheus left them to their own
devices, and went over to Zeus, whom he aided so well that the Titans
were utterly overthrown. Down into Tartarus they went, to live among
the hidden fires of the earth; and there they spent a long term of
bondage, muttering like storm, and shaking the roots of mountains. One
of them was Enceladus, who lay bound under Aetna; and one, Atlas, was
made to stand and bear up the weight of the sky on his giant shoulders.
Zeus was left King of gods and men. Like any young ruler, he was eager
to work great changes with his new power. Among other plans, he
proposed to destroy the race of men then living, and to replace it with
some new order of creatures. Prometheus alone heard this scheme with
indignation. Not only did he plead for the life of man and save it, but
ever after he spent his giant efforts to civilize the race, and to
endow it with a wit near to that of gods.
In the Golden Age, men had lived free of care. They took no heed of
daily wants, since Zeus gave them all things needful, and the earth
brought forth fruitage and harvest without asking the toil of
husbandmen. If mortals were light of heart, however, their minds were
empty of great enterprise. They did not know how to build or plant or
weave; their thoughts never flew far, and they had no wish to cross the
But Prometheus loved earthly folk, and thought that they had been
children long enough. He was a mighty workman, with the whole world for
a workshop; and little by little he taught men knowledge that is
wonderful to know, so that they grew out of their childhood, and began
to take thought for themselves. Some people even say that he knew how
to make men,--as we make shapes out of clay,--and set their five wits
going. However that may be, he was certainly a cunning workman. He
taught men first to build huts out of clay, and to thatch roofs with
straw. He showed them how to make bricks and hew marble. He taught them
numbers and letters, the signs of the seasons, and the coming and going
of the stars. He showed them how to use for their healing the simple
herbs that once had no care save to grow and be fragrant. He taught
them how to till the fields; how to tame the beasts, and set them also
to work; how to build ships that ride the water, and to put wings upon
them that they may go faster, like birds.
With every new gift, men desired more and more. They set out to see
unknown lands, and their ambitions grew with their knowledge. They were
like a race of poor gods gifted with dreams of great glory and the
power to fashion marvellous things; and, though they had no endless
youth to spend, the gods were troubled.
Last of all, Prometheus went up secretly to heaven after the treasure
of the immortals. He lighted a reed at the flame of the sun, and
brought down the holy fire which is dearest to the gods. For with the
aid of fire all things are possible, all arts are perfected.
This was his greatest gift to man, but it was a theft from the immortal
gods, and Zeus would endure no more. He could not take back the secret
of fire; but he had Prometheus chained to a lofty crag in the Caucasus,
where every day a vulture came to prey upon his body, and at night the
wound would heal, so that it was ever to suffer again. It was a bitter
penalty for so noble-hearted a rebel, and as time went by, and Zeus
remembered his bygone services, he would have made peace once more. He
only waited till Prometheus should bow his stubborn spirit, but this
the son of Titans would not do. Haughty as rock beneath his daily
torment, believing that he suffered for the good of mankind, he endured
One secret hardened his spirit. He was sure that the empire of Zeus
must fall some day, since he knew of a danger that threatened it. For
there was a certain beautiful sea-nymph, Thetis, whom Zeus desired for
his wife. (This was before his marriage to Queen Juno.) Prometheus
alone knew that Thetis was destined to have a son who should be far
greater than his father. If she married some mortal, then, the prophecy
was not so wonderful; but if she were to marry the King of gods and
men, and her son should be greater than he, there could be no safety
for the kingdom. This knowledge Prometheus kept securely hidden; but he
ever defied Zeus, and vexed him with dark sayings about a danger that
threatened his sovereignty. No torment could wring the secret from him.
Year after year, lashed by the storms and scorched by the heat of the
sun, he hung in chains and the vulture tore his vitals, while the young
Oceanides wept at his feet, and men sorrowed over the doom of their
At last that earlier enmity between the gods and the Titans came to an
end. The banished rebels were set free from Tartarus, and they
themselves came and besought their brother, Prometheus, to hear the
terms of Zeus. For the King of gods and men had promised to pardon his
enemy, if he would only reveal this one troublous secret.
In all heaven and earth there was but one thing that marred the new
harmony,--this long struggle between Zeus and Prometheus; and the Titan
relented. He spoke the prophecy, warned Zeus not to marry Thetis, and
the two were reconciled. The hero Heracles (himself an earthly son of
Zeus) slew the vulture and set Prometheus free.
But it was still needful that a life should be given to expiate that
ancient sin,--the theft of fire. It happened that Chiron, noblest of
all the Centaurs (who are half horses and half men), was wandering the
world in agony from a wound that he had received by strange mischance.
For, at a certain wedding-feast among the Lapithae of Thessaly, one of
the turbulent Centaurs had attempted to steal away the bride. A fierce
struggle followed, and in the general confusion, Chiron, blameless as
he was, had been wounded by a poisoned arrow. Ever tormented with the
hurt and never to be healed, the immortal Centaur longed for death, and
begged that he might be accepted as an atonement for Prometheus. The
gods heard his prayer and took away his pain and his immortality. He
died like any wearied man, and Zeus set him as a shining archer among
So ended a long feud. From the day of Prometheus, men spent their lives
in ceaseless enterprise, forced to take heed for food and raiment,
since they knew how, and to ply their tasks of art and handicraft, They
had taken unresting toil upon them, but they had a wondrous servant at
their beck and call,--the bright-eyed fire that is the treasure of the
Even with the gifts of Prometheus, men could not rest content. As years
went by, they lost all the innocence of the early world; they grew more
and more covetous and evil-hearted. Not satisfied with the fruits of
the Earth, or with the fair work of their own hands, they delved in the
ground after gold and jewels; and for the sake of treasure nations made
war upon each other and hate sprang up in households. Murder and theft
broke loose and left nothing sacred.
At last Zeus spoke. Calling the gods together, he said: "Ye see what
the Earth has become through the baseness of men. Once they were
deserving of our protection; now they even neglect to ask it. I will
destroy them with my thunderbolts and make a new race."
But the gods withheld him from this impulse. "For," they said, "let not
the Earth, the mother of all, take fire and perish. But seek out some
means to destroy mankind and leave her unhurt."
So Zeus unloosed the waters of the world and there was a great flood.
The streams that had been pent in narrow channels, like wild steeds
bound to the ploughshare, broke away with exultation; the springs
poured down from the mountains, and the air was blind with rain.
Valleys and uplands were covered; strange countries were joined in one
great sea; and where the highest trees had towered, only a little
greenery pricked through the water, as weeds show in a brook.
Men and women perished with the flocks and herds. Wild beasts from the
forest floated away on the current with the poor sheep. Birds, left
homeless, circled and flew far and near seeking some place of rest,
and, finding none, they fell from weariness and died with human folk,
that had no wings.
Then for the first time the sea-creatures--nymphs and
dolphins--ventured far from their homes, up, up through the swollen
waters, among places that they had never seen before,--forests whose
like they had not dreamed, towns and deluged farmsteads. They went in
and out of drowned palaces, and wondered at the strange ways of men.
And in and out the bright fish darted, too, without a fear. Wonderful
man was no more. His hearth was empty; and fire, his servant, was dead
One mountain alone stood high above this ruin. It was Parnassus, sacred
to the gods; and here one man and woman had found refuge. Strangely
enough, this husband and wife were of the race of the Titans,--Deucalion,
a son of Prometheus, and Pyrrha, a child of Epimetheus, his brother; and
these alone had lived pure and true of heart.
Warned by Prometheus of the fate in store for the Earth, they had put
off from their home in a little boat, and had made the crest of
Parnassus their safe harbor.
The gods looked down on these two lonely creatures, and, beholding all
their past lives clear and just, suffered them to live on. Zeus bade
the rain cease and the floods withdraw.
Once more the rivers sought their wonted channels, and the sea-gods and
the nymphs wandered home reluctantly with the sinking seas. The sun
came out; and they hastened more eagerly to find cool depths. Little by
little the forest trees rose from the shallows as if they were growing
anew. At last the surface of the world lay clear to see, but sodden and
deserted, the fair fields covered with ooze, the houses rank with moss,
the temples cold and lightless.
Deucalion and Pyrrha saw the bright waste of water sink and grow dim
and the hills emerge, and the earth show green once more. But even
their thankfulness of heart could not make them merry.
"Are we to live on this great earth all alone?" they said. "Ah! if we
had but the wisdom and cunning of our fathers, we might make a new race
of men to bear us company. But now what remains to us? We have only
each other for all our kindred."
"Take heart, dear wife," said Deucalion at length, "and let us pray to
the gods in yonder temple."
They went thither hand in hand. It touched their hearts to see the
sacred steps soiled with the water-weeds,--the altar without fire; but
they entered reverently, and besought the Oracle to help them.
"Go forth," answered the spirit of the place, "with your faces veiled
and your robes ungirt; and cast behind you, as ye go, the bones of your
Deucalion and Pyrrha heard with amazement. The strange word was
terrible to them.
"We may never dare do this," whispered Pyrrha. "It would be impious to
strew our mother's bones along the way."
In sadness and wonder they went out together and took thought, a little
comforted by the firmness of the dry earth beneath their feet. Suddenly
Deucalion pointed to the ground.
"Behold the Earth, our mother!" said he. "Surely it was this that the
Oracle meant. And what should her bones be but the rocks that are a
foundation for the clay, and the pebbles that strew the path?"
Uncertain, but with lighter hearts, they veiled their faces, ungirt
their garments, and, gathering each an armful of the stones, flung them
behind, as the Oracle had bidden.
And, as they walked, every stone that Deucalion flung became a man; and
every one that Pyrrha threw sprang up a woman. And the hearts of these
two were filled with joy and welcome.
Down from the holy mountain they went, all those new creatures, ready
to make them homes and to go about human work. For they were strong to
endure, fresh and hardy of spirit, as men and women should be who are
true children of our Mother Earth.
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE.
When gods and shepherds piped and the stars sang, that was the day of
musicians! But the triumph of Phoebus Apollo himself was not so
wonderful as the triumph of a mortal man who lived on earth, though
some say that he came of divine lineage. This was Orpheus, that best of
harpers, who went with the Grecian heroes of the great ship Argo in
search of the Golden Fleece.
After his return from the quest, he won Eurydice for his wife, and they
were as happy as people can be who love each other and every one else.
The very wild beasts loved them, and the trees clustered about their
home as if they were watered with music. But even the gods themselves
were not always free from sorrow, and one day misfortune came upon that
harper Orpheus whom all men loved to honor.
Eurydice, his lovely wife, as she was wandering with the nymphs,
unwittingly trod upon a serpent in the grass. Surely, if Orpheus had
been with her, playing upon his lyre, no creature could have harmed
her. But Orpheus came too late. She died of the sting, and was lost to
him in the Underworld.
For days he wandered from his home, singing the story of his loss and
his despair to the helpless passers-by. His grief moved the very stones
in the wilderness, and roused a dumb distress in the hearts of savage
beasts. Even the gods on Mount Olympus gave ear, but they held no power
over the darkness of Hades.
Wherever Orpheus wandered with his lyre, no one had the will to forbid
him entrance; and at length he found unguarded that very cave that
leads to the Underworld where Pluto rules the spirits of the dead. He
went down without fear. The fire in his living heart found him a way
through the gloom of that place. He crossed the Styx, the black river
that the gods name as their most sacred oath. Charon, the harsh old
ferryman who takes the Shades across, forgot to ask of him the coin
that every soul must pay. For Orpheus sang. There in the Underworld the
song of Apollo would not have moved the poor ghosts so much. It would
have amazed them, like a star far off that no one understands. But here
was a human singer, and he sang of things that grow in every human
heart, youth and love and death, the sweetness of the Earth, and the
bitterness of losing aught that is dear to us.
Now the dead, when they go to the Underworld, drink of the pool of
Lethe; and forgetfulness of all that has passed comes upon them like a
sleep, and they lose their longing for the world, they lose their
memory of pain, and live content with that cool twilight. But not the
pool of Lethe itself could withstand the song of Orpheus; and in the
hearts of the Shades all the old dreams awoke wondering. They
remembered once more the life of men on Earth, the glory of the sun and
moon, the sweetness of new grass, the warmth of their homes, all the
old joy and grief that they had known. And they wept.
Even the Furies were moved to pity. Those, too, who were suffering
punishment for evil deeds ceased to be tormented for themselves, and
grieved only for the innocent Orpheus who had lost Eurydice. Sisyphus,
that fraudulent king (who is doomed to roll a monstrous boulder uphill
forever), stopped to listen. The daughters of Danaus left off their
task of drawing water in a sieve. Tantalus forgot hunger and thirst,
though before his eyes hung magical fruits that were wont to vanish out
of his grasp, and just beyond reach bubbled the water that was a
torment to his ears; he did not hear it while Orpheus sang.
So, among a crowd of eager ghosts, Orpheus came, singing with all his
heart, before the king and queen of Hades. And the queen Proserpina
wept as she listened and grew homesick, remembering the fields of Enna
and the growing of the wheat, and her own beautiful mother, Demeter.
Then Pluto gave way.
They called Eurydice and she came, like a young guest unused to the
darkness of the Underworld. She was to return with Orpheus, but on one
condition. If he turned to look at her once before they reached the
upper air, he must lose her again and go back to the world alone.
Rapt with joy, the happy Orpheus hastened on the way, thinking only of
Eurydice, who was following him. Past Lethe, across the Styx they went,
he and his lovely wife, still silent as a Shade. But the place was full
of gloom, the silence weighed upon him, he had not seen her for so
long; her footsteps made no sound; and he could hardly believe the
miracle, for Pluto seldom relents. When the first gleam of upper
daylight broke through the cleft to the dismal world, he forgot all,
save that he must know if she still followed. He turned to see her
face, and the promise was broken!
She smiled at him forgivingly, but it was too late. He stretched out
his arms to take her, but she faded from them, as the bright snow, that
none may keep, melts in our very hands. A murmur of farewell came to
his ears,--no more. She was gone.
He would have followed, but Charon, now on guard, drove him back. Seven
days he lingered there between the worlds of life and death, but after
the broken promise, Hades would not listen to his song. Back to the
Earth he wandered, though it was sweet to him no longer. He died young,
singing to the last, and round about the place where his body rested,
nightingales nested in the trees. His lyre was set among the stars; and
he himself went down to join Eurydice, unforbidden.
Those two had no need of Lethe, for their life on earth had been wholly
fair, and now that they are together they no longer own a sorrow.
ICARUS AND DAEDALUS.
Among all those mortals who grew so wise that they learned the secrets
of the gods, none was more cunning than Daedalus.
He once built, for King Minos of Crete, a wonderful Labyrinth of
winding ways so cunningly tangled up and twisted around that, once
inside, you could never find your way out again without a magic clue.
But the king's favor veered with the wind, and one day he had his
master architect imprisoned in a tower. Daedalus managed to escape from
his cell; but it seemed impossible to leave the island, since every
ship that came or went was well guarded by order of the king.
At length, watching the sea-gulls in the air,--the only creatures that
were sure of liberty,--he thought of a plan for himself and his young
son Icarus, who was captive with him.
Little by little, he gathered a store of feathers great and small. He
fastened these together with thread, moulded them in with wax, and so
fashioned two great wings like those of a bird. When they were done,
Daedalus fitted them to his own shoulders, and after one or two
efforts, he found that by waving his arms he could winnow the air and
cleave it, as a swimmer does the sea. He held himself aloft, wavered
this way and that with the wind, and at last, like a great fledgling,
he learned to fly.
Without delay, he fell to work on a pair of wings for the boy Icarus,
and taught him carefully how to use them, bidding him beware of rash
adventures among the stars. "Remember," said the father, "never to fly
very low or very high, for the fogs about the earth would weigh you
down, but the blaze of the sun will surely melt your feathers apart if
you go too near."
For Icarus, these cautions went in at one ear and out by the other. Who
could remember to be careful when he was to fly for the first time? Are
birds careful? Not they! And not an idea remained in the boy's head but
the one joy of escape.
The day came, and the fair wind that was to set them free. The father
bird put on his wings, and, while the light urged them to be gone, he
waited to see that all was well with Icarus, for the two could not fly
hand in hand. Up they rose, the boy after his father. The hateful
ground of Crete sank beneath them; and the country folk, who caught a
glimpse of them when they were high above the tree-tops, took it for a
vision of the gods,--Apollo, perhaps, with Cupid after him.
At first there was a terror in the joy. The wide vacancy of the air
dazed them,--a glance downward made their brains reel. But when a great
wind filled their wings, and Icarus felt himself sustained, like a
halcyon-bird in the hollow of a wave, like a child uplifted by his
mother, he forgot everything in the world but joy. He forgot Crete and
the other islands that he had passed over: he saw but vaguely that
winged thing in the distance before him that was his father Daedalus.
He longed for one draught of flight to quench the thirst of his
captivity: he stretched out his arms to the sky and made towards the
Alas for him! Warmer and warmer grew the air. Those arms, that had
seemed to uphold him, relaxed. His wings wavered, drooped. He fluttered
his young hands vainly,--he was falling,--and in that terror he
remembered. The heat of the sun had melted the wax from his wings; the
feathers were falling, one by one, like snowflakes; and there was none
He fell like a leaf tossed down the wind, down, down, with one cry that
overtook Daedalus far away. When he returned, and sought high and low
for the poor boy, he saw nothing but the bird-like feathers afloat on
the water, and he knew that Icarus was drowned.
The nearest island he named Icaria, in memory of the child; but he, in
heavy grief, went to the temple of Apollo in Sicily, and there hung up
his wings as an offering. Never again did he attempt to fly.
Once upon a time, the reckless whim of a lad came near to destroying
the Earth and robbing the spheres of their wits.
There were two playmates, said to be of heavenly parentage. One was
Epaphus, who claimed Zeus as a father; and one was Phaethon, the
earthly child of Phoebus Apollo (or Helios, as some name the sun-god).
One day they were boasting together, each of his own father, and
Epaphus, angry at the other's fine story, dared him to go prove his
kinship with the Sun.
Full of rage and humiliation, Phaethon went to his mother, Clymene,
where she sat with his young sisters, the Heliades.
"It is true, my child," she said, "I swear it in the light of yonder
Sun. If you have any doubt, go to the land whence he rises at morning
and ask of him any gift you will; he is your father, and he cannot
As soon as might be, Phaethon set out for the country of sunrise. He
journeyed by day and by night far into the east, till he came to the
palace of the Sun. It towered high as the clouds, glorious with gold
and all manner of gems that looked like frozen fire, if that might be.
The mighty walls were wrought with images of earth and sea and sky.
Vulcan, the smith of the gods, had made them in his workshop (for
Mount-Aetna is one of his forges, and he has the central fires of the
earth to help him fashion gold and iron, as men do glass). On the doors
blazed the twelve signs of the Zodiac, in silver that shone like snow
in the sunlight. Phaethon was dazzled with the sight, but when he
entered the palace hall he could hardly bear the radiance.
In one glimpse through his half-shut eyes, he beheld a glorious being,
none other than Phoebus himself, seated upon a throne. He was clothed
in purple raiment, and round his head there shone a blinding light,
that enveloped even his courtiers upon the right and upon the
left,--the Seasons with their emblems, Day, Month, Year, and the
beautiful young Hours in a row. In one glance of those all-seeing eyes,
the sun-god knew his child; but in order to try him he asked the boy
"O my father," stammered Phaethon, "if you are my father indeed," and
then he took courage; for the god came down from his throne, put off
the glorious halo that hurt mortal eyes, and embraced him tenderly.
"Indeed, thou art my son," said he. "Ask any gift of me and it shall be
thine; I call the Styx to witness."
"Ah!" cried Phaethon rapturously. "Let me drive thy chariot for one
For an instant the Sun's looks clouded. "Choose again, my child," said
he. "Thou art only a mortal, and this task is mine alone of all the
gods. Not Zeus himself dare drive the chariot of the Sun. The way is
full of terrors, both for the horses and for all the stars along the
roadside, and for the Earth, who has all blessings from me. Listen, and
choose again." And therewith he warned Phaethon of all the dangers that
beset the way,--the great steep that the steeds must climb, the numbing
dizziness of the height, the fierce constellations that breathe out
fire, and that descent in the west where the Sun seems to go headlong.
But these counsels only made the reckless boy more eager to win honor
of such a high enterprise.
"I will take care; only let me go," he begged.
Now Phoebus' had sworn by the black river Styx, an oath that none of
the gods dare break, and he was forced to keep his promise.
Already Aurora, goddess of dawn, had thrown open the gates of the east
and the stars were beginning to wane. The Hours came forth to harness
the four horses, and Phaethon looked with exultation at the splendid
creatures, whose lord he was for a day. Wild, immortal steeds they
were, fed with ambrosia, untamed as the winds; their very pet names
signified flame, and all that flame can do,--Pyrois, Eoues, Aethon,
As the lad stood by, watching, Phoebus anointed his face with a philter
that should make him strong to endure the terrible heat and light, then
set the halo upon his head, with a last word of counsel.
"Follow the road," said he, "and never turn aside. Go not too high or
too low, for the sake of heavens and earth; else men and gods will
suffer. The Fates alone know whether evil is to come of this. Yet if
your heart fails you, as I hope, abide here and I will make the
journey, as I am wont to do."
But Phaethon held to his choice and bade his father farewell. He took
his place in the chariot, gathered up the reins, and the horses sprang
away, eager for the road.
As they went, they bent their splendid necks to see the meaning of the
strange hand upon the reins,--the slender weight in the chariot. They
turned their wild eyes upon Phaethon, to his secret foreboding, and
neighed one to another. This was no master-charioteer, but a mere lad,
a feather riding the wind. It was holiday for the horses of the Sun,
and away they went.
Grasping the reins that dragged him after, like an enemy, Phaethon
looked down from the fearful ascent and saw the Earth far beneath him,
dim and fair. He was blind with dizziness and bewilderment. His hold
slackened and the horses redoubled their speed, wild with new liberty.
They left the old tracks. Before he knew where he was, they had
startled the constellations and well-nigh grazed the Serpent, so that
it woke from its torpor and hissed.
The steeds took fright. This way and that they went, terrified by the
monsters they had never encountered before, shaking out of their silver
quiet the cool stars towards the north, then fleeing as far to the
south among new wonders. The heavens were full of terror.
Up, far above the clouds, they went, and down again, towards the
defenceless Earth, that could not flee from the chariot of the Sun.
Great rivers hid themselves in the ground, and mountains were consumed.
Harvests perished like a moth that is singed in a candle-flame.
In vain did Phaethon call to the horses and pull upon the reins. As in
a hideous dream, he saw his own Earth, his beautiful home and the home
of all men, his kindred, parched by the fires of this mad chariot, and
blackening beneath him. The ground cracked open and the sea shrank.
Heedless water-nymphs, who had lingered in the shallows, were left
gasping like bright fishes. The dryads shrank, and tried to cover
themselves from the scorching heat. The poor Earth lifted her withered
face in a last prayer to Zeus to save them if he might.
Then Zeus, calling all the gods to witness that there was no other
means of safety, hurled his thunderbolt; and Phaethon knew no more.
His body fell through the heavens, aflame like a shooting-star; and the
horses of the Sun dashed homeward with the empty chariot.
Poor Clymene grieved sore over the boy's death; but the young Heliades,
daughters of the Sun, refused all comfort. Day and night they wept
together about their brother's grave by the river, until the gods took
pity and changed them all into poplar-trees. And ever after that they
wept sweet tears of amber, clear as sunlight.
There are so many tales of the vanity of kings and queens that the half
of them cannot be told.
There was Cassiopaeia, queen of Aethiopia, who boasted that her beauty
outshone the beauty of all the sea-nymphs, so that in anger they sent a
horrible sea-serpent to ravage the coast. The king prayed of an Oracle
to know how the monster might be appeased, and learned that he must
offer up his own daughter, Andromeda. The maiden was therefore chained
to a rock by the sea-side, and left to her fate. But who should come to
rescue her but a certain young hero, Perseus, who was hastening
homeward after a perilous adventure with the snaky-haired Gorgons.
Filled with pity at the story of Andromeda, he waited for the dragon,
met and slew him, and set the maiden free. As for the boastful queen,
the gods forgave her, and at her death she was set among the stars.
That story ended well.
But there was once a queen of Thebes, Niobe, fortunate above all women,
and yet arrogant in the face of the gods. Very beautiful she was, and
nobly born, but above all things she boasted of her children, for she
had seven sons and seven daughters.
Now there came the day when the people were wont to celebrate the feast
of Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana; and Niobe, as she stood looking
upon the worshippers on their way to the temple, was filled with
"Why do you worship Latona before me?" she cried out. "What does she
possess that I have not in greater abundance? She has but two children,
while I have seven sons and as many daughters. Nay, if she robbed me
out of envy, I should still be rich. Go back to your houses; you have
not eyes to know the rightful goddess."
Such impiety was enough to frighten any one, and her subjects returned
to their daily work, awestruck and silent.
But Apollo and Diana were filled with wrath at this insult to their
divine mother. Not only was she a great goddess and a power in the
heavens, but during her life on earth she had suffered many hardships
for their sake. The serpent Python had been sent to torment her; and,
driven from land to land, under an evil spell, beset with dangers, she
had found no resting-place but the island of Delos, held sacred ever
after to her and her children. Once she had even been refused water by
some churlish peasants, who could not believe in a goddess if she
appeared in humble guise and travel-worn. But these men were all
changed into frogs.
It needed no word from Latona herself to rouse her children to
vengeance. Swift as a thought, the two immortal archers, brother and
sister, stood in Thebes, upon the towers of the citadel. Near by, the
youth were pursuing their sports, while the feast of Latona went
neglected. The sons of Queen Niobe were there, and against them Apollo
bent his golden bow. An arrow crossed the air like a sunbeam, and
without a word the eldest prince fell from his horse. One by one his
brothers died by the same hand, so swiftly that they knew not what had
befallen them, till all the sons of the royal house lay slain. Only the
people of Thebes, stricken with terror, bore the news to Queen Niobe,
where she sat with her seven daughters. She would not believe in such a
"Savage Latona," she cried, lifting her arms against the heavens,
"never think that you have conquered. I am still the greater."
At that moment one of her daughters sank beside her. Diana had sped an
arrow from her bow that is like the crescent moon. Without a cry, nay,
even as they murmured words of comfort, the sisters died, one by one.
It was all as swift and soundless as snowfall.
Only the guilty mother was left, transfixed with grief. Tears flowed
from her eyes, but she spoke not a word, her heart never softened; and
at last she turned to stone, and the tears flowed down her cold face
ADMETUS AND THE SHEPHERD.
Apollo did not live always free of care, though he was the most
glorious of the gods. One day, in anger with the Cyclopes who work at
the forges of Vulcan, he sent his arrows after them, to the wrath of
all the gods, but especially of Zeus. (For the Cyclopes always make his
thunderbolts, and make them well.) Even the divine archer could not go
unpunished, and as a penalty he was sent to serve some mortal for a
year. Some say one year and some say nine, but in those days time
passed quickly; and as for the gods, they took no heed of it.
Now there was a certain king in Thessaly, Admetus by name, and there
came to him one day a stranger, who asked leave to serve about the
palace. None knew his name, but he was very comely, and moreover, when
they questioned him he said that he had come from a position of high
trust. So without further delay they made him chief shepherd of the
Every day thereafter, he drove his sheep to the banks of the river
Amphrysus, and there he sat to watch them browse. The country-folk that
passed drew near to wonder at him, without daring to ask questions. He
seemed to have a knowledge of leech-craft, and knew how to cure the
ills of any wayfarer with any weed that grew near by; and he would pipe
for hours in the sun. A simple-spoken man he was, yet he seemed to know
much more than he would say, and he smiled with a kindly mirth when the
people wished him sunny weather.
Indeed, as days went by, it seemed as if summer had come to stay, and,
like the shepherd, found the place friendly. Nowhere else were the
flocks so white and fair to see, like clouds loitering along a bright
sky; and sometimes, when he chose, their keeper sang to them. Then the
grasshoppers drew near and the swans sailed close to the river banks,
and the country-men gathered about to hear wonderful tales of the
slaying of the monster Python, and of a king with ass's ears, and of a
lovely maiden, Daphne, who grew into a laurel-tree. In time the rumor
of these things drew the king himself to listen; and Admetus, who had
been to see the world in the ship Argo, knew at once that this was no
earthly shepherd, but a god. From that day, like a true king, he
treated his guest with reverence and friendliness, asking no questions;
and the god was well pleased.
Now it came to pass that Admetus fell in love with a beautiful maiden,
Alcestis, and, because of the strange condition that her father Pelias
had laid upon all suitors, he was heavy-hearted. Only that man who
should come to woo her in a chariot drawn by a wild boar and a lion
might ever marry Alcestis; and this task was enough to puzzle even a
As for the shepherd, when he heard of it he rose, one fine morning, and
left the sheep and went his way,--no one knew whither. If the sun had
gone out, the people could not have been more dismayed. The king
himself went, late in the day, to walk by the river Amphrysus, and
wonder if his gracious keeper of the flocks had deserted him in a time
of need. But at that very moment, whom should he see returning from the
woods but the shepherd, glorious as sunset, and leading side by side a
lion and a boar, as gentle as two sheep! The very next morning, with
joy and gratitude, Admetus set out in his chariot for the kingdom of
Pelias, and there he wooed and won Alcestis, the most loving wife that
was ever heard of.
It was well for Admetus that he came home with such a comrade, for the
year was at an end, and he was to lose his shepherd. The strange man
came to take leave of the king and queen whom he had befriended.
"Blessed be your flocks, Admetus," he said, smiling. "They shall
prosper even though I leave them. And, because you can discern the gods
that come to you in the guise of wayfarers, happiness shall never go
far from your home, but ever return to be your guest. No man may live
on earth forever, but this one gift have I obtained for you. When your
last hour draws near, if any one shall be willing to meet it in your
stead, he shall die, and you shall live on, more than the mortal length
of days. Such kings deserve long life."
So ended the happy year when Apollo tended sheep.
For many years the remembrance of Apollo's service kept Thessaly full
of sunlight. Where a god could work, the people took heart to work
also. Flocks and herds throve, travellers were befriended, and men were
happy under the rule of a happy king and queen.
But one day Admetus fell ill, and he grew weaker and weaker until he
lay at death's door. Then, when no remedy was found to help him and the
hope of the people was failing, they remembered the promise of the
Fates to spare the king if some one else would die in his stead. This
seemed a simple matter for one whose wishes are law, and whose life is
needed by all his fellow-men. But, strange to say, the substitute did
not come forward at once.
Among the king's most faithful friends, many were afraid to die. Men
said that they would gladly give their lives in battle, but that they
could not die in bed at home like helpless old women. The wealthy had
too much to live for; and the poor, who possessed nothing but life,
could not bear to give up that. Even the aged parents of Admetus shrunk
from the thought of losing the few years that remained to them, and
thought it impious that any one should name such a sacrifice.
All this time, the three Fates were waiting to cut the thread of life,
and they could not wait longer.
Then, seeing that even the old and wretched clung to their gift of
life, who should offer herself but the young and lovely queen,
Alcestis? Sorrowful but resolute, she determined to be the victim, and
made ready to die for the sake of her husband.
She took leave of her children and commended them to the care of
Admetus. All his pleading could not change the decree of the Fates.
Alcestis prepared for death as for some consecration. She bathed and
anointed her body, and, as a mortal illness seized her, she lay down to
die, robed in fair raiment, and bade her kindred farewell. The
household was filled with mourning, but it was too late. She waned
before the eyes of the king, like daylight that must be gone.
At this grievous moment Heracles, mightiest of all men, who was
journeying on his way to new adventures, begged admittance to the
palace, and inquired the cause of such grief in that hospitable place.
He was told of the misfortune that had befallen Admetus, and, struck
with pity, he resolved to try what his strength might do for this man
who had been a friend of gods.
Already Death had come out of Hades for Alcestis, and as Heracles stood
at the door of her chamber he saw that awful form leading away the
lovely spirit of the queen, for the breath had just departed from her
body. Then the might that he had from his divine father Zeus stood by
the hero. He seized Death in his giant arms and wrestled for victory.
Now Death is a visitor that comes and goes. He may not tarry in the
upper world; its air is not for him; and at length, feeling his power
give way, he loosed his grasp of the queen, and, weak with the
struggle, made escape to his native darkness of Hades.
In the chamber where the royal kindred were weeping, the body of
Alcestis lay, fair to see, and once more the breath stirred in her
heart, like a waking bird. Back to its home came her lovely spirit, and
for long years after she lived happily with her husband, King Admetus.
I. DIANA AND ACTAEON.
Like the Sun-god, whom men dreaded as the divine archer and loved as
the divine singer, Diana, his sister, had two natures, as different as
day from night.
On earth she delighted in the wild life of the chase, keeping holiday
among the dryads, and hunting with all those nymphs that loved the
boyish pastime. She and her maidens shunned the fellowship of men and
would not hear of marriage, for they disdained all household arts; and
there are countless tales of their cruelty to suitors.
Syrinx and Atalanta were of their company, and Arethusa, who was
changed into a fountain and ever pursued by Alpheus the river-god, till
at last the two were united. There was Daphne, too, who disdained the
love of Apollo himself, and would never listen to a word of his suit,
but fled like Syrinx, and prayed like Syrinx for escape; but Daphne was
changed into a fair laurel-tree, held sacred by Apollo forever after.
All these maidens were as untamed and free of heart as the wild
creatures they loved to hunt, and whoever molested them did so at his
peril. None dared trespass in the home of Diana and her nymphs, not
even the riotous fauns and satyrs who were heedless enough to go
a-swimming in the river Styx, if they had cared to venture near such a
dismal place. But the maiden goddess laid a spell upon their unruly
wits, even as the moon controls the tides of the sea. Her precincts
were holy. There was one man, however, whose ill-timed curiosity
brought heavy punishment upon him. This was Actaeon, a grandson of the
great king Cadmus.
Wearied with hunting, one noon, he left his comrades and idled through
the forest, perhaps to spy upon those woodland deities of whom he had
heard. Chance brought him to the very grove where Diana and her nymphs
were wont to bathe. He followed the bright thread of the brook, never
turning aside, though mortal reverence should have warned him that the
place was for gods. The air was wondrous clear and sweet; a throng of
fair trees drooped their branches in the way, and from a sheltered
grotto beyond fell a mingled sound of laughter and running waters. But
Actaeon would not turn back. Roughly pushing aside the laurel branches
that hid the entrance of the cave, he looked in, startling Diana and
her maidens. In an instant a splash of water shut his eyes, and the
goddess, reading his churlish thought, said: "Go now, if thou wilt, and
boast of this intrusion."
He turned to go, but a stupid bewilderment had fallen upon him. He
looked back to speak, and could not. He put his hand to his head, and
felt antlers branching above his forehead. Down he fell on hands and
feet; these likewise changed. The poor offender! Crouching by the brook
that he had followed, he looked in, and saw nothing but the image of a
stag, bending to drink, as only that morning he had seen the creature
they had come out to kill. With an impulse of terror he fled away,
faster than he had ever run before, crashing through bush and bracken,
the noise of his own flight ever after him like an enemy.
Suddenly he heard the blast of a horn close by, then the baying of
hounds. His comrades, who had rested and were ready for the chase, made
after him. This time he was their prey. He tried to call and could not.
His antlers caught in the branches, his breath came with pain, and the
dogs were upon him,--his own dogs!
With all the eagerness that he had often praised in them, they fell
upon him, knowing not their own master. And so he perished, hunter and
Only the goddess of the chase could have devised so terrible a revenge.
II. DIANA AND ENDYMION.
But with the daylight, all of Diana's joy in the wild life of the woods
seemed to fade. By night, as goddess of the moon, she watched over the
sleep of the earth,--measured the tides of the ocean, and went across
the wide path of heaven, slow and fair to see. And although she bore
her emblem of the bow, like a silver crescent, she was never terrible,
but beneficent and lovely.
Indeed, there was once a young shepherd, Endymion, who used to lead his
flocks high up the slopes of Mount Latmos to the purer air; and there,
while the sheep browsed, he spent his days and nights dreaming on the
solitary uplands. He was a beautiful youth and very lonely. Looking
down one night from the heavens near by and as lonely as he, Diana saw
him, and her heart was moved to tenderness for his weariness and
solitude. She cast a spell of sleep upon him, with eternal youth, white
and untroubled as moonlight. And there, night after night, she watched
his sheep for him, like any peasant maid who wanders slowly through the
pastures after the flocks, spinning white flax from her distaff as she
goes, alone and quite content.
Endymion dreamed such beautiful dreams as come only to happy poets.
Even when he woke, life held no care for him, but he seemed to walk in
a light that was for him alone. And all this time, just as the Sun-god
watched over the sheep of King Admetus, Diana kept the flocks of
Endymion, but it was for love's sake.
THE CALYDONIAN HUNT.
In that day of the chase, there was one enterprise renowned above all
others,--the great hunt of Calydon. Thither, in search of high
adventure, went all the heroes of Greece, just as they joined the quest
of the Golden Fleece, and, in a later day, went to the rescue of Fair
Helen in the Trojan War.
For Oeneus, king of Calydon, had neglected the temples of Diana, and
she had sent a monstrous boar to lay waste all the fields and farms in
the country. The people had never seen so terrible a beast, and they
soon wished that they had never offended the goddess who keeps the
woods clear of such monsters. No mortal device availed against it, and,
after a hundred disasters, Prince Meleager, the son of Oeneus, summoned
the heroes to join him in this perilous hunt.
The prince had a strange story. Soon after his birth, Althea, the
queen, had seen in a vision the three Fates spinning the thread of life
and crooning over their work. For Clotho spins the thread, Lachesis
draws it out, and Atropos waits to cut it off with her glittering
shears. So the queen beheld them, and heard them foretell that her baby
should live no longer than a brand that was then burning on the hearth.
Horror inspired the mother. Quick as a thought she seized the brand,
put out the flame, and laid it by in some safe and secret place where
no harm could touch it. So the child gathered strength and grew up to
He was a mighty hunter, and the other heroes came gladly to bear him
company. Many of the Argonauts were there,--Jason, Theseus, Nestor,
even Atalanta, that valorous maiden who had joined the rowers of the
Argo, a beloved charge of Diana. Boyish in her boldness for wild
sports, she was fleet of foot and very lovely to behold, altogether a
bride for a princely hunter. So Meleager thought, the moment that he
saw her face.
Together they all set out for the lair of the boar, the heroes and the
men of Calydon,--Meleager and his two uncles. Phlexippus and Toxeus,
brothers of Queen Althea.
All was ready. Nets were stretched from tree to tree, and the dogs were
let loose. The heroes lay in wait. Suddenly the monster, startled by
the shouts of the company, rose hideous and unwieldy from his
hiding-place and rushed upon them. What were hounds to such as he, or
nets spread for a snare? Jason's spear missed and fell. Nestor only
saved his life by climbing the nearest tree. Several of the heroes were
gored by the tusks of the boar before they could make their escape. In
the midst of this horrible tumult, Atalanta sped an arrow at the
creature and wounded him. Meleager saw it with joy, and called upon the
others to follow. One by one they tried without success, but he, after
one false thrust, drove his spear into the side of the monster and laid
The heroes crowded to do him honor, but he turned to Atalanta, who had
first wounded the boar, and awarded her the shaggy hide that was her
fair-won trophy. This was too much for the warriors, who had been
outdone by a girl. Phlexippus and Toxeus were so enraged that they
snatched the prize from the maiden, churlishly, and denied her victory.
Maddened at this, Meleager forgot everything but the insult offered to
Atalanta, and he fell upon the two men and stabbed them. Only when they
lay dead before him did he remember that they were his own kinsmen.
In the mean time news had flown to the city that the pest was slain,
and Queen Althea was on her way to the temple to give thanks for their
deliverance. At the very gates she came upon a multitude of men
surrounding a litter, and drawing near she saw the bodies of her two
brothers. Swift upon this horror came a greater shock,--the name of the
murderer, her own son Meleager. All pity left the mother's heart when
she heard it; she thought only of revenge. In a lightning-flash she
remembered that brand which she had plucked from the fire when her son
was but a new-born babe,--the brand that was to last with his life.
She ordered a pyre to be built and lighted, and straightway she went to
that hiding-place where she had kept the precious thing all these,
years, and brought it back and stood before the flames. At the last
moment her soul was torn between love for her son and grief for her
murdered brothers. She stretched forth the brand, and plucked it again
from the tongues of fire. She cried out in despair that the honor of
her house should require such an expiation. But, covering her eyes, she
flung the brand into the flames.
At the same time, far away with his companions, and unwitting of these
things, Meleager was struck through with a sudden pang. Wondering and
helpless, the heroes gathered about, to behold him dying of some
unknown agony, while he strove to conquer his pain. Even as the brand
burned in the fire before the wretched queen, Meleager was consumed by
a mysterious death, blessing with his last breath friends and kindred,
his dear Atalanta, and the mother who had brought him to this doom,
though he knew it not. At last the brand fell into ashes, and in the
forest the hero lay dead.
The king and queen fell into such grief when all was known, that Diana
took pity upon them and changed them into birds.
Even if Prince Meleager had lived, it is doubtful if he could ever have
won Atalanta to be his wife. The maiden was resolved to live unwed, and
at last she devised a plan to be rid of all her suitors. She was known
far and wide as the swiftest runner of her time; and so she said that
she would only marry that man who could outstrip her in the race, but
that all who dared to try and failed must be put to death.
This threat did not dishearten all of the suitors, however, and to her
grief, for she was not cruel, they held her to her promise. On a
certain day the few bold men who were to try their fortune made ready,
and chose young Hippomenes as judge. He sat watching them before the
word was given, and sadly wondered that any brave man should risk his
life merely to win a bride. But when Atalanta stood ready for the
contest, he was amazed by her beauty. She looked like Hebe, goddess of
young health, who is a glad serving-maiden to the gods when they sit at
The signal was given, and, as she and the suitors darted away, flight
made her more enchanting than ever. Just as a wind brings sparkles to
the water and laughter to the trees, haste fanned her loveliness to a
Alas for the suitors! She ran as if Hermes had lent her his winged
sandals. The young men, skilled as they were, grew heavy with weariness
and despair. For all their efforts, they seemed to lag like ships in a
calm, while Atalanta flew before them in some favoring breeze--and
reached the goal!
To the sorrow of all on-lookers, the suitors were led away; but the
judge himself, Hippomenes, rose and begged leave to try his fortune. As
Atalanta listened, and looked at him, her heart was filled with pity,
and she would willingly have let him win the race to save him from
defeat and death; for he was comely and younger than the others. But
her friends urged her to rest and make ready, and she consented, with
an unwilling heart.
Meanwhile Hippomenes prayed within himself to Venus: "Goddess of Love,
give ear, and send me good speed. Let me be swift to win as I have been
swift to love her."
Now Venus, who was not far off,--for she had already moved the heart of
Hippomenes to love,--came to his side invisibly, slipped into his hand
three wondrous golden apples, and whispered a word of counsel in his
The signal was given; youth and maiden started over the course. They
went so like the wind that they left not a footprint. The people
cheered on Hippomenes, eager that such valor should win. But the course
was long, and soon fatigue seemed to clutch at his throat, the light
shook before his eyes, and, even as he pressed on, the maiden passed
At that instant Hippomenes tossed ahead one of the golden apples. The
rolling bright thing caught Atalanta's eye, and full of wonder she
stooped to pick it up. Hippomenes ran on. As he heard the flutter of
her tunic close behind him, he flung aside another golden apple, and
another moment was lost to the girl. Who could pass by such a marvel?
The goal was near and Hippomenes was ahead, but once again Atalanta
caught up with him, and they sped side by side like two dragon-flies.
For an instant his heart failed him; then, with a last prayer to Venus,
he flung down the last apple. The maiden glanced at it, wavered, and
would have left it where it had fallen, had not Venus turned her head
for a second and given her a sudden wish to possess it. Against her
will she turned to pick up the golden apple, and Hippomenes touched the
So he won that perilous maiden; and as for Atalanta, she was glad to
marry such a valorous man. By this time she understood so well what it
was like to be pursued, that she had lost a little of her pleasure in
Not among mortals alone were there contests of skill, nor yet among the
gods, like Pan and Apollo. Many sorrows befell men because they grew
arrogant in their own devices and coveted divine honors. There was once
a great hunter, Orion, who outvied the gods themselves, till they took
him away from his hunting-grounds and set him in the heavens, with his
sword and belt, and his hound at his heels. But at length jealousy
invaded even the peaceful arts, and disaster came of spinning!
There was a certain maiden of Lydia, Arachne by name, renowned
throughout the country for her skill as a weaver. She was as nimble
with her fingers as Calypso, that nymph who kept Odysseus for seven
years in her enchanted island. She was as untiring as Penelope, the
hero's wife, who wove day after day while she watched for his return.
Day in and day out, Arachne wove too. The very nymphs would gather
about her loom, naiads from the water and dryads from the trees.
"Maiden," they would say, shaking the leaves or the foam from their
hair, in wonder, "Pallas Athena must have taught you!"
But this did not please Arachne. She would not acknowledge herself a
debtor, even to that goddess who protected all household arts, and by
whose grace alone one had any skill in them.
"I learned not of Athena," said she, "If she can weave better, let her
come and try."
The nymphs shivered at this, and an aged woman, who was looking on,
turned to Arachne.
"Be more heedful of your words, my daughter," said she. "The goddess
may pardon you if you ask forgiveness, but do not strive for honors
with the immortals."
Arachne broke her thread, and the shuttle stopped humming.
"Keep your counsel," she said. "I fear not Athena; no, nor any one
As she frowned at the old woman, she was amazed to see her change
suddenly into one tall, majestic, beautiful,--a maiden of gray eyes and
golden hair, crowned with a golden helmet. It was Athena herself.
The bystanders shrank in fear and reverence; only Arachne was unawed
and held to her foolish boast.
In silence the two began to weave, and the nymphs stole nearer, coaxed
by the sound of the shuttles, that seemed to be humming with delight
over the two webs,--back and forth like bees.
They gazed upon the loom where the goddess stood plying her task, and
they saw shapes and images come to bloom out of the wondrous colors, as
sunset clouds grow to be living creatures when we watch them. And they
saw that the goddess, still merciful, was spinning, as a warning for
Arachne, the pictures of her own triumph over reckless gods and
In one corner of the web she made a story of her conquest over the
sea-god Poseidon. For the first king of Athens had promised to dedicate
the city to that god who should bestow upon it the most useful gift.
Poseidon gave the horse. But Athena gave the olive,--means of
livelihood,--symbol of peace and prosperity, and the city was called
after her name. Again she pictured a vain woman of Troy, who had been
turned into a crane for disputing the palm of beauty with a goddess.
Other corners of the web held similar images, and the whole shone like
Meanwhile Arachne, whose head was quite turned with vanity, embroidered
her web with stories against the gods, making light of Zeus himself and
of Apollo, and portraying them as birds and beasts. But she wove with
marvellous skill; the creatures seemed to breathe and speak, yet it was
all as fine as the gossamer that you find on the grass before rain.
Athena herself was amazed. Not even her wrath at the girl's insolence
could wholly overcome her wonder. For an instant she stood entranced;
then she tore the web across, and three times she touched Arachne's
forehead with her spindle.
"Live on, Arachne," she said. "And since it is your glory to weave, you
and yours must weave forever." So saying, she sprinkled upon the maiden
a certain magical potion.
Away went Arachne's beauty; then her very human form shrank to that of
a spider, and so remained. As a spider she spent all her days weaving
and weaving; and you may see something like her handiwork any day among
PYRAMUS AND THISBE.
Venus did not always befriend true lovers, as she had befriended
Hippomenes, with her three golden apples. Sometimes, in the enchanted
island of Cyprus, she forgot her worshippers far away, and they called
on her in vain.
So it was in the sad story of Hero and Leander, who lived on opposite
borders of the Hellespont. Hero dwelt at Sestos, where she served as a
priestess, in the very temple of Venus; and Leander's home was in
Abydos, a town on the opposite shore. But every night this lover would
swim across the water to see Hero, guided by the light which she was
wont to set in her tower. Even such loyalty could not conquer fate.
There came a great storm, one night, that put out the beacon, and
washed Leander's body up with the waves to Hero, and she sprang into
the water to rejoin him, and so perished.
Not wholly unlike this was the fate of Halcyone, a queen of Thessaly,
who dreamed that her husband Ceyx had been drowned, and on waking
hastened to the shore to look for him. There she saw her dream come
true,--his lifeless body floating towards her on the tide; and as she
flung herself after him, mad with grief, the air upheld her and she
seemed to fly. Husband and wife were changed into birds; and there on
the very water, at certain seasons, they build a nest that floats
unhurt,--a portent of calm for many days and safe voyage for the ships.
So it is that seamen love these birds and look for halcyon weather.
But there once lived in Babylonia two lovers named Pyramus and Thisbe,
who were parted by a strange mischance. For they lived in adjoining
houses; and although their parents had forbidden them to marry, these
two had found a means of talking together through a crevice in the
Here, again and again, Pyramus on his side of the wall and Thisbe on
hers, they would meet to tell each other all that had happened during
the day, and to complain of their cruel parents. At length they decided
that they would endure it no longer, but that they would leave their
homes and be married, come what might. They planned to meet, on a
certain evening, by a mulberry-tree near the tomb of King Ninus,
outside the city gates. Once safely met, they were resolved to brave
So far all went well. At the appointed time, Thisbe, heavily veiled,
managed to escape from home unnoticed, and after a stealthy journey
through the streets of Babylon, she came to the grove of mulberries
near the tomb of Ninus. The place was deserted, and once there she put
off the veil from her face to see if Pyramus waited anywhere among the
shadows. She heard the sound of a footfall and turned to behold--not
Pyramus, but a creature unwelcome to any tryst--none other than a
lioness crouching to drink from the pool hard by.
Without a cry, Thisbe fled, dropping her veil as she ran. She found a
hiding-place among the rocks at some distance, and there she waited,
not knowing what else to do.
The lioness, having quenched her thirst (after some ferocious meal),
turned from the spring and, coming upon the veil, sniffed at it
curiously, tore and tossed it with her reddened jaws,--as she would
have done with Thisbe herself,--then dropped the plaything and crept
away to the forest once more.
It was but a little after this that Pyramus came hurrying to the
meeting-place, breathless with eagerness to find Thisbe and tell her
what had delayed him. He found no Thisbe there. For a moment he was
confounded. Then he looked about for some sign of her, some footprint
by the pool. There was the trail of a wild beast in the grass, and near
by a woman's veil, torn and stained with blood; he caught it up and
knew it for Thisbe's.
So she had come at the appointed hour, true to her word; she had waited
there for him alone and defenceless, and she had fallen a prey to some
beast from the jungle! As these thoughts rushed upon the young man's
mind, he could endure no more.
"Was it to meet me, Thisbe, that you came to such a death!" cried he.
"And I followed all too late. But I will atone. Even now I come
lagging, but by no will of mine!"
So saying, the poor youth drew his sword and fell upon it, there at the
foot of that mulberry-tree which he had named as the trysting-place,
and his life-blood ran about the roots.
During these very moments, Thisbe, hearing no sound and a little
reassured, had stolen from her hiding-place and was come to the edge of
the grove. She saw that the lioness had left the spring, and, eager to
show her lover that she had dared all things to keep faith, she came
slowly, little by little, back to the mulberry-tree.
She found Pyramus there, according to his promise. His own sword was in
his heart, the empty scabbard by his side, and in his hand he held her
veil still clasped. Thisbe saw these things as in a dream, and suddenly
the truth awoke her. She saw the piteous mischance of all; and when the
dying Pyramus opened his eyes and fixed them upon her, her heart broke.
With the same sword she stabbed herself, and the lovers died together.
There the parents found them, after a weary search, and they were
buried together in the same tomb. But the berries of the mulberry-tree
turned red that day, and red they have remained ever since.
PYGMALION AND GALATEA.
The island of Cyprus was dear to the heart of Venus. There her temples
were kept with honor, and there, some say, she watched with the Loves
and Graces over the long enchanted sleep of Adonis. This youth, a
hunter whom she had dearly loved, had died of a wound from the tusk of
a wild boar; but the bitter grief of Venus had won over even the powers
of Hades. For six months of every year, Adonis had to live as a Shade
in the world of the dead; but for the rest of time he was free to
breathe the upper air. Here in Cyprus the people came to worship him as
a god, for the sake of Venus who loved him; and here, if any called
upon her, she was like to listen.
Now there once lived in Cyprus a young sculptor, Pygmalion by name, who
thought nothing on earth so beautiful as the white marble folk that
live without faults and never grow old. Indeed, he said that he would
never marry a mortal woman, and people began to think that his daily
life among marble creatures was hardening his heart altogether.
But it chanced that Pygmalion fell to work upon an ivory statue of a
maiden, so lovely that it must have moved to envy every breathing
creature that came to look upon it. With a happy heart the sculptor
wrought day by day, giving it all the beauty of his dreams, until, when
the work was completed, he felt powerless to leave it. He was bound to
it by the tie of his highest aspiration, his most perfect ideal, his
most patient work.
Day after day the ivory maiden looked down at him silently, and he
looked back at her until he felt that he loved her more than anything
else in the world. He thought of her no longer as a statue, but as the
dear companion of his life; and the whim grew upon him like an
enchantment. He named her Galatea, and arrayed her like a princess; he
hung jewels about her neck, and made all his home beautiful and fit for
such a presence.
Now the festival of Venus was at hand, and Pygmalion, like all who
loved Beauty, joined the worshippers. In the temple victims were
offered, solemn rites were held, and votaries from many lands came to
pray the favor of the goddess. At length Pygmalion himself approached
the altar and made his prayer.
"Goddess," he said, "who hast vouchsafed to me this gift of beauty,
give me a perfect love, likewise, and let me have for bride, one like
my ivory maiden." And Venus heard.
Home to his house of dreams went the sculptor, loath to be parted for a
day from his statue, Galatea. There she stood, looking down upon him
silently, and he looked back at her. Surely the sunset had shed a flush
of life upon her whiteness.
He drew near in wonder and delight, and felt, instead of the chill air
that was wont to wake him out of his spell, a gentle warmth around her,
like the breath of a plant. He touched her hand, and it yielded like
the hand of one living! Doubting his senses, yet fearing to reassure
himself, Pygmalion kissed the statue.
In an instant the maiden's face bloomed like a waking rose, her hair
shone golden as returning sunlight; she lifted her ivory eyelids and
smiled at him. The statue herself had awakened, and she stepped down
from the pedestal, into the arms of her creator, alive!
There was a dream that came true.
Behind the power of the gods and beyond all the efforts of men, the
three Fates sat at their spinning.
No one could tell whence these sisters were, but by some strange
necessity they spun the web of human life and made destinies without
knowing why. It was not for Clotho to decree whether the thread of a
life should be stout or fragile, nor for Lachesis to choose the fashion
of the web; and Atropos herself must sometimes have wept to cut a life
short with her shears, and let it fall unfinished. But they were like
spinners for some Power that said of life, as of a garment, _Thus it
must be_. That Power neither gods nor men could withstand.
There was once a king named Laius (a grandson of Cadmus himself), who
ruled over Thebes, with Jocasta his wife. To them an Oracle had
foretold that if a son of theirs lived to grow up, he would one day
kill his father and marry his own mother. The king and queen resolved
to escape such a doom, even at terrible cost. Accordingly Laius gave
his son, who was only a baby, to a certain herdsman, with instructions
to put him to death.
This was not to be. The herdsman carried the child to a lonely
mountain-side, but once there, his heart failed him. Hardly daring to
disobey the king's command, yet shrinking from murder, he hung the
little creature by his feet to the branches of a tree, and left him
there to die.
But there chanced to come that way with his flocks, a man who served
King Polybus of Corinth. He found the baby perishing in the tree, and,
touched with pity, took him home to his master. The king and queen of
Corinth were childless, and some power moved them to take this
mysterious child as a gift. They called him Oedipus (Swollen-Foot)
because of the wounds they had found upon him, and, knowing naught of
his parentage, they reared him as their own son. So the years went by.
Now, when Oedipus had come to manhood, he went to consult the Oracle at
Delphi, as all great people were wont, to learn what fortune had in
store for him. But for him the Oracle had only a sentence of doom.
According to the Fates, he would live to kill his own father and wed
Filled with dismay, and resolved in his turn to conquer fate, Oedipus
fled from Corinth; for he had never dreamed that his parents were other
than Polybus and Merope the queen. Thinking to escape crime, he took
the road towards Thebes, so hastening into the very arms of his evil
It happened that King Laius, with one attendant, was on his way to
Delphi from the city Thebes. In a narrow road he met this strange young
man, also driving in a chariot, and ordered him to quit the way.
Oedipus, who had been reared to princely honors, refused to obey; and
the king's charioteer, in great anger, killed one of the young man's
horses. At this insult Oedipus fell upon master and servant; mad with
rage, he slew them both, and went on his way, not knowing the half of
what he had done. The first saying of the Oracle was fulfilled.
But the prince was to have his day of triumph before the doom. There
was a certain wonderful creature called the Sphinx, which had been a
terror to Thebes for many days. In form half woman and half lion, she
crouched always by a precipice near the highway, and put the same
mysterious question to every passer-by. None had ever been able to
answer, and none had ever lived to warn men of the riddle; for the
Sphinx fell upon every one as he failed, and hurled him down the abyss,
to be dashed in pieces.
This way came Oedipus towards the city Thebes, and the Sphinx crouched,
face to face with him, and spoke the riddle that none had been able to
"_What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon
on two, and in the evening upon three?_"
Oedipus, hiding his dread of the terrible creature, took thought, and
answered "Man. In childhood he creeps on hands and knees, in manhood he
walks erect, but in old age he has need of a staff."
At this reply the Sphinx uttered a cry, sprang headlong from the rock
into the valley below, and perished. Oedipus had guessed the answer.
When he came to the city and told the Thebans that their torment was
gone, they hailed him as a deliverer. Not long after, they married him
with great honor to their widowed queen, Jocasta, his own mother. The
destiny was fulfilled.
For years Oedipus lived in peace, unwitting; but at length upon that
unhappy city there fell a great pestilence and famine. In his distress
the king sent to the Oracle at Delphi, to know what he or the Thebans
had done, that they should be so sorely punished. Then for the third
time the Oracle spoke his own fateful sentence; and he learned all.
Jocasta died, and Oedipus took the doom upon himself, and left Thebes.
Blinded by his own hand, he wandered away into the wilderness. Never
again did he rule over men; and he had one only comrade, his faithful
daughter Antigone. She was the truest happiness in his life of sorrow,
and she never left him till he died.
CUPID AND PSYCHE.
Once upon a time, through that Destiny that overrules the gods, Love
himself gave up his immortal heart to a mortal maiden. And thus it came
There was a certain king who had three beautiful daughters. The two
elder married princes of great renown; but Psyche, the youngest, was so
radiantly fair that no suitor seemed worthy of her. People thronged to
see her pass through the city, and sang hymns in her praise, while
strangers took her for the very goddess of beauty herself.
This angered Venus, and she resolved to cast down her earthly rival.
One day, therefore, she called hither her son Love (Cupid, some name
him), and bade him sharpen his weapons. He is an archer more to be
dreaded than Apollo, for Apollo's arrows take life, but Love's bring
joy or sorrow for a whole life long.
"Come, Love," said Venus. "There is a mortal maid who robs me of my
honors in yonder city. Avenge your mother. Wound this precious Psyche,
and let her fall in love with some churlish creature mean in the eyes
of all men."
Cupid made ready his weapons, and flew down to earth invisibly. At that
moment Psyche was asleep in her chamber; but he touched her heart with
his golden arrow of love, and she opened her eyes so suddenly that he
started (forgetting that he was invisible), and wounded himself with
his own shaft.
Heedless of the hurt, moved only by the loveliness of the maiden, he
hastened to pour over her locks the healing joy that he ever kept by
him, undoing all his work. Back to her dream the princess went,
unshadowed by any thought of love. But Cupid, not so light of heart,
returned to the heavens, saying not a word of what had passed.
Venus waited long; then, seeing that Psyche's heart had somehow escaped
love, she sent a spell upon the maiden. From that time, lovely as she
was, not a suitor came to woo; and her parents, who desired to see her
a queen at least, made a journey to the Oracle, and asked counsel.
Said the voice: "The princess Psyche shall never wed a mortal. She
shall be given to one who waits for her on yonder mountain; he
overcomes gods and men."
At this terrible sentence the poor parents were half distraught, and
the people gave themselves up to grief at the fate in store for their
beloved princess. Psyche alone bowed to her destiny. "We have angered
Venus unwittingly," she said, "and all for sake of me, heedless maiden
that I am! Give me up, therefore, dear father and mother. If I atone,
it may be that the city will prosper once more."
So she besought them, until, after many unavailing denials, the parents
consented; and with a great company of people they led Psyche up the
mountain,--as an offering to the monster of whom the Oracle had
spoken,--and left her there alone.
Full of courage, yet in a secret agony of grief, she watched her
kindred and her people wind down the mountain-path, too sad to look
back, until they were lost to sight. Then, indeed, she wept, but a
sudden breeze drew near, dried her tears, and caressed her hair,
seeming to murmur comfort. In truth, it was Zephyr, the kindly West
Wind, come to befriend her; and as she took heart, feeling some
benignant presence, he lifted her in his arms, and carried her on wings
as even as a sea-gull's, over the crest of the fateful mountain and
into a valley below. There he left her, resting on a bank of hospitable
grass, and there the princess fell asleep.
When she awoke, it was near sunset. She looked about her for some sign
of the monster's approach; she wondered, then, if her grievous trial
had been but a dream. Near by she saw a sheltering forest, whose young
trees seemed to beckon as one maid beckons to another; and eager for
the protection of the dryads, she went thither.
The call of running waters drew her farther and farther, till she came
out upon an open place, where there was a wide pool. A fountain
fluttered gladly in the midst of it, and beyond there stretched a white
palace wonderful to see. Coaxed by the bright promise of the place, she
drew near, and, seeing no one, entered softly. It was all kinglier than
her father's home, and as she stood in wonder and awe, soft airs
stirred about her. Little by little the silence grew murmurous like the
woods, and one voice, sweeter than the rest, took words. "All that you
see is yours, gentle high princess," it said. "Fear nothing; only
command us, for we are here to serve you."
Full of amazement and delight, Psyche followed the voice from hall to
hall, and through the lordly rooms, beautiful with everything that
could delight a young princess. No pleasant thing was lacking. There
was even a pool, brightly tiled and fed with running waters, where she
bathed her weary limbs; and after she had put on the new and beautiful
raiment that lay ready for her, she sat down to break her fast, waited
upon and sung to by the unseen spirits.
Surely he whom the Oracle had called her husband was no monster, but
some beneficent power, invisible like all the rest. When daylight waned
he came, and his voice, the beautiful voice of a god, inspired her to
trust her strange destiny and to look and long for his return. Often
she begged him to stay with her through the day, that she might see his
face; but this he would not grant.
"Never doubt me, dearest Psyche," said he. "Perhaps you would fear if
you saw me, and love is all I ask. There is a necessity that keeps me
hidden now. Only believe."
So for many days Psyche was content; but when she grew used to
happiness, she thought once more of her parents mourning her as lost,
and of her sisters who shared the lot of mortals while she lived as a
goddess. One night she told her husband of these regrets, and begged
that her sisters at least might come to see her. He sighed, but did not
"Zephyr shall bring them hither," said he. And on the following
morning, swift as a bird, the West Wind came over the crest of the high
mountain and down into the enchanted valley, bearing her two sisters.
They greeted Psyche with joy and amazement, hardly knowing how they had
come hither. But when this fairest of the sisters led them through her
palace and showed them all the treasures that were hers, envy grew in
their hearts and choked their old love. Even while they sat at feast
with her, they grew more and more bitter; and hoping to find some
little flaw in her good fortune, they asked a thousand questions.
"Where is your husband?" said they. "And why is he not here with you?"
"Ah," stammered Psyche. "All the day long--he is gone, hunting upon
"But what does he look like?" they asked; and Psyche could find no
When they learned that she had never seen him, they laughed her faith
"Poor Psyche," they said. "You are walking in a dream. Wake, before it
is too late. Have you forgotten what the Oracle decreed,--that you were
destined for a dreadful creature, the fear of gods and men? And are you
deceived by this show of kindliness? We have come to warn you. The
people told us, as we came over the mountain, that your husband is a
dragon, who feeds you well for the present, that he may feast the
better, some day soon. What is it that you trust? Good words! But only
take a dagger some night, and when the monster is asleep go, light a
lamp, and look at him. You can put him to death easily, and all his
riches will be yours--and ours."
Psyche heard this wicked plan with horror. Nevertheless, after her
sisters were gone, she brooded over what they had said, not seeing
their evil intent; and she came to find some wisdom in their words.
Little by little, suspicion ate, like a moth, into her lovely mind; and
at nightfall, in shame and fear, she hid a lamp and a dagger in her
chamber. Towards midnight, when her husband was fast asleep, up she
rose, hardly daring to breathe; and coming softly to his side, she
uncovered the lamp to see some horror.
But there the youngest of the gods lay sleeping,--most beautiful, most
irresistible of all immortals. His hair shone golden as the sun, his
face was radiant as dear Springtime, and from his shoulders sprang two
Poor Psyche was overcome with self-reproach. As she leaned towards him,
filled with worship, her trembling hands held the lamp ill, and some
burning oil fell upon Love's shoulder and awakened him.
He opened his eyes, to see at once his bride and the dark suspicion in
"O doubting Psyche!" he exclaimed with sudden grief,--and then he flew
away, out of the window.
Wild with sorrow, Psyche tried to follow, but she fell to the ground
instead. When she recovered her senses, she stared about her. She was
alone, and the place was beautiful no longer. Garden and palace had
vanished with Love.
THE TRIAL OF PSYCHE.
Over mountains and valleys Psyche journeyed alone until she came to the
city where her two envious sisters lived with the princes whom they had
married. She stayed with them only long enough to tell the story of her
unbelief and its penalty. Then she set out again to search for Love.
As she wandered one day, travel-worn but not hopeless, she saw a lofty
palace on a hill near by, and she turned her steps thither. The place
seemed deserted. Within the hall she saw no human being,--only heaps of
grain, loose ears of corn half torn from the husk, wheat and barley,
alike scattered in confusion on the floor. Without delay, she set to
work binding the sheaves together and gathering the scattered ears of
corn in seemly wise, as a princess would wish to see them. While she
was in the midst of her task, a voice startled her, and she looked up
to behold Demeter herself, the goddess of the harvest, smiling upon her
with good will.
"Dear Psyche," said Demeter, "you are worthy of happiness, and you may
find it yet. But since you have displeased Venus, go to her and ask her
favor. Perhaps your patience will win her pardon."
These motherly words gave Psyche heart, and she reverently took leave
of the goddess and set out for the temple of Venus. Most humbly she
offered up her prayer, but Venus could not look at her earthly beauty
"Vain girl," said she, "perhaps you have come to make amends for the
wound you dealt your husband; you shall do so. Such clever people can
always find work!"
Then she led Psyche into a great chamber heaped high with mingled
grain, beans, and lintels (the food of her doves), and bade her
separate them all and have them ready in seemly fashion by night.
Heracles would have been helpless before such a vexatious task; and
poor Psyche, left alone in this desert of grain, had not courage to
begin. But even as she sat there, a moving thread of black crawled
across the floor from a crevice in the wall; and bending nearer, she
saw that a great army of ants in columns had come to her aid. The
zealous little creatures worked in swarms, with such industry over the
work they like best, that, when Venus came at night, she found the task
"Deceitful girl," she cried, shaking the roses out of her hair with
impatience, "this is my son's work, not yours. But he will soon forget
you. Eat this black bread if you are hungry, and refresh your dull mind
with sleep. To-morrow you will need more wit."
Psyche wondered what new misfortune could be in store for her. But when
morning came, Venus led her to the brink of a river, and, pointing to
the wood across the water, said, "Go now to yonder grove where the
sheep with the golden fleece are wont to browse. Bring me a golden lock
from every one of them, or you must go your ways and never come back
This seemed not difficult, and Psyche obediently bade the goddess
farewell, and stepped into the water, ready to wade across. But as
Venus disappeared, the reeds sang louder and the nymphs of the river,
looking up sweetly, blew bubbles to the surface and murmured: "Nay,
nay, have a care, Psyche. This flock has not the gentle ways of sheep.
While the sun burns aloft, they are themselves as fierce as flame; but
when the shadows are long, they go to rest and sleep, under the trees;
and you may cross the river without fear and pick the golden fleece off
the briers in the pasture."
Thanking the water-creatures, Psyche sat down to rest near them, and
when the time came, she crossed in safety and followed their counsel.
By twilight she returned to Venus with her arms full of shining fleece.
"No mortal wit did this," said Venus angrily. "But if you care to prove
your readiness, go now, with this little box, down to Proserpina and
ask her to enclose in it some of her beauty, for I have grown pale in
caring for my wounded son."
It needed not the last taunt to sadden Psyche. She knew that it was not
for mortals to go into Hades and return alive; and feeling that Love
had forsaken her, she was minded to accept her doom as soon as might
But even as she hastened towards the descent, another friendly voice
detained her. "Stay, Psyche, I know your grief. Only give ear and you
shall learn a safe way through all these trials." And the voice went on
to tell her how one might avoid all the dangers of Hades and come out
unscathed. (But such a secret could not pass from mouth to mouth, with
the rest of the story.)
"And be sure," added the voice, "when Proserpina has returned the box,
not to open it, however much you may long to do so."
Psyche gave heed, and by this device, whatever it was, she found her
way into Hades safely, and made her errand known to Proserpina, and was
soon in the upper world again, wearied but hopeful.
"Surely Love has not forgotten me," she said. "But humbled as I am and
worn with toil, how shall I ever please him? Venus can never need all
the beauty in this casket; and since I use it for Love's sake, it must
be right to take some." So saying, she opened the box, heedless as
Pandora! The spells and potions of Hades are not for mortal maids, and
no sooner had she inhaled the strange aroma than she fell down like one
dead, quite overcome.
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