The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles
Part 1 out of 5
THE GOLDEN FLEECE AND THE HEROES WHO LIVED BEFORE ACHILLES
Part I. The Voyage to Colchis
I. The Youth Jason
A man in the garb of a slave went up the side of that mountain
that is all covered with forest, the Mountain Pelion. He carried
in his arms a little child.
When it was full noon the slave came into a clearing of the
forest so silent that it seemed empty of all life. He laid the
child down on the soft moss, and then, trembling with the fear of
what might come before him, he raised a horn to his lips and blew
three blasts upon it.
Then he waited. The blue sky was above him, the great trees stood
away from him, and the little child lay at his feet. He waited,
and then he heard the thud-thud of great hooves. And then from
between the trees he saw coming toward him the strangest of all
beings, one who was half man and half horse; this was Chiron the
Chiron came toward the trembling slave. Greater than any horse
was Chiron, taller than any man. The hair of his head flowed back
into his horse's mane, his great beard flowed over his horse's
chest; in his man's hand he held a great spear.
Not swiftly he came, but the slave could see that in those great
limbs of his there was speed like to the wind's. The slave fell
upon his knees. And with eyes that were full of majesty and
wisdom and limbs that were full of strength and speed, the
king-centaur stood above him. "O my lord," the slave said, "I
have come before thee sent by Aeson, my master, who told me where
to come and what blasts to blow upon the horn. And Aeson, once
King of Iolcus, bade me say to thee that if thou dost remember
his ancient friendship with thee thou wilt, perchance, take this
child and guard and foster him, and, as he grows, instruct him
with thy wisdom."
"For Aeson's sake I will rear and foster this child," said Chiron
the king-centaur in a deep voice.
The child lying on the moss had been looking up at the
four-footed and two-handed centaur. Now the slave lifted him up
and placed him in the centaur's arms. He said:
"Aeson bade me tell thee that the child's name is Jason. He bade
me give thee this ring with the great ruby in it that thou mayst
give it to the child when he is grown. By this ring with its ruby
and the images engraved on it Aeson may know his son when they
meet after many years and many changes. And another thing Aeson
bade me say to thee, O my lord Chiron: not presumptuous is he,
but he knows that this child has the regard of the immortal
Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus."
Chiron held Aeson's son in his arms, and the little child put
hands into his great beard. Then the centaur said, "Let Aeson
know that his son will be reared and fostered by me, and that,
when they meet again, there will be ways by which they will be
known to each other."
Saying this Chiron the centaur, holding the child in his arms,
went swiftly toward the forest arches; then the slave took up the
horn and went down the side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to
where a horse was hidden, and he mounted and rode, first to a
city, and then to a village that was beyond the city.
All this was before the famous walls of Troy were built; before
King Priam had come to the throne of his father and while he was
still known, not as Priam, but as Podarces. And the beginning of
all these happenings was in Iolcus, a city in Thessaly.
Cretheus founded the city and had ruled over it in days before
King Priam was born. He left two sons, Aeson and Pelias. Aeson
succeeded his father. And because he was a mild and gentle man,
the men of war did not love Aeson; they wanted a hard king who
would lead them to conquests.
Pelias, the brother of Aeson, was ever with the men of war; he
knew what mind they had toward Aeson and he plotted with them to
overthrow his brother. This they did, and they brought Pelias to
reign as king in Iolcus.
The people loved Aeson; and they feared Pelias. And because the
people loved him and would be maddened by his slaying, Pelias and
the men of war left him living. With his wife, Alcimide, and his
infant son, Aeson went from the city, and in a village that was
at a distance from Iolcus he found a hidden house and went to
dwell in it.
Aeson would have lived content there were it not that he was
fearful for Jason, his infant son. Jason, he knew, would grow
into a strong and a bold youth, and Pelias, the king, would be
made uneasy on his account. Pelias would slay the son, and
perhaps would slay the father for the son's sake when his memory
would come to be less loved by the people. Aeson thought of such
things in his hidden house, and he pondered on ways to have his
son reared away from Iolcus and the dread and the power of King
He had for a friend one who was the wisest of all creatures
Chiron the centaur; Chiron who was half man and half horse;
Chiron who had lived and was yet to live measureless years.
Chiron had fostered Heracles, and it might be that he would not
refuse to foster Jason, Aeson's child.
Away in the fastnesses of Mount Pelion Chiron dwelt; once Aeson
had been with him and had seen the centaur hunt with his great
bow and his great spears. And Aeson knew a way that one might
come to him; Chiron himself had told him of the way.
Now there was a slave in his house who had been a huntsman and
who knew all the ways of the Mountain Pelion. Aeson talked with
this slave one day, and after he had talked with him he sat for a
long time over the cradle of his sleeping infant. And then he
spoke to Alcimide, his wife, telling her of a parting that made
her weep. That evening the slave came in and Aeson took the child
from the arms of the mournful-eyed mother and put him in the
slave's arms. Also he gave him a horn and a ring with a great
ruby in it and mystic images engraved on its gold. Then when the
ways were dark the slave mounted a horse, and, with the child in
his arms, rode through the city that King Pelias ruled over. In
the morning he came to that mountain that is all covered with
forest, the Mountain Pelion. And that evening he came back to the
village and to Aeson's hidden house, and he told his master how
he had prospered.
Aeson was content thereafter although he was lonely and although
his wife was lonely in their childlessness. But the time came
when they rejoiced that their child had been sent into an
unreachable place. For messengers from King Pelias came inquiring
about the boy. They told the king's messengers that the child had
strayed off from his nurse, and that whether he had been slain by
a wild beast or had been drowned in the swift River Anaurus they
did not know.
The years went by and Pelias felt secure upon the throne he had
taken from his brother. Once he sent to the oracle of the gods to
ask of it whether he should be fearful of anything. What the
oracle answered was this: that King Pelias had but one thing to
dread--the coming of a halfshod man.
The centaur nourished the child Jason on roots and fruits and
honey; for shelter they had a great cave that Chiron had lived in
for numberless years. When he had grown big enough to leave the
cave Chiron would let Jason mount on his back; with the child
holding on to his great mane he would trot gently through the
ways of the forest.
Jason began to know the creatures of the forest and their haunts.
Sometimes Chiron would bring his great bow with him; then Jason,
on his back, would hold the quiver and would hand him the arrows.
The centaur would let the boy see him kill with a single arrow
the bear, the boar, or the deer. And soon Jason, running beside
him, hunted too.
No heroes were ever better trained than those whose childhood and
youth had been spent with Chiron the king-centaur. He made them
more swift of foot than any other of the children of men. He made
them stronger and more ready with the spear and bow. Jason was
trained by Chiron as Heracles just before him had been trained,
and as Achilles was to be trained afterward.
Moreover, Chiron taught him the knowledge of the stars and the
wisdom that had to do with the ways of the gods.
Once, when they were hunting together, Jason saw a form at the
end of an alley of trees--the form of a woman it was--of a woman
who had on her head a shining crown. Never had Jason dreamt of
seeing a form so wondrous. Not very near did he come, but he
thought he knew that the woman smiled upon him. She was seen no
more, and Jason knew that he had looked upon one of the immortal
All day Jason was filled with thought of her whom he had seen. At
night, when the stars were out, and when they were seated outside
the cave, Chiron and Jason talked together, and Chiron told the
youth that she whom he had seen was none other than Hera, the
wife of Zeus, who had for his father Aeson and for himself an
So Jason grew up upon the mountain and in the forest fastnesses.
When he had reached his full height and had shown himself swift
in the hunt and strong with the spear and bow, Chiron told him
that the time had come when he should go back to the world of men
and make his name famous by the doing of great deeds.
And when Chiron told him about his father Aeson--about how he had
been thrust out of the kingship by Pelias, his uncle a great
longing came upon Jason to see his father and a fierce anger grew
up in his heart against Pelias.
Then the time came when he bade good-by to Chiron his great
instructor; the time came when he went from the centaur's cave
for the last time, and went through the wooded ways and down the
side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to the river, to the swift
Anaurus, and he found it high in flood. The stones by which one
might cross were almost all washed over; far apart did they seem
in the flood.
Now as he stood there pondering on what he might do there came up
to him an old woman who had on her back a load of brushwood.
"Wouldst thou cross?" asked the old woman. "Wouldst thou cross
and get thee to the city of Iolcus, Jason, where so many things
Greatly was the youth astonished to hear his name spoken by this
old woman, and to hear her give the name of the city he was bound
for. "Wouldst thou cross the Anaurus?" she asked again. "Then
mount upon my back, holding on to the wood I carry, and I will
bear thee over the river."
Jason smiled. How foolish this old woman was to think that she
could bear him across the flooded river! She came near him and
she took him in her arms and lifted him up on her shoulders.
Then, before he knew what she was about to do, she had stepped
into the water.
>From stone to stepping-stone she went, Jason holding on to the
wood that she had drawn to her shoulders. She left him down upon
the bank. As she was lifting him down one of his feet touched the
water; the swift current swept away a sandal.
He stood on the bank knowing that she who had carried him across
the flooded river had strength from the gods. He looked upon her,
and behold! she was transformed. Instead of an old woman there
stood before him one who had on a golden robe and a shining
crown. Around her was a wondrous light--the light of the sun when
it is most golden. Then Jason knew that she who had carried him
across the broad Anaurus was the goddess whom he had seen in the
ways of the forest--Hera, great Zeus's wife.
"Go into Iolcus, Jason," said great Hera to him, "go into Iolcus,
and in whatever chance doth befall thee act as one who has the
eyes of the immortals upon him."
She spoke and she was seen no more. Then Jason went on his way to
the city that Cretheus, his grandfather, had founded and that his
father Aeson had once ruled over. He came into that city, a tall,
great-limbed, unknown youth, dressed in a strange fashion, and
having but one sandal on.
II. KING PELIAS
That day King Pelias, walking through the streets of his city,
saw coming toward him a youth who was half shod. He remembered
the words of the oracle that bade him beware of a half-shod man,
and straightway he gave orders to his guards to lay hands upon
But the guards wavered when they went toward him, for there was
something about the youth that put them in awe of him. He came
with the guards, however, and he stood before the king's judgment
Fearfully did Pelias look upon him. But not fearfully did the
youth look upon the king. With head lifted high he cried out,
"Thou art Pelias, but I do not salute thee as king. Know that I
am Jason, the son of Aeson from whom thou hast taken the throne
and scepter that were rightfully his."
King Pelias looked to his guards. He would have given them a sign
to destroy the youth's life with their spears, but behind his
guards he saw a threatening multitude--the dwellers of the city
of Iolcus; they gathered around, and Pelias knew that he had
become more and more hated by them. And from the multitude a cry
went up, "Aeson, Aeson! May Aeson come back to us! Jason, son of
Aeson! May nothing evil befall thee, brave youth!"
Then Pelias knew that the youth might not be slain. He bent his
head while he plotted against him in his heart. Then he raised
his eyes, and looking upon Jason he said, "O goodly youth, it
well may be that thou art the son of Aeson, my brother. I am well
pleased to see thee here. I have had hopes that I might be
friends with Aeson, and thy coming here may be the means to the
renewal of our friendship. We two brothers may come together
again. I will send for thy father now, and he will be brought to
meet thee in my royal palace. Go with my guards and with this
rejoicing people, and in a little while thou and I and thy father
Aeson will sit at a feast of friends."
So Pelias said, and Jason went with the guards and the crowd of
people, and he came to the palace of the king and he was brought
within. The maids led him to the bath and gave him new robes to
wear. Dressed in these Jason looked a prince indeed.
But all that while King Pelias remained on his judgment seat with
his crowned head bent down. When he raised his head his dark
brows were gathered together and his thin lips were very close.
He looked to the swords and spears of his guards, and he made a
sign to the men to stand close to him. Then he left the judgment
seat and he went to the palace.
III. THE GOLDEN FLEECE
They brought Jason into a hall where Aeson, his father, waited.
Very strange did this old and grave-looking man appear to him.
But when Aeson spoke, Jason remembered even without the sight of
the ruby ring the tone of his father's voice and he clasped him
to him. And his father knew him even without the sight of the
ruby ring which Jason had upon his finger.
Then the young man began to tell of the centaur and of his life
upon the Mountain Pelion. As they were speaking together Pelias
came to where they stood, Pelias in the purple robe of a king and
with the crown upon his head. Aeson tightly clasped Jason as if
he had become fearful for his son. Pelias smilingly took the hand
of the young man and the hand of his brother, and he bade them
both welcome to his palace.
Then, walking between them, the king brought the two into the
feasting hall. The youth who had known only the forest and the
mountainside had to wonder at the beauty and the magnificence of
all he saw around him. On the walls were bright pictures; the
tables were of polished wood, and they had vessels of gold and
dishes of silver set upon them; along the walls were vases of
lovely shapes and colors, and everywhere there were baskets
heaped with roses white and red.
The king's guests were already in the hall, young men and elders,
and maidens went amongst them carrying roses which they strung
into wreaths for the guests to put upon their heads. A
soft-handed maiden gave Jason a wreath of roses and he put it on
his head as he sat down at the king's table. When he looked at
all the rich and lovely things in that hall, and when he saw the
guests looking at him with friendly eyes, Jason felt that he was
indeed far away from the dim spaces of the mountain forest and
from the darkness of the centaur's cave.
Rich food and wine such as he had never dreamt of tasting were
brought to the tables. He ate and drank, and his eyes followed
the fair maidens who went through the hall. He thought how
glorious it was to be a king. He heard Pelias speak to Aeson, his
father, telling him that he was old and that he was weary of
ruling; that he longed to make friends, and that he would let no
enmity now be between him and his brother. And he heard the king
say that he, Jason, was young and courageous, and that he would
call upon him to help to rule the land, and that, in a while,
Jason would bear full sway over the kingdom that Cretheus had
So Pelias spoke to Aeson as they both sat together at the king's
high table. But Jason, looking on them both, saw that the eyes
that his father turned on him were full of warnings and mistrust.
After they had eaten King Pelias made a sign, and a cupbearer
bringing a richly wrought cup came and stood before the king. The
king stood up, holding the cup in his hands, and all in the hall
waited silently. Then Pelias put the cup into Jason's hands and
he cried out in a voice that was heard all through the hall,
"Drink from this cup, O nephew Jason! Drink from this cup, O man
who will soon come to rule over the kingdom that Cretheus
All in the hall stood up and shouted with delight at that speech.
But the king was not delighted with their delight, Jason saw. He
took the cup and he drank the rich wine; pride grew in him; he
looked down the hall and he saw faces all friendly to him; he
felt as a king might feel, secure and triumphant. And then he
heard King Pelias speaking once more.
"This is my nephew Jason, reared and fostered in the centaur's
cave. He will tell you of his life in the forest and the
mountains, his life that was like to the life of the half gods."
Then Jason spoke to them, telling them of his life on the
Mountain Pelion. When he had spoken, Pelias said:
"I was bidden by the oracle to beware of the man whom I should
see coming toward me half shod. But, as you all see, I have
brought the half-shod man to my palace and my feasting hall, so
little do I dread the anger of the gods.
"And I dread it little because I am blameless. This youth, the
son of my brother, is strong and courageous, and I rejoice in his
strength and courage, for I would have him take my place and
reign over you. Ali, that I were as young as he is now! Ali, that
I had been reared and fostered as he was reared and fostered by
the wise centaur and under the eyes of the immortals! Then would
I do that which in my youth I often dreamed of doing! Then would
I perform a deed that would make my name and the name of my city
famous throughout all Greece! Then would I bring from far
Colchis, the famous Fleece of Gold that King Aetes keeps guard
He finished speaking, and all in the hall shouted out, "The
Golden Fleece, the Golden Fleece from Colchis!" Jason stood up,
and his father's hand gripped him. But he did not heed the hold
of his father's hand, for "The Golden Fleece, the Golden Fleece!"
rang in his ears, and before his eyes were the faces of those who
were all eager for the sight of the wonder that King Aetes kept
Then said Jason, "Thou hast spoken well, O King Pelias! Know, and
know all here assembled, that I have heard of the Golden Fleece
and of the dangers that await on any one who should strive to win
it from King Aetes's care. But know, too, that I would strive to
win the Fleece and bring it to Iolcus, winning fame both for
myself and for the city."
When he had spoken he saw his father's stricken eyes; they were
fixed upon him. But he looked from them to the shining eyes of
the young men who were even then pressing around where he stood.
"Jason, Jason!" they shouted. "The Golden Fleece for Iolcus!"
"King Pelias knows that the winning of the Golden Fleece is a
feat most difficult," said Jason. "But if he will have built for
me a ship that can make the voyage to far Colchis, and if he will
send throughout all Greece the word of my adventuring so that all
the heroes who would win fame might come with me, and if ye,
young heroes of Iolcus, will come with me, I will peril my life
to win the wonder that King Aetes keeps guard over."
He spoke and those in the hall shouted again and made clamor
around him. But still his father sat gazing at him with stricken
King Pelias stood up in the hall and holding up his scepter he
said, "O my nephew Jason, and O friends assembled here, I promise
that I will have built for the voyage the best ship that ever
sailed from a harbor in Greece. And I promise that I will send
throughout all Greece a word telling of Jason's voyage so that
all heroes desirous of winning fame may come to help him and to
help all of you who may go with him to win from the keeping of
King Aetes the famous Fleece of Gold."
So King Pelias said, but Jason, looking to the king from his
father's stricken eyes, saw that he had been led by the king into
the acceptance of the voyage so that he might fare far from
Iolcus, and perhaps lose his life in striving to gain the wonder
that King Aetes kept guarded. By the glitter in Pelias's eyes he
knew the truth. Nevertheless Jason would not take back one word
that he had spoken; his heart was strong within him, and he
thought that with the help of the bright-eyed youths around and
with the help of those who would come to him at the word of the
voyage, he would bring the Golden Fleece to Iolcus and make
famous for all time his own name.
IV. THE ASSEMBLING OF THE HEROES AND THE BUILDING OF THE SHIP
First there came the youths Castor and Polydeuces. They came
riding on white horses, two noble-looking brothers. From Sparta
they came, and their mother was Leda, who, after the twin
brothers, had another child born to her--Helen, for whose sake
the sons of many of Jason's friends were to wage war against the
great city of Troy. These were the first heroes who came to
Iolcus after the word had gone forth through Greece of Jason's
adventuring in quest of the Golden Fleece.
And then there came one who had both welcome and reverence from
Jason; this one came without spear or bow, bearing in his hands a
lyre only. He was Orpheus, and he knew all the ways of the gods
and all the stories of the gods; when he sang to his lyre the
trees would listen and the beasts would follow him. It was Chiron
who had counseled Orpheus to go with Jason; Chiron the centaur
had met him as he was wandering through the forests on the
Mountain Pelion and had sent him down into Iolcus.
Then there came two men well skilled in the handling of ships--
Tiphys and Nauplius. Tiphys knew all about the sun and winds and
stars, and all about the signs by which a ship might be steered,
and Nauplius had the love of Poseidon, the god of the sea.
Afterward there came, one after the other, two who were famous
for their hunting. No two could be more different than these two
were. The first was Arcas. He was dressed in the skin of a bear;
he had red hair and savage-looking eyes, and for arms he carried
a mighty bow with bronzetipped arrows. The folk were watching an
eagle as he came into the city, an eagle that was winging its way
far, far up in the sky. Arcas drew his bow, and with one arrow he
brought the eagle down.
The other hunter was a girl, Atalanta. Tall and brighthaired was
Atalanta, swift and good with the bow. She had dedicated herself
to Artemis, the guardian of the wild things, and she had vowed
that she would remain unwedded. All the heroes welcomed Atalanta
as a comrade, and the maiden did all the things that the young
There came a hero who was less youthful than Castor or
Polydeuces; he was a man good in council named Nestor. Afterward
Nestor went to the war against Troy, and then he was the oldest
of the heroes in the camp of Agamemnon.
Two brothers came who were to be special friends of Jason's--
Peleus and Telamon. Both were still youthful and neither had yet
achieved any notable deed. Afterward they were to be famous, but
their sons were to be even more famous, for the son of Telamon
was strong Aias, and the son of Peleus was great Achilles.
Another who came was Admetus; afterward he became a famous king.
The God Apollo once made himself a shepherd and he kept the
flocks of King Admetus.
And there came two brothers, twins, who were a wonder to all who
beheld them. Zetes and Calais they were named; their mother was
Oreithyia, the daughter of Erechtheus, King of Athens, and their
father was Boreas, the North Wind. These two brothers had on
their ankles wings that gleamed with golden scales; their black
hair was thick upon their shoulders, and it was always being
shaken by the wind.
With Zetes and Calais there came a youth armed with a great sword
whose name was Theseus. Theseus's father was an unknown king; he
had bidden the mother show their son where his sword was hidden.
Under a great stone the king had hidden it before Theseus was
born. Before he had grown out of his boyhood Theseus had been
able to raise the stone and draw forth his father's sword. As yet
he had done no great deed, but he was resolved to win fame and to
find his unknown father.
On the day that the messengers had set out to bring through
Greece the word of Jason's going forth in quest of the Golden
Fleece the woodcutters made their way up into the forests of
Mount Pelion; they began to fell trees for the timbers of the
ship that was to make the voyage to far Colchis.
Great timbers were cut and brought down to Pagasae, the harbor of
Iolcus. On the night of the day he had helped to bring them down
Jason had a dream. He dreamt that she whom he had seen in the
forest ways and afterward by the River Anaurus appeared to him.
And in his dream the goddess bade him rise early in the morning
and welcome a man whom he would meet at the city's gate - a tall
and gray-haired man who would have on his shoulders tools for the
building of a ship.
He went to the city's gate and he met such a man. Argus was his
name. He told Jason that a dream had sent him to the city of
Iolcus. Jason welcomed him and lodged him in the king's palace,
and that day the word went through the city that the building of
the great ship would soon be begun.
But not with the timbers brought from Mount Pelion did Argus
begin. Walking through the palace with Jason he noted a great
beam in the roof. That beam, he said, had been shown him in his
dream; it was from an oak tree in Dodona, the grove of Zeus. A
sacred power was in the beam, and from it the prow of the ship
should be fashioned. Jason had them take the beam from the roof
of the palace; it was brought to where the timbers were, and that
day the building of the great ship was begun.
Then all along the waterside came the noise of hammering; in the
street where the metalworkers were came the noise of beating upon
metals as the smiths fashioned out of bronze armor for the heroes
and swords and spears. Every day, under the eyes of Argus the
master, the ship that had in it the beam from Zeus's grove was
built higher and wider. And those who were building the ship
often felt going through it tremors as of a living creature.
When the ship was built and made ready for the voyage a name was
given to it--the Argo it was called. And naming themselves from
the ship the heroes called themselves the Argonauts. All was
ready for the voyage, and now Jason went with his friends to view
the ship before she was brought into the water.
Argus the master was on the ship, seeing to it that the last
things were being done before Argo was launched. Very grave and
wise looked Argus--Argus the builder of the ship. And wonderful
to the heroes the ship looked now that Argus, for their viewing,
had set up the mast with the sails and had even put the oars in
their places. Wonderful to the heroes Argo looked with her long
oars and her high sails, with her timbers painted red and gold
and blue, and with a marvelous figure carved upon her prow. All
over the ship Jason's eyes went. He saw a figure standing by the
mast; for a moment he looked on it, and then the figure became
shadowy. But Jason knew that he had looked upon the goddess whom
he had seen in the ways of the forest and had seen afterward by
the rough Anaurus.
Then mast and sails were taken down and the oars were left in the
ship, and the Argo was launched into the water. The heroes went
back to the palace of King Pelias to feast with the king's guests
before they took their places on the ship, setting out on the
voyage to far Colchis.
When they came into the palace they saw that another hero had
arrived. His shield was hung in the hall; the heroes all gathered
around, amazed at the size and the beauty of it. The shield shone
all over with gold. In its center was the figure of Fear--of Fear
that stared backward with eyes burning as with fire. The mouth
was open and the teeth were shown. And other figures were wrought
around the figure of Fear--Strife and Pursuit and Flight; Tumult
and Panic and Slaughter. The figure of Fate was there dragging a
dead man by the feet; on her shoulders Fate had a garment that
was red with the blood of men.
Around these figures were heads of snakes, heads with black jaws
and glittering eyes, twelve heads such as might affright any man.
And on other parts of the shield were shown the horses of Ares,
the grim god of war. The figure of Ares himself was shown also.
He held a spear in his hand, and he was urging the warriors on.
Around the inner rim of the shield the sea was shown, wrought in
white metal. Dolphins swam in the sea, fishing for little fishes
that were shown there in bronze. Around the rim chariots were
racing along with wheels running close together; there were men
fighting and women watching from high towers. The awful figure of
the Darkness of Death was shown there, too, with mournful eyes
and the dust of battles upon her shoulders. The outer rim of the
shield showed the Stream of Ocean, the stream that encircles the
world; swans were soaring above and swimming on its surface.
All in wonder the heroes gazed on the great shield, telling each
other that only one man in all the world could carry it--Heracles
the son of Zeus. Could it be that Heracles had come amongst them?
They went into the feasting hall and they saw one there who was
tall as a pine tree, with unshorn tresses of hair upon his head.
Heracles indeed it was! He turned to them a smiling face with
smiling eyes. Heracles! They all gathered around the strongest
hero in the world, and he took the hand of each in his mighty
V. THE ARGO
The heroes went the next day through the streets of Iolcus down
to where the ship lay. The ways they went through were crowded;
the heroes were splendid in their appearance, and Jason amongst
them shone like a star.
The people praised him, and one told the other that it would not
be long until they would win back to Iolcus, for this band of
heroes was strong enough, they said, to take King Aetes's city
and force him to give up to them the famous Fleece of Gold. Many
of the bright-eyed youths of Iolcus went with the heroes who had
come from the different parts of Greece.
As they marched past a temple a priestess came forth to speak to
Jason; Iphias was her name. She had a prophecy to utter about the
voyage. But Iphias was very old, and she stammered in her speech
to Jason. What she said was not heard by him. The heroes went on,
and ancient Iphias was left standing there as the old are left by
The heroes went aboard the Argo. They took their seats as at an
assembly. Then Jason faced them and spoke to them all.
"Heroes of the quest," said Jason, "we have come aboard the great
ship that Argus has built, and all that a ship needs is in its
place or is ready to our hands. All that we wait for now is the
coming of the morning's breeze that will set us on our way for
"One thing we have first to do--that is, to choose a leader who
will direct us all, one who will settle disputes amongst
ourselves and who will make treaties between us and the strangers
that we come amongst. We must choose such a leader now."
Jason spoke, and some looked to him and some looked to Heracles.
But Heracles stood up, and, stretching out his hand, said:
"Argonauts! Let no one amongst you offer the leadership to me. I
will not take it. The hero who brought us together and made all
things ready for our going--it is he and no one else who should
be our leader in this voyage."
So Heracles said, and the Argonauts all stood up and raised a cry
for Jason. Then Jason stepped forward, and he took the hand of
each Argonaut in his hand, and he swore that he would lead them
with all the mind and all the courage that he possessed. And he
prayed the gods that it would be given to him to lead them back
safely with the Golden Fleece glittering on the mast of the Argo.
They drew lots for the benches they would sit at; they took the
places that for the length of the voyage they would have on the
ship. They made sacrifice to the gods and they waited for the
breeze of the morning that would help them away from Iolcus.
And while they waited Aeson, the father of Jason, sat at his own
hearth, bowed and silent in his grief. Alcimide, his wife, sat
near him, but she was not silent; she lamented to the women of
Iolcus who were gathered around her. "I did not go down to the
ship," she said, "for with my grief I would not be a bird of ill
omen for the voyage. By this hearth my son took farewell of me--
the only son I ever bore. From the doorway I watched him go down
the street of the city, and I heard the people shout as he went
amongst them, they glorying in my son's splendid appearance. Ah,
that I might live to see his return and to hear the shout that
will go up when the people look on Jason again! But I know that
my life will not be spared so long; I will not look on my son
when he comes back from the dangers he will run in the quest of
the Golden Fleece."
Then the women of Iolcus asked her to tell them of the Golden
Fleece, and Alcimide told them of it and of the sorrows that were
upon the race of Aeolus.
Cretheus, the father of Aeson, and Pelias, was of the race of
Aeolus, and of the race of Aeolus, too, was Athamas, the king who
ruled in Thebes at the same time that Cretheus ruled in Iolcus.
And the first children of Athamas were Phrixus and Helle.
"Ah, Phrixus and ah, Helle," Alcimide lamented, "what griefs you
have brought on the race of Aeolus! And what griefs you
yourselves suffered! The evil that Athamas, your father, did you
lives to be a curse to the line of Aeolus!
"Athamas was wedded first to Nephele, the mother of Phrixus and
Helle, the youth and maiden. But Athamas married again while the
mother of these children was still living, and Ino, the new
queen, drove Nephele and her children out of the king's palace.
"And now was Nephele most unhappy. She had to live as a servant,
and her children were servants to the servants of the palace.
They were clad in rags and had little to eat, and they were
beaten often by the servants who wished to win the favor of the
"But although they wore rags and had menial tasks to do, Phrixus
and Helle looked the children of a queen. The boy was tall, and
in his eyes there often came the flash of power, and the girl
looked as if she would grow into a lovely maiden. And when
Athamas, their father, would meet them by chance he would sigh,
and Queen Ino would know by that sigh that he had still some love
for them in his heart. Afterward she would have to use all the
power she possessed to win the king back from thinking upon his
"And now Queen Ino had children of her own. She knew that the
people reverenced the children of Nephele and cared nothing for
her children. And because she knew this she feared that when
Athamas died Phrixus and Helle, the children of Nephele, would be
brought to rule in Thebes. Then she and her children would be
made to change places with them.
"This made Queen Ino think on ways by which she could make
Phrixus and Helle lose their lives. She thought long upon this,
and at last a desperate plan came into her mind.
"When it was winter she went amongst the women of the
countryside, and she gave them jewels and clothes for presents.
Then she asked them to do secretly an unheard-of thing. She asked
the women to roast over their fires the grains that had been left
for seed. This the women did. Then spring came on, and the men
sowed in the fields the grain that had been roasted over the
fires. No shoots grew up as the spring went by. In summer there
was no waving greenness in the fields. Autumn came, and there was
no grain for the reaping. Then the men, not knowing what had
happened, went to King Athamas and told him that there would be
famine in the land.
"The king sent to the temple of Artemis to ask how the people
might be saved from the famine. And the guardians of the temple,
having taken gold from Queen Ino, told them that there would be
worse and worse famine and that all the people of Thebes would
die of hunger unless the king was willing to make a great
"When the king asked what sacrifice he should make he was told by
the guardians of the temple that he must sacrifice to the goddess
his two children, Phrixus and Helle. Those who were around the
king, to save themselves from famine after famine, clamored to
have the children sacrificed. Athamas, to save his people,
consented to the sacrifice.
"They went toward the king's palace. They found Helle by the bank
of the river washing clothes. They took her and bound her. They
found Phrixus, half naked, digging in a field, and they took him,
too, and bound him. That night they left brother and sister in
the same prison. Helle wept over Phrixus, and Phrixus wept to
think that he was not able to do anything to save his sister.
"The servants of the palace went to Nephele, and they mocked at
her, telling her that her children would be sacrificed on the
morrow. Nephele nearly went wild in her grief. And then,
suddenly, there came into her mind the thought of a creature that
might be a helper to her and to her children.
"This creature was a ram that had wings and a wonderful fleece of
gold. The god of the sea, Poseidon, had sent this wonderful ram
to Athamas and Nephele as a marriage gift. And the ram had since
been kept in a special fold.
"To that fold Nephele went. She spent the night beside the ram
praying for its help. The morning came and the children were
taken from their prison and dressed in white, and wreaths were
put upon their heads to mark them as things for sacrifice. They
were led in a procession to the temple of Artemis. Behind that
procession King Athamas walked, his head bowed in shame.
"But Queen Ino's head was not bowed; rather she carried it high,
for her thought was all upon her triumph. Soon Phrixus and Helle
would be dead, and then, whatever happened, her own children
would reign after Athamas in Thebes.
"Phrixus and Helle, thinking they were taking their last look at
the sun, went on. And even then Nephele, holding the horns of the
golden ram, was making her last prayer. The sun rose and as it
did the ram spread out its great wings and flew through the air.
It flew to the temple of Artemis. Down beside the altar came the
golden ram, and it stood with its horns threatening those who
came. All stopped in surprise. Still the ram stood with
threatening head and great golden wings spread out. Then Phrixus
ran from those who were holding him and laid his hands upon the
ram. He called to Helle and she, too, came to the golden
creature. Phrixus mounted on the ram and he pulled Helle up
beside him. Then the golden ram flew upward. Up, up, it went, and
with the children upon its back it became like a star in the
"Then Queen Ino, seeing the children saved by the golden ram,
shrieked and fled away from that place. Athamas ran after her. As
she ran and as he followed hatred for her grew up within him. Ino
ran on and on until she came to the cliffs that rose over the
sea. Fearing Athamas who came behind her she plunged down. But as
she fell she was changed by Poseidon, the god of the sea. She
became a seagull. Athamas, who followed her, was changed also; he
became the sea eagle that, with beak and talons ever ready to
strike, flies above the sea.
"And the golden ram with wings outspread flew on and on. Over the
sea it flew while the wind whistled around the children. On and
on they went, and the children saw only the blue sea beneath
them. Then poor Helle, looking downward, grew dizzy. She fell off
the golden ram before her brother could take hold of her. Down
she fell, and still the ram flew on and on. She was drowned in
that sea. The people afterward named it in memory of her, calling
it 'Hellespont'--'Helle's Sea.'
"On and on the ram flew. Over a wild and barren country it flew
and toward a river. Upon that river a white city was built. Down
the ram flew, and alighting on the ground, stood before the gate
of that city. It was the city of Aea, in the land of Colchis.
"The king was in the street of the city, and he joined with the
crowd that gathered around the strange golden creature that had a
youth upon its back. The ram folded its wings and then the youth
stood beside it. He spoke to the people, and then the king--
Aeetes was his name--spoke to him, asking him from what place he
had come, and what was the strange creature upon whose back he
"To the king and to the people Phrixus told his story, weeping to
tell of Helle and her fall. Then King Aeetes brought him into the
city, and he gave him a place in the palace, and for the golden
ram he had a special fold made.
"Soon after the ram died, and then King Aeetes took its golden
fleece and hung it upon an oak tree that was in a place dedicated
to Ares, the god of war. Phrixus wed one of the daughters of the
king, and men say that afterward he went back to Thebes, his own
"And as for the Golden Fleece it became the greatest of King
Aeetes's treasures. Well indeed does he guard it, and not with
armed men only, but with magic powers. Very strong and very
cunning is King Aeetes, and a terrible task awaits those who
would take away from him that Fleece of Gold."
So Alcimide spoke, sorrowfully telling to the women the story of
the Golden Fleece that her son Jason was going in quest of. So
she spoke, and the night waned, and the morning of the sailing of
the Argo came on.
And when the Argonauts beheld the dawn upon the high peaks of
Pelion they arose and poured out wine in offering to Zeus, the
highest of the gods. Then Argo herself gave forth a strange cry,
for the beam from Dodona that had been formed into her prow had
endued her with life. She uttered a strange cry, and as she did
the heroes took their places at the benches, one after the other,
as had been arranged by lot, and Tiphys, the helmsman, went to
the steering place. To the sound of Orpheus's lyre they smote
with oars the rushing sea water, and the surge broke over the oar
blades. The sails were let out and the breeze came into them,
piping shrilly, and the fishes came darting through the green
sea, great and small, and followed them, gamboling along the
watery paths. And Chiron, the king-centaur, came down from the
Mountain Pelion, and standing with his feet in the foam cried
out, "Good speed, O Argonauts, good speed, and a sorrowless
THE BEGINNING OF THINGS
Orpheus sang to his lyre, Orpheus the minstrel, who knew the ways
and the stories of the gods; out in the open sea on the first
morning of the voyage Orpheus sang to them of the beginning of
He sang how at first Earth and Heaven and Sea were all mixed and
mingled together. There was neither Light nor Darkness then, but
only a Dimness. This was Chaos. And from Chaos came forth Night
and Erebus. From Night was born Aether, the Upper Air, and from
Night and Erebus wedded there was born Day.
And out of Chaos came Earth, and out of Earth came the starry
Heaven. And from Heaven and Earth wedded there were born the
Titan gods and goddesses--Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion,
Iapetus; Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, gold-crowned Phoebe, and
lovely Tethys. And then Heaven and Earth had for their child
Cronos, the most cunning of all.
Cronos wedded Rhea, and from Cronos and Rhea were born the gods
who were different from the Titan gods.
But Heaven and Earth had other children--Cottus, Briareus, and
Gyes. These were giants, each with fifty heads and a hundred
arms. And Heaven grew fearful when he looked on these giant
children, and he hid them away in the deep places of the Earth.
Cronos hated Heaven, his father. He drove Heaven, his father, and
Earth, his mother, far apart. And far apart they stay, for they
have never been able to come near each other since. And Cronos
married to Rhea had for children Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Aidoneus,
and Poseidon, and these all belonged to the company of the
deathless gods. Cronos was fearful that one of his sons would
treat him as he had treated Heaven, his father. So when another
child was born to him and his wife Rhea he commanded that the
child be given to him so that he might swallow him. But Rhea
wrapped a great stone in swaddling clothes and gave the stone to
Cronos. And Cronos swallowed the stone, thinking to swallow his
That child was Zeus. Earth took Zeus and hid him in a deep cave
and those who minded and nursed the child beat upon drums so that
his cries might not be heard. His nurse was Adrastia; when he was
able to play she gave him a ball to play with. All of gold was
the ball, with a dark-blue spiral around it. When the boy Zeus
would play with this ball it would make a track across the sky,
flaming like a star.
Hyperion the Titan god wed Theia the Titan goddess, and their
children were Hellos, the bright Sun, and Selene, the clear Moon.
And Coeus wed Phoebe, and their children were Leto, who is kind
to gods and men, and Asteria of happy name, and Hecate, whom Zeus
honored above all. Now the gods who were the children of Cronos
and Rhea went up unto the Mountain Olympus, and there they built
their shining palaces. But the Titan gods who were born of Heaven
and Earth went up to the Mountain Othrys, and there they had
Between the Olympians and the Titan gods of Othrys a war began.
Neither side might prevail against the other. But now Zeus, grown
up to be a youth, thought of how he might help the Olympians to
overthrow the Titan gods.
He went down into the deep parts of the Earth where the giants
Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes had been hidden by their father.
Cronos had bound them, weighing them down with chains. But now
Zeus loosed them and the hundred-armed giants in their gratitude
gave him the lightning and showed him how to use the thunderbolt.
Zeus would have the giants fight against the Titan gods. But
although they had mighty strength Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes
had no fire of courage in their hearts. Zeus thought of a way to
give them this courage; he brought the food and drink of the gods
to them, ambrosia and nectar, and when they had eaten and drunk
their spirits grew within the giants, and they were ready to make
war upon the Titan gods.
"Sons of Earth and Heaven," said Zeus to the hundred-armed
giants, "a long time now have the Dwellers on Olympus been
striving with the Titan gods. Do you lend your unconquerable
might to the gods and help them to overthrow the Titans."
Cottus, the eldest of the giants, answered, "Divine One, through
your devising we are come back again from the murky gloom of the
mid Earth and we have escaped from the hard bonds that Cronos
laid upon us. Our minds are fixed to aid you in the war against
the Titan gods."
So the hundred-armed giants said, and thereupon Zeus went and he
gathered around him all who were born of Cronos and Rhea. Cronos
himself hid from Zeus. Then the giants, with their fifty heads
growing from their shoulders and their hundred hands, went forth
against the Titan gods. The boundless sea rang terribly and the
earth crashed loudly; wide Heaven was shaken and groaned, and
high Olympus reeled from its foundation. Holding huge rocks in
their hands the giants attacked the Titan gods.
Then Zeus entered the war. He hurled the lightning; the bolts
flew thick and fast from his strong hand, with thunder and
lightning and flame. The earth crashed around in burning, the
forests crackled with fire, the ocean seethed. And hot flames
wrapped the earth-born Titans all around. Three hundred rocks,
one upon another, did Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes hurl upon the
Titans. And when their ranks were broken the giants seized upon
them and held them for Zeus.
But some of the Titan gods, seeing that the strife for them
was vain, went over to the side of Zeus. These Zeus became
friendly with. But the other Titans he bound in chains and he
hurled them down to Tartarus.
As far as Earth is from Heaven so is Tartarus from Earth. A
brazen anvil falling down from Heaven to Earth nine days and nine
nights would reach the earth upon the tenth day. And again, a
brazen anvil falling from Earth nine nights and nine days would
reach Tartarus upon the tenth night. Around Tartarus runs a fence
of bronze and Night spreads in a triple line all about it, as a
necklace circles the neck. There Zeus imprisoned the Titan gods
who had fought against him; they are hidden in the misty gloom,
in a dank place, at the ends of the Earth. And they may not go
out, for Poseidon fixed gates of bronze upon their prison, and a
wall runs all round it. There Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes stay,
And there, too, is the home of Night. Night and Day meet each
other at that place, as they pass a threshold of bronze. They
draw near and they greet one another, but the house never holds
them both together, for while one is about to go down into the
house, the other is leaving through the door. One holds Light in
her hand and the other holds in her arms Sleep.
There the children of dark Night have their dwellings--Sleep,
and Death, his brother. The sun never shines upon these two.
Sleep may roam over the wide earth, and come upon the sea, and he
is kindly to men. But Death is not kindly, and whoever he seizes
upon, him he holds fast.
There, too, stands the hall of the lord of the Underworld,
Aidoneus, the brother of Zeus. Zeus gave him the Underworld to be
his dominion when he shared amongst the Olympians the world that
Cronos had ruled over. A fearful hound guards the hall of
Aidoneus: Cerberus he is called; he has three heads. On those who
go within that hall Cerberus fawns, but on those who would come
out of it he springs and would devour them.
Not all the Titans did Zeus send down to Tartarus. Those of them
who had wisdom joined him, and by their wisdom Zeus was able to
overcome Cronos. Then Cronos went to live with the friendly Titan
gods, while Zeus reigned over Olympus, becoming the ruler of gods
So Orpheus sang, Orpheus who knew the ways and the histories of
VI. POLYDEUCES' VICTORY AND HERACLES' LOSS
All the places that the Argonauts came nigh to and went past need
not be told--Melibcea, where they escaped a stormy beach; Homole,
from where they were able to look on Ossa and holy Olympus;
Lemnos, the island that they were to return to; the unnamed
country where the Earth-born Men abide, each having six arms, two
growing from his shoulders, and four fitting close to his
terrible sides; and then the Mountain of the Bears, where they
climbed, to make sacrifice there to Rhea, the mighty mother of
Afterward, for a whole day, no wind blew and the sail of the Argo
hung slack. But the heroes swore to each other that they would
make their ship go as swiftly as if the storm-footed steeds of
Poseidon were racing to overtake her. Mightily they labored at
the oars, and no one would be first to leave his rower's bench.
And then, just as the breeze of the evening came up, and just as
the rest of the heroes were leaning back, spent with their labor,
the oar that Heracles still pulled at broke, and half of it was
carried away by the waves. Heracles sat there in ill humor, for
he did not know what to do with his unlaboring hands.
All through the night they went on with a good breeze filling
their sails, and next day they came to the mouth of the River
Cius. There they landed so that Heracles might get himself an
oar. No sooner did they set their feet upon the shore than the
hero went off into the forest, to pull up a tree that he might
shape into an oar.
Where they had landed was near to the country of the Bebrycians,
a rude people whose king was named Amycus. Now while Heracles was
away from them this king came with his followers, huge, rude men,
all armed with clubs, down to where the Argonauts were lighting
their fires on the beach.
He did not greet them courteously, asking them what manner of men
they were and whither they were bound, nor did he offer them
hospitality. Instead, he shouted at them insolently:
"Listen to something that you rovers had better know. I am
Amycus, and any stranger that comes to this land has to get into
a boxing bout with me. That's the law that I have laid down.
Unless you have one amongst you who can stand up to me you won't
be let go back to your ship. If you don't heed my law, look out,
for something's going to happen to you."
So he shouted, that insolent king, and his followers raised their
clubs and growled approval of what their master said. But the
Argonauts were not dismayed at the words of Amycus. One of them
stepped toward the Bebrycians. He was Polydeuces, good at boxing.
"Offer us no violence, king," said Polydeuces. "We are ready to
obey the law that you have laid down. Willingly do I take up your
challenge, and I will box a bout with you."
The Argonauts cheered when they saw Polydeuces, the good boxer,
step forward, and when they heard what he had to say. Amycus
turned and shouted to his followers, and one of them brought up
two pairs of boxing gauntlets--of rough cowhide they were. The
Argonauts feared that Polydeuces' hands might have been made numb
with pulling at the oar, and some of them went to him, and took
his hands and rubbed them to make them supple; others took from
off his shoulders his beautifully colored mantle.
Amycus straightway put on his gauntlets and threw off his mantle;
he stood there amongst his followers with his great arms crossed,
glowering at the Argonauts as a wild beast might glower. And when
the two faced each other Amycus seemed like one of the Earthborn
Men, dark and hugely shaped, while Helen's brother stood there
light and beautiful. Polydeuces was like that star whose beams
are lovely at evening-tide.
Like the wave that breaks over a ship and gives the sailors no
respite Amycus came on at Polydeuces. He pushed in upon him,
thinking to bear him down and overwhelm him. But as the skillful
steersman keeps the ship from being overwhelmed by the monstrous
wave, so Polydeuces, all skill and lightness, baffled the rushes
of Amycus. At last Amycus, standing on the tips of his toes and
rising high above him, tried to bring down his great fist upon
the head of Polydeuces. The hero swung aside and took the blow on
his shoulder. Then he struck his blow. It was a strong one, and
under it the king of the Bebrycians staggered and fell down. "You
see," said Polydeuces, "that we keep your law."
The Argonauts shouted, but the rude Bebrycians raised their clubs
to rush upon them. Then would the heroes have been hard pressed,
and forced, perhaps, to get back to the Argo. But suddenly
Heracles appeared amongst them, coming up from the forest.
He carried a pine tree in his hands with all its branches still
upon it, and seeing this mighty-statured man appear with the
great tree in his hands, the Bebrycians hurried off, carrying
their fallen king with them. Then the Argonauts gathered around
Polydeuces, saluted him as their champion, and put a crown of
victory upon his head. Heracles, meanwhile, lopped off the
branches of the pine tree and began to fashion it into an oar.
The fires were lighted upon the shore, and the thoughts of all
were turned to supper. Then young Hylas, who used to sit by
Heracles and keep bright the hero's arms and armor, took a bronze
vessel and went to fetch water.
Never was there a boy so beautiful as young Hylas. He had golden
curls that tumbled over his brow. He had deep blue eyes and a
face that smiled at every glance that was given him, at every
word that was said to him. Now as he walked through the flowering
grasses, with his knees bare, and with the bright vessel swinging
in his hand, he looked most lovely. Heracles had brought the boy
with him from the country of the Dryopians; he would have him sit
beside him on the bench of the Argo, and the ill humors that
often came upon him would go at the words and the smile of Hylas.
Now the spring that Hylas was going toward was called Pegae, and
it was haunted by the nymphs. They were dancing around it when
they heard Hylas singing. They stole softly off to watch him.
Hidden behind trees the nymphs saw the boy come near, and they
felt such love for him that they thought they could never let him
go from their sight.
They stole back to their spring, and they sank down below its
clear surface. Then came Hylas singing a song that he had heard
from his mother. He bent down to the spring, and the brimming
water flowed into the sounding bronze of the pitcher. Then hands
came out of the water. One of the nymphs caught Hylas by the
elbow; another put her arms around his neck, another took the
hand that held the vessel of bronze. The pitcher sank down to the
depths of the spring. The hands of the nymphs clasped Hylas
tighter, tighter; the water bubbled around him as they drew him
down. Down, down they drew him,and into the cold and glimmering
cave where they live.
There Hylas stayed. But although the nymphs kissed him and sang
to him, and showed him lovely things, Hylas was not content to be
Where the Argonauts were the fires burned, the moon arose, and
still Hylas did not return. Then they began to fear lest a wild
beast had destroyed the boy. One went to Heracles and told him
that young Hylas had not come back, and that they were fearful
for him. Heracles flung down the pine tree that he was fashioning
into an oar, and he dashed along the way that Hylas had gone as
if a gadfly were stinging him. "Hylas, Hylas," he cried. But
Hylas, in the cold and glimmering cave that the nymphs had drawn
him into, did not hear the call of his friend Heracles.
All the Argonauts went searching, calling as they went through
the island, "Hylas, Hylas, Hylas!" But only their own calls came
back to them. The morning star came up, and Tiphys, the
steersman, called to them from the Argo. And when they came to
the ship Tiphys told them that they would have to go aboard and
make ready to sail from that place.
They called to Heracles, and Heracles at last came down to the
ship. They spoke to him, saying that they would have to sail
away. Heracles would not go on board. "I will not leave this
island," he said, "until I find young Hylas or learn what has
happened to him."
Then Jason arose to give the command to depart. But before the
words were said Telamon stood up and faced him. "Jason," he said
angrily, "you do not bid Heracles come on board, and you would
have the Argo leave without him. You would leave Heracles here so
that he may not be with us on the quest where his glory might
overshadow your glory, Jason."
Jason said no word, but he sat back on his bench with head bowed.
And then, even as Telamon said these angry words, a strange
figure rose up out of the waves of the sea.
It was the figure of a man, wrinkled and old, with seaweed in his
beard and his hair. There was a majesty about him, and the
Argonauts all knew that this was one of the immortals--he was
Nereus, the ancient one of the sea.
"To Heracles, and to you, the rest of the Argonauts, I have a
thing to say," said the ancient one, Nereus. "Know, first, that
Hylas has been taken by the nymphs who love him and who think to
win his love, and that he will stay forever with them in their
cold and glimmering cave. For Hylas seek no more. And to you,
Heracles, I will say this: Go aboard the Argo again; the ship
will take you to where a great labor awaits you, and which, in
accomplishing, you will work out the will of Zeus. You will know
what this labor is when a spirit seizes on you." So the ancient
one of the sea said, and he sank back beneath the waves.
Heracles went aboard the Argo once more, and he took his place on
the bench, the new oar in his hand. Sad he was to think that
young Hylas who used to sit at his knee would never be there
again. The breeze filled the sail, the Argonauts pulled at the
oars, and in sadness they watched the island where young Hylas
had been lost to them recede from their view.
VII. KING PHINEUS
Said Tiphys, the steersman: "If we could enter the Sea of Pontus,
we could make our way across that sea to Colchis in a short time.
But the passage into the Sea of Pontus is most perilous, and few
mortals dare even to make approach to it."
Said Jason, the chieftain of the host: "The dangers of the
passage, Tiphys, we have spoken of, and it may be that we shall
have to carry Argo overland to the Sea of Pontus. But You,
Tiphys, have spoken of a wise king who is hereabouts, and who
might help us to make the dangerous passage. Speak again to us,
and tell us what the dangers of the passage are, and who the king
is who may be able to help us to make these dangers less."
Then said Tiphys, the steersman of the Argo: "No ship sailed by
mortals has as yet gone through the passage that brings this sea
into the Sea of Pontus. In the way are the rocks that mariners
call The Clashers. These rocks are not fixed as rocks should be,
but they rush one against the other, dashing up the sea, and
crushing whatever may be between. Yea, if Argo were of iron, and
if she were between these rocks when they met, she would be
crushed to bits. I have sailed as far as that passage, but seeing
The Clashers strike together I turned back my ship, and journeyed
as far as the Sea of Pontus overland.
"But I have been told of one who knows how a ship may be taken
through the passage that The Clashers make so perilous. He who
knows is a king hereabouts, Phineus, who has made himself as wise
as the gods. To no one has Phineus told how the passage may be
made, but knowing what high favor has been shown to us, the
Argonauts, it may be that he will tell us."
So Tiphys said, and Jason commanded him to steer the Argo toward
the city where ruled Phineus, the wise king.
To Salmydessus, then, where Phineus ruled, Tiphys steered the
Argo. They left Heracles with Tiphys aboard to guard the ship,
and, with the rest of the heroes, Jason went through the streets
of the city. They met many men, but when they asked any of them
how they might come to the palace of King Phineus the men turned
They found their way to the king's palace. Jason spoke to the
servants and bade them tell the king of their coming. The
servants, too, seemed fearful, and as Jason and his comrades were
wondering what there was about him that made men fearful at his
name, Phineus, the king, came amongst them.
Were it not that he had a purple border to his robe no one would
have known him for the king, so miserable did this man seem. He
crept along, touching the walls, for the eyes in his head were
blind and withered. His body was shrunken, and when he stood
before them leaning on his staff he was like to a lifeless thing.
He turned his blinded eyes upon them, looking from one to the
other as if he were searching for a face.
Then his sightless eyes rested upon Zetes and Calais, the sons of
Boreas, the North Wind. A change came into his face as it turned
upon them. One would think that he saw the wonder that these two
were endowed with--the wings that grew upon their ankles. It was
awhile before he turned his face from them; then he spoke to
Jason and said:
"You have come to have counsel with one who has the wisdom of the
gods. Others before you have come for such counsel, but seeing
the misery that is visible upon me they went without asking for
counsel: I would strive to hold you here for a while. Stay, and
have sight of the misery the gods visit upon those who would be
as wise as they. And when you have seen the thing that is wont to
befall me, it may be that help will come from you for me."
Then Phineus, the blind king, left them, and after a while the
heroes were brought into a great hall, and they were invited to
rest themselves there while a banquet was being prepared for
them. The hall was richly adorned, but it looked to the heroes as
if it had known strange happenings; rich hangings were strewn
upon the ground, an ivory chair was overturned, and the dais
where the king sat had stains upon it. The servants who went
through the hall making ready the banquet were white-faced and
The feast was laid on a great table, and the heroes were invited
to sit down to it. The king did not come into the hall before
they sat down, but a table with food was set before the dais.
When the heroes had feasted, the king came into the hall. He sat
at the table, blind, white-faced, and shrunken, and the Argonauts
all turned their faces to him.
Said Phineus, the blind king: "You see, O heroes, how much my
wisdom avails me. You see me blind and shrunken, who tried to
make myself in wisdom equal to the gods. And yet you have not
seen all. Watch now and see what feasts Phineus, the wise king,
has to delight him."
He made a sign, and the white-faced and trembling servants
brought food and set it upon the table that was before him. The
king bent forward as if to eat, and they saw that his face was
covered with the damp of fear. He took food from the dish and
raised it to his mouth. As he did, the doors of the hall were
flung open as if by a storm. Strange shapes flew into the hall
and set themselves beside the king. And when the Argonauts looked
upon them they saw that these were terrible and unsightly shapes.
They were things that had the wings and claws of birds and the
heads of women. Black hair and gray feathers were mixed upon
them; they had red eyes, and streaks of blood were upon their
breasts and wings. And as the king raised the food to his mouth
they flew at him and buffeted his head with their wings, and
snatched the food from his hands. Then they devoured or scattered
what was upon the table, and all the time they screamed and
laughed and mocked.
"Ah, now ye see," Phineus panted, "what it is to have wisdom
equal to the wisdom of the gods. Now ye all see my misery. Never
do I strive to put food to my lips but these foul things, the
Harpies, the Snatchers, swoop down and scatter or devour what I
would eat. Crumbs they leave me that my life may not altogether
go from me, but these crumbs they make foul to my taste and my
And one of the Harpies perched herself on the back of the king's
throne and looked upon the heroes with red eyes. "Hah," she
screamed, "you bring armed men into your feasting hall, thinking
to scare us away. Never, Phineus, can you scare us from you!
Always you will have us, the Snatchers, beside you when you would
still your ache of hunger. What can these men do against us who
are winged and who can travel through the ways of the air?"
So said the unsightly Harpy, and the heroes drew together, made
fearful by these awful shapes. All drew back except Zetes and
Calais, the sons of the North Wind. They laid their hands upon
their swords. The wings on their shoulders spread out and the
wings at their heels trembled. Phineus, the king, leaned forward
and panted: "By the wisdom I have I know that there are two
amongst you who can save me. O make haste to help me, ye who can
help me, and I will give the counsel that you Argonauts have come
to me for, and besides I will load down your ship with treasure
and costly stuffs. Oh, make haste, ye who can help me!"
Hearing the king speak like this, the Harpies gathered together
and gnashed with their teeth, and chattered to one another. Then,
seeing Zetes and Calais with their hands upon their swords, they
rose up on their wings and flew through the wide doors of the
hall. The king cried out to Zetes and Calais. But the sons of the
North Wind had already risen with their wings, and they were
after the Harpies, their bright swords in their hands.
On flew the Harpies, screeching and gnashing their teeth in anger
and dismay, for now they felt that they might be driven from
Salmydessus, where they had had such royal feasts. They rose high
in the air and flew out toward the sea. But high as the Harpies
rose, the sons of the North Wind rose higher. The Harpies cried
pitiful cries as they flew on, but Zetes and Calais felt no pity
for them, for they knew that these dread Snatchers, with the
stains of blood upon their breasts and wings, had shown pity
neither to Phineus nor to any other.
On they flew until they came to the island that is called the
Floating Island. There the Harpies sank down with wearied wings.
Zetes and Calais were upon them now, and they would have cut them
to pieces with their bright swords, if the messenger of Zeus,
Iris, with the golden wings, had not come between.
"Forbear to slay the Harpies, sons of Boreas," cried Iris
warningly, "forbear to slay the Harpies that are the hounds of
Zeus. Let them cower here and hide themselves, and I, who come
from Zeus, will swear the oath that the gods most dread, that
they will never again come to Salmydessus to trouble Phineus, the
The heroes yielded to the words of Iris. She took the oath that
the gods most dread--the oath by the Water of Styx--that never
again would the Harpies show themselves to Phineus. Then Zetes
and Calais turned back toward the city of Salmydessus. The island
that they drove the Harpies to had been called the Floating
Island, but thereafter it was called the Island of Turning. It
was evening when they turned back, and all night long the
Argonauts and King Phineus sat in the hall of the palace and
awaited the return of Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North
VIII. King Phineus's Counsel; the Landing in Lemnos
They came into King Phineus's hall, their bright swords in their
hands. The Argonauts crowded around them and King Phineus raised
his head and stretched out his thin hands to them. And Zetes and
Calais told their comrades and told the king how they had driven
the Harpies down to the Floating Island, and how Iris, the
messenger of Zeus, had sworn the great oath that was by the Water
of Styx that never again would the Snatchers show themselves in
Then a great golden cup brimming with wine was brought to the
king. He stood holding it in his trembling hands, fearful even
then that the Harpies would tear the cup out of his hands. He
drank--long and deeply he drank--and the dread shapes of the
Snatchers did not appear. Down amongst the heroes he came and he
took into his the hands of Zetes and Calais, the sons of the
"O heroes greater than any kings," he said, "ye have delivered
me from the terrible curse that the gods had sent upon me. I
thank ye, and I thank ye all, heroes of the quest. And the thanks
of Phineus will much avail you all."
Clasping the hands of Zetes and Calais he led the heroes through
hall after hall of his palace and down into his treasure chamber.
There he bestowed upon the banishers of the Harpies crowns and
arm rings of gold and richly-colored garments and brazen chests
in which to store the treasure that he gave. And to Jason he gave
an ivory-hilted and golden-cased sword, and on each of the
voyagers he bestowed a rich gift, not forgetting the heroes who
had remained on the Argo, Heracles and Tiphys.
They went back to the great hall, and a feast was spread for the
king and for the Argonauts. They ate from rich dishes and they
drank from flowing wine cups. Phineus ate and drank as the heroes
did, and no dread shapes came before him to snatch from him nor
to buffet him. But as Jason looked upon the man who had striven
to equal the gods in wisdom, and noted his blinded eyes and
shrunken face, he resolved never to harbor in his heart such
presumption as Phineus had harbored.
When the feast was finished the king spoke to Jason, telling him
how the Argo might be guided through the Symplegades, the dread
passage into the Sea of Pontus. He told them to bring their ship
near to the Clashing Rocks. And one who had the keenest sight
amongst them was to stand at the prow of the ship holding a
pigeon in his hands. As the rocks came together he was to loose
the pigeon. If it found a space to fly through they would know
that the Argo could make the passage, and they were to steer
straight toward where the pigeon had flown. But if it fluttered
down to the sea, or flew back to them, or became lost in the
clouds of spray, they were to know that the Argo might not make
that passage. Then the heroes would have to take their ship
overland to where they might reach the Sea of Pontus.
That day they bade farewell to Phineus, and with the treasures he
had bestowed upon them they went down to the Argo. To Heracles
and Tiphys they gave the presents that the king had sent them. In
the morning they drew the Argo out of the harbor of Salmydessus,
and set sail again.
But not until long afterward did they come to the Symplegades,
the passage that was to be their great trial. For they landed
first in a country that was full of woods, where they were
welcomed by a king who had heard of the voyagers and of their
quest. There they stayed and hunted for many days in the woods.
And there a great loss befell the Argonauts, for Tiphys, as he
went through the woods, was bitten by a snake and died. He who
had braved so many seas and so many storms lost his life away
from the ship. The Argonauts made a tomb for him on the shore of
that land--a great pile of stones, in which they fixed upright
his steering oar. Then they set sail again, and Nauplius was made
the steersman of the ship.
The course was not so clear to Nauplius as it had been to Tiphys.
The steersman did not find his bearings, and for many days and
nights the Argo was driven on a backward course. They came to an
island that they knew to be that Island of Lemnos that they had
passed on the first days of the voyage, and they resolved to
rest there for a while, and then to press on for the passage into
the Sea of Pontus.
They brought the Argo near the shore. They blew trumpets and set
the loudest-voiced of the heroes to call out to those upon the
island. But no answer came to them, and all day the Argo lay
close to the island.
There were hidden people watching them, people with bows in their
hands and arrows laid along the bowstrings. And the people who
thus threatened the unknowing Argonauts were women and young
There were no men upon the Island of Lemnos. Years before a curse
had fallen upon the people of that island, putting strife between
the men and the women. And the women had mastered the men and had
driven them away from Lemnos. Since then some of the women had
grown old, and the girls who were children when their fathers and
brothers had been banished were now of an age with Atalanta, the
maiden who went with the Argonauts.
They chased the wild beasts of the island, and they tilled the
fields, and they kept in good repair the houses that were built
before the banishing of the men. The older women served those who
were younger, and they had a queen, a girl whose name was
The women who watched with bows in their hands would have shot
their arrows at the Argonauts if Hypsipyle's nurse, Polyxo,
had not stayed them. She forbade them to shoot at the strangers
until she had brought to them the queen's commands.
She hastened to the palace and she found the young queen weaving
at a loom. She told her about the ship and the strangers on board
the ship, and she asked the queen what word she should bring to
the guardian maidens.
"Before you give a command, Hypsipyle," said Polyxo, the nurse,
"consider these words of mine. We, the elder women, are becoming
ancient now; in a few years we will not be able to serve you, the
younger women, and in a few years more we will have gone into the
grave and our places will know us no more. And you, the younger
women, will be becoming strengthless, and no more will be you
able to hunt in the woods nor to till the fields, and a hard old
age will be before you.
"The ship that is beside our shore may have come at a good time.
Those on board are goodly heroes. Let them land in Lemnos, and
stay if they will. Let them wed with the younger women so that
there may be husbands and wives, helpers and helpmeets, again in
Hypsipyle, the queen, let the shuttle fall from her hands and
stayed for a while looking full into Polyxo's face. Had her nurse
heard her say something like this out of her dreams, she
wondered? She bade the nurse tell the guardian maidens to let the
heroes land in safety, and that she herself would put the crown
of King Thoas, her father, upon her head, and go down to the
shore to welcome them.
And now the Argonauts saw people along the shore and they caught
sight of women's dresses. The loudest-voiced amongst them shouted
again, and they heard an answer given in a woman's voice. They
drew up the Argo upon the shore, and they set foot upon the land
Jason stepped forth at the head of his comrades, and he was met
by Hypsipyle, her father's crown upon her head, at the head of
her maidens. They greeted each other, and Hypsipyle bade the
heroes come with them to their town that was called Myrine and to
the palace that was there.
Wonderingly the Argonauts went, looking on women's forms and
faces and seeing no men. They came to the palace and went within.
Hypsipyle mounted the stone throne that was King Thoas's and the
four maidens who were her guards stood each side of her. She
spoke to the heroes in greeting and bade them stay in peace for
as long as they would. She told them of the curse that had fallen
upon the people of Lemnos, and of how the menfolk had been
banished. Jason, then, told the queen what voyage he and his
companions were upon and what quest they were making. Then in
friendship the Argonauts and the women of Lemnos stayed together
--all the Argonauts except Heracles, and he, grieving still for
Hylas, stayed aboard the Argo.
IX. The Lemnian Maidens
And now the Argonauts were no longer on a ship that was being
dashed on by the sea and beaten upon by the winds. They had
houses to live in; they had honey-tasting things to eat, and when
they went through the island each man might have with him one of
the maidens of Lemnos. It was a change that was welcome to the
They helped the women in the work of the fields; they hunted the
beasts with them, and over and over again they were surprised at
how skillfully the women had ordered all affairs. Everything in
Lemnos was strange to the Argonauts, and they stayed day after
day, thinking each day a fresh adventure.
Sometimes they would leave the fields and the chase, and this
hero or that hero, with her who was his friend amongst the
Lemnian maidens, would go far into that strange land and look
upon lakes that were all covered with golden and silver water
lilies, or would gather the blue flowers from creepers that grew
around dark trees, or would hide themselves so that they might
listen to the quick-moving birds that sang in the thickets.
Perhaps on their way homeward they would see the Argo in the
harbor, and they would think of Heracles who was aboard, and they
would call to him. But the ship and the voyage they had been on
now seemed far away to them, and the Quest of the Golden Fleece
seemed to them a story they had heard and that they had thought
of, but that they could never think on again with all that
When Jason looked on Hypsipyle he saw one who seemed to him to be
only childlike in size. Greatly was he amazed at the words that
poured forth from her as she stood at the stone throne of King
Thoas--he was amazed as one is amazed at the rush of rich notes
that comes from the throat of a little bird; all that she said
was made lightninglike by her eyes--her eyes that were not clear
and quiet like the eyes of the maidens he had seen in Iolcus, but
that were dark and burning. Her mouth was heavy and this heavy
mouth gave a shadow to her face that, but for it, was all bright
Hypsipyle spoke two languages--one, the language of the mothers
of the women of Lemnos, which was rough and harsh, a speech to be
flung out to slaves, and the other the language of Greece, which
their fathers had spoken, and which Hypsipyle spoke in a way that
made it sound like strange music. She spoke and walked and did
all things in a queenlike way, and Jason could see that, for all
her youth and childlike size, Hypsipyle was one who was a ruler.
>From the moment she took his hand it seemed that she could not
bear to be away from him. Where he walked, she walked too; where
he sat she sat before him, looking at him with her great eyes
while she laughed or sang.
Like the perfume of strange flowers, like the savor of strange
fruit was Hypsipyle to Jason. Hours and hours he would spend
sitting beside her or watching her while she arrayed herself in
white or in brightly colored garments. Not to the chase and not
into the fields did Jason go, nor did he ever go with the others
into the Lemnian land; all day he sat in the palace with her,
watching her, or listening to her singing, or to the long, fierce
speeches that she used to make to her nurse or to the four
maidens who attended her.
In the evening they would gather in the hall of the palace,
the Argonauts and the Lemnian maidens who were their comrades.
There were dances, and always Jason and Hypsipyle danced
together. All the Lemnian maidens sang beautifully, but none of
them had any stories to tell.
And when the Argonauts would have stories told, the Lemnian
maidens would forbid any tale that was about a god or a hero;
only stories that were about the goddesses or about some maiden
would they let be told.
Orpheus, who knew the histories of the gods, would have told
them many stories, but the only story of his that they would come
from the dance to listen to was a story of the goddesses, of
Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
Demeter And Persephone
Once when Demeter was going through the world, giving men
grain to be sown in their fields, she heard a cry that came to
her from across high mountains and that mounted up to her from
the sea. Demeter's heart shook when she heard that cry, for she
knew that it came to her from her daughter, from her only child,
She stayed not to bless the fields in which the grain was
being sown, but she hurried, hurried away, to Sicily and to the
fields of Enna, where she had left Persephone. All Enna she
searched, and all Sicily, but she found no trace of Persephone,
nor of the maidens whom Persephone had been playing with. From
all whom she met she begged for tidings, but although some had
seen maidens gathering flowers and playing together, no one could
tell Demeter why her child had cried out nor where she had since
There were some who could have told her. One was Cyane, a
water nymph. But Cyane, before Demeter came to her, had been
changed into a spring of water. And now, not being able to speak
and tell Demeter where her child had gone to and who had carried
her away, she showed in the water the girdle of Persephone that
she had caught in her hands. And Demeter, finding the girdle of
her child in the spring, knew that she had been carried off by
violence.She lighted a torch at Etna's burning mountain, and for
nine days and nine nights she went searching for her through the
darkened places of the earth.
Then, upon a high and a dark hill, the Goddess Demeter came face
to face with Hecate, the Moon. Hecate, too, had heard the cry of
Persephone; she had sorrow for Demeter's sorrow: she spoke to her
as the two stood upon that dark, high hill, and told her that she
should go to Helios for tidings--to bright Helios, the watcher
for the gods, and beg Helios to tell her who it was who had
carried off by violence her child Persephone.
Demeter came to Helios. He was standing before his shining
steeds, before the impatient steeds that draw the sun through the
course of the heavens. Demeter stood in the way of those
impatient steeds; she begged of Helios who sees all things upon
the earth to tell her who it was had carried off by violence,
Persephone, her child.
And Helios, who may make no concealment, said: "Queenly Demeter,
know that the king of the Underworld, dark Aidoneus, has carried
off Persephone to make her his queen in the realm that I never
shine upon." He spoke, and as he did, his horses shook their
manes and breathed out fire, impatient to be gone. Helios sprang
into his chariot and went flashing away.
Demeter, knowing that one of the gods had carried off Persephone
against her will, and knowing that what was done had been done by
the will of Zeus, would go no more into the assemblies of the
gods. She quenched the torch that she had held in her hands for
nine days and nine nights; she put off her robe of goddess, and
she went wandering over the earth, uncomforted for the loss of
her child. And no longer did she appear as a gracious goddess to
men; no longer did she give them grain; no longer did she bless
their fields. None of the things that it had pleased her once to
do would Demeter do any longer.
Persephone had been playing with the nymphs who are the daughters
of Ocean--Phaeno, Ianthe, Melita, Ianeira, Acast--in the
lovely fields of Enna. They went to gather flowers--irises and
crocuses, lilies, narcissus, hyacinths and roseblooms--that grow
in those fields. As they went, gathering flowers in their
baskets, they had sight of Pergus, the pool that the white swans
come to sing in.
Beside a deep chasm that had been made in the earth a wonder
flower was growing--in color it was like the crocus, but it sent
forth a perfume that was like the perfume of a hundred flowers.
And Persephone thought as she went toward it that having gathered
that flower she would have something much more wonderful than her
She did not know that Aidoneus, the lord of the Underworld, had
caused that flower to grow there so that she might be drawn by it
to the chasm that he had made.
As Persephone stooped to pluck the wonder flower, Aidoneus,
in his chariot of iron, dashed up through the chasm, and grasping
the maiden by the waist, set her beside him. Only Cyane, the
nymph, tried to save Persephone, and it was then that she caught
the girdle in her hands.
The maiden cried out, first because her flowers had been
spilled, and then because she was being reft away. She cried out
to her mother, and her cry went over high mountains and sounded
up from the sea. The daughters of Ocean, affrighted, fled and
sank down into the depths of the sea.
In his great chariot of iron that was drawn by black steeds
Aidoneus rushed down through the chasm he had made. Into the
Underworld he went, and he dashed across the River Styx, and he
brought his chariot up beside his throne. And on his dark throne
he seated Persephone, the fainting daughter of Demeter.
No more did the Goddess Demeter give grain to men; no more
did she bless their fields: weeds grew where grain had been
growing, and men feared that in a while they would famish for
lack of bread.
She wandered through the world, her thought all upon her
child, Persephone, who had been taken from her. Once she sat by a
well by a wayside, thinking upon the child that she might not
come to and who might not come to her.
She saw four maidens come near; their grace and their youth
reminded her of her child. They stepped lightly along, carrying
bronze pitchers in their hands, for they were coming to the Well
of the Maiden beside which Demeter sat.
The maidens thought when they looked upon her that the goddess
was some ancient woman who had a sorrow in her heart. Seeing that
she was so noble and so sorrowful-looking, the maidens, as they
drew the clear water into their pitchers, spoke kindly to her.
"Why do you stay away from the town, old mother?" one of the
maidens said. "Why do you not come to the houses? We think that
you look as if you were shelterless and alone, and we should like
to tell you that there are many houses in the town where you
would be welcomed."
Demeter's heart went out to the maidens, because they looked so
young and fair and simple and spoke out of such kind hearts. She
said to them: "Where can I go, dear children? My people are far
away, and there are none in all the world who would care to be
Said one of the maidens: "There are princes in the land who would
welcome you in their houses if you would consent to nurse one of
their young children. But why do I speak of other princes beside
Celeus, our father? In his house you would indeed have a welcome.
But lately a baby has been born to our mother, Metaneira, and she
would greatly rejoice to have one as wise as you mind little
All the time that she watched them and listened to their voices
Demeter felt that the grace and youth of the maidens made them
like Persephone. She thought that it would ease her heart to be
in the house where these maidens were, and she was not loath to
have them go and ask of their mother to have her come to nurse
the infant child.
Swiftly they ran back to their home, their hair streaming behind
them like crocus flowers; kind and lovely girls whose names are
well remembered--Callidice and Cleisidice, Demo and Callithoe.
They went to their mother and they told her of the stranger-woman
whose name was Doso. She would make a wise and a kind nurse for
little Demophoon, they said. Their mother, Metaneira, rose up
from the couch she was sitting on to welcome the stranger. But
when she saw her at the doorway, awe came over her, so majestic
Metaneira would have her seat herself on the couch but the
goddess took the lowliest stool, saying in greeting: "May the
gods give you all good, lady."
"Sorrow has set you wandering from your good home," said
Metaneira to the goddess, "but now that you have come to this
place you shall have all that this house can bestow if you will
rear up to youth the infant Demophoon, child of many hopes and
The child was put into the arms of Demeter; she clasped him to
her breast, and little Demophoon looked up into her face and
smiled. Then Demeter's heart went out to the child and to all who
were in the household.
He grew in strength and beauty in her charge. And little
Demophoon was not nourished as other children are nourished, but
even as the gods in their childhood were nourished. Demeter fed
him on ambrosia, breathing on him with her divine breath the
while. And at night she laid him on the hearth, amongst the
embers, with the fire all around him. This she did that she might
make him immortal, and like to the gods.
But one night Metaneira looked out from the chamber where she
lay, and she saw the nurse take little Demopho÷n and lay him in a
place on the hearth with the burning brands all around him. Then
Metaneira started up, and she sprang to the hearth, and she
snatched the child from beside the burning brands. "Demopho÷n, my
son," she cried, "what would this strangerwoman do to you,
bringing bitter grief to me that ever I let her take you in her
Then said Demeter: "Foolish indeed are you mortals, and not able
to foresee what is to come to you of good or of evil,"
"Foolish indeed are you, Metaneira, for in your heedlessness you
have cut off this child from an immortality like to the
immortality of the gods themselves. For he had lain in my bosom
and had become dear to me and I would have bestowed upon him the
greatest gift that the Divine Ones can bestow, for I would have
made him deathless and unaging. All this, now, has gone by. Honor
he shall have indeed, but Demophoon will know age and death."
The seeming old age that was upon her had fallen from
Demeter; beauty and stature were hers, and from her robe there
came a heavenly fragrance. There came such light from her body
that the chamber shone. Metaneira remained trembling and
speechless, unmindful even to take up the child that had been
laid upon the ground.
It was then that his sisters heard Demophoon wail; one ran from
her chamber and took the child in her arms; another kindled again
the fire upon the hearth, and the others made ready to bathe and
care for the infant. All night they cared for him, holding him in
their arms and at their breasts, but the child would not be
comforted, becauses the nurses who handled him now were less
skillful than was the goddess-nurse.
And as for Demeter, she left the house of Celeus and went upon
her way, lonely in her heart, and unappeased. And in the world
that she wandered through, the plow went in vain through the
ground; the furrow was sown without any avail, and the race of
men saw themselves near perishing for lack of bread.
But again Demeter came near the Well of the Maiden. She thought
of the daughters of Celeus as they came toward the well that day,
the bronze pitchers in their hands, and with kind looks for the
stranger--she thought of them as she sat by the well again. And
then she thought of little Demophoon, the child she had held at
her breast. No stir of living was in the land near their home,
and only weeds grew in their fields. As she sat there and looked
around her there came into Demeter's heart a pity for the people
in whose house she had dwelt.
She rose up and she went to the house of Celeus. She found him
beside his house measuring out a little grain. The goddess went
to him and she told him that because of the love she bore his
household she would bless his fields so that the seed he had sown
in them would come to growth. Celeus rejoiced, and he called all
the people together, and they raised a temple to Demeter. She
went through the fields and blessed them, and the seed that they
had sown began to grow. And the goddess for a while dwelt amongst
that people, in her temple at Eleusis.
But still she kept away from the assemblies of the gods. Zeus
sent a messenger to her, Iris with the golden wings, bidding her
to Olympus. Demeter would not join the Olympians. Then, one after
the other, the gods and goddesses of Olympus came to her; none
were able to make her cease from grieving for Persephone, or to
go again into the company of the immortal gods.
And so it came about that Zeus was compelled to send a messenger
down to the Underworld to bring Persephone back to the mother who
grieved so much for the loss of her. Hermes was the messenger
whom Zeus sent. Through the darkened places of the earth Hermes
went, and he came to that dark throne where the lord Aidoneus
sat, with Persephone beside him. Then Hermes spoke to the lord of
the Underworld, saying that Zeus commanded that Persephone should
come forth from the Underworld that her mother might look upon
Then Persephone, hearing the words of Zeus that might not be
gainsaid, uttered the only cry that had left her lips since she
had sent out that cry that had reached her mother's heart. And
Aidoneus, hearing the command of Zeus that might not be denied,
bowed his dark, majestic head.
She might go to the Upperworld and rest herself in the arms of
her mother, he said. And then he cried out: "Ah, Persephone,
strive to feel kindliness in your heart toward me who carried you
off by violence and against your will. I can give to you one of
the great kingdoms that the Olympians rule over. And I, who am
brother to Zeus, am no unfitting husband for you, Demeter's
So Aidoneus, the dark lord of the Underworld said, and he made
ready the iron chariot with its deathless horses that Persephone
might go up from his kingdom.
Beside the single tree in his domain Aidoneus stayed the chariot.
A single fruit grew on that tree, a bright pomegranate fruit.
Persephone stood up in the chariot and plucked the fruit from the
tree. Then did Aidoneus prevail upon her to divide the fruit,
and, having divided it, Persephone ate seven of the pomegranate
It was Hermes who took the whip and the reins of the chariot. He
drove on, and neither the sea nor the water-courses, nor the
glens nor the mountain peaks stayed the deathless horses of
Aidoneus, and soon the chariot was brought near to where Demeter
awaited the coming of her daughter.
And when, from a hilltop, Demeter saw the chariot approaching,
she flew like a wild bird to clasp her child. Persephone, when
she saw her mother's dear eyes, sprang out of the chariot and
fell upon her neck and embraced her. Long and long Demeter held
her dear child in her arms, gazing, gazing upon her. Suddenly her
mind misgave her. With a great fear at her heart she cried out:
"Dearest, has any food passed your lips in all the time you have
been in the Underworld?"
She had not tasted food in all the time she was there, Persephone
said. And then, suddenly, she remembered the pomegranate that
Aidoneus had asked her to divide. When she told that she had
eaten seven seeds from it Demeter wept, and her tears fell upon
"Ah, my dearest," she cried, "if you had not eaten the
pomegranate seeds you could have stayed with me, and always we
should have been together. But now that you have eaten food in
it, the Underworld has a claim upon you. You may not stay always
with me here. Again you will have to go back and dwell in the
dark places under the earth and sit upon Aidoneus's throne. But
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