The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles
Part 3 out of 5
kine--Phaethusa and Lampetia, one with a staff of silver and the
other with a staff of gold.
Driven by the breeze that came over the Thrinacian Sea the
Argonauts came to the land of the Phaeacians. It was a good land
as they saw when they drew near; a land of orchards and fresh
pastures, with a white and sun-lit city upon the height. Their
spirits came back to them as they drew into the harbor; they made
fast the hawsers, and they went upon the ways of the city.
And then they saw everywhere around them the dark faces of
Colchian soldiers. These were the men of King ,Eetes, and they
had come overland to the Phaeacian city, hoping to cut off the
Argonauts. Jason, when he saw the soldiers, shouted to those who
had been left on the Argo, and they drew out of the harbor,
fearful lest the Colchians should grapple with the ship and wrest
from them the Fleece of Gold. Then Jason made an encampment upon
the shore, and the captain of the Colchians went here and there,
gathering together his men.
Medea left Jason's side and hastened through the city. To the
palace of Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians, she went. Within the
palace she found Arete, the queen. And Arete was sitting by her
hearth, spinning golden and silver threads.
Arete was young at that time, as young as Medea, and as yet no
child had been born to her. But she had the clear eyes of one who
understands, and who knows how to order things well. Stately,
too, was Arete, for she had been reared in the house of a great
king. Medea came to her, and fell upon her knees before her, and
told her how she had fled from the house of her father, King
She told Arete, too, how she had helped Jason to win the Golden
Fleece, and she told her how through her her brother had been led
to his death. As she told this part of her story she wept and
prayed at the knees of the queen.
Arete was greatly moved by Medea's tears and prayers. She went to
Alcinous in his garden, and she begged of him to save the
Argonauts from the great force of the Colchians that had come to
cut them off. "The Golden Fleece," said Arete, "has been won by
the tasks that Jason performed. If the Colchians should take
Medea, it would be to bring her back to Aea and to a bitter doom.
And the maiden," said the queen, "has broken my heart by her
prayers and tears."
King Alcinous said: "Aeetes is strong, and although his kingdom
is far from ours, he can bring war upon us." But still Arete
pleaded with him to protect Medea from the Colchians. Alcinous
went within; he raised up Medea from where she crouched on the
floor of the palace, and he promised her that the Argonauts would
be protected in his city.
Then the king mounted his chariot; Medea went with him, and they
came down to the seashore where the heroes had made their
encampment. The Argonauts and the Colchians were drawn up against
each other, and the Colchians far outnumbered the wearied heroes.
Alcinous drove his chariot between the two armies. The Colchians
prayed him to have the strangers make surrender to them. But the
king drove his chariot to where the heroes stood, and he took the
hand of each, and received them as his guests. Then the Colchians
knew that they might not make war upon the heroes. They drew off.
The next day they marched away.
It was a rich land that they had come to. Once Aristaeus dwelt
there, the king who discovered how to make bees store up their
honey for men and how to make the good olive grow. Macris, his
daughter, tended Dionysus, the son of Zeus, when Hermes brought
him of the flame, and moistened his lips with honey. She tended
him in a cave in the Phaeacian land, and ever afterward the
Phaeacians were blessed with all good things.
Now as the heroes marched to the palace of King Alcinous the
people came to meet them, bringing them sheep and calves and jars
of wine and honey. The women brought them fresh garments; to
Medea they gave fine linen and golden ornaments.
Amongst the Phaeacians who loved music and games and the telling
of stories the heroes stayed for long. There were dances, and to
the Phaeacians who honored him as a god, Orpheus played upon his
lyre. And every day, for the seven days that they stayed amongst
them, the Phaeacians brought rich presents to the heroes.
And Medea, looking into the clear eyes of Queen Arete, knew
that she was the woman of whom Circe had prophesied, the woman
who knew nothing of enchantments, but who had much human wisdom.
She was to ask of her what she was to do in her life and what she
was to leave undone. And what this woman told her Medea was tó
regard. Arete told her that she was to forget all the witcheries
and enchantments that she knew, and that she was never to
practice against the life of any one. This she told Medea upon
the shore, before Jason lifted her aboard the Argo.
VII. They Come to the Desert Land
And now with sail spread wide the Argo went on, and the heroes
rested at the oars. The wind grew stronger. It became a great
blast, and for nine days and nine nights the ship was driven
The blast drove them into the Gulf of Libya, from whence there is
no return for ships. On each side of the gulf there are rocks and
shoals, and the sea runs toward the limitless sand. On the top of
a mighty tide the Argo was lifted, and she was flung high up on
the desert sands.
A flood tide such as might not come again for long left the
Argonauts on the empty Libyan land. And when they came forth and
saw that vast level of sand stretching like a mist away into the
distance, a deadly fear came over each of them. No spring of
water could they descry; no path; no herdsman's cabin; over all
that vast land there was silence and dead calm. And one said to
the other: "What land is this? Whither have we come? Would that
the tempest had overwhelmed us, or would that we had lost the
ship and our lives between the Clashing Rocks at the time when we
were making our way into the Sea of Pontus."
And the helmsman, looking before him, said with a breaking heart:
"Out of this we may not come, even should the breeze blow from
the land, for all around us are shoals and sharp rocks--rocks
that we can see fretting the water, line upon line. Our ship
would have been shattered far from the shore if the tide had not
borne her far up on the sand. But now the tide rushes back toward
the sea, leaving only foam on which no ship can sail to cover the
sand. And so all hope of our return is cut off."
He spoke with tears flowing upon his cheeks, and all who had
knowledge of ships agreed with what the helmsman had said. No
dangers that they had been through were as terrible as this.
Hopelessly, like lifeless specters, the heroes strayed about the
They embraced each other and they said farewell as they laid down
upon the sand that might blow upon them and overwhelm them in the
night. They wrapped their heads in their cloaks, and, fasting,
they laid themselves down.
Jason crouched beside the ship, so troubled that his life nearly
went from him. He saw Medea huddled against a rock and with her
hair streaming on the sand. He saw the men who, with all the
bravery of their lives, had come with him, stretched on the
desert sand, weary and without hope. He thought that they, the
best of men, might die in this desert with their deeds all
unknown; he thought that he might never win home with Medea, to
make her his queen in Iolcus.
He lay against the side of the ship, his cloak wrapped around his
head. And there death would have come to him and to the others if
the nymphs of the desert had been unmindful of these brave men.
They came to Jason. It was midday then, and the fierce rays of
the sun were scorching all Libya. They drew off the cloak that
wrapped his head; they stood near him, three nymphs girded around
"Why art thou so smitten with despair?" the nymphs said to Jason.
"Why art thou smitten with despair, thou who hast wrought so much
and hast won so much? Up! Arouse thy comrades! We are the
solitary nymphs, the warders of the land of Libya, and we have
come to show a way of escape to you, the Argonauts.
"Look around and watch for the time when Poseidon's great horse
shall be unloosed. Then make ready to pay recompense to the
mother that bore you all. What she did for you all, that you all
must do for her; by doing it you will win back to the land of
Greece." Jason heard them say these words and then he saw them no
more; the nymphs vanished amongst the desert mounds.
Then Jason rose up. He did not know what to make out of what had
been told him, but there was courage now and hope in his heart.
He shouted; his voice was like the roar of a lion calling to his
mate. At his shout his comrades roused themselves; all squalid
with the dust of the desert the Argonauts stood around him.
"Listen, comrades, to me," Jason said, "while I speak of a
strange thing that has befallen me. While I lay by the side of
our ship three nymphs came before me. With light hands they drew
away the cloak that wrapped my head. They declared themselves to
be the solitary nymphs, the warders, of Libya. Very strange were
the words they said to me. When Poseidon's great horse shall be
unloosed, they said, we were to make the mother of us all a
recompense, doing for her what she had done for us all. This the
nymphs told me to say, but I cannot understand the meaning of
There were some there who would not have given heed to Jason's
words, deeming them words without meaning. But even as he spoke a
wonder came before their eyes. Out of the far-off sea a great
horse leaped. Vast he was of size and he had a golden mane. He
shook the spray of the sea off his sides and mane. Past them he
trampled and away toward the horizon, leaving great tracks in the
Then Nestor spoke rejoicingly. "Behold the great horse! It is the
horse that the desert nymphs spoke of, Poseidon's horse. Even now
has the horse been unloosed, and now is the time to do what the
nymphs bade us do.
"Who but Argo is the mother of us all? She has carried us. Now we
must make her a recompense and carry her even as she carried us.
With untiring shoulders we must bear Argo across this great
"And whither shall we bear her? Whither but along the tracks that
Poseidon's horse has left in the sand! Poseidon's horse will not
go under the earth--once again he will plunge into the sea! "
So Nestor said and the Argonauts saw truth in his saying. Hope
came to them again--the hope of leaving that desert and coming to
the sea. Surely when they came to the sea again, and spread the
sail and held the oars in their hands, their sacred ship would
make swift course to their native land!
VIII. The Carrying of the Argo
With the terrible weight of the ship upon their shoulders the
Argonauts made their way across the desert, following the tracks
of Poseidon's golden-maned horse. Like a rounded serpent that
drags with pain its length along, they went day after day across
that limitless land.
A day came when they saw the great tracks of the horse
no more. A wind had come up and had covered them with sand. With
the mighty weight of the ship upon their shoulders, with the sun
beating upon their heads, and with no marks on the desert to
guide them, the heroes stood there, and it seemed to them that
the blood must gush up and out of their hearts.
Then Zetes and Calais, sons of the North Wind, rose up upon their
wings to strive to get sight of the sea. Up, up, they soared. And
then as a man sees, or thinks he sees, at the month's beginning,
the moon through a bank of clouds, Zetes and Calais, looking over
the measureless land, saw the gleam of water. They shouted to the
Argonauts; they marked the way for them, and wearily, but with
good hearts, the heroes went upon the way.
They came at last to the shore of what seemed to be a wide inland
sea. They set Argo down from off their over-wearied shoulders and
they let her keel take water once more.
All salt and brackish was that water; they dipped their hands
into and tasted the salt. Orpheus was able to name the water they
had come to; it was that lake that was called after Triton, the
son of Nereus, the ancient one of the sea. They set up an altar
and they made sacrifices in thanksgiving to the gods.
They had come to water at last, but now they had to seek for
other water--for the sweet water that they could drink. All
around them they looked, but they saw no sign of a spring. And
then they felt a wind blow upon them--a wind that had in it not
the dust of the desert but the fragrance of growing things.
Toward where that wind blew from they went.
As they went on they saw a great shape against the sky; they saw
mountainous shoulders bowed. Orpheus bade them halt and turn
their faces with reverence toward that great shape: for this was
Atlas the Titan, the brother of Prometheus, who stood there to
hold up the sky on his shoulders.
Then they were near the place that the fragrance had blown from:
there was a garden there; the only fence that ran around it was a
lattice of silver. "Surely there are springs in the garden," the
Argonauts said. "We will enter this fair garden now and slake our
Orpheus bade them walk reverently, for all around them, he said,
was sacred ground. This garden was the Garden of the Hesperides
that was watched over by the Daughters of the Evening Land. The
Argonauts looked through the silver lattice; they saw trees with
lovely fruit, and they saw three maidens moving through the
garden with watchful eyes. In this garden grew the tree that had
the golden apples that Zeus gave to Hera as a wedding gift.
They saw the tree on which the golden apples grew. The maidens
went to it and then looked watchfully all around them. They saw
the faces of the Argonauts looking through the silver lattice and
they cried out, one to the other, and they joined their hands
around the tree.
But Orpheus called to them, and the maidens understood the divine
speech of Orpheus. He made the Daughters of the Evening Land know
that they who stood before the lattice were men who reverenced
the gods, who would not strive to enter the forbidden garden. The
maidens came toward them. Beautiful as the singing of Orpheus was
their utterance, but what they said was a complaint and a lament.
Their lament was for the dragon Ladon, that dragon with a hundred
heads that guarded sleeplessly the tree that had the golden
apples. Now that dragon was slain. With arrows that had been
dipped in the poison of the Hydra's blood their dragon, Ladon,
had been slain.
The Daughters of the Evening Land sang of how a mortal had come
into the garden that they watched over. He had a great bow, and
with his arrow he slew the dragon that guarded the golden apples.
The golden apples he had taken away; they had come back to the
tree they had been plucked from, for no mortal might keep them in
his possession. So the maidens sang Hespere, Eretheis, and
Aegle--and they complained that now, unhelped by the
hundred-headed dragon, they had to keep guard over the tree.
The Argonauts knew of whom they told the tale--Heracles, their
comrade. Would that Heracles were with them now!
The Hesperides told them of Heracles--of how the springs in the
garden dried up because of his plucking the golden apples. He
came out of the garden thirsting. Nowhere could he find a spring
of water. To yonder great rock he went. He smote it with his foot
and water came out in full floe.. Then he, leaning on his hands
and with his chest upon the ground, drank and drank from the
water that flowed from the rifted rock.
The Argonauts looked to where the rock stood. They caught the
sound of water. They carried Medea over. And then, company after
company, all huddled together, they stooped down and drank their
fill of the clear good water. With lips wet with the water they
cried to each other, "Heracles! Although he is not with us, in
very truth Heracles has saved his comrades from deadly thirst!"
They saw his footsteps printed upon the rocks, and they followed
them until they led to the sand where no footsteps stay.
Heracles! How glad his comrades would have been if they could
have had sight of him then! But it was long ago before he had
sailed with them--that Heracles had been here.
Still hearing their complaint they turned back to the lattice, to
where the Daughters of the Evening Land stood. The Daughters of
the Evening Land bent their heads to listen to what the Argonauts
told one another, and, seeing them bent to:listen, Orpheus told a
story about one who had gone across the Libyan desert, about one
who was a hero like unto Heracles.
THE STORY OF PERSEUS
Beyond where Atlas stands there is a cave where the strange
women, the ancient daughters of Phorcys, live. They have been
gray from their birth. They have but one eye and one tooth
between them, and they pass the eye and the tooth, one to the
other, when they would see or eat. They are called the Graiai,
these two sisters.
Up to the cave where they lived a youth once came. He was
beardless, and the garb he wore was torn and travel-stained, but
he had shapeliness and beauty. In his leathern belt there
was an exceedingly bright sword; this sword was not straight like
the swords we carry, but it was hooked like a sickle. The strange
youth with the bright, strange sword came very quickly and very
silently up to the cave where the Graiai lived and looked over a
high boulder into it.
One was sitting munching acorns with the single tooth. The other
had the eye in her hand. She was holding it to her forehead and
looking into the back of the cave. These two ancient women, with
their gray hair falling over them like thick fleeces, and with
faces that were only forehead and cheeks and nose and mouth, were
strange creatures truly. Very silently the youth stood looking at
"Sister, sister," cried the one who was munching acorns, "sister,
turn your eye this way. I heard the stir of something."
The other turned, and with the eye placed against her forehead
looked out to the opening of the cave. The youth drew back behind
the boulder. "Sister, sister, there is nothing there," said the
one with the eye.
Then she said: "Sister, give me the tooth for I would eat my
acorns. Take the eye and keep watch."
The one who was eating held out the tooth, and the one who was
watching held out the eye. The youth darted into the cave.
Standing between the eyeless sisters, he took with one hand the
tooth and with the other the eye.
"Sister, sister, have you taken the eye?"
"I have not taken the eye. Have you taken the tooth?"
"I have not taken the tooth."
"Some one has taken the eye, and some one has taken the tooth."
They stood together, and the youth watched their blinking faces
as they tried to discover who had come into the cave, and who had
taken the eye and the tooth.
Then they said, screaming together: "Who ever has taken the eye
and the tooth from the Graiai, the ancient daughters of Phorcys,
may Mother Night smother him."
The youth spoke. "Ancient daughters of Phorcys," he said,
"Graiai, I would not rob from you. I have come to your cave only
to ask the way to a place."
"Ah, it is a mortal, a mortal," screamed the sisters. "Well,
mortal, what would you have from the Graiai?"
"Ancient Graiai," said the youth, "I would have you tell me, for
you alone know, where the nymphs dwell who guard the three magic
treasures--the cap of darkness, the shoes of flight, and the
"We will not tell you, we will not tell you that," screamed the
two ancient sisters.
"I will keep the eye and the tooth," said the youth, "and I will
give them to one who will help me."
"Give me the eye and I will tell you," said one. "Give me the
tooth and I will tell you," said the other. The youth put the eye
in the hand of one and the tooth in the hand of the other, but he
held their skinny hands in his strong hands until they should
tell him where the nymphs dwelt who guarded the magic treasures.
The Gray Ones told him. Then the youth with the bright sword left
the cave. As he went out he saw on the ground a shield of bronze,
and he took it with him.
To the other side of where Atlas stands he went. There he came
upon the nymphs in their valley. They had long dwelt there,
hidden from gods and men, and they were startled to see a
stranger youth come into their hidden valley. They fled away.
Then the youth sat on the ground, his head bent like a man who is
The youngest and the fairest of the nymphs came to him at last.
"Why have you come, and why do you sit here in such great
trouble, youth?" said she. And then she said: "What is this
strange sickle-sword that you wear? Who told you the way to our
dwelling place? What name have you?"
"I have come here," said the youth, and he took the bronze shield
upon his knees and began to polish it, "I have come here because
I want you, the nymphs who guard them, to give to me the cap of
darkness and the shoes of flight and the magic pouch. I must gain
these things; without them I must go to my death. Why I must gain
them you will know from my story."
When he said that he had come for the three magic treasures that
they guarded, the kind nymph was more startled than she and her
sisters had been startled by the appearance of the strange youth
in their hidden valley. She turned away from him. But she looked
again and she saw that he was beautiful and brave looking. He had
spoken of his death. The nymph stood looking at him pitifully,
and the youth, with the bronze shield laid beside his knees and
the strange hooked sword lying across it, told her his story.
"I am Perseus," he said, "and my grandfather, men say, is king in
Argos. His name is Acrisius. Before I was born a prophecy was
made to him that the son of Danae, his daughter, would slay him.
Acrisius was frightened by the prophecy, and when I was born he
put my mother and myself into a chest, and he sent us adrift upon
the waves of the sea.
"I did not know what a terrible peril I was in, for I was an
infant newly born. My mother was so hopeless that she came near
to death. But the wind and the waves did not destroy us: they
brought us to a shore; a shepherd found the chest, and he opened
it and brought my mother and myself out of it alive. The land we
had come to was Seriphus. The shepherd who found the chest and
who rescued my mother and myself was the brother of the king. His
name was Dictys.
"In the shepherd's wattled house my mother stayed with me, a
little infant, and in that house I grew from babyhood to
childhood, and from childhood to boyhood. He was a kind man, this
shepherd Dictys. His brother Polydectes had put him away from the
palace, but Dictys did not grieve for that, for he was happy
minding his sheep upon the hillside, and he was happy in his
little but of wattles and clay.
"Polydectes, the king, was seldom spoken to about his brother,
and it was years before he knew of the mother and child who had
been brought to live in Dictys's hut. But at last he heard of us,
for strange things began to be said about my mother--how she was
beautiful, and how she looked like one who had been favored by
the gods. Then one day when he was hurting, Polydectes the king
came to the but of Dictys the shepherd.
"He saw Danae, my mother, there. By her looks he knew that she
was a king's daughter and one who had been favored by the gods.
He wanted her for his wife. But my mother hated this harsh and
overbearing king, and she would not wed with him. Often he came
storming around the shepherd's hut, and at last my mother had to
take refuge from him in a temple. There she became the priestess
of the goddess.
"I was taken to the palace of Polydectes, and there I was brought
up. The king still stormed around where my mother was, more and
more bent on making her marry him. If she had not been in the
temple where she was under the protection of the goddess he would
have wed her against her will.
"But I was growing up now, and I was able to give some protection
to my mother. My arm was a strong one, and Polydectes knew that
if he wronged my mother in any way, I had the will and the power
to be deadly to him. One day I heard him say before his princes
and his lords that he would wed, and would wed one who was not
Danae, I was overjoyed to hear him say this. He asked the lords
and the princes to come to the wedding feast; they declared they
would, and they told him of the presents they would bring.
"Then King Polydectes turned to me and he asked me to come to the
wedding feast. I said I would come. And then, because I was young
and full of the boast of youth, and because the king was now
ceasing to be a terror to me, I said that I would bring to his
wedding feast the head of the Gorgon.
"The king smiled when he heard me say this, but he smiled not as
a good man smiles when he hears the boast of youth. He smiled,
and he turned to the princes and lords, and he said 'Perseus will
come, and he will bring a greater gift than any of you, for he
will bring the head of her whose gaze turns living creatures into
"When I heard the king speak so grimly about my boast the
fearfulness of the thing I had spoken of doing came over me. I
thought for an instant that the Gorgon's head appeared before me,
and that I was then and there turned into stone.
"The day of the wedding feast came. I came and I brought no gift.
I stood with my head hanging for shame. Then the princes and the
lords came forward, and they showed the great gifts of horses
that they had brought. I thought that the king would forget about
me and about my boast. And then I heard him call my name.
'Perseus,' he said, 'Perseus, bring before us now the Gorgon's
head that, as you told us, you would bring for the wedding gift.'
"The princes and lords and people looked toward me, and I was
fiIled with a deeper shame. I had to say that I had failed to
bring a present. Then that harsh and overbearing king shouted at
me. 'Go forth,' he said, 'go forth and fetch the present that you
spoke of. If you do not bring it remain forever out of my
country, for in Seriphus we will have no empty boasters.' The
lords and the princes applauded what the king said; the people
were sad for me and sad for my mother, but they might not do
anything to help me, so just and so due to me did the words of
the king seem. There was no help for it, and I had to go from the
country of Seriphus, leaving my mother at the mercy of
"I bade good-by to my sorrowful mother and I went from Seriphus--
from that land that I might not return to without the Gorgon's
head. I traveled far from that country. One day I sat down in a
lonely place and prayed to the gods that my strength might be
equal to the will that now moved in me--the will to take the
Gorgon's head, and take from my name the shame of a broken
promise, and win back to Seriphus to save my mother from the
harshness of the king.
"When I looked up I saw one standing before me. He was a youth,
too, but I knew by the way he moved, and I knew by the brightness
of his face and eyes, that he was of the immortals. I raised my
hands in homage to him, and he came near me. 'Perseus,' he said,
'if you have the courage to strive, the way to win the Gorgon's
head will be shown you.' I said that I had the courage to strive,
and he knew that I was making no boast.
"He gave me this bright sickle-sword that I carry. He told me by
what ways I might come near enough to the Gorgons without being
turned into stone by their gaze. He told me how I might slay the
one of the three Gorgons who was not immortal, and how, having
slain her, I might take her head and flee without being torn to
pieces by her sister Gorgons.
"Then I knew that I should have to come on the Gorgons from the
air. I knew that having slain the one that could be slain I
should have to fly with the speed of the wind. And I knew that
that speed even would not save me--I should have to be hidden in
my flight. To win the head and save myself I would need three
magic things--the shoes of flight and the magic pouch, and the
dogskin cap of Hades that makes its wearer invisible.
"The youth said: 'The magic pouch and the shoes of flight and the
dogskin cap of Hades are in the keeping of the nymphs whose
dwelling place no mortal knows. I may not tell you where their
dwelling place is. But from the Gray Ones, from the ancient
daughters of Phorcys who live in a cave near where Atlas stands,
you may learn where their dwelling place is.'
"Thereupon he told me how I might come to the Graiai, and how I
might get them to tell me where you, the nymphs, had your
dwelling. The one who spoke to me was Hermes, whose dwelling is
on Olympus. By this sickle-sword that he gave me you will know
that I speak the truth."
Perseus ceased speaking, and she who was the youngest and fairest
of the nymphs came nearer to him. She knew that he spoke
truthfully, and besides she had pity for the youth. "But we are
the keepers of the magic treasures," she said, "and some one
whose need is greater even than yours may some time require them
from us. But will you swear that you will bring the magic
treasures back to us when you have slain the Gorgon and have
taken her head?"
Perseus declared that he would bring the magic treasures back to
the nymphs and leave them once more in their keeping. Then the
nymph who had compassion for him called to the others. They spoke
together while Perseus stayed far away from them, polishing his
shield of bronze. At last the nymph who had listened to him came
back, the others following her. They brought to Perseus and they
put into his hands the things they had guarded--the cap made from
dogskin that had been brought up out of Hades, a pair of winged
shoes, and a long pouch that he could hang across his shoulder.
And so with the shoes of flight and the cap of darkness and the
magic pouch, Perseus went to seek the Gorgons. The sickle-sword
that Hermes gave him was at his side, and on his arm he held the
bronze shield that was now well polished.
He went through the air, taking a way that the nymphs had shown
him. He came to Oceanus that was the rim around the world. He saw
forms that were of living creatures all in stone, and he knew
that he was near the place where the Gorgons had their lair.
Then, looking upon the surface of his polished shield, he saw the
Gorgons below him. Two were covered with hard serpent scales;
they had tusks that were long and were like the tusks of boars,
and they had hands of gleaming brass and wings of shining gold.
Still looking upon the shining surface of his shield Perseus went
down and down. He saw the third sister--she who was not immortal.
She had a woman's face and form, and her countenance was
beautiful, although there was something deadly in its fairness.
The two scaled and winged sisters were asleep, but the third,
Medusa, was awake, and she was tearing with her hands a lizard
that had come near her.
Upon her head was a tangle of serpents all with heads raised as
though they were hissing. Still looking into the mirror of his
shield Perseus came down and over Medusa. He turned his head away
from her. Then, with a sweep of the sicklesword he took her head
off. There was no scream from the Gorgon, but the serpents upon
her head hissed loudly.
Still with his face turned from it he lifted up the head by its
tangle of serpents. He put it into the magic pouch. He rose up in
the air. But now the Gorgon sisters were awake. They had heard
the hiss of Medusa's serpents, and now they looked upon her
headless body. They rose up on their golden wings, and their
brazen hands were stretched out to tear the one who had slain
Medusa. As they flew after him they screamed aloud.
Although he flew like the wind the Gorgon sisters would have
overtaken him if he had been plain to their eyes. But the dogskin
cap of Hades saved him, for the Gorgon sisters did not know
whether he was above or below them, behind or before them. On
Perseus went, flying toward where Atlas stood. He flew over this
place, over Libya. Drops of blood from Medusa's head fell down
upon the desert. They were changed and became the deadly serpents
that are on these sands and around these rocks. On and on Perseus
flew toward Atlas and toward the hidden valley where the nymphs
who were again to guard the magic treasures had their dwelling
place. But before he came to the nymphs Perseus had another
In Ethopia, which is at the other side of Libya, there ruled a
king whose name was Cepheus. This king had permitted his queen to
boast that she was more beautiful than the nymphs of the sea. In
punishment for the queen's impiety and for the king's folly
Poseidon sent a monster out of the sea to waste that country.
Every year the monster came, destroying more and more of the
country of Ethopia. Then the king asked of an oracle what he
should do to save his land and his people. The oracle spoke of a
dreadful thing that he would have to do--he would have to
sacrifice his daughter, the beautiful Princess Andromeda.
The king was forced by his savage people to take the maiden
Andromeda and chain her to a rock on the seashore, leaving her
there for the monster to devour her, satisfying himself with that
Perseus, flying near, heard the maiden's laments. He saw her
lovely body bound with chains to the rock. He came near her,
taking the cap of darkness off his head. She saw him, and she
bent her head in shame, for she thought that he would think that
it was for some dreadful fault of her own that she had been left
chained in that place.
Her father had stayed near. Perseus saw him, and called to him,
and bade him tell why the maiden was chained to the rock. The
king told Perseus of the sacrifice that he had been forced to
make. Then Perseus came near the maiden, and he saw how she
looked at him with pleading eyes.
Then Perseus made her father promise that he would give
Andromeda to him for his wife if he should slay the sea monster.
Gladly Cepheus promised this. Then Perseus once again drew his
sickle-sword; by the rock to which Andromeda was still chained he
waited for sight of the sea monster.
It came rolling in from the open sea, a shapeless and unsightly
thing. With the shoes of flight upon his feet Perseus rose above
it. The monster saw his shadow upon the water, and savagely it
went to attack the shadow. Perseus swooped down as an eagle
swoops down; with his sickle-sword he attacked it, and he struck
the hook through the monster's shoulder. Terribly it reared up
from the sea. Perseus rose over it, escaping its wide-opened
mouth with its treble rows of fangs. Again he swooped and struck
at it. Its hide was covered all over with hard scales and with
the shells of sea things, but Perseus's sword struck through it.
It reared up again, spouting water mixed with blood. On a rock
near the rock that Andromeda was chained to Perseus alighted. The
monster, seeing him, bellowed and rushed swiftly through the
water to overwhelm him. As it reared up he plunged the sword
again and again into its body. Down into the water the monster
sank, and water mixed with blood was spouted up from the depths
into which it sank.
Then was Andromeda loosed from her chains. Perseus, the
conqueror, lifted up the fainting maiden and carried her back to
the king's palace. And Cepheus there renewed his promise to give
her in marriage to her deliverer.
Perseus went on his way. He came to the hidden valley where the
nymphs had their dwelling place, and he restored to them the
three magic treasures that they had given him--the cap of
darkness, the shoes of flight, and the magic pouch. And these
treasures are still there, and the hero who can win his way to
the nymphs may have them as Perseus had them.
Again he returned to the place where he had found Andromeda
chained. With face averted he drew forth the Gorgon's head from
where he had hidden it between the rocks. He made a bag for it
out of the horny skin of the monster he had slain. Then, carrying
his tremendous trophy, he went to the palace of King Cepheus to
claim his bride.
Now before her father had thought of sacrificing her to the sea
monster he had offered Andromeda in marriage to a prince of
Ethopia--to a prince whose name was Phineus. Phineus did not
strive to save Andromeda. But, hearing that she had been
delivered from the monster, he came to take her for his wife; he
came to Cepheus's palace, and he brought with him a thousand
The palace of Cepheus was filled with armed men when Perseus
entered it. He saw Andromeda on a raised place in the hall. She
was pale as when she was chained to the rock, and when she saw
him in the palace she uttered a cry of gladness.
Cepheus, the craven king, would have let him who had come with
the armed bands take the maiden. Perseus came beside Andromeda
and he made his claim. Phineus spoke insolently to him, and then
he urged one of his captains to strike Perseus down. Many sprang
forward to attack him. Out of the bag Perseus drew Medusa's head.
He held it before those who were bringing strife into the hall.
They were turned to stone. One of Cepheus's men wished to defend
Perseus: he struck at the captain who had come near; his sword
made a clanging sound as it struck this one who had looked upon
Perseus went from the land of Ethopia taking fair Andromeda with
him. They went into Greece, for he had thought of going to Argos,
to the country that his grandfather ruled over. At this very time
Acrisius got tidings of Danae, and her son, and he knew that they
had not perished on the waves of the sea. Fearful of the prophecy
that told he would be slain by his grandson and fearing that he
would come to Argos to seek him, Acrisius fled out of his
He came into Thessaly. Perseus and Andromeda were there. Now, one
day the old king was brought to games that were being celebrated
in honor of a dead hero. He was leaning on his staff, watching a
youth throw a metal disk, when something in that youth's
appearance made him want to watch him more closely. About him
there was something of a being of the upper air; it made Acrisius
think of a brazen tower and of a daughter whom he had shut up
He moved so that he might come nearer to the disk-thrower. But as
he left where he had been standing he came into the line of the
thrown disk. It struck the old man on the temple. He fell down
dead, and as he fell the people cried out his name--"Acrisius,
King Acrisius!" Then Perseus knew whom the disk, thrown by his
hand, had slain.
And because he had slain the king by chance Perseus would not go
to Argos, nor take over the kingdom that his grandfather had
reigned over. With Andromeda he went to Seriphus where his mother
was. And in Seriphus there still reigned Polydectes,who had put
upon him the terrible task of winning the Gorgon's head.
He came to Seriphus and he left Andromeda in the but of Dictys
the shepherd. No one knew him; he heard his name spoken of as
that of a youth who had gone on a foolish quest and who would
never again be heard of. To the temple where his mother was a
priestess he came. Guards were placed all around it. Ile heard
his mother's voice and it was raised in lament: "Walled up here
and given over to hunger I shall be made go to Polydectes's house
and become his wife. O ye gods, have ye no pity for Danae, the
mother of Perseus?"
Perseus cried aloud, and his mother heard his voice and her moans
ceased. He turned around and he went to the palace of Polydectes,
The king received him with mockeries. "I will let you stay in
Seriphus for a day," he said, "because I would have you at a
marriage feast. I have vowed that Danae, taken from the temple
where she sulks, will be my wife by to-morrow's sunset."
So Polydectes said, and the lords and princes who were around him
mocked at Perseus and flattered the king. Perseus went from them
then. The next day he came back to the palace. But in his hands
now there was a dread thing--the bag made from the hide of the
sea monster that had in it the Gorgon's head.
He saw his mother. She was brought in white and fainting,
thinking that she would now have to wed the harsh and overbearing
king. Then she saw her son, and hope came into her face.
The king seeing Perseus, said: "Step forward, O youngling, and
see your mother wed to a mighty man. Step forward to witness a
marriage, and then depart, for it is not right that a youth that
makes promises and does not keep them should stay in a land that
I rule over. Step forward now, you with the empty hands."
But not with empty hands did Perseus step forward. He shouted
out: "I have brought something to you at last, O king--a present
to you and your mocking friends. But you, O my mother, and you, O
my friends, avert your faces from what I have brought." Saying
this Perseus drew out the Gorgon's head. Holding it by the snaky
locks he stood before the company. His mother and his friends
averted their faces. But Polydectes and his insolent friends
looked full upon what Perseus showed. "This youth would strive to
frighten us with some conjuror's trick," they said. They said no
more, for they became as stones, and as stone images they still
stand in that hall in Seriphus.
He went to the shepherd's hut, and he brought Dictys from it with
Andromeda. Dictys he made king in Polydectes's stead. Then with
Danae and Andromeda, his mother and his wife, he went from
He did not go to Argos, the country that his grandfather had
ruled over, although the people there wanted Perseus to come to
them, and be king over them. He took the kingdom of Tiryns in
exchange for that of Argos, and there he lived with Andromeda,
his lovely wife out of Ethopia. They had a son named Perses who
became the parent of the Persian people.
The sickle-sword that had slain the Gorgon went back to Hermes,
and Hermes took Medusa's head also. That head Hermes's divine
sister set upon her shield-Medusa's head upon the shield of
Pallas Athene. O may Pallas Athene guard us all, and bring us out
of this land of sands and stone where are the deadly serpents
that have come from the drops of blood that fell from the
They turned away from the Garden of the Daughters of the Evening
Land. The Argonauts turned from where the giant shape of Atlas
stood against the sky and they went toward the Tritonian Lake.
But not all of them reached the Argo. On his way back to the
ship, Nauplius, the helmsman, met his death.
A sluggish serpent was in his way--it was not a serpent that
would strike at one who turned from it. Nauplius trod upon it,
and the serpent lifted its head up and bit his foot. They raised
him on their shoulders and they hurried back with him. But his
limbs became numb, and when they laid him down on the shore of
the lake he stayed moveless. Soon he grew cold. They dug a grave
for Nauplius beside the lake, and in that desert land they set up
his helmsman's oar in the middle of his tomb of heaped stones.
And now like a snake that goes writhing this way and that way and
that cannot find the cleft in the rock that leads to its lair,
the Argo went hither and thither striving to find an outlet from
that lake. No outlet could they find and the way of their
homegoing seemed lost to them again. Then Orpheus prayed to the
son of Nereus, to Triton, whose name was on that lake, to aid
Then Triton appeared. He stretched out his hand and showed them
the outlet to the sea. And Triton spoke in friendly wise to the
heroes, bidding them go upon their way in joy. "And as for
labor," he said, "let there be no grieving because of that, for
limbs that have youthful vigor should still toil."
They took up the oars and they pulled toward the sea, and Triton,
the friendly immortal, helped them on. He laid hold upon Argo's
keel and he guided her through the water. The Argonauts saw him
beneath the water; his body, from his head down to his waist, was
fair and great and like to the body of one of the other
immortals. But below his body was like a great fish's, forking
this way and that. He moved with fins that were like the horns of
the new moon. Triton helped Argo along until they came into the
open sea. Then he plunged down into the abyss. The heroes shouted
their thanks to him. Then they looked at each other and embraced
each other with joy, for the sea that touched upon the land of
Greece was open before them.
IX. Near to Iolcus Again
The sun sank; then that star came that bids the shepherd bring
his flock to the fold, that brings the wearied plowman to his
rest. But no rest did that star bring to the Argonauts. The
breeze that filled the sail died down; they furled the sail and
lowered the mast; then, once again, they pulled at the oars. All
night they rowed, and all day, and again when the next day came
on. Then they saw the island that is halfway to Greece the great
and fair island of Crete.
It was Theseus who first saw Crete--Theseus who was to come to
Crete upon another ship. They drew the Argo near the great
island; they wanted water, and they were fain to rest there.
Minos, the great king, ruled over Crete. He left the guarding of
the island to one of the race of bronze, to Talos, who had lived
on after the rest of the bronze men had been destroyed. Thrice a
day would Talos stride around the island; his brazen feet were
Now Talos saw the Argo drawing near. He took up great rocks and
he hurled them at the heroes, and very quickly they had to draw
their ship out of range.
They were wearied and their thirst was consuming them. But still
that bronze man stood there ready to sink their ship with the
great rocks that he took up in his hands. Medea stood forward
upon the ship, ready to use her spells against the man of bronze.
In body and limbs he was made of bronze and in these he was
invulnerable. But beneath a sinew in his ankle there was a vein
that ran up to his neck and that was covered by a thin skin. If
that vein were broken Talos would perish.
Medea did not know about this vein when she stood forward upon
the ship to use her spells against him. Upon a cliff of Crete,
all gleaming, stood that huge man of bronze. Then, as she was
ready to fling her spells against him, Medea thought upon the
words that Arete, the wise queen, had given her that she was not
to use spells and not to practice against the life of any one.
But she knew that there was no impiety in using spells and
practicing against Talos, for Zeus had already doomed all his
race. She stood upon the ship, and with her Magic Song she
enchanted him. He whirled round and round. He struck his ankle
against a jutting stone. The vein broke, and that which was the
blood of the bronze man flowed out of him like molten lead. He
stood towering upon the cliff. Like a pine upon a mountaintop
that the woodman had left half hewn through and that a mighty
wind pitches against, Talos stood upon his tireless feet, swaying
to and fro. Then, emptied of all his strength, Minos's man of
bronze fell into the Cretan Sea.
The heroes landed. That night they lay upon the land of Crete and
rested and refreshed themselves. When dawn came they drew water
from a spring, and once more they went on board the Argo.
A day came when the helmsman said, "To-morrow we shall see the
shore of Thessaly, and by sunset we shall be in the harbor of
Pagasae. Soon, O voyagers, we shall be back in the city from
which we went to gain the Golden Fleece."
Then Jason brought Medea to the front of the ship so that they
might watch together for Thessaly, the homeland. The Mountain
Pelion came into sight. Jason exulted as he looked upon that
mountain; again he told Medea about Chiron, the ancient centaur,
and about the days of his youth in the forests of Pelion.
The Argo went on; the sun sank, and darkness came on. Never was
there darkness such as there was on that night. They called that
night afterward the Pall of Darkness. To the heroes upon the Argo
it seemed as if black chaos had come over the world again; they
knew not whether they were adrift upon the sea or upon the River
of Hades. No star pierced the darkness nor no beam from the moon.
After a night that seemed many nights the dawn came. In the
sunrise they saw the land of Thessaly with its mountain, its
forests, and its fields. They hailed each other as if they had
met after a long parting. They raised the mast and unfurled the
But not toward Pagasae did they go. For now the voice of Argo
came to them, shaking their hearts: Jason and Orpheus, Castor and
Polydeuces, Zetes and Calais, Peleus and Telamon, Theseus,
Admetus, Nestor, and Atalanta, heard the cry of their ship. And
the voice of Argo warned them not to go into the harbor of
As they stood upon the ship, looking toward Iolcus, sorrow came
over all the heroes, such sorrow as made their hearts nearly
break. For long they stood there in utter numbness.
Then Admetus spoke--Admetus who was the happiest of all those who
went in quest of the Golden Fleece. "Although we may not go into
the harbor of Pagasae, nor into the city of Iolcus," Admetus
said, "still we have come to the land of Greece. There are other
harbors and other cities that we may go into. And in all the
places that we go to we will be honored, for we have gone through
toils and dangers, and we have brought to Greece the famous
Fleece of Gold."
So Admetus said, and their spirits came back again to the heroes
--came back to all of them save Jason. The rest had other cities
to go to, and fathers and mothers and friends to greet them in
other places, but for Jason there was only Iolcus.
Medea took his hand, and sorrow for him overcame her. For Medea
could divine what had happened in Iolcus and why it was that the
heroes might not go there.
It was to Corinth that the Argo went. Creon, the king of Corinth,
welcomed them and gave great honor to the heroes who had faced
such labors and such dangers to bring the world's wonder to
The Argonauts stayed together until they went to Calydon, to hunt
the boar that ravaged Prince Meleagrus's country. After that they
separated, each one going to his own land. Jason came back to
Corinth where Medea stayed. And in Corinth he had tidings of the
happenings in Iolcus.
King Pelias now ruled more fearfully in Iolcus, having brought
down from the mountains more and fiercer soldiers. And Aeson,
Jason's father, and Alcimide, his mother, were now dead, having
been slain by King Pelias.
This Jason heard from men who came into Corinth from Thessaly.
And because of the great army that Pelias had gathered there,
Jason might not yet go into Iolcus, either to exact a vengeance,
or to show the people THE GOLDEN FLEECE that he had gone so far
Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
I. ATALANTA THE HUNTRESS
They came once more together, the heroes of the quest, to hunt a
boar in Calydon--Jason and Peleus came, Telamon, Theseus, and
rough Arcas, Nestor and Helen's brothers Polydeuces and Castor.
And, most noted of all, there came the Arcadian huntress maid,
Beautiful they all thought her when they knew her aboard the
Argo. But even more beautiful Atalanta seemed to the heroes when
she came amongst them in her hunting gear. Her lovely hair hung
in two bands across her shoulders, and over her breast hung an
ivory quiver filled with arrows. They said that her face with its
wide and steady eyes was maidenly for a boy's, and boyish for a
maiden's face. Swiftly she moved with her head held high, and
there was not one amongst the heroes who did not say, "Oh, happy
would that man be whom Atalanta the unwedded would take for her
All the heroes said it, but the one who said it most feelingly
was the prince of Calydon, young Meleagrus. He more than the
other heroes felt the wonder of Atalanta's beauty.
Now the boar they had come to hunt was a monster boar. It had
come into Calydon and it was laying waste the fields and orchards
and destroying the people's cattle and horses. That boar had been
sent into Calydon by an angry divinity. For when Oeneus, the king
of the country, was making sacrifice to the gods in thanksgiving
for a bounteous harvest, he had neglected to make sacrifice to
the goddess of the wild things, Artemis. In her anger Artemis had
sent the monster boar to lay waste Oeneus's realm.
It was a monster boar indeed--one as huge as a bull, with tusks
as great as an elephant's; the bristles on its back stood up like
spear points, and the hot breath of the creature withered the
growth on the ground. The boar tore up the corn in the fields and
trampled down the vines with their clusters and heavy bunches of
grapes; also it rushed against the cattle and destroyed them in
the fields. And no hounds the huntsmen were able to bring could
stand before it. And so it came to pass that men had to leave
their farms and take refuge behind the walls of the city because
of the ravages of the boar. It was then that the rulers of
Calydon sent for the heroes of the quest to join with them in
hunting the monster.
Calydon itself sent Prince Meleagrus and his two uncles,
Plexippus and Toxeus. They were brothers to Meleagrus's mother,
Althaea. Now Althaea. was a woman who had sight to see mysterious
things, but who had also a wayward and passionate heart. Once,
after her son Meleagrus was born, she saw the three Fates sitting
by her hearth. They were spinning the threads of her son's life,
and as they spun they sang to each other, "An equal span of life
we give to the newborn child, and to the billet of wood that now
rests above the blaze of the fire." Hearing what the Fates sang
and understanding it Althaea had sprung up from her bed, had
seized the billet of wood, and had taken it out of the fire
before the flames had burnt into it.
That billet of wood lay in her chest, hidden away. And Meleagrus
nor any one else save Althaea. knew of it, nor knew that the
prince's life would last only for the space it would be kept from
the burning. On the day of the hunting he appeared as the
strongest and bravest of the youths of Calydon. And he knew not,
poor Meleagrus, that the love for Atalanta that had sprung into
his heart was to bring to the fire the billet of wood on which
his life depended.
As Atalanta went, the bow in her hands, Prince Meleagrus pressed
behind her. Then came Jason and Peleus, Telamon, Theseus and
Nestor. Behind them came Meleagrus's darkbrowed uncles, Plexippus
and Toxeus. They came to a forest that covered the side of a
mountain. Huntsmen had assembled here with hounds held in leashes
and with nets to hold the rushing quarry. And when they had all
gathered together they went through the forest on the track of
the monster boar.
It was easy to track the boar, for it had left a broad trail
through the forest. The heroes and the huntsmen pressed on. They
came to a marshy covert where the boar had its lair. There was a
thickness of osiers and willows and tall bullrushes, making a
place that it was hard for the hunters to go through.
They roused the boar with the blare of horns and it came rushing
out. Foam was on its tusks, and its eyes had in them the blaze of
fire. On the boar came, breaking down the thicket in its rush.
But the heroes stood steadily with the points of their spears
toward the monster.
The hounds were loosed from their leashes and they dashed toward
the boar. The boar slashed them with its tusks and trampled them
into the ground. Jason flung his spear. The spear went wide of
the mark. Another, Arcas, cast his, but the wood, not the point
of the spear, struck the boar, rousing it further. Then its eyes
flamed, and like a great stone shot from a catapult the boar
rushed on the huntsmen who were stationed to the right. In that
rush it flung two youths prone upon the ground.
Then might Nestor have missed his going to Troy and his part in
that story, for the boar swerved around and was upon him in an
instant. Using his spear as a leaping pole he vaulted upward and
caught the branches of a tree as the monster dashed the spear
down in its rush. In rage the beast tore at the trunk of the
tree. The heroes might have been scattered at this moment, for
Telamon had fallen, tripped by the roots of a tree, and Peleus
had had to throw himself upon him to pull him out of the way of
danger, if Polydeuces and Castor had not dashed up to their aid.
They came riding upon high white horses, spears in their hands.
The brothers cast their spears, but neither spear struck the
Then the boar turned and was for drawing back into the thicket.
They might have lost it then, for its retreat was impenetrable.
But before it got clear away Atalanta put an arrow to the string,
drew the bow to her shoulder, and let the arrow fly. It struck
the boar, and a patch of blood was seen upon its bristles. Prince
Meleagrus shouted out, "O first to strike the monster! Honor
indeed shall you receive for this, Arcadian maid."
His uncles were made wroth by this speech, as was another, the
Arcadian, rough Arcas. Arcas dashed forward, holding in his hands
a two-headed axe. "Heroes and huntsmen," he cried, "you shall see
how a man's strokes surpass a girl's." He faced the boar,
standing on tiptoe with his axe raised for the stroke.
Meleagrus's uncles shouted to encourage him. But the boar's tusks
tore him before Arcas's axe fell, and the Arcadian was trampled
upon the ground.
The boar, roused again by Atalanta's arrow, turned on the
hunters. Jason hurled a spear again. It swerved and struck a
hound and pinned it to the ground. Then, speaking the name of
Atalanta, Meleagrus sprang before the heroes and the huntsmen.
He had two spears in his hands. The first missed and stuck
quivering in the ground. But the second went right through the
back of the monster boar. It whirled round and round, spouting
out blood and foam. Meleagrus pressed on, and drove his hunting
knife through the shoulders of the monster.
His uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, were the first to come to where
the monster boar was lying outstretched. "It is well, the deed
you have done, boy," said one; "it is well that none of the
strangers to our country slew the boar. Now will the head and
tusks of the monster adorn our hall, and men will know that the
arms of our house can well protect this land."
But one word only did Meleagrus say, and that word was the name,
"Atalanta." The maiden came and Meleagrus, his spear upon the
head, said, "Take, O fair Arcadian, the spoil of the chase. All
know that it was you who inflicted the first wound upon the
Plexippus and Toxeus tried to push him away, as if Meleagrus was
still a boy under their tutoring. He shouted to them to stand
off, and then he hacked out the terrible tusks and held them
She would have taken them, for she, who had never looked lovingly
upon a youth, was moved by the beauty and the generosity of
Prince Meleagrus. She would have taken from him the spoil of the
chase. But as she held out her arms Meleagrus's uncles struck
them with the poles of their spears. Heavy marks were made on the
maiden's white arms. Madness then possessed Meleagrus, and he
took up his spear and thrust it, first into the body of Plexippus
and then into the body of Toxeus. His thrusts were terrible, for
he was filled with the fierceness of the hunt, and his uncles
fell down in death.
Then a great horror came over all the heroes. They raised up the
bodies of Plexippus and Toxeus and carried them on their spears
away from the place of the hunting and toward the temple of the
gods. Meleagrus crouched down upon the ground in horror of what
he had done. Atalanta stood beside him, her hand upon his head.
Althaea was in the temple making sacrifice to the gods. She saw
men come in carrying across their spears the bodies of two men.
She looked and she saw that the dead men were her two brothers,
Plexippus and Toxeus.
Then she beat her breast and she filled the temple with the cries
of her lamentation. "Who has slain my brothers? Who has slain my
brothers?" she kept crying out.
Then she was told that her son Meleagrus had slain her brothers.
She had no tears to shed then, and in a hard voice she asked,
"Why did my son slay Plexippus and Toxeus, his uncles?"
The one who was wroth with Atalanta, Arcas the Arcadian,
came to her and told her that her brothers had been slain because
of a quarrel about the girl Atalanta.
"My brothers have been slain because a girl bewitched my son;
then accursed be that son of mine," Althaea cried. She took off
the gold-fringed robe of a priestess, and she put on a black robe
Her brothers, the only sons of her father, had been slain, and
for the sake of a girl. The image of Atalanta came before her,
and she felt she could punish dreadfully her son. But her son was
not there to punish; he was far away, and the girl for whose sake
he had killed Plexippus and Toxeus was with him.
The rage she had went back into her heart and made her truly mad.
"I gave Meleagrus life when I might have let it go from him with
the burning billet of wood," she cried, "and now he has taken the
lives of my brothers." And then her thought went to the billet of
wood that was hidden in the chest.
Back to her house she went, and when she went within she saw a
fire of pine knots burning upon the hearth. As she looked upon
their burning a scorching pain went through her. But she went
from the hearth, nevertheless, and into the inner room. There
stood the chest that she had not opened for years. She opened it
now, and out of it she took the billet of wood that had on it the
mark of the burning.
She brought it to the hearth fire. Four times she went to throw
it into the fire, and four times she stayed her hand. The fire
was before her, but it was in her too. She saw the images of her
brothers lying dead, and, saying that he who had slain them
should lose his life, she threw the billet of wood into the fire
of pine knots.
Straightway it caught fire and began to burn. And Althaea cried,
"Let him die, my son, and let naught remain; let all perish with
my brothers, even the kingdom that Oeneus, my husband, founded."
Then she turned away and remained stiffly standing by the hearth,
the life withered up within her. Her daughters came and tried to
draw her away, but they could not--her two daughters, Gorge and
Meleagrus was crouching upon the ground with Atalanta watching
beside him. Now he stood up, and taking her hand he said, "Let me
go with you to the temple of the gods where I shall strive to
make atonement for the deed I have done to-day."
She went with him. But even as they came to the street of the
city a sharp and a burning pain seized upon Meleagrus. More and
more burning it grew, and weaker and weaker he became. He could
not have moved further if it had not been for the aid of
Atalanta. Jason and Peleus lifted him across the threshold and
carried him into the temple of the gods.
They laid him down with his head upon Atalanta's lap. The pain
within him grew fiercer and fiercer, but at last it died down as
the burning billet of wood sank down into the ashes. The heroes
of the quest stood around, all overcome with woe. In
the street they heard the lamentations for Plexippus and Toxeus,
for Prince Meleagrus, and for the passing of the kingdom founded
by Oeneus. Atalanta left the temple, and attended by the two
brothers on the white horses, Polydeuces and Castor, she went
back to Arcady.
II. PELEUS AND HIS BRIDE FROM THE SEA
Prince Peleus came on his ship to a bay on the coast of Thessaly.
His painted ship lay between two great rocks, and from its poop
he saw a sight that enchanted him. Out from the sea, riding on a
dolphin, came a lovely maiden. And by the radiance of her face
and limbs Peleus knew her for one of the immortal goddesses.
Now Peleus had borne himself so nobly in all things that he had
won the favor of the gods themselves. Zeus, who is highest
amongst the gods, had made this promise to Peleus he would honor
him as no one amongst the sons of men had been honored before,
for he would give him an immortal goddess to be his bride.
She who came out of the sea went into a cave that was overgrown
with vines and roses. Peleus looked into the cave and he saw her
sleeping upon skins of the beasts of the sea. His
heart was enchanted by the sight, and he knew that his life would
be broken if he did not see this goddess day after day. So he
went back to his ship and he prayed: "O Zeus, now I claim the
promise that you once made to me. Let it be that this goddess
come with me, or else plunge my ship and me beneath the waves of
And when Peleus said this he looked over the land and the water
for a sign from Zeus.
Even then the goddess sleeping in the cave had dreams such as had
never before entered that peaceful resting place of hers. She
dreamt that she was drawn away from the deep and the wide sea.
She dreamt that she was brought to a place that was strange and
unfree to her. And as she lay in the cave, sleeping, tears that
might never come into the eyes of an immortal lay around her
But Peleus, standing on his painted ship, saw a rainbow touch
upon the sea. He knew by that sign that Iris, the messenger of
Zeus, had come down through the air. Then a strange sight came
before his eyes. Out of the sea rose the head of a man; wrinkled
and bearded it was, and the eyes were very old. Peleus knew that
he who was there before him was Nereus, the ancient one of the
Said old Nereus: "Thou hast prayed to Zeus, and I am here to
speak an answer to thy prayer. She whom you have looked upon is
Thetis, the goddess of the sea. Very loath will she be
to take Zeus's command and wed with thee. It is her desire to
remain in the sea, unwedded, and she has refused marriage even
with one of the immortal gods."
Then said Peleus, "Zeus promised me an immortal bride. If Thetis
may not be mine I cannot wed any other, goddess or mortal
"Then thou thyself wilt have to master Thetis," said Nereus, the
wise one of the sea. "If she is mastered by thee, she cannot go
back to the sea. She will strive with all her strength and all
her wit to escape from thee; but thou must hold her no matter
what she does, and no matter how she shows herself. When thou
hast seen her again as thou didst see her at first, thou wilt
know that thou hast mastered her." And when he had said this to
Peleus, Nereus, the ancient one of the sea, went under the waves.
With his hero's heart beating more than ever it had beaten yet,
Peleus went into the cave. Kneeling beside her he looked down
upon the goddess. The dress she wore was like green and silver
mail. Her face and limbs were pearly, but through them came the
radiance that belongs to the immortals.
He touched the hair of the goddess of the sea, the yellow hair
that was so long that it might cover her all over. As he touched
her hair she started up, wakening suddenly out of her sleep. His
hands touched her hands and held them. Now he knew that if he
should loose his hold upon her she would escape from him into the
depths of the sea, and that thereafter no command from the
immortals would bring her to him.
She changed into a white bird that strove to bear itself away.
Peleus held to its wings and struggled with the bird. She changed
and became a tree. Around the trunk of the tree Peleus clung. She
changed once more, and this time her form became terrible: a
spotted leopard she was now, with burning eyes; but Peleus held
to the neck of the fierce-appearing leopard and was not
affrighted by the burning eyes. Then she changed and became as he
had seen her first--a lovely maiden, with the brow of a goddess,
and with long yellow hair.
But now there was no radiance in her face or in her limbs. She
looked past Peleus, who held her, and out to the wide sea. "Who
is he," she cried, "who has been given this mastery over me? "
Then said the hero: "I am Peleus, and Zeus has given me the
mastery over thee. Wilt thou come with me, Thetis? Thou art my
bride, given me by him who is highest amongst the gods, and if
thou wilt come with me, thou wilt always be loved and reverenced
"Unwillingly I leave the sea," she cried, "unwillingly I go with
But life in the sea was not for her any more now that she was
mastered. She went to Peleus's ship and she went to Phthia, his
country. And when the hero and the sea goddess were
wedded the immortal gods and goddesses came to their hall and
brought the bride and the bridegroom wondrous gifts. The three
sisters who are called the Fates came also. These wise and
ancient women said that the son born of the marriage of Peleus
and Thetis would be a man greater than Peleus himself.
Now although a son was born to her, and although this son had
something of the radiance of the immortals about him, Thetis
remained forlorn and estranged. Nothing that her husband did was
pleasing to her. Prince Peleus was in fear that the wildness of
the sea would break out in her, and that some great harm would be
wrought in his house.
One night he wakened suddenly. He saw the fire upon his hearth
and he saw a figure standing by the fire. It was Thetis, his
wife. The fire was blazing around something that she held in her
hands. And while she stood there she was singing to herself a
And then he saw what Thetis held in her hands and what the fire
was blazing around; it was the child, Achilles.
Prince Peleus sprang from the bed and caught Thetis around the
waist and lifted her and the child away from the blazing fire. He
put them both upon the bed, and he took from her the child that
she held by the heel. His heart was wild within him, for the
thought that wildness had come over his wife, and that she was
bent upon destroying their child. But Thetis looked on him from
under those goddess brows of hers and she said to him: "By the
divine power that I still possess I would have made the child
invulnerable; but the heel by which I held him has not been
endued by the fire and in that place some day he may be stricken.
All that the fire covered is invulnerable, and no weapon that
strikes there can destroy his life. His heel I cannot now make
invulnerable, for now the divine power is gone out of
When she said this Thetis looked full upon her husband, and never
had she seemed so unforgiving as she was then. All the divine
radiance that had remained with her was gone from her now, and
she seemed a white-faced and bitter-thinking woman. And when
Peleus saw that such a great bitterness faced him he fled from
He traveled far from his own land, and first he went to the help
of Heracles, who was then in the midst of his mighty labors.
Heracles was building a wall around a city. Peleus labored,
helping him to raise the wall for King Laomedon. Then, one night,
as he walked by the wall he had helped to build, he heard voices
speaking out of the earth. And one voice said: "Why has Peleus
striven so hard to raise a wall that his son shall fight hard to
overthrow?" No voice replied. The wall was built, and Peleus
departed. The city around which the wall was built was the great
city of Troy.
In whatever place he went Peleus was followed by the hatred
of the people of the sea, and above all by the hatred of the
nymph who is called Psamathe. Far, far from his own country he
went, and at last he came to a country of bright valleys that was
ruled over by a kindly king--by Ceyx, who was called the Son of
the Morning Star.
Bright of face and kindly and peaceable in all his ways was this
king, and kindly and peaceable was the land that he ruled over.
And when Prince Peleus went to him to beg for his protection, and
to beg for unfurrowed fields where he might graze his cattle,
Ceyx raised him up from where he knelt. "Peaceable and plentiful
is the land," he said, "and all who come here may have peace and
a chance to earn their food. Live where you will, O stranger, and
take the unfurrowed fields by the seashore for pasture for your
Peace came into Peleus's heart as he looked into the untroubled
face of Ceyx, and as he looked over the bright valleys of the
land he had come into. He brought his cattle to the unfurrowed
fields by the seashore and he left herdsmen there to tend them.
And as he walked along these bright valleys he thought upon his
wife and upon his son Achilles, and there were gentle feelings in
his breast. But then he thought upon the enmity of Psamathe, the
woman of the sea, and great trouble came over him again. He felt
he could not stay in the palace of the kindly king. He went where
his herdsmen camped and he lived with them. But the sea was very
near and its sound tormented him, and as the days went by,
Peleus, wild looking and shaggy, became more and more unlike the
hero whom once the gods themselves had honored.
One day as he was standing near the palace having speech with the
king, a herdsman ran to him and cried out: "Peleus, Peleus, a
dread thing has happened in the unfurrowed fields." And when he
had got his breath the herdsman told of the thing that had
They had brought the herd down to the sea. Suddenly, from the
marshes where the sea and land came together, a monstrous beast
rushed out upon the herd; like a wolf this beast was, but with
mouth and jaws that were more terrible than a wolf's even. The
beast seized upon the cattle. Yet it was not hunger that made it
fierce, for the beasts that it killed it tore, but did not
devour. Tit rushed on and on, killing and tearing more and more
of the herd. "Soon," said the herdsman, "it will have destroyed
all in the herd, and then it will not spare to destroy the other
flocks and herds that are in the land."
Peleus was stricken to hear that his herd was being destroyed,
but more stricken to know that the land of a friendly king would
be ravaged, and ravaged on his account. For he knew that the
terrible beast that had come from where the sea and the land
joined had been sent by Psamathe. He went up on the tower that
stood near the king's palace. He was able to look out on the sea
and able to look over all the land. And looking across the bright
valleys he saw the dread beast. He saw it rush through his own
mangled cattle and fall upon the herds of the kindly king.
He looked toward the sea and he prayed to Psamathe to spare the
land that he had come to. But, even as he prayed, he knew that
Psamathe would not harken to him. Then he made a prayer to
Thetis, to his wife who had seemed so unforgiving. He prayed her
to deal with Psamathe so that the land of Ceyx would not be
As he looked from the tower he saw the king come forth with arms
in his hands for the slaying of the terrible beast. Peleus felt
fear for the life of the kindly king. Down from the tower he
came, and taking up his spear he went with Ceyx.
Soon, in one of the brightest of the valleys, they came upon the
beast; they came between it and a herd of silken-coated cattle.
Seeing the men it rushed toward them with blood and foam upon its
jaws. Then Peleus knew that the spears they carried would be of
little use against the raging beast. His only thought was to
struggle with it so that the king might be able to save himself.
Again he lifted up his hands and prayed to Thetis to draw away
Psamathe's enmity. The beast rushed toward them; but suddenly it
stopped. The bristles upon its body seemed to stiffen. The gaping
jaws became fixed. The hounds that were with them dashed upon the
beast, but then fell back with yelps of disappointment. And when
Peleus and Ceyx came to where it stood they found that the
monstrous beast had been turned into stone.
And a stone it remains in that bright valley, a wonder to all the
men of Ceyx's land. The country was spared the ravages of the
beast. And the heart of Peleus was uplifted to think that Thetis
had harkened to his prayer and had prevailed upon Psamathe to
forego her enmity. Not altogether unforgiving was his wife to
That day he went from the land of the bright valleys, from the
land ruled over by the kindly Ceyx, and he came back to rugged
Phthia, his own country. When he came near his hall he saw two at
the doorway awaiting him. Thetis stood there, and the child
Achilles was by her side. The radiance of the immortals was in
her face no longer, but there was a glow there, a glow of welcome
for the hero Peleus. And thus Peleus, long tormented by the
enmity of the sea-born ones, came back to the wife he had won
from the sea.
III. THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR
Thereafter Theseus made up his mind to go in search of his
father, the unknown king, and Medea, the wise woman, counseled
him to go to Athens. After the hunt in Calydon he set forth. On
his way he fought with and slew two robbers who harassed
countries and treated people unjustly.
The first was Sinnias. He was a robber who slew men cruelly by
tying them to strong branches of trees and letting the branches
fly apart. On him Theseus had no mercy. The second was a robber
also, Procrustes : he had a great iron bed on which he made his
captives lie; if they were too long for that bed he chopped
pieces off them, and if they were too short he stretched out
their bodies with terrible racks. On him, likewise, Theseus had
no mercy; he slew Procrustes and gave liberty to his captives.
The King of Athens at the time was named Aegeus. He was father of
Theseus, but neither Theseus nor he knew that this was so. Aethra
was his mother, and she was the daughter of the King of Troezen.
Before Theseus was born his father left a great sword under a
stone, telling Aethra that the boy was to have the sword when he
was able to move that stone away.
King Aegeus was old and fearful now: there were wars and troubles
in the city; besides, there was in his palace an evil woman, a
witch, to whom the king listened. This woman heard that a proud
and fearless young man had come into Athens, and she at once
thought to destroy him.
So the witch spoke to the fearful king, and she made him believe
that this stranger had come into Athens to make league with his
enemies and destroy him. Such was her power over Aegeus that she
was able to persuade him to invite the stranger youth to a feast
in the palace, and to give him a cup that would have poison in
Theseus came to the palace. He sat down to the banquet with the
king. But before the cup was brought something moved him to stand
up and draw forth the sword that he carried. Fearfully the king
looked upon the sword. Then he saw the heavy ivory hilt with the
curious carving on it, and he knew that this was the sword that
he had once laid under the stone near the palace of the King of
Troezen. He questioned Theseus as to how he had come by the
sword, and Theseus told him how Aethra his mother, had shown him
where it was hidden, and how he had been able to take it from
under the stone before he was grown a youth. More and more Aegeus
questioned him, and he came to know that the youth before him was
his son indeed. He dashed down the cup that had been brought to
the table, and he shook all over with the thought of how near he
had been to a terrible crime. The witchwoman watched all that
passed; mounting on a car drawn by dragons she made flight from
And now the people of the city, knowing that it was he who had
slain the robbers Sinnias and Procrustes, rejoiced to have
Theseus amongst them. When he appeared as their prince they
rejoiced still more. Soon he was able to bring to an end the wars
in the city and the troubles that afflicted Athens.
The greatest king in the world at that time was Minos, King of
Crete. Minos had sent his son to Athens to make peace and
friendship between his kingdom and the kingdom of King Aegeus.
But the people of Athens slew the son of King Minos, and because
Aegeus had not given him the protection that a king should have
given a stranger come upon such an errand he was deemed to have
some part in the guilt of his slaying.
Minos, the great king, was wroth, and he made war on Athens,
wreaking great destruction upon the country and the people.
Moreover, the gods themselves were wroth with Athens; they
punished the people with famine, making even the rivers dry up.
The Athenians went to the oracle and asked Apollo what they
should do to have their guilt taken away. Apollo made answer that
they should make peace with Minos and fulfill all his demands.
All this Theseus now heard, learning for the first time that
behind the wars and troubles in Athens there was a deed of evil
that Aegeus, his father, had some guilt in.
The demands that King Minos made upon Athens were terrible. He
demanded that the Athenians should send into Crete every year
seven youths and seven maidens as a price for the life of his
son. And these youths and maidens were not to meet death merely,
nor were they to be reared in slaverythey were to be sent that a
monster called the Minotaur might devour them.
Youths and maidens had been sent, and for the third time the
messengers of King Minos were coming to Athens. The tribute for
the Minotaur was to be chosen by lot. The fathers and mothers
were in fear and trembling, for each man and woman thought that
his or her son or daughter would be taken for a prey for the
They came together, the people of Athens, and they drew the lots
fearfully. And on the throne above them all sat their pale-faced
king, Aegeus, the father of Theseus.
Before the first lot was drawn Theseus turned to all of them and
said, "People of Athens, it is not right that your children
should go and that I, who am the son of King Aegeus, should
remain behind. Surely, if any of the youths of Athens should face
the dread monster of Crete, I should face it. There is one lot
that you may leave undrawn. I will go to Crete."
His father, on hearing the speech of Theseus, came down from his
throne and pleaded with him, begging him not to go. But the will
of Theseus was set; he would go with the others and face the
Minotaur. And he reminded his father of how the people had
complained, saying that if Aegeus had done the duty of a king,
Minos's son would not have been slain and the tribute to the
Minotaur would have not been demanded. It was the passing about
of such complaints that had led to the war and troubles that
Theseus found on his coming to Athens.
Also Theseus told his father and told the people that he had hope
in his hands--that the hands that were strong enough to slay
Sinnias and Procrustes, the giant robbers, would be strong enough
to slay the dread monster of Crete. His father at last consented
to his going. And Theseus was able to make the people willing to
believe that he would be able to overcome the Minotaur, and so
put an end to the terrible tribute that was being exacted from
With six other youths and seven maidens Theseus went on board of
the ship that every year brought to Crete the grievous tribute.
This ship always sailed with black sails. But before it sailed
this time King Aegeus gave to Nausitheus, the master of the ship,
a white sail to take with him. And he begged Theseus, that in
case he should be able to overcome the monster, to hoist the
white sail he had given. Theseus promised he would do this. His
father would watch for the return of the ship, and if the sail
were black he would know that the Minotaur had dealt with his son
as it had dealt with the other youths who had gone from Athens.
And if the sail were white Aegeus would have indeed cause to
And now the black-sailed ship had come to Crete, and the youths
and maidens of Athens looked from its deck on Knossos, the
marvelous city that Daedalus the builder had built for King
Minos. And they saw the palace of the king, the red and black
palace in which was the labyrinth, made also by Daedalus, where
the dread Minotaur was hidden.
In fear they looked upon the city and the palace. But not in fear
did Theseus look, but in wonder at the magnificence of it
all--the harbor with its great steps leading up into the city,
the far-spreading palace all red and black, and the crowds of
ships with their white and red sails. They were brought through
the city of Knossos to the palace of the king. And there Theseus
looked upon Minos. In a great red chamber on which was painted
the sign of the axe, King Minos sat.
On a low throne he sat, holding in his hand a scepter on which a
bird was perched. Not in fear, but steadily, did Theseus look
upon the king. And he saw that Minos had the face of one who has
thought long upon troublesome things, and that his eyes were
strangely dark and deep. The king noted that the eyes of Theseus
were upon him, and he made a sign with his head to an attendant
and the attendant laid his hand upon him and brought Theseus to
stand beside the king. Minos questioned him as to who he was and
what lands he had been in, and when he learned that Theseus was
the son of ,Egeus, the King of Athens, he said the name of his
son who had been slain, "Androgeus, Androgeus," over and over
again, and then spoke no more.
While he stood there beside the king there came into the chamber
three maidens; one of them, Theseus knew, was the daughter of
Minos. Not like the maidens of Greece were the princess and her
two attendants: instead of having on flowing garments and sandals
and wearing their hair bound, they had on dresses of gleaming
material that were tight at the waists and bell-shaped; the hair
that streamed on their shoulders was made wavy; they had on high
shoes of a substance that shone like glass. Never had Theseus
looked upon maidens who were so strange.
They spoke to the king in the strange Cretan language; then
Minos's daughter made reverence to her father, and they went from
the chamber. Theseus watched them as they went through a long
passage, walking slowly on their high-heeled shoes.
Through the same passage the youths and maidens of Athens were
afterward brought. They came into a great hall. The walls were
red and on them were paintings in black--pictures of great bulls
with girls and slender youths struggling with them. It was a
place for games and shows, and Theseus stood with the youths and
maidens of Athens and with the people of the palace and watched
what was happening.
They saw women charming snakes; then they saw a boxing match, and
afterward they all looked on a bout of wrestling. Theseus looked
past the wrestlers and he saw, at the other end of the hall, the
daughter of King Minos and her two attendant maidens.
One broad-shouldered and bearded man--overthrew all the wrestlers
who came to grips with him. He stood there boastfully, and
Theseus was made angry by the man's arrogance. Then, when no
other wrestler would come against him, he turned to leave the
But Theseus stood in his way and pushed him back. The boastful
man laid hands upon him and pulled him into the arena. He strove
to throw Theseus as he had thrown the others; but he soon found
that the youth from Greece was a wrestler, too, and that he would
have to strive hard to overthrow him.
More eagerly than they had watched anything else the people of
the palace and the youths and maidens of Athens watched the bout
between Theseus and the lordly wrestler. Those from Athens who
looked upon him now thought that they had never seen Theseus look
so tall and so conquering before; beside the slender, dark-haired
people of Crete he looked like a statue of one of the gods.
Very adroit was the Cretan wrestler, and Theseus had to use all
his strength to keep upon his feet; but soon he mastered the
tricks that the wrestler was using against him. Then the Cretan
left aside his tricks and began to use all his strength to throw
Steadily Theseus stood and the Cretan wrestler was spent and
gasping in the effort to throw him. Then Theseus made him feel
his grip. He bent him backward, and then, using all his strength
suddenly, forced him to the ground. All were filled with wonder
at the strength and power of this youth from overseas.
Food and wine were given the youths and maidens of Athens, and
they with Theseus were let wander through the grounds of the
palace. But they could make no escape, for guards followed them
and the way to the ships was filled with strangers who would not
let them pass. They talked to each other about the Minotaur, and
there was fear in every word they said. But Theseus went from one
to the other, telling them that perhaps there was a way by which
he could come to the monster and destroy it. And the youths and
maidens, remembering how he had overthrown the lordly wrestler,
were comforted a little, thinking that Theseus might indeed be
able to destroy the Minotaur and so save all of them.
Theseus was awakened by some one touching him. He arose and he
saw a dark-faced servant, who beckoned to him. He left the little
chamber where he had been sleeping, and then he saw outside one
who wore the strange dress of the Cretans.
When Theseus looked full upon her he saw that she was none other
than the daughter of King Minos. "I am Ariadne," she said, "and,
O youth from Greece, I have come to save you from the dread
He looked upon Ariadne's strange face with its long, dark eyes,
and he wondered how this girl could think that she could save him
and save the youths and maidens of Athens from the Minotaur. Her
hand rested upon his arm, and she led him into the chamber where
Minos had sat. It was lighted now by many little lamps.
"I will show the way of escape to you," said Ariadne.
Then Theseus looked around, and he saw that none of the other
youths and maidens were near them, and he looked on Ariadne
again, and he saw that the strange princess had been won to help
him, and to help him only.
"Who will show the way of escape to the others?" asked Theseus.
"Ah," said the Princess Ariadne, "for the others there is no way
"Then," said Theseus, "I will not leave the youths and maidens of
Athens who came with me to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur."
"Ah, Theseus," said Ariadne, "they cannot escape the Minotaur.
One only may escape, and I want you to be that one. I saw you
when you wrestled with Deucalion, our great wrestler, and since
then I have longed to save you."
"I have come to slay the Minotaur," said Theseus, "and I cannot
hold my life as my own until I have slain it."
Said Ariadne, "If you could see the Minotaur, Theseus, and if you
could measure its power, you would know that you are not the one
to slay it. I think that only Talos, that giant who was all of
bronze, could have slain the Minotaur."
"Princess," said Theseus, "can you help me to come to the
Minotaur and look upon it so that I can know for certainty
whether this hand of mine can slay the monster?"
"I can help you to come to the Minotaur and look upon it," said
"Then help me, princess," cried Theseus; "help me to come to the
Minotaur and look upon it, and help me, too, to get back the
sword that I brought with me to Crete."
"Your sword will not avail you against the Minotaur," said
Ariadne; "when you look upon the monster you will know that it is
not for your hand to slay."
"Oh, but bring me my sword, princess," cried Theseus, and his
hands went out to her in supplication.
"I will bring you your sword," said she.
She took up a little lamp and went through a doorway, leaving
Theseus standing by the low throne in the chamber of Minos. Then
after a little while she came back, bringing with her Theseus's
great ivory-hilted sword.
"It is a great sword," she said; "I marked it before because it
is your sword, Theseus. But even this great sword will not avail
against the Minotaur."
"Show me the way to come to the Minotaur, O Ariadne," cried
He knew that she did not think that he would deem himself able to
strive with the Minotaur, and that when he looked upon the dread
monster he would return to her and then take the way of his
She took his hand and led him from the chamber of Minos. She was
not tall, but she stood straight and walked steadily, and Theseus
saw in her something of the strange majesty that he had seen in
Minos the king.
They came to high bronze gates that opened into a vault. "Here,"
said Ariadne, "the labyrinth begins. Very devious is the
labyrinth, built by Daedalus, in which the Minotaur is hidden,
and without the clue none could find a way through the passages.
But I will give you the clue so that you may look upon the
Minotaur and then come back to me. Theseus, now I put into your
hand the thread that will guide you through all the windings of
the labyrinth. And outside the place where the Minotaur is you
will find another thread to guide you back."
A cone was on the ground and it had a thread fastened to it.
Ariadne gave Theseus the thread and the cone to wind it around.
The thread as he held it and wound it around the cone would bring
him through all the windings and turnings of the labyrinth.
She left him, and Theseus went on. Winding the thread around the
cone he went along a wide passage in the vault. He turned and
came into a passage that was very long. He came to a place in
this passage where a door seemed to be, but within the frame of
the doorway there was only a blank wall. But below that doorway
there was a flight of six steps, and down these steps the thread
led him. On he went, and he crossed the marks that he himself had
made in the dust, and he thought he must have come back to the
place where he had parted from Ariadne. He went on, and he saw
before him a flight of steps. The thread did not lead up the
steps; it led into the most winding of passages. So sudden were
the turnings in it that one could not see three steps before one.
He was dazed by the turnings of this passage, but still he went
on. He went up winding steps and then along a narrow wall. The
wall overhung a broad flight of steps, and Theseus had to jump to
them. Down the steps he went and into a wide, empty hall that had
doorways to the right hand and to the left hand. Here the thread
had its end. It was fastened to a cone that lay on the ground,
and beside this cone was another--the clue that was to bring him
Now Theseus, knowing he was in the very center of the labyrinth,
looked all around for sight of the Minotaur. There was no sight
of the monster here. He went to all the doors and pushed at them,
and some opened and some remained fast. The middle door opened.
As it did Theseus felt around him a chilling draft of air.
That chilling draft was from the breathing of the monster.
Theseus then saw the Minotaur. It lay on the ground, a strange,
When the thought came to Theseus that he would have to fight that
monster alone and in that hidden and empty place all delight left
him; he grew like a stone; he groaned, and it seemed to him that
he heard the voice of Ariadne calling him back. He could find his
way back through the labyrinth and come to her. He stepped back,
and the door closed on the Minotaur, the dread monster of Crete.
In an instant Theseus pushed the door again. He stood within the
hall where the Minotaur was, and the heavy door shut behind him.
He looked again on that dark, bull-faced thing. It reared up as a
horse rears and Theseus saw that it would crash down on him and
tear him with its dragon claws. With a great bound he went far
away from where the monster crashed down. Then Theseus faced it:
he saw its thick lips and its slobbering mouth; he saw that its
skin was thick and hard.
He drew near the monster, his sword in his hand. He struck at its
eyes, and his sword made a great dint. But no blood came, for the
Minotaur was a bloodless monster. From its mouth and nostrils
came a draft that covered him with a chilling slime.
Then it rushed upon him and overthrew him, and Theseus felt its
terrible weight upon him. But he thrust his sword upward, and it
reared up again, screaming with pain. Theseus drew himself away,
and then he saw it searching around and around, and he knew he
had made it sightless. Then it faced him; all the more fearful it
was because from its wounds no blood came.
Anger flowed into Theseus when he saw the monster standing
frightfully before him; he thought of all the youths and maidens
that this bloodless thing had destroyed, and all the youths and
maidens that it would destroy if he did not slay it now. Angrily
he rushed upon it with his great sword. It clawed and tore him,
and it opened wide its most evil mouth as if to draw him into it.
But again he sprang at it; he thrust his great sword through its
neck, and he left his sword there.
With the last of his strength he pulled open the heavy door and
he went out from the hall where the Minotaur was. He picked up
the thread and he began to wind it as he had wound the other
thread on his way down. On he went, through passage after
passage, through chamber after chamber. His mind was dizzy, and
he had little thought for the way he was going. His wounds and
the chill that the monster had breathed into him and his horror
of the fearful and bloodless thing made his mind almost forsake
him. He kept the thread in his hand and he wound it as he went on
through the labyrinth. He stumbled and the thread broke. He went
on for a few steps and then he went back to find the thread that
had fallen out of his hands. In an instant he was in a part of
the labyrinth that he had not been in before.
He walked a long way, and then he came on his own footmarks as
they crossed themselves in the dust. He pushed open a door and
came into the air. He was now by the outside wall of the palace,
and he saw birds flying by him. He leant against the wall of the
palace, thinking that he would strive no more to find his way
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