Part 1 out of 3
Transcribed from the 1889 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price,
THE HEROES, OR GREEK FAIRY TALES FOR MY CHILDREN
How Perseus and his mother came to Seriphos
How Perseus vowed a Rash Vow
How Perseus slew the Gorgon
How Perseus came to the AEthiops
How Perseus came home again
How the Centaur trained the Heroes on Pelion
How Jason lost his sandal in Anauros
How they built the ship 'Argo' in Iolcos
How the Argonauts sailed to Colchis
How the Argonauts were driven into the Unknown Sea
What was the end of the Heroes
How Theseus lifted the stone
How Theseus slew the devourers of men
How Theseus slew the minotaur
How Theseus fell by his pride
MY DEAR CHILDREN,
Some of you have heard already of the old Greeks; and all of you,
as you grow up, will hear more and more of them. Those of you who
are boys will, perhaps, spend a great deal of time in reading Greek
books; and the girls, though they may not learn Greek, will be sure
to come across a great many stories taken from Greek history, and
to see, I may say every day, things which we should not have had if
it had not been for these old Greeks. You can hardly find a well-
written book which has not in it Greek names, and words, and
proverbs; you cannot walk through a great town without passing
Greek buildings; you cannot go into a well-furnished room without
seeing Greek statues and ornaments, even Greek patterns of
furniture and paper; so strangely have these old Greeks left their
mark behind them upon this modern world in which we now live. And
as you grow up, and read more and more, you will find that we owe
to these old Greeks the beginners of all our mathematics and
geometry--that is, the science and knowledge of numbers, and of the
shapes of things, and of the forces which make things move and
stand at rest; and the beginnings of our geography and astronomy;
and of our laws, and freedom, and politics--that is, the science of
how to rule a country, and make it peaceful and strong. And we owe
to them, too, the beginning of our logic--that is, the study of
words and of reasoning; and of our metaphysics--that is, the study
of our own thoughts and souls. And last of all, they made their
language so beautiful that foreigners used to take to it instead of
their own; and at last Greek became the common language of educated
people all over the old world, from Persia and Egypt even to Spain
and Britain. And therefore it was that the New Testament was
written in Greek, that it might be read and understood by all the
nations of the Roman empire; so that, next to the Jews, and the
Bible which the Jews handed down to us, we owe more to these old
Greeks than to any people upon earth.
Now you must remember one thing--that 'Greeks' was not their real
name. They called themselves always 'Hellens,' but the Romans
miscalled them Greeks; and we have taken that wrong name from the
Romans--it would take a long time to tell you why. They were made
up of many tribes and many small separate states; and when you hear
in this book of Minuai, and Athenians, and other such names, you
must remember that they were all different tribes and peoples of
the one great Hellen race, who lived in what we now call Greece, in
the islands of the Archipelago, and along the coast of Asia Minor
(Ionia, as they call it), from the Hellespont to Rhodes, and had
afterwards colonies and cities in Sicily, and South Italy (which
was called Great Greece), and along the shores of the Black Sea at
Sinope, and Kertch, and at Sevastopol. And after that, again, they
spread under Alexander the Great, and conquered Egypt, and Syria,
and Persia, and the whole East. But that was many hundred years
after my stories; for then there were no Greeks on the Black Sea
shores, nor in Sicily, or Italy, or anywhere but in Greece and in
Ionia. And if you are puzzled by the names of places in this book,
you must take the maps and find them out. It will be a pleasanter
way of learning geography than out of a dull lesson-book.
Now, I love these old Hellens heartily; and I should be very
ungrateful to them if I did not, considering all that they have
taught me; and they seem to me like brothers, though they have all
been dead and gone many hundred years ago. So as you must learn
about them, whether you choose or not, I wish to be the first to
introduce you to them, and to say, 'Come hither, children, at this
blessed Christmas time, when all God's creatures should rejoice
together, and bless Him who redeemed them all. Come and see old
friends of mine, whom I knew long ere you were born. They are come
to visit us at Christmas, out of the world where all live to God;
and to tell you some of their old fairy tales, which they loved
when they were young like you.'
For nations begin at first by being children like you, though they
are made up of grown men. They are children at first like you--men
and women with children's hearts; frank, and affectionate, and full
of trust, and teachable, and loving to see and learn all the
wonders round them; and greedy also, too often, and passionate and
silly, as children are.
Thus these old Greeks were teachable, and learnt from all the
nations round. From the Phoenicians they learnt shipbuilding, and
some say letters beside; and from the Assyrians they learnt
painting, and carving, and building in wood and stone; and from the
Egyptians they learnt astronomy, and many things which you would
not understand. In this they were like our own forefathers the
Northmen, of whom you love to hear, who, though they were wild and
rough themselves, were humble, and glad to learn from every one.
Therefore God rewarded these Greeks, as He rewarded our
forefathers, and made them wiser than the people who taught them in
everything they learnt; for He loves to see men and children open-
hearted, and willing to be taught; and to him who uses what he has
got, He gives more and more day by day. So these Greeks grew wise
and powerful, and wrote poems which will live till the world's end,
which you must read for yourselves some day, in English at least,
if not in Greek. And they learnt to carve statues, and build
temples, which are still among the wonders of the world; and many
another wondrous thing God taught them, for which we are the wiser
For you must not fancy, children, that because these old Greeks
were heathens, therefore God did not care for them, and taught them
The Bible tells us that it was not so, but that God's mercy is over
all His works, and that He understands the hearts of all people,
and fashions all their works. And St. Paul told these old Greeks
in after times, when they had grown wicked and fallen low, that
they ought to have known better, because they were God's offspring,
as their own poets had said; and that the good God had put them
where they were, to seek the Lord, and feel after Him, and find
Him, though He was not far from any one of them. And Clement of
Alexandria, a great Father of the Church, who was as wise as he was
good, said that God had sent down Philosophy to the Greeks from
heaven, as He sent down the Gospel to the Jews.
For Jesus Christ, remember, is the Light who lights every man who
comes into the world. And no one can think a right thought, or
feel a right feeling, or understand the real truth of anything in
earth and heaven, unless the good Lord Jesus teaches him by His
Spirit, which gives man understanding.
But these Greeks, as St. Paul told them, forgot what God had taught
them, and, though they were God's offspring, worshipped idols of
wood and stone, and fell at last into sin and shame, and then, of
course, into cowardice and slavery, till they perished out of that
beautiful land which God had given them for so many years.
For, like all nations who have left anything behind them, beside
mere mounds of earth, they believed at first in the One True God
who made all heaven and earth. But after a while, like all other
nations, they began to worship other gods, or rather angels and
spirits, who (so they fancied) lived about their land. Zeus, the
Father of gods and men (who was some dim remembrance of the blessed
true God), and Hera his wife, and Phoebus Apollo the Sun-god, and
Pallas Athene who taught men wisdom and useful arts, and Aphrodite
the Queen of Beauty, and Poseidon the Ruler of the Sea, and
Hephaistos the King of the Fire, who taught men to work in metals.
And they honoured the Gods of the Rivers, and the Nymph-maids, who
they fancied lived in the caves, and the fountains, and the glens
of the forest, and all beautiful wild places. And they honoured
the Erinnues, the dreadful sisters, who, they thought, haunted
guilty men until their sins were purged away. And many other
dreams they had, which parted the One God into many; and they said,
too, that these gods did things which would be a shame and sin for
any man to do. And when their philosophers arose, and told them
that God was One, they would not listen, but loved their idols, and
their wicked idol feasts, till they all came to ruin. But we will
talk of such sad things no more.
But, at the time of which this little book speaks, they had not
fallen as low as that. They worshipped no idols, as far as I can
find; and they still believed in the last six of the ten
commandments, and knew well what was right and what was wrong. And
they believed (and that was what gave them courage) that the gods
loved men, and taught them, and that without the gods men were sure
to come to ruin. And in that they were right enough, as we know--
more right even than they thought; for without God we can do
nothing, and all wisdom comes from Him.
Now, you must not think of them in this book as learned men, living
in great cities, such as they were afterwards, when they wrought
all their beautiful works, but as country people, living in farms
and walled villages, in a simple, hard-working way; so that the
greatest kings and heroes cooked their own meals, and thought it no
shame, and made their own ships and weapons, and fed and harnessed
their own horses; and the queens worked with their maid-servants,
and did all the business of the house, and spun, and wove, and
embroidered, and made their husbands' clothes and their own. So
that a man was honoured among them, not because he happened to be
rich, but according to his skill, and his strength, and courage,
and the number of things which he could do. For they were but
grown-up children, though they were right noble children too; and
it was with them as it is now at school--the strongest and
cleverest boy, though he be poor, leads all the rest.
Now, while they were young and simple they loved fairy tales, as
you do now. All nations do so when they are young: our old
forefathers did, and called their stories 'Sagas.' I will read you
some of them some day--some of the Eddas, and the Voluspa, and
Beowulf, and the noble old Romances. The old Arabs, again, had
their tales, which we now call the 'Arabian Nights.' The old
Romans had theirs, and they called them 'Fabulae,' from which our
word 'fable' comes; but the old Hellens called theirs 'Muthoi,'
from which our new word 'myth' is taken. But next to those old
Romances, which were written in the Christian middle age, there are
no fairy tales like these old Greek ones, for beauty, and wisdom,
and truth, and for making children love noble deeds, and trust in
God to help them through.
Now, why have I called this book 'The Heroes'? Because that was
the name which the Hellens gave to men who were brave and skilful,
and dare do more than other men. At first, I think, that was all
it meant: but after a time it came to mean something more; it came
to mean men who helped their country; men in those old times, when
the country was half-wild, who killed fierce beasts and evil men,
and drained swamps, and founded towns, and therefore after they
were dead, were honoured, because they had left their country
better than they found it. And we call such a man a hero in
English to this day, and call it a 'heroic' thing to suffer pain
and grief, that we may do good to our fellow-men. We may all do
that, my children, boys and girls alike; and we ought to do it, for
it is easier now than ever, and safer, and the path more clear.
But you shall hear how the Hellens said their heroes worked, three
thousand years ago. The stories are not all true, of course, nor
half of them; you are not simple enough to fancy that; but the
meaning of them is true, and true for ever, and that is--Do right,
and God will help you.'
[I owe an apology to the few scholars who may happen to read this
hasty jeu d'esprit, for the inconsistent method in which I have
spelt Greek names. The rule which I have tried to follow has been
this: when the word has been hopelessly Latinised, as 'Phoebus'
has been, I have left it as it usually stands; but in other cases I
have tried to keep the plain Greek spelling, except when it would
have seemed pedantic, or when, as in the word 'Tiphus,' I should
have given an altogether wrong notion of the sound of the word. It
has been a choice of difficulties, which has been forced on me by
our strange habit of introducing boys to the Greek myths, not in
their original shape, but in a Roman disguise.]
PART I--HOW PERSEUS AND HIS MOTHER CAME TO SERIPHOS
Once upon a time there were two princes who were twins. Their
names were Acrisius and Proetus, and they lived in the pleasant
vale of Argos, far away in Hellas. They had fruitful meadows and
vineyards, sheep and oxen, great herds of horses feeding down in
Lerna Fen, and all that men could need to make them blest: and yet
they were wretched, because they were jealous of each other. From
the moment they were born they began to quarrel; and when they grew
up each tried to take away the other's share of the kingdom, and
keep all for himself. So first Acrisius drove out Proetus; and he
went across the seas, and brought home a foreign princess for his
wife, and foreign warriors to help him, who were called Cyclopes;
and drove out Acrisius in his turn; and then they fought a long
while up and down the land, till the quarrel was settled, and
Acrisius took Argos and one half the land, and Proetus took Tiryns
and the other half. And Proetus and his Cyclopes built around
Tiryns great walls of unhewn stone, which are standing to this day.
But there came a prophet to that hard-hearted Acrisius and
prophesied against him, and said, 'Because you have risen up
against your own blood, your own blood shall rise up against you;
because you have sinned against your kindred, by your kindred you
shall be punished. Your daughter Danae shall bear a son, and by
that son's hands you shall die. So the Gods have ordained, and it
will surely come to pass.'
And at that Acrisius was very much afraid; but he did not mend his
ways. He had been cruel to his own family, and, instead of
repenting and being kind to them, he went on to be more cruel than
ever: for he shut up his fair daughter Danae in a cavern
underground, lined with brass, that no one might come near her. So
he fancied himself more cunning than the Gods: but you will see
presently whether he was able to escape them.
Now it came to pass that in time Danae bore a son; so beautiful a
babe that any but King Acrisius would have had pity on it. But he
had no pity; for he took Danae and her babe down to the seashore,
and put them into a great chest and thrust them out to sea, for the
winds and the waves to carry them whithersoever they would.
The north-west wind blew freshly out of the blue mountains, and
down the pleasant vale of Argos, and away and out to sea. And away
and out to sea before it floated the mother and her babe, while all
who watched them wept, save that cruel father, King Acrisius.
So they floated on and on, and the chest danced up and down upon
the billows, and the baby slept upon its mother's breast: but the
poor mother could not sleep, but watched and wept, and she sang to
her baby as they floated; and the song which she sang you shall
learn yourselves some day.
And now they are past the last blue headland, and in the open sea;
and there is nothing round them but the waves, and the sky, and the
wind. But the waves are gentle, and the sky is clear, and the
breeze is tender and low; for these are the days when Halcyone and
Ceyx build their nests, and no storms ever ruffle the pleasant
And who were Halcyone and Ceyx? You shall hear while the chest
floats on. Halcyone was a fairy maiden, the daughter of the beach
and of the wind. And she loved a sailor-boy, and married him; and
none on earth were so happy as they. But at last Ceyx was wrecked;
and before he could swim to the shore the billows swallowed him up.
And Halcyone saw him drowning, and leapt into the sea to him; but
in vain. Then the Immortals took pity on them both, and changed
them into two fair sea-birds; and now they build a floating nest
every year, and sail up and down happily for ever upon the pleasant
seas of Greece.
So a night passed, and a day, and a long day it was for Danae; and
another night and day beside, till Danae was faint with hunger and
weeping, and yet no land appeared. And all the while the babe
slept quietly; and at last poor Danae drooped her head and fell
asleep likewise with her cheek against the babe's.
After a while she was awakened suddenly; for the chest was jarring
and grinding, and the air was full of sound. She looked up, and
over her head were mighty cliffs, all red in the setting sun, and
around her rocks and breakers, and flying flakes of foam. She
clasped her hands together, and shrieked aloud for help. And when
she cried, help met her: for now there came over the rocks a tall
and stately man, and looked down wondering upon poor Danae tossing
about in the chest among the waves.
He wore a rough cloak of frieze, and on his head a broad hat to
shade his face; in his hand he carried a trident for spearing fish,
and over his shoulder was a casting-net; but Danae could see that
he was no common man by his stature, and his walk, and his flowing
golden hair and beard; and by the two servants who came behind him,
carrying baskets for his fish. But she had hardly time to look at
him, before he had laid aside his trident and leapt down the rocks,
and thrown his casting-net so surely over Danae and the chest, that
he drew it, and her, and the baby, safe upon a ledge of rock.
Then the fisherman took Danae by the hand, and lifted her out of
the chest, and said -
'O beautiful damsel, what strange chance has brought you to this
island in so flail a ship? Who are you, and whence? Surely you
are some king's daughter; and this boy has somewhat more than
And as he spoke he pointed to the babe; for its face shone like the
But Danae only held down her head, and sobbed out -
'Tell me to what land I have come, unhappy that I am; and among
what men I have fallen!'
And he said, 'This isle is called Seriphos, and I am a Hellen, and
dwell in it. I am the brother of Polydectes the king; and men call
me Dictys the netter, because I catch the fish of the shore.'
Then Danae fell down at his feet, and embraced his knees, and cried
'Oh, sir, have pity upon a stranger, whom a cruel doom has driven
to your land; and let me live in your house as a servant; but treat
me honourably, for I was once a king's daughter, and this my boy
(as you have truly said) is of no common race. I will not be a
charge to you, or eat the bread of idleness; for I am more skilful
in weaving and embroidery than all the maidens of my land.'
And she was going on; but Dictys stopped her, and raised her up,
and said -
'My daughter, I am old, and my hairs are growing gray; while I have
no children to make my home cheerful. Come with me then, and you
shall be a daughter to me and to my wife, and this babe shall be
our grandchild. For I fear the Gods, and show hospitality to all
strangers; knowing that good deeds, like evil ones, always return
to those who do them.'
So Danae was comforted, and went home with Dictys the good
fisherman, and was a daughter to him and to his wife, till fifteen
years were past.
PART II--HOW PERSEUS VOWED A RASH VOW
Fifteen years were past and gone, and the babe was now grown to be
a tall lad and a sailor, and went many voyages after merchandise to
the islands round. His mother called him Perseus; but all the
people in Seriphos said that he was not the son of mortal man, and
called him the son of Zeus, the king of the Immortals. For though
he was but fifteen, he was taller by a head than any man in the
island; and he was the most skilful of all in running and wrestling
and boxing, and in throwing the quoit and the javelin, and in
rowing with the oar, and in playing on the harp, and in all which
befits a man. And he was brave and truthful, gentle and courteous,
for good old Dictys had trained him well; and well it was for
Perseus that he had done so. For now Danae and her son fell into
great danger, and Perseus had need of all his wit to defend his
mother and himself.
I said that Dictys' brother was Polydectes, king of the island. He
was not a righteous man, like Dictys; but greedy, and cunning, and
cruel. And when he saw fair Danae, he wanted to marry her. But
she would not; for she did not love him, and cared for no one but
her boy, and her boy's father, whom she never hoped to see again.
At last Polydectes became furious; and while Perseus was away at
sea he took poor Danae away from Dictys, saying, 'If you will not
be my wife, you shall be my slave.' So Danae was made a slave, and
had to fetch water from the well, and grind in the mill, and
perhaps was beaten, and wore a heavy chain, because she would not
marry that cruel king. But Perseus was far away over the seas in
the isle of Samos, little thinking how his mother was languishing
Now one day at Samos, while the ship was lading, Perseus wandered
into a pleasant wood to get out of the sun, and sat down on the
turf and fell asleep. And as he slept a strange dream came to him-
-the strangest dream which he had ever had in his life.
There came a lady to him through the wood, taller than he, or any
mortal man; but beautiful exceedingly, with great gray eyes, clear
and piercing, but strangely soft and mild. On her head was a
helmet, and in her hand a spear. And over her shoulder, above her
long blue robes, hung a goat-skin, which bore up a mighty shield of
brass, polished like a mirror. She stood and looked at him with
her clear gray eyes; and Perseus saw that her eye-lids never moved,
nor her eyeballs, but looked straight through and through him, and
into his very heart, as if she could see all the secrets of his
soul, and knew all that he had ever thought or longed for since the
day that he was born. And Perseus dropped his eyes, trembling and
blushing, as the wonderful lady spoke.
'Perseus, you must do an errand for me.'
'Who are you, lady? And how do you know my name?'
'I am Pallas Athene; and I know the thoughts of all men's hearts,
and discern their manhood or their baseness. And from the souls of
clay I turn away, and they are blest, but not by me. They fatten
at ease, like sheep in the pasture, and eat what they did not sow,
like oxen in the stall. They grow and spread, like the gourd along
the ground; but, like the gourd, they give no shade to the
traveller, and when they are ripe death gathers them, and they go
down unloved into hell, and their name vanishes out of the land.
'But to the souls of fire I give more fire, and to those who are
manful I give a might more than man's. These are the heroes, the
sons of the Immortals, who are blest, but not like the souls of
clay. For I drive them forth by strange paths, Perseus, that they
may fight the Titans and the monsters, the enemies of Gods and men.
Through doubt and need, danger and battle, I drive them; and some
of them are slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or
where; and some of them win noble names, and a fair and green old
age; but what will be their latter end I know not, and none, save
Zeus, the father of Gods and men. Tell me now, Perseus, which of
these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?'
Then Perseus answered boldly: 'Better to die in the flower of
youth, on the chance of winning a noble name, than to live at ease
like the sheep, and die unloved and unrenowned.'
Then that strange lady laughed, and held up her brazen shield, and
cried: 'See here, Perseus; dare you face such a monster as this,
and slay it, that I may place its head upon this shield?'
And in the mirror of the shield there appeared a face, and as
Perseus looked on it his blood ran cold. It was the face of a
beautiful woman; but her cheeks were pale as death, and her brows
were knit with everlasting pain, and her lips were thin and bitter
like a snake's; and instead of hair, vipers wreathed about her
temples, and shot out their forked tongues; while round her head
were folded wings like an eagle's, and upon her bosom claws of
And Perseus looked awhile, and then said: 'If there is anything so
fierce and foul on earth, it were a noble deed to kill it. Where
can I find the monster?'
Then the strange lady smiled again, and said: 'Not yet; you are
too young, and too unskilled; for this is Medusa the Gorgon, the
mother of a monstrous brood. Return to your home, and do the work
which waits there for you. You must play the man in that before I
can think you worthy to go in search of the Gorgon.'
Then Perseus would have spoken, but the strange lady vanished, and
he awoke; and behold, it was a dream. But day and night Perseus
saw before him the face of that dreadful woman, with the vipers
writhing round her head.
So he returned home; and when he came to Seriphos, the first thing
which he heard was that his mother was a slave in the house of
Grinding his teeth with rage, he went out, and away to the king's
palace, and through the men's rooms, and the women's rooms, and so
through all the house (for no one dared stop him, so terrible and
fair was he), till he found his mother sitting on the floor,
turning the stone hand-mill, and weeping as she turned it. And he
lifted her up, and kissed her, and bade her follow him forth. But
before they could pass out of the room Polydectes came in, raging.
And when Perseus saw him, he flew upon him as the mastiff flies on
the boar. 'Villain and tyrant!' he cried; 'is this your respect
for the Gods, and thy mercy to strangers and widows? You shall
die!' And because he had no sword he caught up the stone hand-
mill, and lifted it to dash out Polydectes' brains.
But his mother clung to him, shrieking, 'Oh, my son, we are
strangers and helpless in the land; and if you kill the king, all
the people will fall on us, and we shall both die.'
Good Dictys, too, who had come in, entreated him. 'Remember that
he is my brother. Remember how I have brought you up, and trained
you as my own son, and spare him for my sake.'
Then Perseus lowered his hand; and Polydectes, who had been
trembling all this while like a coward, because he knew that he was
in the wrong, let Perseus and his mother pass.
Perseus took his mother to the temple of Athene, and there the
priestess made her one of the temple-sweepers; for there they knew
she would be safe, and not even Polydectes would dare to drag her
away from the altar. And there Perseus, and the good Dictys, and
his wife, came to visit her every day; while Polydectes, not being
able to get what he wanted by force, cast about in his wicked heart
how he might get it by cunning.
Now he was sure that he could never get back Danae as long as
Perseus was in the island; so he made a plot to rid himself of him.
And first he pretended to have forgiven Perseus, and to have
forgotten Danae; so that, for a while, all went as smoothly as
Next he proclaimed a great feast, and invited to it all the chiefs,
and landowners, and the young men of the island, and among them
Perseus, that they might all do him homage as their king, and eat
of his banquet in his hall.
On the appointed day they all came; and as the custom was then,
each guest brought his present with him to the king: one a horse,
another a shawl, or a ring, or a sword; and those who had nothing
better brought a basket of grapes, or of game; but Perseus brought
nothing, for he had nothing to bring, being but a poor sailor-lad.
He was ashamed, however, to go into the king's presence without his
gift; and he was too proud to ask Dictys to lend him one. So he
stood at the door sorrowfully, watching the rich men go in; and his
face grew very red as they pointed at him, and smiled, and
whispered, 'What has that foundling to give?'
Now this was what Polydectes wanted; and as soon as he heard that
Perseus stood without, he bade them bring him in, and asked him
scornfully before them all, 'Am I not your king, Perseus, and have
I not invited you to my feast? Where is your present, then?'
Perseus blushed and stammered, while all the proud men round
laughed, and some of them began jeering him openly. 'This fellow
was thrown ashore here like a piece of weed or drift-wood, and yet
he is too proud to bring a gift to the king.'
'And though he does not know who his father is, he is vain enough
to let the old women call him the son of Zeus.'
And so forth, till poor Perseus grew mad with shame, and hardly
knowing what he said, cried out,--'A present! who are you who talk
of presents? See if I do not bring a nobler one than all of yours
So he said boasting; and yet he felt in his heart that he was
braver than all those scoffers, and more able to do some glorious
'Hear him! Hear the boaster! What is it to be?' cried they all,
laughing louder than ever.
Then his dream at Samos came into his mind, and he cried aloud,
'The head of the Gorgon.'
He was half afraid after he had said the words for all laughed
louder than ever, and Polydectes loudest of all.
'You have promised to bring me the Gorgon's head? Then never
appear again in this island without it. Go!'
Perseus ground his teeth with rage, for he saw that he had fallen
into a trap; but his promise lay upon him, and he went out without
Down to the cliffs he went, and looked across the broad blue sea;
and he wondered if his dream were true, and prayed in the
bitterness of his soul.
'Pallas Athene, was my dream true? and shall I slay the Gorgon? If
thou didst really show me her face, let me not come to shame as a
liar and boastful. Rashly and angrily I promised; but cunningly
and patiently will I perform.'
But there was no answer, nor sign; neither thunder nor any
appearance; not even a cloud in the sky.
And three times Perseus called weeping, 'Rashly and angrily I
promised; but cunningly and patiently will I perform.'
Then he saw afar off above the sea a small white cloud, as bright
as silver. And it came on, nearer and nearer, till its brightness
dazzled his eyes.
Perseus wondered at that strange cloud, for there was no other
cloud all round the sky; and he trembled as it touched the cliff
below. And as it touched, it broke, and parted, and within it
appeared Pallas Athene, as he had seen her at Samos in his dream,
and beside her a young man more light-limbed than the stag, whose
eyes were like sparks of fire. By his side was a scimitar of
diamond, all of one clear precious stone, and on his feet were
golden sandals, from the heels of which grew living wings.
They looked upon Perseus keenly, and yet they never moved their
eyes; and they came up the cliffs towards him more swiftly than the
sea-gull, and yet they never moved their feet, nor did the breeze
stir the robes about their limbs; only the wings of the youth's
sandals quivered, like a hawk's when he hangs above the cliff. And
Perseus fell down and worshipped, for he knew that they were more
But Athene stood before him and spoke gently, and bid him have no
fear. Then -
'Perseus,' she said, 'he who overcomes in one trial merits thereby
a sharper trial still. You have braved Polydectes, and done
manfully. Dare you brave Medusa the Gorgon?'
And Perseus said, 'Try me; for since you spoke to me in Samos a new
soul has come into my breast, and I should be ashamed not to dare
anything which I can do. Show me, then, how I can do this!'
'Perseus,' said Athene, 'think well before you attempt; for this
deed requires a seven years' journey, in which you cannot repent or
turn back nor escape; but if your heart fails you, you must die in
the Unshapen Land, where no man will ever find your bones.'
'Better so than live here, useless and despised,' said Perseus.
'Tell me, then, oh tell me, fair and wise Goddess, of your great
kindness and condescension, how I can do but this one thing, and
then, if need be, die!'
Then Athene smiled and said -
'Be patient, and listen; for if you forget my words, you will
indeed die. You must go northward to the country of the
Hyperboreans, who live beyond the pole, at the sources of the cold
north wind, till you find the three Gray Sisters, who have but one
eye and one tooth between them. You must ask them the way to the
Nymphs, the daughters of the Evening Star, who dance about the
golden tree, in the Atlantic island of the west. They will tell
you the way to the Gorgon, that you may slay her, my enemy, the
mother of monstrous beasts. Once she was a maiden as beautiful as
morn, till in her pride she sinned a sin at which the sun hid his
face; and from that day her hair was turned to vipers, and her
hands to eagle's claws; and her heart was filled with shame and
rage, and her lips with bitter venom; and her eyes became so
terrible that whosoever looks on them is turned to stone; and her
children are the winged horse and the giant of the golden sword;
and her grandchildren are Echidna the witch-adder, and Geryon the
three-headed tyrant, who feeds his herds beside the herds of hell.
So she became the sister of the Gorgons, Stheino and Euryte the
abhorred, the daughters of the Queen of the Sea. Touch them not,
for they are immortal; but bring me only Medusa's head.'
'And I will bring it!' said Perseus; 'but how am I to escape her
eyes? Will she not freeze me too into stone?'
'You shall take this polished shield,' said Athene, 'and when you
come near her look not at her herself, but at her image in the
brass; so you may strike her safely. And when you have struck off
her head, wrap it, with your face turned away, in the folds of the
goat-skin on which the shield hangs, the hide of Amaltheie, the
nurse of the AEgis-holder. So you will bring it safely back to me,
and win to yourself renown, and a place among the heroes who feast
with the Immortals upon the peak where no winds blow.'
Then Perseus said, 'I will go, though I die in going. But how
shall I cross the seas without a ship? And who will show me my
way? And when I find her, how shall I slay her, if her scales be
iron and brass?'
Then the young man spoke: 'These sandals of mine will bear you
across the seas, and over hill and dale like a bird, as they bear
me all day long; for I am Hermes, the far-famed Argus-slayer, the
messenger of the Immortals who dwell on Olympus.'
Then Perseus fell down and worshipped, while the young man spoke
'The sandals themselves will guide you on the road, for they are
divine and cannot stray; and this sword itself, the Argus-slayer,
will kill her, for it is divine, and needs no second stroke.
Arise, and gird them on, and go forth.'
So Perseus arose, and girded on the sandals and the sword.
And Athene cried, 'Now leap from the cliff and be gone.'
But Perseus lingered.
'May I not bid farewell to my mother and to Dictys? And may I not
offer burnt-offerings to you, and to Hermes the far-famed Argus-
slayer, and to Father Zeus above?'
'You shall not bid farewell to your mother, lest your heart relent
at her weeping. I will comfort her and Dictys until you return in
peace. Nor shall you offer burnt-offerings to the Olympians; for
your offering shall be Medusa's head. Leap, and trust in the
armour of the Immortals.'
Then Perseus looked down the cliff and shuddered; but he was
ashamed to show his dread. Then he thought of Medusa and the
renown before him, and he leaped into the empty air.
And behold, instead of falling he floated, and stood, and ran along
the sky. He looked back, but Athene had vanished, and Hermes; and
the sandals led him on northward ever, like a crane who follows the
spring toward the Ister fens.
PART III--HOW PERSEUS SLEW THE GORGON
So Perseus started on his journey, going dry-shod over land and
sea; and his heart was high and joyful, for the winged sandals bore
him each day a seven days' journey.
And he went by Cythnus, and by Ceos, and the pleasant Cyclades to
Attica; and past Athens and Thebes, and the Copaic lake, and up the
vale of Cephissus, and past the peaks of OEta and Pindus, and over
the rich Thessalian plains, till the sunny hills of Greece were
behind him, and before him were the wilds of the north. Then he
passed the Thracian mountains, and many a barbarous tribe, Paeons
and Dardans and Triballi, till he came to the Ister stream, and the
dreary Scythian plains. And he walked across the Ister dry-shod,
and away through the moors and fens, day and night toward the bleak
north-west, turning neither to the right hand nor the left, till he
came to the Unshapen Land, and the place which has no name.
And seven days he walked through it, on a path which few can tell;
for those who have trodden it like least to speak of it, and those
who go there again in dreams are glad enough when they awake; till
he came to the edge of the everlasting night, where the air was
full of feathers, and the soil was hard with ice; and there at last
he found the three Gray Sisters, by the shore of the freezing sea,
nodding upon a white log of drift-wood, beneath the cold white
winter moon; and they chaunted a low song together, 'Why the old
times were better than the new.'
There was no living thing around them, not a fly, not a moss upon
the rocks. Neither seal nor sea-gull dare come near, lest the ice
should clutch them in its claws. The surge broke up in foam, but
it fell again in flakes of snow; and it frosted the hair of the
three Gray Sisters, and the bones in the ice-cliff above their
heads. They passed the eye from one to the other, but for all that
they could not see; and they passed the tooth from one to the
other, but for all that they could not eat; and they sat in the
full glare of the moon, but they were none the warmer for her
beams. And Perseus pitied the three Gray Sisters; but they did not
So he said, 'Oh, venerable mothers, wisdom is the daughter of old
age. You therefore should know many things. Tell me, if you can,
the path to the Gorgon.'
Then one cried, 'Who is this who reproaches us with old age?' And
another, 'This is the voice of one of the children of men.'
And he, 'I do not reproach, but honour your old age, and I am one
of the sons of men and of the heroes. The rulers of Olympus have
sent me to you to ask the way to the Gorgon.'
Then one, 'There are new rulers in Olympus, and all new things are
bad.' And another, 'We hate your rulers, and the heroes, and all
the children of men. We are the kindred of the Titans, and the
Giants, and the Gorgons, and the ancient monsters of the deep.'
And another, 'Who is this rash and insolent man who pushes unbidden
into our world?' And the first, 'There never was such a world as
ours, nor will be; if we let him see it, he will spoil it all.'
Then one cried, 'Give me the eye, that I may see him;' and another,
'Give me the tooth, that I may bite him.' But Perseus, when he saw
that they were foolish and proud, and did not love the children of
men, left off pitying them, and said to himself, 'Hungry men must
needs be hasty; if I stay making many words here, I shall be
starved.' Then he stepped close to them, and watched till they
passed the eye from hand to hand. And as they groped about between
themselves, he held out his own hand gently, till one of them put
the eye into it, fancying that it was the hand of her sister. Then
he sprang back, and laughed, and cried -
'Cruel and proud old women, I have your eye; and I will throw it
into the sea, unless you tell me the path to the Gorgon, and swear
to me that you tell me right.'
Then they wept, and chattered, and scolded; but in vain. They were
forced to tell the truth, though, when they told it, Perseus could
hardly make out the road.
'You must go,' they said, 'foolish boy, to the southward, into the
ugly glare of the sun, till you come to Atlas the Giant, who holds
the heaven and the earth apart. And you must ask his daughters,
the Hesperides, who are young and foolish like yourself. And now
give us back our eye, for we have forgotten all the rest.'
So Perseus gave them back their eye; but instead of using it, they
nodded and fell fast asleep, and were turned into blocks of ice,
till the tide came up and washed them all away. And now they float
up and down like icebergs for ever, weeping whenever they meet the
sunshine, and the fruitful summer and the warm south wind, which
fill young hearts with joy.
But Perseus leaped away to the southward, leaving the snow and the
ice behind: past the isle of the Hyperboreans, and the tin isles,
and the long Iberian shore, while the sun rose higher day by day
upon a bright blue summer sea. And the terns and the sea-gulls
swept laughing round his head, and called to him to stop and play,
and the dolphins gambolled up as he passed, and offered to carry
him on their backs. And all night long the sea-nymphs sang
sweetly, and the Tritons blew upon their conchs, as they played
round Galataea their queen, in her car of pearled shells. Day by
day the sun rose higher, and leaped more swiftly into the sea at
night, and more swiftly out of the sea at dawn; while Perseus
skimmed over the billows like a sea-gull, and his feet were never
wetted; and leapt on from wave to wave, and his limbs were never
weary, till he saw far away a mighty mountain, all rose-red in the
setting sun. Its feet were wrapped in forests, and its head in
wreaths of cloud; and Perseus knew that it was Atlas, who holds the
heavens and the earth apart.
He came to the mountain, and leapt on shore, and wandered upward,
among pleasant valleys and waterfalls, and tall trees and strange
ferns and flowers; but there was no smoke rising from any glen, nor
house, nor sign of man.
At last he heard sweet voices singing; and he guessed that he was
come to the garden of the Nymphs, the daughters of the Evening
They sang like nightingales among the thickets, and Perseus stopped
to hear their song; but the words which they spoke he could not
understand; no, nor no man after him for many a hundred years. So
he stepped forward and saw them dancing, hand in hand around the
charmed tree, which bent under its golden fruit; and round the
tree-foot was coiled the dragon, old Ladon the sleepless snake, who
lies there for ever, listening to the song of the maidens, blinking
and watching with dry bright eyes.
Then Perseus stopped, not because he feared the dragon, but because
he was bashful before those fair maids; but when they saw him, they
too stopped, and called to him with trembling voices -
'Who are you? Are you Heracles the mighty, who will come to rob
our garden, and carry off our golden fruit?' And he answered -
'I am not Heracles the mighty, and I want none of your golden
fruit. Tell me, fair Nymphs, the way which leads to the Gorgon,
that I may go on my way and slay her.'
'Not yet, not yet, fair boy; come dance with us around the tree in
the garden which knows no winter, the home of the south wind and
the sun. Come hither and play with us awhile; we have danced alone
here for a thousand years, and our hearts are weary with longing
for a playfellow. So come, come, come!'
'I cannot dance with you, fair maidens; for I must do the errand of
the Immortals. So tell me the way to the Gorgon, lest I wander and
perish in the waves.'
Then they sighed and wept; and answered--'The Gorgon! she will
freeze you into stone.'
'It is better to die like a hero than to live like an ox in a
stall. The Immortals have lent me weapons, and they will give me
wit to use them.'
Then they sighed again and answered, 'Fair boy, if you are bent on
your own ruin, be it so. We know not the way to the Gorgon; but we
will ask the giant Atlas, above upon the mountain peak, the brother
of our father, the silver Evening Star. He sits aloft and sees
across the ocean, and far away into the Unshapen Land.'
So they went up the mountain to Atlas their uncle, and Perseus went
up with them. And they found the giant kneeling, as he held the
heavens and the earth apart.
They asked him, and he answered mildly, pointing to the sea-board
with his mighty hand, 'I can see the Gorgons lying on an island far
away, but this youth can never come near them, unless he has the
hat of darkness, which whosoever wears cannot be seen.'
Then cried Perseus, 'Where is that hat, that I may find it?'
But the giant smiled. 'No living mortal can find that hat, for it
lies in the depths of Hades, in the regions of the dead. But my
nieces are immortal, and they shall fetch it for you, if you will
promise me one thing and keep your faith.'
Then Perseus promised; and the giant said, 'When you come back with
the head of Medusa, you shall show me the beautiful horror, that I
may lose my feeling and my breathing, and become a stone for ever;
for it is weary labour for me to hold the heavens and the earth
Then Perseus promised, and the eldest of the Nymphs went down, and
into a dark cavern among the cliffs, out of which came smoke and
thunder, for it was one of the mouths of Hell.
And Perseus and the Nymphs sat down seven days, and waited
trembling, till the Nymph came up again; and her face was pale, and
her eyes dazzled with the light, for she had been long in the
dreary darkness; but in her hand was the magic hat.
Then all the Nymphs kissed Perseus, and wept over him a long while;
but he was only impatient to be gone. And at last they put the hat
upon his head, and he vanished out of their sight.
But Perseus went on boldly, past many an ugly sight, far away into
the heart of the Unshapen Land, beyond the streams of Ocean, to the
isles where no ship cruises, where is neither night nor day, where
nothing is in its right place, and nothing has a name; till he
heard the rustle of the Gorgons' wings and saw the glitter of their
brazen talons; and then he knew that it was time to halt, lest
Medusa should freeze him into stone.
He thought awhile with himself, and remembered Athene's words. He
rose aloft into the air, and held the mirror of the shield above
his head, and looked up into it that he might see all that was
And he saw the three Gorgons sleeping as huge as elephants. He
knew that they could not see him, because the hat of darkness hid
him; and yet he trembled as he sank down near them, so terrible
were those brazen claws.
Two of the Gorgons were foul as swine, and lay sleeping heavily, as
swine sleep, with their mighty wings outspread; but Medusa tossed
to and fro restlessly, and as she tossed Perseus pitied her, she
looked so fair and sad. Her plumage was like the rainbow, and her
face was like the face of a nymph, only her eyebrows were knit, and
her lips clenched, with everlasting care and pain; and her long
neck gleamed so white in the mirror that Perseus had not the heart
to strike, and said, 'Ah, that it had been either of her sisters!'
But as he looked, from among her tresses the vipers' heads awoke,
and peeped up with their bright dry eyes, and showed their fangs,
and hissed; and Medusa, as she tossed, threw back her wings and
showed her brazen claws; and Perseus saw that, for all her beauty,
she was as foul and venomous as the rest.
Then he came down and stepped to her boldly, and looked steadfastly
on his mirror, and struck with Herpe stoutly once; and he did not
need to strike again.
Then he wrapped the head in the goat-skin, turning away his eyes,
and sprang into the air aloft, faster than he ever sprang before.
For Medusa's wings and talons rattled as she sank dead upon the
rocks; and her two foul sisters woke, and saw her lying dead.
Into the air they sprang yelling and looked for him who had done
the deed. Thrice they swung round and round, like hawks who beat
for a partridge; and thrice they snuffed round and round, like
hounds who draw upon a deer. At last they struck upon the scent of
the blood, and they checked for a moment to make sure; and then on
they rushed with a fearful howl, while the wind rattled hoarse in
On they rushed, sweeping and flapping, like eagles after a hare;
and Perseus' blood ran cold, for all his courage, as he saw them
come howling on his track; and he cried, 'Bear me well now, brave
sandals, for the hounds of Death are at my heels!'
And well the brave sandals bore him, aloft through cloud and
sunshine, across the shoreless sea; and fast followed the hounds of
Death, as the roar of their wings came down the wind. But the roar
came down fainter and fainter, and the howl of their voices died
away; for the sandals were too swift, even for Gorgons, and by
nightfall they were far behind, two black specks in the southern
sky, till the sun sank and he saw them no more.
Then he came again to Atlas, and the garden of the Nymphs; and when
the giant heard him coming he groaned, and said, 'Fulfil thy
promise to me.' Then Perseus held up to him the Gorgon's head, and
he had rest from all his toil; for he became a crag of stone, which
sleeps for ever far above the clouds.
Then he thanked the Nymphs, and asked them, 'By what road shall I
go homeward again, for I wandered far round in coming hither?'
And they wept and cried, 'Go home no more, but stay and play with
us, the lonely maidens, who dwell for ever far away from Gods and
But he refused, and they told him his road, and said, 'Take with
you this magic fruit, which, if you eat once, you will not hunger
for seven days. For you must go eastward and eastward ever, over
the doleful Lybian shore, which Poseidon gave to Father Zeus, when
he burst open the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, and drowned the
fair Lectonian land. And Zeus took that land in exchange, a fair
bargain, much bad ground for a little good, and to this day it lies
waste and desert with shingle, and rock, and sand.'
Then they kissed Perseus, and wept over him, and he leapt down the
mountain, and went on, lessening and lessening like a sea-gull,
away and out to sea.
PART IV--HOW PERSEUS CAME TO THE AETHIOPS
So Perseus flitted onward to the north-east, over many a league of
sea, till he came to the rolling sand-hills and the dreary Lybian
And he flitted on across the desert: over rock-ledges, and banks
of shingle, and level wastes of sand, and shell-drifts bleaching in
the sunshine, and the skeletons of great sea-monsters, and dead
bones of ancient giants, strewn up and down upon the old sea-floor.
And as he went the blood-drops fell to the earth from the Gorgon's
head, and became poisonous asps and adders, which breed in the
desert to this day.
Over the sands he went,--he never knew how far or how long, feeding
on the fruit which the Nymphs had given him, till he saw the hills
of the Psylli, and the Dwarfs who fought with cranes. Their spears
were of reeds and rushes, and their houses of the egg-shells of the
cranes; and Perseus laughed, and went his way to the north-east,
hoping all day long to see the blue Mediterranean sparkling, that
he might fly across it to his home.
But now came down a mighty wind, and swept him back southward
toward the desert. All day long he strove against it; but even the
winged sandals could not prevail. So he was forced to float down
the wind all night; and when the morning dawned there was nothing
to be seen, save the same old hateful waste of sand.
And out of the north the sandstorms rushed upon him, blood-red
pillars and wreaths, blotting out the noonday sun; and Perseus fled
before them, lest he should be choked by the burning dust. At last
the gale fell calm, and he tried to go northward again; but again
came down the sandstorms, and swept him back into the waste, and
then all was calm and cloudless as before. Seven days he strove
against the storms, and seven days he was driven back, till he was
spent with thirst and hunger, and his tongue clove to the roof of
his mouth. Here and there he fancied that he saw a fair lake, and
the sunbeams shining on the water; but when he came to it it
vanished at his feet, and there was nought but burning sand. And
if he had not been of the race of the Immortals, he would have
perished in the waste; but his life was strong within him, because
it was more than man's.
Then he cried to Athene, and said -
'Oh, fair and pure, if thou hearest me, wilt thou leave me here to
die of drought? I have brought thee the Gorgon's head at thy
bidding, and hitherto thou hast prospered my journey; dost thou
desert me at the last? Else why will not these immortal sandals
prevail, even against the desert storms? Shall I never see my
mother more, and the blue ripple round Seriphos, and the sunny
hills of Hellas?'
So he prayed; and after he had prayed there was a great silence.
The heaven was still above his head, and the sand was still beneath
his feet; and Perseus looked up, but there was nothing but the
blinding sun in the blinding blue; and round him, but there was
nothing but the blinding sand.
And Perseus stood still a while, and waited, and said, 'Surely I am
not here without the will of the Immortals, for Athene will not
lie. Were not these sandals to lead me in the right road? Then
the road in which I have tried to go must be a wrong road.'
Then suddenly his ears were opened, and he heard the sound of
And at that his heart was lifted up, though he scarcely dare
believe his ears; and weary as he was, he hurried forward, though
he could scarcely stand upright; and within a bowshot of him was a
glen in the sand, and marble rocks, and date-trees, and a lawn of
gay green grass. And through the lawn a streamlet sparkled and
wandered out beyond the trees, and vanished in the sand.
The water trickled among the rocks, and a pleasant breeze rustled
in the dry date-branches and Perseus laughed for joy, and leapt
down the cliff, and drank of the cool water, and ate of the dates,
and slept upon the turf, and leapt up and went forward again: but
not toward the north this time; for he said, 'Surely Athene hath
sent me hither, and will not have me go homeward yet. What if
there be another noble deed to be done, before I see the sunny
hills of Hellas?'
So he went east, and east for ever, by fresh oases and fountains,
date-palms, and lawns of grass, till he saw before him a mighty
mountain-wall, all rose-red in the setting sun.
Then he towered in the air like an eagle, for his limbs were strong
again; and he flew all night across the mountain till the day began
to dawn, and rosy-fingered Eos came blushing up the sky. And then,
behold, beneath him was the long green garden of Egypt and the
shining stream of Nile.
And he saw cities walled up to heaven, and temples, and obelisks,
and pyramids, and giant Gods of stone. And he came down amid
fields of barley, and flax, and millet, and clambering gourds; and
saw the people coming out of the gates of a great city, and setting
to work, each in his place, among the water-courses, parting the
streams among the plants cunningly with their feet, according to
the wisdom of the Egyptians. But when they saw him they all
stopped their work, and gathered round him, and cried -
'Who art thou, fair youth? and what bearest thou beneath thy goat-
skin there? Surely thou art one of the Immortals; for thy skin is
white like ivory, and ours is red like clay. Thy hair is like
threads of gold, and ours is black and curled. Surely thou art one
of the Immortals;' and they would have worshipped him then and
there; but Perseus said -
'I am not one of the Immortals; but I am a hero of the Hellens.
And I have slain the Gorgon in the wilderness, and bear her head
with me. Give me food, therefore, that I may go forward and finish
Then they gave him food, and fruit, and wine; but they would not
let him go. And when the news came into the city that the Gorgon
was slain, the priests came out to meet him, and the maidens, with
songs and dances, and timbrels and harps; and they would have
brought him to their temple and to their king; but Perseus put on
the hat of darkness, and vanished away out of their sight.
Therefore the Egyptians looked long for his return, but in vain,
and worshipped him as a hero, and made a statue of him in Chemmis,
which stood for many a hundred years; and they said that he
appeared to them at times, with sandals a cubit long; and that
whenever he appeared the season was fruitful, and the Nile rose
high that year.
Then Perseus went to the eastward, along the Red Sea shore; and
then, because he was afraid to go into the Arabian deserts, he
turned northward once more, and this time no storm hindered him.
He went past the Isthmus, and Mount Casius, and the vast Serbonian
bog, and up the shore of Palestine, where the dark-faced AEthiops
He flew on past pleasant hills and valleys, like Argos itself, or
Lacedaemon, or the fair Vale of Tempe. But the lowlands were all
drowned by floods, and the highlands blasted by fire, and the hills
heaved like a babbling cauldron, before the wrath of King Poseidon,
the shaker of the earth.
And Perseus feared to go inland, but flew along the shore above the
sea; and he went on all the day, and the sky was black with smoke;
and he went on all the night, and the sky was red with flame.
And at the dawn of day he looked toward the cliffs; and at the
water's edge, under a black rock, he saw a white image stand.
'This,' thought he, 'must surely be the statue of some sea-God; I
will go near and see what kind of Gods these barbarians worship.'
So he came near; but when he came, it was no statue, but a maiden
of flesh and blood; for he could see her tresses streaming in the
breeze; and as he came closer still, he could see how she shrank
and shivered when the waves sprinkled her with cold salt spray.
Her arms were spread above her head, and fastened to the rock with
chains of brass; and her head drooped on her bosom, either with
sleep, or weariness, or grief. But now and then she looked up and
wailed, and called her mother; yet she did not see Perseus, for the
cap of darkness was on his head.
Full of pity and indignation, Perseus drew near and looked upon the
maid. Her cheeks were darker than his were, and her hair was blue-
black like a hyacinth; but Perseus thought, 'I have never seen so
beautiful a maiden; no, not in all our isles. Surely she is a
king's daughter. Do barbarians treat their kings' daughters thus?
She is too fair, at least, to have done any wrong I will speak to
And, lifting the hat from his head, he flashed into her sight. She
shrieked with terror, and tried to hide her face with her hair, for
she could not with her hands; but Perseus cried -
'Do not fear me, fair one; I am a Hellen, and no barbarian. What
cruel men have bound you? But first I will set you free.'
And he tore at the fetters, but they were too strong for him; while
the maiden cried -
'Touch me not; I am accursed, devoted as a victim to the sea-Gods.
They will slay you, if you dare to set me free.'
'Let them try,' said Perseus; and drawing, Herpe from his thigh, he
cut through the brass as if it had been flax.
'Now,' he said, 'you belong to me, and not to these sea-Gods,
whosoever they may be!' But she only called the more on her
'Why call on your mother? She can be no mother to have left you
here. If a bird is dropped out of the nest, it belongs to the man
who picks it up. If a jewel is cast by the wayside, it is his who
dare win it and wear it, as I will win you and will wear you. I
know now why Pallas Athene sent me hither. She sent me to gain a
prize worth all my toil and more.'
And he clasped her in his arms, and cried, 'Where are these sea-
Gods, cruel and unjust, who doom fair maids to death? I carry the
weapons of Immortals. Let them measure their strength against
mine! But tell me, maiden, who you are, and what dark fate brought
And she answered, weeping -
'I am the daughter of Cepheus, King of Iopa, and my mother is
Cassiopoeia of the beautiful tresses, and they called me Andromeda,
as long as life was mine. And I stand bound here, hapless that I
am, for the sea-monster's food, to atone for my mother's sin. For
she boasted of me once that I was fairer than Atergatis, Queen of
the Fishes; so she in her wrath sent the sea-floods, and her
brother the Fire King sent the earthquakes, and wasted all the
land, and after the floods a monster bred of the slime, who devours
all living things. And now he must devour me, guiltless though I
am--me who never harmed a living thing, nor saw a fish upon the
shore but I gave it life, and threw it back into the sea; for in
our land we eat no fish, for fear of Atergatis their queen. Yet
the priests say that nothing but my blood can atone for a sin which
I never committed.'
But Perseus laughed, and said, 'A sea-monster? I have fought with
worse than him: I would have faced Immortals for your sake; how
much more a beast of the sea?'
Then Andromeda looked up at him, and new hope was kindled in her
breast, so proud and fair did he stand, with one hand round her,
and in the other the glittering sword. But she only sighed, and
wept the more, and cried -
'Why will you die, young as you are? Is there not death and sorrow
enough in the world already? It is noble for me to die, that I may
save the lives of a whole people; but you, better than them all,
why should I slay you too? Go you your way; I must go mine.'
But Perseus cried, 'Not so; for the Lords of Olympus, whom I serve,
are the friends of the heroes, and help them on to noble deeds.
Led by them, I slew the Gorgon, the beautiful horror; and not
without them do I come hither, to slay this monster with that same
Gorgon's head. Yet hide your eyes when I leave you, lest the sight
of it freeze you too to stone.'
But the maiden answered nothing, for she could not believe his
words. And then, suddenly looking up, she pointed to the sea, and
'There he comes, with the sunrise, as they promised. I must die
now. How shall I endure it? Oh, go! Is it not dreadful enough to
be torn piecemeal, without having you to look on?' And she tried
to thrust him away.
But he said, 'I go; yet promise me one thing ere I go: that if I
slay this beast you will be my wife, and come back with me to my
kingdom in fruitful Argos, for I am a king's heir. Promise me, and
seal it with a kiss.'
Then she lifted up her face, and kissed him; and Perseus laughed
for joy, and flew upward, while Andromeda crouched trembling on the
rock, waiting for what might befall.
On came the great sea-monster, coasting along like a huge black
galley, lazily breasting the ripple, and stopping at times by creek
or headland to watch for the laughter of girls at their bleaching,
or cattle pawing on the sand-hills, or boys bathing on the beach.
His great sides were fringed with clustering shells and sea-weeds,
and the water gurgled in and out of his wide jaws, as he rolled
along, dripping and glistening in the beams of the morning sun.
At last he saw Andromeda, and shot forward to take his prey, while
the waves foamed white behind him, and before him the fish fled
Then down from the height of the air fell Perseus like a shooting
star; down to the crests of the waves, while Andromeda hid her face
as he shouted; and then there was silence for a while.
At last she looked up trembling, and saw Perseus springing toward
her; and instead of the monster a long black rock, with the sea
rippling quietly round it.
Who then so proud as Perseus, as he leapt back to the rock, and
lifted his fair Andromeda in his arms, and flew with her to the
cliff-top, as a falcon carries a dove?
Who so proud as Perseus, and who so joyful as all the AEthiop
people? For they had stood watching the monster from the cliffs,
wailing for the maiden's fate. And already a messenger had gone to
Cepheus and Cassiopoeia, where they sat in sackcloth and ashes on
the ground, in the innermost palace chambers, awaiting their
daughter's end. And they came, and all the city with them, to see
the wonder, with songs and with dances, with cymbals and harps, and
received their daughter back again, as one alive from the dead.
Then Cepheus said, 'Hero of the Hellens, stay here with me and be
my son-in-law, and I will give you the half of my kingdom.'
'I will be your son-in-law,' said Perseus, 'but of your kingdom I
will have none, for I long after the pleasant land of Greece, and
my mother who waits for me at home.'
Then Cepheus said, 'You must not take my daughter away at once, for
she is to us like one alive from the dead. Stay with us here a
year, and after that you shall return with honour.' And Perseus
consented; but before he went to the palace he bade the people
bring stones and wood, and built three altars, one to Athene, and
one to Hermes, and one to Father Zeus, and offered bullocks and
And some said, 'This is a pious man;' yet the priests said, 'The
Sea Queen will be yet more fierce against us, because her monster
is slain.' But they were afraid to speak aloud, for they feared
the Gorgon's head. So they went up to the palace; and when they
came in, there stood in the hall Phineus, the brother of Cepheus,
chafing like a bear robbed of her whelps, and with him his sons,
and his servants, and many an armed man; and he cried to Cepheus -
'You shall not marry your daughter to this stranger, of whom no one
knows even the name. Was not Andromeda betrothed to my son? And
now she is safe again, has he not a right to claim her?'
But Perseus laughed, and answered, 'If your son is in want of a
bride, let him save a maiden for himself. As yet he seems but a
helpless bride-groom. He left this one to die, and dead she is to
him. I saved her alive, and alive she is to me, but to no one
else. Ungrateful man! have I not saved your land, and the lives of
your sons and daughters, and will you requite me thus? Go, or it
will be worse for you.' But all the men-at-arms drew their swords,
and rushed on him like wild beasts.
Then he unveiled the Gorgon's head, and said, 'This has delivered
my bride from one wild beast: it shall deliver her from many.'
And as he spoke Phineus and all his men-at-arms stopped short, and
stiffened each man as he stood; and before Perseus had drawn the
goat-skin over the face again, they were all turned into stone.
Then Persons bade the people bring levers and roll them out; and
what was done with them after that I cannot tell.
So they made a great wedding-feast, which lasted seven whole days,
and who so happy as Perseus and Andromeda?
But on the eighth night Perseus dreamed a dream; and he saw
standing beside him Pallas Athene, as he had seen her in Seriphos,
seven long years before; and she stood and called him by name, and
'Perseus, you have played the man, and see, you have your reward.
Know now that the Gods are just, and help him who helps himself.
Now give me here Herpe the sword, and the sandals, and the hat of
darkness, that I may give them back to their owners; but the
Gorgon's head you shall keep a while, for you will need it in your
land of Greece. Then you shall lay it up in my temple at Seriphos,
that I may wear it on my shield for ever, a terror to the Titans
and the monsters, and the foes of Gods and men. And as for this
land, I have appeased the sea and the fire, and there shall be no
more floods nor earthquakes. But let the people build altars to
Father Zeus, and to me, and worship the Immortals, the Lords of
heaven and earth.'
And Perseus rose to give her the sword, and the cap, and the
sandals; but he woke, and his dream vanished away. And yet it was
not altogether a dream; for the goat-skin with the head was in its
place; but the sword, and the cap, and the sandals were gone, and
Perseus never saw them more.
Then a great awe fell on Perseus; and he went out in the morning to
the people, and told his dream, and bade them build altars to Zeus,
the Father of Gods and men, and to Athene, who gives wisdom to
heroes; and fear no more the earthquakes and the floods, but sow
and build in peace. And they did so for a while, and prospered;
but after Perseus was gone they forgot Zeus and Athene, and
worshipped again Atergatis the queen, and the undying fish of the
sacred lake, where Deucalion's deluge was swallowed up, and they
burnt their children before the Fire King, till Zeus was angry with
that foolish people, and brought a strange nation against them out
of Egypt, who fought against them and wasted them utterly, and
dwelt in their cities for many a hundred years.
PART V--HOW PERSEUS CAME HOME AGAIN
And when a year was ended Perseus hired Phoenicians from Tyre, and
cut down cedars, and built himself a noble galley; and painted its
cheeks with vermilion, and pitched its sides with pitch; and in it
he put Andromeda, and all her dowry of jewels, and rich shawls, and
spices from the East; and great was the weeping when they rowed
away. But the remembrance of his brave deed was left behind; and
Andromeda's rock was shown at Iopa in Palestine till more than a
thousand years were past.
So Perseus and the Phoenicians rowed to the westward, across the
sea of Crete, till they came to the blue AEgean and the pleasant
Isles of Hellas, and Seriphos, his ancient home.
Then he left his galley on the beach, and went up as of old; and he
embraced his mother, and Dictys his good foster-father, and they
wept over each other a long while, for it was seven years and more
since they had met.
Then Perseus went out, and up to the hall of Polydectes; and
underneath the goat-skin he bore the Gorgon's head.
And when he came into the hall, Polydectes sat at the table-head,
and all his nobles and landowners on either side, each according to
his rank, feasting on the fish and the goat's flesh, and drinking
the blood-red wine. The harpers harped, and the revellers shouted,
and the wine-cups rang merrily as they passed from hand to hand,
and great was the noise in the hall of Polydectes.
Then Persons stood upon the threshold, and called to the king by
name. But none of the guests knew Perseus, for he was changed by
his long journey. He had gone out a boy, and he was come home a
hero; his eye shone like an eagle's, and his beard was like a
lion's beard, and he stood up like a wild bull in his pride.
But Polydectes the wicked knew him, and hardened his heart still
more; and scornfully he called -
'Ah, foundling! have you found it more easy to promise than to
'Those whom the Gods help fulfil their promises; and those who
despise them, reap as they have sown. Behold the Gorgon's head!'
Then Perseus drew back the goat-skin, and held aloft the Gorgon's
Pale grew Polydectes and his guests as they looked upon that
dreadful face. They tried to rise up from their seats: but from
their seats they never rose, but stiffened, each man where he sat,
into a ring of cold gray stones.
Then Perseus turned and left them, and went down to his galley in
the bay; and he gave the kingdom to good Dictys, and sailed away
with his mother and his bride.
And Polydectes and his guests sat still, with the wine-cups before
them on the board, till the rafters crumbled down above their
heads, and the walls behind their backs, and the table crumbled
down between them, and the grass sprung up about their feet: but
Polydectes and his guests sit on the hillside, a ring of gray
stones until this day.
But Perseus rowed westward toward Argos, and landed, and went up to
the town. And when he came, he found that Acrisius his grandfather
had fled. For Proetus his wicked brother had made war against him
afresh; and had come across the river from Tiryns, and conquered
Argos, and Acrisius had fled to Larissa, in the country of the wild
Then Perseus called the Argives together, and told them who he was,
and all the noble deeds which he had done. And all the nobles and
the yeomen made him king, for they saw that he had a royal heart;
and they fought with him against Argos, and took it, and killed
Proetus, and made the Cyclopes serve them, and build them walls
round Argos, like the walls which they had built at Tiryns; and
there were great rejoicings in the vale of Argos, because they had
got a king from Father Zeus.
But Perseus' heart yearned after his grandfather, and he said,
'Surely he is my flesh and blood, and he will love me now that I am
come home with honour: I will go and find him, and bring him home,
and we will reign together in peace.'
So Perseus sailed away with his Phoenicians, round Hydrea and
Sunium, past Marathon and the Attic shore, and through Euripus, and
up the long Euboean sea, till he came to the town of Larissa, where
the wild Pelasgi dwelt.
And when he came there, all the people were in the fields, and
there was feasting, and all kinds of games; for Teutamenes their
king wished to honour Acrisius, because he was the king of a mighty
So Perseus did not tell his name, but went up to the games unknown;
for he said, 'If I carry away the prize in the games, my
grandfather's heart will be softened toward me.'
So he threw off his helmet, and his cuirass, and all his clothes,
and stood among the youths of Larissa, while all wondered at him,
and said, 'Who is this young stranger, who stands like a wild bull
in his pride? Surely he is one of the heroes, the sons of the
Immortals, from Olympus.'
And when the games began, they wondered yet more; for Perseus was
the best man of all at running, and leaping, and wrestling and
throwing the javelin; and he won four crowns, and took them, and
then he said to himself, 'There is a fifth crown yet to be won: I
will win that, and lay them all upon the knees of my grandfather.'
And as he spoke, he saw where Acrisius sat, by the side of
Teutamenes the king, with his white beard flowing down upon his
knees, and his royal staff in his hand; and Perseus wept when he
looked at him, for his heart yearned after his kin; and he said,
'Surely he is a kingly old man, yet he need not be ashamed of his
Then he took the quoits, and hurled them, five fathoms beyond all
the rest; and the people shouted, 'Further yet, brave stranger!
There has never been such a hurler in this land.'
Then Perseus put out all his strength, and hurled. But a gust of
wind came from the sea, and carried the quoit aside, and far beyond
all the rest; and it fell on the foot of Acrisius, and he swooned
away with the pain.
Perseus shrieked, and ran up to him; but when they lifted the old
man up he was dead, for his life was slow and feeble.
Then Perseus rent his clothes, and cast dust upon his head, and
wept a long while for his grandfather. At last he rose, and called
to all the people aloud, and said -
'The Gods are true, and what they have ordained must be. I am
Perseus, the grandson of this dead man, the far-famed slayer of the
Then he told them how the prophecy had declared that he should kill
his grandfather, and all the story of his life.
So they made a great mourning for Acrisius, and burnt him on a
right rich pile; and Perseus went to the temple, and was purified
from the guilt of the death, because he had done it unknowingly.
Then he went home to Argos, and reigned there well with fair
Andromeda; and they had four sons and three daughters, and died in
a good old age.
And when they died, the ancients say, Athene took them up into the
sky, with Cepheus and Cassiopoeia. And there on starlight nights
you may see them shining still; Cepheus with his kingly crown, and
Cassiopoeia in her ivory chair, plaiting her star-spangled tresses,
and Perseus with the Gorgon's head, and fair Andromeda beside him,
spreading her long white arms across the heaven, as she stood when
chained to the stone for the monster.
All night long, they shine, for a beacon to wandering sailors; but
all day they feast with the Gods, on the still blue peaks of
STORY II.--THE ARGONAUTS
PART I--HOW THE CENTAUR TRAINED THE HEROES ON PELION
I have told you of a hero who fought with wild beasts and with wild
men; but now I have a tale of heroes who sailed away into a distant
land, to win themselves renown for ever, in the adventure of the
Whither they sailed, my children, I cannot clearly tell. It all
happened long ago; so long that it has all grown dim, like a dream
which you dreamt last year. And why they went I cannot tell: some
say that it was to win gold. It may be so; but the noblest deeds
which have been done on earth have not been done for gold. It was
not for the sake of gold that the Lord came down and died, and the
Apostles went out to preach the good news in all lands. The
Spartans looked for no reward in money when they fought and died at
Thermopylae; and Socrates the wise asked no pay from his
countrymen, but lived poor and barefoot all his days, only caring
to make men good. And there are heroes in our days also, who do
noble deeds, but not for gold. Our discoverers did not go to make
themselves rich when they sailed out one after another into the
dreary frozen seas; nor did the ladies who went out last year to
drudge in the hospitals of the East, making themselves poor, that
they might be rich in noble works. And young men, too, whom you
know, children, and some of them of your own kin, did they say to
themselves, 'How much money shall I earn?' when they went out to
the war, leaving wealth, and comfort, and a pleasant home, and all
that money can give, to face hunger and thirst, and wounds and
death, that they might fight for their country and their Queen?
No, children, there is a better thing on earth than wealth, a
better thing than life itself; and that is, to have done something
before you die, for which good men may honour you, and God your
Father smile upon your work.
Therefore we will believe--why should we not?--of these same
Argonauts of old, that they too were noble men, who planned and did
a noble deed; and that therefore their fame has lived, and been
told in story and in song, mixed up, no doubt, with dreams and
fables, and yet true and right at heart. So we will honour these
old Argonauts, and listen to their story as it stands; and we will
try to be like them, each of us in our place; for each of us has a
Golden Fleece to seek, and a wild sea to sail over ere we reach it,
and dragons to fight ere it be ours.
And what was that first Golden Fleece? I do not know, nor care.
The old Hellens said that it hung in Colchis, which we call the
Circassian coast, nailed to a beech-tree in the war-God's wood; and
that it was the fleece of the wondrous ram who bore Phrixus and
Helle across the Euxine sea. For Phrixus and Helle were the
children of the cloud-nymph, and of Athamas the Minuan king. And
when a famine came upon the land, their cruel step-mother Ino
wished to kill them, that her own children might reign, and said
that they must be sacrificed on an altar, to turn away the anger of
the Gods. So the poor children were brought to the altar, and the
priest stood ready with his knife, when out of the clouds came the
Golden Ram, and took them on his back, and vanished. Then madness
came upon that foolish king, Athamas, and ruin upon Ino and her
children. For Athamas killed one of them in his fury, and Ino fled
from him with the other in her arms, and leaped from a cliff into
the sea, and was changed into a dolphin, such as you have seen,
which wanders over the waves for ever sighing, with its little one
clasped to its breast.
But the people drove out King Athamas, because he had killed his
child; and he roamed about in his misery, till he came to the
Oracle in Delphi. And the Oracle told him that he must wander for
his sin, till the wild beasts should feast him as their guest. So
he went on in hunger and sorrow for many a weary day, till he saw a
pack of wolves. The wolves were tearing a sheep; but when they saw
Athamas they fled, and left the sheep for him, and he ate of it;
and then he knew that the oracle was fulfilled at last. So he
wandered no more; but settled, and built a town, and became a king
But the ram carried the two children far away over land and sea,
till he came to the Thracian Chersonese, and there Helle fell into
the sea. So those narrow straits are called 'Hellespont,' after
her; and they bear that name until this day.
Then the ram flew on with Phrixus to the north-east across the sea
which we call the Black Sea now; but the Hellens call it Euxine.
And at last, they say, he stopped at Colchis, on the steep
Circassian coast; and there Phrixus married Chalciope, the daughter
of Aietes the king; and offered the ram in sacrifice; and Aietes
nailed the ram's fleece to a beech, in the grove of Ares the war-
And after awhile Phrixus died, and was buried, but his spirit had
no rest; for he was buried far from his native land, and the
pleasant hills of Hellas. So he came in dreams to the heroes of
the Minuai, and called sadly by their beds, 'Come and set my spirit
free, that I may go home to my fathers and to my kinsfolk, and the
pleasant Minuan land.'
And they asked, 'How shall we set your spirit free?'
'You must sail over the sea to Colchis, and bring home the golden
fleece; and then my spirit will come back with it, and I shall
sleep with my fathers and have rest.'
He came thus, and called to them often; but when they woke they
looked at each other, and said, 'Who dare sail to Colchis, or bring
home the golden fleece?' And in all the country none was brave
enough to try it; for the man and the time were not come.
Phrixus had a cousin called AEson, who was king in Iolcos by the
sea. There he ruled over the rich Minuan heroes, as Athamas his
uncle ruled in Boeotia; and, like Athamas, he was an unhappy man.
For he had a step-brother named Pelias, of whom some said that he
was a nymph's son, and there were dark and sad tales about his
birth. When he was a babe he was cast out on the mountains, and a
wild mare came by and kicked him. But a shepherd passing found the
baby, with its face all blackened by the blow; and took him home,
and called him Pelias, because his face was bruised and black. And
he grew up fierce and lawless, and did many a fearful deed; and at
last he drove out AEson his step-brother, and then his own brother
Neleus, and took the kingdom to himself, and ruled over the rich
Minuan heroes, in Iolcos by the sea.
And AEson, when he was driven out, went sadly away out of the town,
leading his little son by the hand; and he said to himself, 'I must
hide the child in the mountains; or Pelias will surely kill him,
because he is the heir.'
So he went up from the sea across the valley, through the vineyards
and the olive groves, and across the torrent of Anauros, toward
Pelion the ancient mountain, whose brows are white with snow.
He went up and up into the mountain, over marsh, and crag, and
down, till the boy was tired and footsore, and AEson had to bear
him in his arms, till he came to the mouth of a lonely cave, at the
foot of a mighty cliff.
Above the cliff the snow-wreaths hung, dripping and cracking in the
sun; but at its foot around the cave's mouth grew all fair flowers
and herbs, as if in a garden, ranged in order, each sort by itself.
There they grew gaily in the sunshine, and the spray of the torrent
from above; while from the cave came the sound of music, and a
man's voice singing to the harp.
Then AEson put down the lad, and whispered -
'Fear not, but go in, and whomsoever you shall find, lay your hands
upon his knees, and say, "In the name of Zeus, the father of Gods
and men, I am your guest from this day forth."'
Then the lad went in without trembling, for he too was a hero's
son; but when he was within, he stopped in wonder to listen to that
And there he saw the singer lying upon bear-skins and fragrant
boughs: Cheiron, the ancient centaur, the wisest of all things
beneath the sky. Down to the waist he was a man, but below he was
a noble horse; his white hair rolled down over his broad shoulders,
and his white beard over his broad brown chest; and his eyes were
wise and mild, and his forehead like a mountain-wall.
And in his hands he held a harp of gold, and struck it with a
golden key; and as he struck, he sang till his eyes glittered, and
filled all the cave with light.
And he sang of the birth of Time, and of the heavens and the
dancing stars; and of the ocean, and the ether, and the fire, and
the shaping of the wondrous earth. And he sang of the treasures of
the hills, and the hidden jewels of the mine, and the veins of fire
and metal, and the virtues of all healing herbs, and of the speech
of birds, and of prophecy, and of hidden things to come.
Then he sang of health, and strength, and manhood, and a valiant
heart; and of music, and hunting, and wrestling, and all the games
which heroes love: and of travel, and wars, and sieges, and a
noble death in fight; and then he sang of peace and plenty, and of
equal justice in the land; and as he sang the boy listened wide-
eyed, and forgot his errand in the song.
And at the last old Cheiron was silent, and called the lad with a
And the lad ran trembling to him, and would have laid his hands
upon his knees; but Cheiron smiled, and said, 'Call hither your
father AEson, for I know you, and all that has befallen, and saw
you both afar in the valley, even before you left the town.'
Then AEson came in sadly, and Cheiron asked him, 'Why camest you
not yourself to me, AEson the AEolid?'
And AEson said -
'I thought, Cheiron will pity the lad if he sees him come alone;
and I wished to try whether he was fearless, and dare venture like
a hero's son. But now I entreat you by Father Zeus, let the boy be
your guest till better times, and train him among the sons of the
heroes, that he may avenge his father's house.'
Then Cheiron smiled, and drew the lad to him, and laid his hand
upon his golden locks, and said, 'Are you afraid of my horse's
hoofs, fair boy, or will you be my pupil from this day?'
'I would gladly have horse's hoofs like you, if I could sing such
songs as yours.'
And Cheiron laughed, and said, 'Sit here by me till sundown, when
your playfellows will come home, and you shall learn like them to
be a king, worthy to rule over gallant men.'
Then he turned to AEson, and said, 'Go back in peace, and bend
before the storm like a prudent man. This boy shall not cross the
Anauros again, till he has become a glory to you and to the house
And AEson wept over his son and went away; but the boy did not
weep, so full was his fancy of that strange cave, and the centaur,
and his song, and the playfellows whom he was to see.
Then Cheiron put the lyre into his hands, and taught him how to
play it, till the sun sank low behind the cliff, and a shout was
And then in came the sons of the heroes, AEneas, and Heracles, and
Peleus, and many another mighty name.
And great Cheiron leapt up joyfully, and his hoofs made the cave
resound, as they shouted, 'Come out, Father Cheiron; come out and
see our game.' And one cried, 'I have killed two deer;' and
another, 'I took a wild cat among the crags;' and Heracles dragged
a wild goat after him by its horns, for he was as huge as a
mountain crag; and Coeneus carried a bear-cub under each arm, and
laughed when they scratched and bit, for neither tooth nor steel
could wound him.
And Cheiron praised them all, each according to his deserts.
Only one walked apart and silent, Asclepius, the too-wise child,
with his bosom full of herbs and flowers, and round his wrist a
spotted snake; he came with downcast eyes to Cheiron, and whispered
how he had watched the snake cast its old skin, and grow young
again before his eyes, and how he had gone down into a village in
the vale, and cured a dying man with a herb which he had seen a
sick goat eat.
And Cheiron smiled, and said, 'To each Athene and Apollo give some
gift, and each is worthy in his place; but to this child they have
given an honour beyond all honours, to cure while others kill.'
Then the lads brought in wood, and split it, and lighted a blazing
fire; and others skinned the deer and quartered them, and set them
to roast before the fire; and while the venison was cooking they
bathed in the snow-torrent, and washed away the dust and sweat.
And then all ate till they could eat no more (for they had tasted
nothing since the dawn), and drank of the clear spring water, for
wine is not fit for growing lads. And when the remnants were put
away, they all lay down upon the skins and leaves about the fire,
and each took the lyre in turn, and sang and played with all his
And after a while they all went out to a plot of grass at the
cave's mouth, and there they boxed, and ran, and wrestled, and
laughed till the stones fell from the cliffs.
Then Cheiron took his lyre, and all the lads joined hands; and as
be played, they danced to his measure, in and out, and round and
round. There they danced hand in hand, till the night fell over
land and sea, while the black glen shone with their broad white
limbs and the gleam of their golden hair.
And the lad danced with them, delighted, and then slept a wholesome
sleep, upon fragrant leaves of bay, and myrtle, and marjoram, and
flowers of thyme; and rose at the dawn, and bathed in the torrent,
and became a schoolfellow to the heroes' sons, and forgot Iolcos,
and his father, and all his former life. But he grew strong, and
brave and cunning, upon the pleasant downs of Pelion, in the keen
hungry mountain air. And he learnt to wrestle, and to box, and to
hunt, and to play upon the harp; and next he learnt to ride, for
old Cheiron used to mount him on his back; and he learnt the
virtues of all herbs and how to cure all wounds; and Cheiron called
him Jason the healer, and that is his name until this day.
PART II--HOW JASON LOST HIS SANDAL IN ANAUROS
And ten years came and went, and Jason was grown to be a mighty
man. Some of his fellows were gone, and some were growing up by
his side. Asclepius was gone into Peloponnese to work his wondrous
cures on men; and some say he used to raise the dead to life. And
Heracles was gone to Thebes to fulfil those famous labours which
have become a proverb among men. And Peleus had married a sea-
nymph, and his wedding is famous to this day. And AEneas was gone
home to Troy, and many a noble tale you will read of him, and of
all the other gallant heroes, the scholars of Cheiron the just.
And it happened on a day that Jason stood on the mountain, and
looked north and south and east and west; and Cheiron stood by him
and watched him, for he knew that the time was come.
And Jason looked and saw the plains of Thessaly, where the Lapithai
breed their horses; and the lake of Boibe, and the stream which
runs northward to Peneus and Tempe; and he looked north, and saw
the mountain wall which guards the Magnesian shore; Olympus, the
seat of the Immortals, and Ossa, and Pelion, where he stood. Then
he looked east and saw the bright blue sea, which stretched away
for ever toward the dawn. Then he looked south, and saw a pleasant
land, with white-walled towns and farms, nestling along the shore
of a land-locked bay, while the smoke rose blue among the trees;
and he knew it for the bay of Pagasai, and the rich lowlands of
Haemonia, and Iolcos by the sea.
Then he sighed, and asked, 'Is it true what the heroes tell me--
that I am heir of that fair land?'
'And what good would it be to you, Jason, if you were heir of that
'I would take it and keep it.'
'A strong man has taken it and kept it long. Are you stronger than
Pelias the terrible?'
'I can try my strength with his,' said Jason; but Cheiron sighed,
and said -
'You have many a danger to go through before you rule in Iolcos by
the sea: many a danger and many a woe; and strange troubles in
strange lands, such as man never saw before.'
'The happier I,' said Jason, 'to see what man never saw before.'
And Cheiron sighed again, and said, 'The eaglet must leave the nest
when it is fledged. Will you go to Iolcos by the sea? Then
promise me two things before you go.'
Jason promised, and Cheiron answered, 'Speak harshly to no soul
whom you may meet, and stand by the word which you shall speak.'
Jason wondered why Cheiron asked this of him; but he knew that the
Centaur was a prophet, and saw things long before they came. So he
promised, and leapt down the mountain, to take his fortune like a
He went down through the arbutus thickets, and across the downs of
thyme, till he came to the vineyard walls, and the pomegranates and
the olives in the glen; and among the olives roared Anauros, all
foaming with a summer flood.
And on the bank of Anauros sat a woman, all wrinkled, gray, and
old; her head shook palsied on her breast, and her hands shook
palsied on her knees; and when she saw Jason, she spoke whining,
'Who will carry me across the flood?'
Jason was bold and hasty, and was just going to leap into the
flood: and yet he thought twice before he leapt, so loud roared
the torrent down, all brown from the mountain rains, and silver-
veined with melting snow; while underneath he could hear the
boulders rumbling like the tramp of horsemen or the roll of wheels,
as they ground along the narrow channel, and shook the rocks on
which he stood.
But the old woman whined all the more, 'I am weak and old, fair
youth. For Hera's sake, carry me over the torrent.'
And Jason was going to answer her scornfully, when Cheiron's words
came to his mind.
So he said, 'For Hera's sake, the Queen of the Immortals on
Olympus, I will carry you over the torrent, unless we both are
Then the old dame leapt upon his back, as nimbly as a goat; and
Jason staggered in, wondering; and the first step was up to his
The first step was up to his knees, and the second step was up to
his waist; and the stones rolled about his feet, and his feet
slipped about the stones; so he went on staggering, and panting,
while the old woman cried from off his back -
'Fool, you have wet my mantle! Do you make game of poor old souls
Jason had half a mind to drop her, and let her get through the
torrent by herself; but Cheiron's words were in his mind, and he
said only, 'Patience, mother; the best horse may stumble some day.'
At last he staggered to the shore, and set her down upon the bank;
and a strong man he needed to have been, or that wild water he
never would have crossed.
He lay panting awhile upon the bank, and then leapt up to go upon
his journey; but he cast one look at the old woman, for he thought,
'She should thank me once at least.'
And as he looked, she grew fairer than all women, and taller than
all men on earth; and her garments shone like the summer sea, and
her jewels like the stars of heaven; and over her forehead was a
veil woven of the golden clouds of sunset; and through the veil she
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