Part 2 out of 3
white sails that bore her away. Of one thing I am very sure: she was
loved so well by all who knew her that the great unknown country to
which she was taken has been called after her name ever since--Europe.
THE QUEST OF MEDUSA'S HEAD.
I. THE WOODEN CHEST.
There was a king of Argos who had but one child, and that child was a
girl. If he had had a son, he would have trained him up to be a brave
man and great king; but he did not know what to do with this fair-haired
daughter. When he saw her growing up to be tall and slender and wise, he
wondered if, after all, he would have to die some time and leave his
lands and his gold and his kingdom to her. So he sent to Delphi and
asked the Pythia about it. The Pythia told him that he would not only
have to die some time, but that the son of his daughter would cause his
This frightened the king very much, and he tried to think of some plan
by which he could keep the Pythia's words from coming true. At last he
made up his mind that he would build a prison for his daughter and keep
her in it all her life. So he called his workmen and had them dig a deep
round hole in the ground, and in this hole they built a house of brass
which had but one room and no door at all, but only a small window at
the top. When it was finished, the king put the maiden, whose name was
Danae, into it; and with her he put her nurse and her toys and her
pretty dresses and everything that he thought she would need to make her
"Now we shall see that the Pythia does not always tell the truth," he
So Danae was kept shut up in the prison of brass. She had no one to talk
to but her old nurse; and she never saw the land or the sea, but only
the blue sky above the open window and now and then a white cloud
sailing across. Day after day she sat under the window and wondered why
her father kept her in that lonely place, and whether he would ever come
and take her out. I do not know how many years passed by, but Danae grew
fairer every day, and by and by she was no longer a child, but a tall
and beautiful woman; and Jupiter amid the clouds looked down and saw her
and loved her.
One day it seemed to her that the sky opened and a shower of gold fell
through the window into the room; and when the blinding shower had
ceased, a noble young man stood smiling before her. She did not
know--nor do I--that it was mighty Jupiter who had thus come down in the
rain; but she thought that he was a brave prince who had come from over
the sea to take her out of her prison-house.
After that he came often, but always as a tall and handsome youth; and
by and by they were married, with only the nurse at the wedding feast,
and Danae was so happy that she was no longer lonesome even when he was
away. But one day when he climbed out through the narrow window there
was a great flash of light, and she never saw him again.
Not long afterwards a babe was born to Danae, a smiling boy whom she
named Perseus. For four years she and the nurse kept him hidden, and not
even the women who brought their food to the window knew about him. But
one day the king chanced to be passing by and heard the child's prattle.
When he learned the truth, he was very much alarmed, for he thought that
now, in spite of all that he had done, the words of the Pythia might
The only sure way to save himself would be to put the child to death
before he was old enough to do any harm. But when he had taken the
little Perseus and his mother out of the prison and had seen how
helpless the child was, he could not bear the thought of having him
killed outright. For the king, although a great coward, was really a
kind-hearted man and did not like to see anything suffer pain. Yet
something must be done.
So he bade his servants make a wooden chest that was roomy and
watertight and strong; and when it was done, he put Danae and the child
into it and had it taken far out to sea and left there to be tossed
about by the waves. He thought that in this way he would rid himself of
both daughter and grandson without seeing them die; for surely the chest
would sink after a while, or else the winds would cause it to drift to
some strange shore so far away that they could never come back to Argos
All day and all night and then another day, fair Danae and her child
drifted over the sea. The waves rippled and played before and around the
floating chest, the west wind whistled cheerily, and the sea birds
circled in the air above; and the child was not afraid, but dipped his
hands in the curling waves and laughed at the merry breeze and shouted
back at the screaming birds.
But on the second night all was changed. A storm arose, the sky was
black, the billows were mountain high, the winds roared fearfully; yet
through it all the child slept soundly in his mother's arms. And Danae
sang over him this song:
"Sleep, sleep, dear child, and take your rest
Upon your troubled mother's breast;
For you can lie without one fear
Of dreadful danger lurking near.
Wrapped in soft robes and warmly sleeping,
You do not hear your mother weeping;
You do not see the mad waves leaping,
Nor heed the winds their vigils keeping.
The stars are hid, the night is drear,
The waves beat high, the storm is here;
But you can sleep, my darling child,
And know naught of the uproar wild."
At last the morning of the third day came, and the chest was tossed upon
the sandy shore of a strange island where there were green fields and,
beyond them, a little town. A man who happened to be walking near the
shore saw it and dragged it far up on the beach. Then he looked inside,
and there he saw the beautiful lady and the little boy. He helped them
out and led them just as they were to his own house, where he cared for
them very kindly. And when Danae had told him her story, he bade her
feel no more fear; for they might have a home with him as long as they
should choose to stay, and he would be a true friend to them both.
II. THE MAGIC SLIPPERS.
So Danae and her son stayed in the house of the kind man who had saved
them from the sea. Years passed by, and Perseus grew up to be a tall
young man, handsome, and brave, and strong. The king of the island, when
he saw Danae, was so pleased with her beauty that he wanted her to
become his wife. But he was a dark, cruel man, and she did not like him
at all; so she told him that she would not marry him. The king thought
that Perseus was to blame for this, and that if he could find some
excuse to send the young man on a far journey, he might force Danae to
have him whether she wished or not.
One day he called all the young men of his country together and told
them that he was soon to be wedded to the queen of a certain land beyond
the sea. Would not each of them bring him a present to be given to her
father? For in those times it was the rule, that when any man was about
to be married, he must offer costly gifts to the father of the bride.
"What kind of presents do you want?" said the young men.
"Horses," he answered; for he knew that Perseus had no horse.
"Why don't you ask for something worth the having?" said Perseus; for
he was vexed at the way in which the king was treating him. "Why don't
you ask for Medusa's head, for example?"
"Medusa's head it shall be!" cried the king. "These young men may give
me horses, but you shall bring Medusa's head."
"I will bring it," said Perseus; and he went away in anger, while his
young friends laughed at him because of his foolish words.
What was this Medusa's head which he had so rashly promised to bring?
His mother had often told him about Medusa. Far, far away, on the very
edge of the world, there lived three strange monsters, sisters, called
Gorgons. They had the bodies and faces of women, but they had wings of
gold, and terrible claws of brass, and hair that was full of living
serpents. They were so awful to look upon, that no man could bear the
sight of them, but whoever saw their faces was turned to stone. Two of
these monsters had charmed lives, and no weapon could ever do them harm;
but the youngest, whose name was Medusa, might be killed, if indeed
anybody could find her and could give the fatal stroke.
When Perseus went away from the king's palace, he began to feel sorry
that he had spoken so rashly. For how should he ever make good his
promise and do the king's bidding? He did not know which way to go to
find the Gorgons, and he had no weapon with which to slay the terrible
Medusa. But at any rate he would never show his face to the king again,
unless he could bring the head of terror with him. He went down to the
shore and stood looking out over the sea towards Argos, his native land;
and while he looked, the sun went down, and the moon arose, and a soft
wind came blowing from the west. Then, all at once, two persons, a man
and a woman, stood before him. Both were tall and noble. The man looked
like a prince; and there were wings on his cap and on his feet, and he
carried a winged staff, around which two golden serpents were twined.
He asked Perseus what was the matter; and the young man told him how the
king had treated him, and all about the rash words which he had spoken.
Then the lady spoke to him very kindly; and he noticed that, although
she was not beautiful, she had most wonderful gray eyes, and a stern but
lovable face and a queenly form. And she told him not to fear, but to go
out boldly in quest of the Gorgons; for she would help him obtain the
terrible head of Medusa.
"But I have no ship, and how shall I go?" said Perseus.
"You shall don my winged slippers," said the strange prince, "and they
will bear you over sea and land."
"Shall I go north, or south, or east, or west?" asked Perseus.
"I will tell you," said the tall lady. "You must go first to the three
Gray Sisters, who live beyond the frozen sea in the far, far north. They
have a secret which nobody knows, and you must force them to tell it to
you. Ask them where you shall find the three Maidens who guard the
golden apples of the West; and when they shall have told you, turn about
and go straight thither. The Maidens will give you three things, without
which you can never obtain the terrible head; and they will show you how
to wing your way across the western ocean to the edge of the world where
lies the home of the Gorgons."
Then the man took off his winged slippers, and put them on the feet of
Perseus; and the woman whispered to him to be off at once, and to fear
nothing, but be bold and true. And Perseus knew that she was none other
than Athena, the queen of the air, and that her companion was Mercury,
the lord of the summer clouds. But before he could thank them for their
kindness, they had vanished in the dusky twilight.
Then he leaped into the air to try the Magic Slippers.
III. THE GRAY SISTERS.
Swifter than an eagle, Perseus flew up towards the sky. Then he turned,
and the Magic Slippers bore him over the sea straight towards the north.
On and on he went, and soon the sea was passed; and he came to a famous
land, where there were cities and towns and many people. And then he
flew over a range of snowy mountains, beyond which were mighty forests
and a vast plain where many rivers wandered, seeking for the sea. And
farther on was another range of mountains; and then there were frozen
marshes and a wilderness of snow, and after all the sea again,--but a
sea of ice. On and on he winged his way, among toppling icebergs and
over frozen billows and through air which the sun never warmed, and at
last he came to the cavern where the three Gray Sisters dwelt.
These three creatures were so old that they had forgotten their own age,
and nobody could count the years which they had lived. The long hair
which covered their heads had been gray since they were born; and they
had among them only a single eye and a single tooth which they passed
back and forth from one to another. Perseus heard them mumbling and
crooning in their dreary home, and he stood very still and listened.
"We know a secret which even the Great Folk who live on the mountain top
can never learn; don't we, sisters?" said one.
"Ha! ha! That we do, that we do!" chattered the others.
"Give me the tooth, sister, that I may feel young and handsome again,"
said the one nearest to Perseus.
"And give me the eye that I may look out and see what is going on in the
busy world," said the sister who sat next to her.
"Ah, yes, yes, yes, yes!" mumbled the third, as she took the tooth and
the eye and reached them blindly towards the others.
Then, quick as thought, Perseus leaped forward and snatched both of the
precious things from her hand.
"Where is the tooth? Where is the eye?" screamed the two, reaching out
their long arms and groping here and there. "Have you dropped them,
sister? Have you lost them?"
Perseus laughed as he stood in the door of their cavern and saw their
distress and terror.
"I have your tooth and your eye," he said, "and you shall never touch
them again until you tell me your secret. Where are the Maidens who keep
the golden apples of the Western Land? Which way shall I go to find
"You are young, and we are old," said the Gray Sisters; "pray, do not
deal so cruelly with us. Pity us, and give us our eye."
Then they wept and pleaded and coaxed and threatened. But Perseus stood
a little way off and taunted them; and they moaned and mumbled and
shrieked, as they found that their words did not move him.
"Sisters, we must tell him," at last said one.
"Ah, yes, we must tell him," said the others. "We must part with the
secret to save our eye."
And then they told him how he should go to reach the Western Land, and
what road he should follow to find the Maidens who kept the golden
apples. When they had made everything plain to him Perseus gave them
back their eye and their tooth.
"Ha! ha!" they laughed; "now the golden days of youth have come again!"
And, from that day to this, no man has ever seen the three Gray Sisters,
nor does any one know what became of them. But the winds still whistle
through their cheerless cave, and the cold waves murmur on the shore of
the wintry sea, and the ice mountains topple and crash, and no sound of
living creature is heard in all that desolate land.
IV. THE WESTERN MAIDENS.
As for Perseus, he leaped again into the air, and the Magic Slippers
bore him southward with the speed of the wind. Very soon he left the
frozen sea behind him and came to a sunny land, where there were green
forests and flowery meadows and hills and valleys, and at last a
pleasant garden where were all kinds of blossoms and fruits. He knew
that this was the famous Western Land, for the Gray Sisters had told him
what he should see there. So he alighted and walked among the trees
until he came to the center of the garden. There he saw the three
Maidens of the West dancing around a tree which was full of golden
apples, and singing as they danced. For the wonderful tree with its
precious fruit belonged to Juno, the queen of earth and sky; it had been
given to her as a wedding gift, and it was the duty of the Maidens to
care for it and see that no one touched the golden apples.
Perseus stopped and listened to their song:
"We sing of the old, we sing of the new,--
Our joys are many, our sorrows are few;
All hearts entrancing,
We wait to welcome the good and the true.
The daylight is waning, the evening is here,
The sun will soon set, the stars will appear.
All hearts entrancing,
We wait for the dawn of a glad new year.
The tree shall wither, the apples shall fall,
Sorrow shall come, and death shall call,
All hearts deceiving,--
But hope shall abide to comfort us all.
Soon the tale shall be told, the song shall be sung,
The bow shall be broken, the harp unstrung,
All hearts deceiving,
Till every joy to the winds shall be flung.
But a new tree shall spring from the roots of the old,
And many a blossom its leaves shall unfold,
With joy maddening,--
For its boughs shall be laden with apples of gold."
[Illustration: Perseus stopped and listened to their song]
Then Perseus went forward and spoke to the Maidens. They stopped
singing, and stood still as if in alarm. But when they saw the Magic
Slippers on his feet, they ran to him, and welcomed him to the Western
Land and to their garden.
"We knew that you were coming," they said, "for the winds told us. But
why do you come?"
Perseus told them of all that had happened to him since he was a child,
and of his quest of Medusa's head; and he said that he had come to ask
them to give him three things to help him in his fight with the Gorgons.
The Maidens answered that they would give him not three things, but
four. Then one of them gave him a sharp sword, which was crooked like a
sickle, and which she fastened to the belt at his waist; and another
gave him a shield, which was brighter than any looking-glass you ever
saw; and the third gave him a magic pouch, which she hung by a long
strap over his shoulder.
"These are three things which you must have in order to obtain Medusa's
head; and now here is a fourth, for without it your quest must be in
vain." And they gave him a magic cap, the Cap of Darkness; and when they
had put it upon his head, there was no creature on the earth or in the
sky--no, not even the Maidens themselves--that could see him.
When at last he was arrayed to their liking, they told him where he
would find the Gorgons, and what he should do to obtain the terrible
head and escape alive. Then they kissed him and wished him good luck,
and bade him hasten to do the dangerous deed. And Perseus donned the Cap
of Darkness, and sped away and away towards the farthermost edge of the
earth; and the three Maidens went back to their tree to sing and to
dance and to guard the golden apples until the old world should become
V. THE DREADFUL GORGONS.
With the sharp sword at his side and the bright shield upon his arm,
Perseus flew bravely onward in search of the dreadful Gorgons; but he
had the Cap of Darkness upon his head, and you could no more have seen
him than you can see the wind. He flew so swiftly that it was not long
until he had crossed the mighty ocean which encircles the earth, and had
come to the sunless land which lies beyond; and then he knew, from what
the Maidens had told him, that the lair of the Gorgons could not be far
He heard a sound as of some one breathing heavily, and he looked around
sharply to see where it came from. Among the foul weeds which grew
close to the bank of a muddy river there was something which glittered
in the pale light. He flew a little nearer; but he did not dare to look
straight forward, lest he should all at once meet the gaze of a Gorgon,
and be changed into stone. So he turned around, and held the shining
shield before him in such a way that by looking into it he could see
objects behind him as in a mirror.
Ah, what a dreadful sight it was! Half hidden among the weeds lay the
three monsters, fast asleep, with their golden wings folded about them.
Their brazen claws were stretched out as though ready to seize their
prey; and their shoulders were covered with sleeping snakes. The two
largest of the Gorgons lay with their heads tucked under their wings as
birds hide their heads when they go to sleep. But the third, who lay
between them, slept with her face turned up towards the sky; and Perseus
knew that she was Medusa.
Very stealthily he went nearer and nearer, always with his back towards
the monsters and always looking into his bright shield to see where to
go. Then he drew his sharp sword and, dashing quickly downward, struck a
back blow, so sure, so swift, that the head of Medusa was cut from her
shoulders and the black blood gushed like a river from her neck. Quick
as thought he thrust the terrible head into his magic pouch and leaped
again into the air, and flew away with the speed of the wind.
Then the two older Gorgons awoke, and rose with dreadful screams, and
spread their great wings, and dashed after him. They could not see him,
for the Cap of Darkness hid him from even their eyes; but they scented
the blood of the head which he carried in the pouch, and like hounds in
the chase, they followed him, sniffing the air. And as he flew through
the clouds he could hear their dreadful cries and the clatter of their
golden wings and the snapping of their horrible jaws. But the Magic
Slippers were faster than any wings, and in a little while the monsters
were left far behind, and their cries were heard no more; and Perseus
flew on alone.
VI. THE GREAT SEA BEAST.
Perseus soon crossed the ocean and came again to the Land of the West.
Far below him he could see the three Maidens dancing around the golden
tree; but he did not stop, for, now that he had the head of Medusa safe
in the pouch at his side, he must hasten home. Straight east he flew
over the great sea, and after a time he came to a country where there
were palm trees and pyramids and a great river flowing from the south.
Here, as he looked down, a strange sight met his eyes: he saw a
beautiful girl chained to a rock by the seashore, and far away a huge
sea beast swimming towards her to devour her. Quick as thought, he flew
down and spoke to her; but, as she could not see him for the Cap of
Darkness which he wore, his voice only frightened her.
Then Perseus took off his cap, and stood upon the rock; and when the
girl saw him with his long hair and wonderful eyes and laughing face,
she thought him the handsomest young man in the world.
"Oh, save me! save me!" she cried as she reached out her arms towards
Perseus drew his sharp sword and cut the chain which held her, and then
lifted her high up upon the rock. But by this time the sea monster was
close at hand, lashing the water with his tail and opening his wide jaws
as though he would swallow not only Perseus and the young girl, but even
the rock on which they were standing. He was a terrible fellow, and yet
not half so terrible as the Gorgon. As he came roaring towards the
shore, Perseus lifted the head of Medusa from his pouch and held it up;
and when the beast saw the dreadful face he stopped short and was turned
into stone; and men say that the stone beast may be seen in that
selfsame spot to this day.
Then Perseus slipped the Gorgon's head back into the pouch and hastened
to speak with the young girl whom he had saved. She told him that her
name was Andromeda, and that she was the daughter of the king of that
land. She said that her mother, the queen, was very beautiful and very
proud of her beauty; and every day she went down to the seashore to look
at her face as it was pictured in the quiet water; and she had boasted
that not even the nymphs who live in the sea were as handsome as she.
When the sea nymphs heard about this, they were very angry and asked
great Neptune, the king of the sea, to punish the queen for her pride.
So Neptune sent a sea monster to crush the king's ships and kill the
cattle along the shore and break down all the fishermen's huts. The
people were so much distressed that they sent at last to ask the Pythia
what they should do; and the Pythia said that there was only one way to
save the land from destruction,--that they must give the king's
daughter, Andromeda, to the monster to be devoured.
The king and the queen loved their daughter very dearly, for she was
their only child; and for a long time they refused to do as the Pythia
had told them. But day after day the monster laid waste the land, and
threatened to destroy not only the farms, but the towns; and so they
were forced in the end to give up Andromeda to save their country. This,
then, was why she had been chained to the rock by the shore and left
there to perish in the jaws of the beast.
While Perseus was yet talking with Andromeda, the king and the queen and
a great company of people came down the shore, weeping and tearing their
hair; for they were sure that by this time the monster had devoured his
prey. But when they saw her alive and well, and learned that she had
been saved by the handsome young man who stood beside her, they could
hardly hold themselves for joy. And Perseus was so delighted with
Andromeda's beauty that he almost forgot his quest which was not yet
finished; and when the king asked him what he should give him as a
reward for saving Andromeda's life, he said:
"Give her to me for my wife."
This pleased the king very much; and so, on the seventh day, Perseus and
Andromeda were married, and there was a great feast in the king's
palace, and everybody was merry and glad. And the two young people lived
happily for some time in the land of palms and pyramids; and, from the
sea to the mountains, nothing was talked about but the courage of
Perseus and the beauty of Andromeda.
[Illustration: "THE KING SAW IT AND WAS TURNED INTO STONE."]
VII. THE TIMELY RESCUE.
But Perseus had not forgotten his mother; and so, one fine summer day,
he and Andromeda sailed in a beautiful ship to his own home; for the
Magic Slippers could not carry both him and his bride through the air.
The ship came to land at the very spot where the wooden chest had been
cast so many years before; and Perseus and his bride walked through the
fields towards the town.
Now, the wicked king of that land had never ceased trying to persuade
Danae to become his wife; but she would not listen to him, and the more
he pleaded and threatened, the more she disliked him. At last when he
found that she could not be made to have him, he declared that he would
kill her; and on this very morning he had started out, sword in hand, to
take her life.
So, as Perseus and Andromeda came into the town, whom should they meet
but his mother fleeing to the altar of Jupiter, and the king following
after, intent on killing her? Danae was so frightened that she did not
see Perseus, but ran right on towards the only place of safety. For it
was a law of that land that not even the king should be allowed to harm
any one who took refuge on the altar of Jupiter.
When Perseus saw the king rushing like a madman after his mother, he
threw himself before him and bade him stop. But the king struck at him
furiously with his sword. Perseus caught the blow on his shield, and at
the same moment took the head of Medusa from his magic pouch.
"I promised to bring you a present, and here it is!" he cried.
The king saw it, and was turned into stone, just as he stood, with his
sword uplifted and that terrible look of anger and passion in his face.
The people of the island were glad when they learned what had happened,
for no one loved the wicked king. They were glad, too, because Perseus
had come home again, and had brought with him his beautiful wife,
Andromeda. So, after they had talked the matter over among themselves,
they went to him and asked him to be their king. But he thanked them,
and said that he would rule over them for one day only, and that then he
would give the kingdom to another, so that he might take his mother back
to her home and her kindred in distant Argos.
On the morrow therefore, he gave the kingdom to the kind man who had
saved his mother and himself from the sea; and then he went on board his
ship, with Andromeda and Danae, and sailed away across the sea towards
VIII. THE DEADLY QUOIT.
When Danae's old father, the king of Argos, heard that a strange ship
was coming over the sea with his daughter and her son on board, he was
in great distress; for he remembered what the Pythia had foretold about
his death. So, without waiting to see the vessel, he left his palace in
great haste and fled out of the country.
"My daughter's son cannot kill me if I will keep out of his way," he
But Perseus had no wish to harm him; and he was very sad when he learned
that his poor grandfather had gone away in fear and without telling any
one where he was going. The people of Argos welcomed Danae to her old
home; and they were very proud of her handsome son, and begged that he
would stay in their city, so that he might some time become their king.
It happened soon afterwards that the king of a certain country not far
away was holding games and giving prizes to the best runners and leapers
and quoit throwers. And Perseus went thither to try his strength with
the other young men of the land; for if he should be able to gain a
prize, his name would become known all over the world. No one in that
country knew who he was, but all wondered at his noble stature and his
strength and skill; and it was easy enough for him to win all the
One day, as he was showing what he could do, he threw a heavy quoit a
great deal farther than any had been thrown before. It fell in the crowd
of lookers-on, and struck a stranger who was standing there. The
stranger threw up his hands and sank upon the ground; and when Perseus
ran to help him, he saw that he was dead. Now this man was none other
than Danae's father, the old king of Argos. He had fled from his kingdom
to save his life, and in doing so had only met his death.
Perseus was overcome with grief, and tried in every way to pay honor to
the memory of the unhappy king. The kingdom of Argos was now rightfully
his own, but he could not bear to take it after having killed his
grandfather. So he was glad to exchange with another king who ruled over
two rich cities, not far away, called Mycenae and Tiryns. And he and
Andromeda lived happily in Mycenae for many years.
THE STORY OF ATALANTA
I. THE BEAR ON THE MOUNTAIN.
In a sunny land in Greece called Arcadia there lived a king and a queen
who had no children. They wanted very much to have a son who might live
to rule over Arcadia when the king was dead, and so, as the years went
by, they prayed to great Jupiter on the mountain top that he would send
them a son. After a while a child was born to them, but it was a little
girl. The father was in a great rage with Jupiter and everybody else.
"What is a girl good for?" he said. "She can never do anything but sing,
and spin, and spend money. If the child had been a boy, he might have
learned to do many things,--to ride, and to hunt, and to fight in the
wars,--and by and by he would have been king of Arcadia. But this girl
can never be a king."
Then he called to one of his men and bade him take the babe out to a
mountain where there was nothing but rocks and thick woods, and leave it
there to be eaten up by the wild bears that lived in the caves and
thickets. It would be the easiest way, he said, to get rid of the
useless little creature.
The man carried the child far up on the mountain side and laid it down
on a bed of moss in the shadow of a great rock. The child stretched out
its baby hands towards him and smiled, but he turned away and left it
there, for he did not dare to disobey the king.
For a whole night and a whole day the babe lay on its bed of moss,
wailing for its mother; but only the birds among the trees heard its
pitiful cries. At last it grew so weak for want of food that it could
only moan and move its head a little from side to side. It would have
died before another day if nobody had cared for it.
Just before dark on the second evening, a she-bear came strolling down
the mountain side from her den. She was out looking for her cubs, for
some hunters had stolen them that very day while she was away from home.
She heard the moans of the little babe, and wondered if it was not one
of her lost cubs; and when she saw it lying so helpless on the moss she
went to it and looked at it kindly. Was it possible that a little bear
could be changed into a pretty babe with fat white hands and with a
beautiful gold chain around its neck? The old bear did not know; and as
the child looked at her with its bright black eyes, she growled softly
and licked its face with her warm tongue and then lay down beside it,
just as she would have done with her own little cubs. The babe was too
young to feel afraid, and it cuddled close to the old bear and felt that
it had found a friend. After a while it fell asleep; but the bear
guarded it until morning and then went down the mountain side to look
In the evening, before dark, the bear came again and carried the child
to her own den under the shelter of a rock where vines and wild flowers
grew; and every day after that she came and gave the child food and
played with it. And all the bears on the mountain learned about the
wonderful cub that had been found, and came to see it; but not one of
them offered to harm it. And the little girl grew fast and became
strong, and after a while could walk and run among the trees and rocks
and brambles on the round top of the mountain; but her bear mother would
not allow her to wander far from the den beneath the rock where the
vines and the wild flowers grew.
One day some hunters came up the mountain to look for game, and one of
them pulled aside the vines which grew in front of the old bear's home.
He was surprised to see the beautiful child lying on the grass and
playing with the flowers which she had gathered. But at sight of him she
leaped to her feet and bounded away like a frightened deer. She led the
hunters a fine chase among the trees and rocks; but there were a dozen
of them, and it was not long till they caught her.
The hunters had never taken such game as that before, and they were so
well satisfied that they did not care to hunt any more that day. The
child struggled and fought as hard as she knew how, but it was of no
use. The hunters carried her down the mountain, and took her to the
house where they lived on the other side of the forest. At first she
cried all the time, for she sadly missed the bear that had been a mother
to her so long. But the hunters made a great pet of her, and gave her
many pretty things to play with, and were very kind; and it was not long
till she began to like her new home.
The hunters named her Atalanta, and when she grew older, they made her a
bow and arrows, and taught her how to shoot; and they gave her a light
spear, and showed her how to carry it and how to hurl it at the game or
at an enemy. Then they took her with them when they went hunting, and
there was nothing in the world that pleased her so much as roaming
through the woods and running after the deer and other wild animals. Her
feet became very swift, so that she could run faster than any of the
men; and her arms were so strong and her eyes so sharp and true that
with her arrow or her spear she never missed the mark. And she grew up
to be very tall and graceful, and was known throughout all Arcadia as
the fleet-footed huntress.
II. THE BRAND ON THE HEARTH.
Now, not very far from the land of Arcadia there was a little city named
Calydon. It lay in the midst of rich wheat fields and fruitful
vineyards; but beyond the vineyards there was a deep dense forest where
many wild beasts lived. The king of Calydon was named OEneus, and he
dwelt in a white palace with his wife Althea and his boys and girls. His
kingdom was so small that it was not much trouble to govern it, and so
he spent the most of his time in hunting or in plowing or in looking
after his grape vines. He was said to be a very brave man, and he was
the friend of all the great heroes of that heroic time.
The two daughters of OEneus and Althea were famed all over the world for
their beauty; and one of them was the wife of the hero Hercules, who
had freed Prometheus from his chains, and done many other mighty deeds.
The six sons of OEneus and Althea were noble, handsome fellows; but the
noblest and handsomest of them all was Meleager, the youngest.
When Meleager was a tiny babe only seven days old, a strange thing
happened in the white palace of the king. Queen Althea awoke in the
middle of the night, and saw a fire blazing on the hearth. She wondered
what it could mean; and she lay quite still by the side of the babe, and
looked and listened. Three strange women were standing by the hearth.
They were tall, and two of them were beautiful, and the faces of all
were stern. Althea knew at once that they were the Fates who give gifts
of some kind to every child that is born, and who say whether his life
shall be a happy one or full of sadness and sorrow.
"What shall we give to this child?" said the eldest and sternest of the
three strangers. Her name was Atropos, and she held a pair of sharp
shears in her hand.
"I give him a brave heart," said the youngest and fairest. Her name was
Clotho, and she held a distaff full of flax, from which she was spinning
a golden thread.
"And I give him a gentle, noble mind," said the dark-haired one, whose
name was Lachesis. She gently drew out the thread which Clotho spun, and
turning to stern Atropos, said: "Lay aside those shears, sister, and
give the child your gift."
"I give him life until this brand shall be burned to ashes," was the
answer; and Atropos took a small stick of wood and laid it on the
The three sisters waited till the stick was ablaze, and then they were
gone. Althea sprang up quickly. She saw nothing but the fire on the
hearth and the stick burning slowly away. She made haste to pour water
upon the blaze, and when every spark was put out, she took the charred
stick and put it into a strong chest where she kept her treasures, and
locked it up.
"I know that the child's life is safe," she said, "so long as that stick
is kept unburned."
And so, as the years went by, Meleager grew up to be a brave young man,
so gentle and noble that his name became known in every land of Greece.
He did many daring deeds and, with other heroes, went on a famous voyage
across the seas in search of a marvelous fleece of gold; and when he
returned to Calydon the people declared that he was the worthiest of the
sons of OEneus to become their king.
III. THE GIFTS ON THE ALTARS.
Now it happened one summer that the vineyards of Calydon were fuller of
grapes than they had ever been before, and there was so much wheat in
the fields that the people did not know what to do with it.
"I will tell you what to do," said King OEneus. "We will have a
thanksgiving day, and we will give some of the grain and some of the
fruit to the Mighty Beings who sit among the clouds on the mountain top.
For it is from them that the sunshine and the fair weather and the moist
winds and the warm rains have come; and without their aid we could never
have had so fine a harvest."
The very next day the king and the people of Calydon went out into the
fields and vineyards to offer up their thank offerings. Here and there
they built little altars of turf and stones and laid dry grass and twigs
upon them; and then on top of the twigs they put some of the largest
bunches of grapes and some of the finest heads of wheat, which they
thought would please the Mighty Beings who had sent them so great
There was one altar for Ceres, who had shown men how to sow grain, and
one for Bacchus, who had told them about the grape, and one for
wing-footed Mercury, who comes in the clouds, and one for Athena, the
queen of the air, and one for the keeper of the winds, and one for the
giver of light, and one for the driver of the golden sun car, and one
for the king of the sea, and one--which was the largest of all--for
Jupiter, the mighty thunderer who sits upon the mountain top and rules
the world. And when everything was ready, King OEneus gave the word, and
fire was touched to the grass and the twigs upon the altars; and the
grapes and the wheat that had been laid there were burned up. Then the
people shouted and danced, for they fancied that in that way the thank
offerings were sent right up to Ceres and Bacchus and Mercury and Athena
and all the rest. And in the evening they went home with glad hearts,
feeling that they had done right.
But they had forgotten one of the Mighty Beings. They had not raised any
altar to Diana, the fair huntress and queen of the woods, and they had
not offered her a single grape or a single grain of wheat. They had not
intended to slight her; but, to tell the truth, there were so many
others that they had never once thought about her.
I do not suppose that Diana cared anything at all for the fruit or the
grain; but it made her very angry to think that she should be forgotten.
"I'll show them that I am not to be slighted in this way," she said.
All went well, however, until the next summer; and the people of Calydon
were very happy, for it looked as though there would be a bigger harvest
"I tell you," said old King OEneus, looking over his fields and his
vineyards, "it pays to give thanks. We'll have another thanksgiving as
soon as the grapes begin to ripen."
But even then he did not think of Diana.
The very next day the largest and fiercest wild boar that anybody had
ever seen came rushing out of the forest. He had two long tusks which
stuck far out of his mouth on either side and were as sharp as knives,
and the stiff bristles on his back were as large and as long as knitting
needles. As he went tearing along towards Calydon, champing his teeth
and foaming at the mouth, he was a frightful thing to look at, I tell
you. Everybody fled before him. He rushed into the wheat fields and tore
up all the grain; he went into the vineyards and broke down all the
vines; he rooted up all the trees in the orchards; and, when there was
nothing else to do, he went into the pasture lands among the hills and
killed the sheep that were feeding there. He was so fierce and so fleet
of foot that the bravest warrior hardly dared to attack him. His thick
skin was proof against arrows and against such spears as the people of
Calydon had; and I do not know how many men he killed with those
terrible razor tusks of his. For weeks he had pretty much his own way,
and the only safe place for anybody was inside of the walls.
When he had laid waste the whole country he went back into the edge of
the forest; but the people were so much afraid of him that they lived in
dread every day lest he should come again and tear down the gates of the
"We must have forgotten somebody when we gave thanks last year," said
King OEneus. "Who could it have been?"
And then he thought of Diana.
"Diana, the queen of the chase," said he, "has sent this monster to
punish us for forgetting her. I am sure that we shall remember her now
as long as we live."
Then he sent messengers into all the countries near Calydon, asking the
bravest men and skillfullest hunters to come at a certain time and help
him hunt and kill the great wild boar. Very many of these men had been
with Meleager in that wonderful voyage in search of the Golden Fleece,
and he felt sure they would come.
IV. THE HUNT IN THE FOREST.
When the day came which King OEneus had set, there was a wonderful
gathering of men at Calydon. The greatest heroes in the world were
there; and every one was fully armed, and expected to have fine sport
hunting the terrible wild boar. With the warriors from the south there
came a tall maiden armed with bow and arrows and a long hunting spear.
It was our friend Atalanta, the huntress.
"My daughters are having a game of ball in the garden," said old King
OEneus. "Wouldn't you like to put away your arrows and your spear, and
go and play with them?"
Atalanta shook her head and lifted her chin as if in disdain.
"Perhaps you would rather stay with the queen, and look at the women
spin and weave," said OEneus.
"No," answered Atalanta, "I am going with the warriors to hunt the wild
boar in the forest!"
How all the men opened their eyes! They had never heard of such a thing
as a girl going out with heroes to hunt wild boars.
"If she goes, then I will not," said one.
"Nor I, either," said another.
"Nor I," said a third. "Why, the whole world would laugh at us, and we
should never hear the end of it."
Several threatened to go home at once; and two brothers of Queen Althea,
rude, unmannerly fellows, loudly declared that the hunt was for heroes
and not for puny girls.
But Atalanta only grasped her spear more firmly and stood up, tall and
straight, in the gateway of the palace. Just then a handsome young man
came forward. It was Meleager.
"What's this?" he cried. "Who says that Atalanta shall not go to the
hunt? You are afraid that she'll be braver than you--that is all. Pretty
heroes you are! Let all such cowards go home at once."
But nobody went, and it was settled then and there that the maiden
should have her own way. And yet the brothers of Queen Althea kept on
muttering and complaining.
For nine days the heroes and huntsmen feasted in the halls of King
OEneus, and early on the tenth they set out for the forest. Soon the
great beast was found, and he came charging out upon his foes. The
heroes hid behind the trees or climbed up among the branches, for they
had not expected to see so terrible a creature. He stood in the middle
of a little open space, tearing up the ground with his tusks. The white
foam rolled from his mouth, his eyes glistened red like fire, and he
grunted so fiercely that the woods and hills echoed with fearful sounds.
[Illustration: YOU OUGHT TO HAVE SEEN THE TALL HUNTRESS MAIDEN THEN]
Then one of the bravest of the men threw his spear. But that only made
the beast fiercer than ever; he charged upon the warrior, caught him
before he could save himself, and tore him in pieces with his tusks.
Another man ventured too far from his hiding-place and was also
overtaken and killed. One of the oldest and noblest of the heroes
leveled his spear and threw it with all his force; but it only grazed
the boar's tough skin and glanced upward and pierced the heart of a
warrior on the other side. The boar was getting the best of the fight.
Atalanta now ran forward and threw her spear. It struck the boar in the
back, and a great stream of blood gushed out. A warrior let fly an arrow
which put out one of the beast's eyes. Then Meleager rushed up and
pierced his heart with his spear. The boar could no longer stand up; but
he fought fiercely for some moments, and then rolled over, dead.
The heroes then cut off the beast's head. It was as much as six of them
could carry. Then they took the skin from his great body and offered it
to Meleager as a prize, because he had given the death wound to the wild
boar. But Meleager said:
"It belongs to Atalanta, because it was she who gave him the very first
wound." And he gave it to her as the prize of honor.
You ought to have seen the tall huntress maiden then, as she stood among
the trees with the boar's skin thrown over her left shoulder and
reaching down to her feet. She had never looked so much like the queen
of the woods. But the rude brothers of Queen Althea were vexed to think
that a maiden should win the prize, and they began to make trouble. One
of them snatched Atalanta's spear from her hand, and dragged the prize
from her shoulders, and the other pushed her rudely and bade her go back
to Arcadia and live again with the she-bears on the mountain side. All
this vexed Meleager, and he tried to make his uncles give back the spear
and the prize, and stop their unmannerly talk. But they grew worse and
worse, and at last set upon Meleager, and would have killed him if he
had not drawn his sword to defend himself. A fight followed, and the
rude fellows struck right and left as though they were blind. Soon both
were stretched dead upon the ground. Some who did not see the fight said
that Meleager killed them, but I would rather believe that they killed
each other in their drunken fury.
And now all the company started back to the city. Some carried the
boar's huge head, and some the different parts of his body, while others
had made biers of the green branches, and bore upon them the dead bodies
of those who had been slain. It was indeed a strange procession.
A young man who did not like Meleager, had run on in front and had
reached the city before the rest of the company had fairly started.
Queen Althea was standing at the door of the palace, and when she saw
him she asked what had happened in the forest He told her at once that
Meleager had killed her brothers, for he knew that, with all their
faults, she loved them very dearly. It was terrible to see her grief.
She shrieked, and tore her hair, and rushed wildly about from room to
room. Her senses left her, and she did not know what she was doing.
It was the custom at that time for people to avenge the death of their
kindred, and her only thought was how to punish the murderer of her
brothers. In her madness she forgot that Meleager was her son. Then she
thought of the three Fates and of the unburned firebrand which she had
locked up in her chest so many years before. She ran and got the stick
and threw it into the fire that was burning on the hearth.
It kindled at once, and she watched it as it blazed up brightly. Then
it began to turn into ashes, and as the last spark died out, the noble
Meleager, who was walking by the side of Atalanta, dropped to the ground
When they carried the news to Althea she said not a word, for then she
knew what she had done, and her heart was broken. She turned silently
away and went to her own room. When the king came home a few minutes
later, he found her dead.
So ended the hunt in the wood of Calydon.
V. THE RACE FOR A WIFE.
After the death of Meleager, Atalanta went back to her old home among
the mountains of Arcadia. She was still the swift-footed huntress, and
she was never so happy as when in the green woods wandering among the
trees or chasing the wild deer. All the world had heard about her,
however; and the young heroes in the lands nearest to Arcadia did
nothing else but talk about her beauty and her grace and her swiftness
of foot and her courage. Of course every one of these young fellows
wanted her to become his wife; and she might have been a queen any day
if she had only said the word, for the richest king in Greece would have
been glad to marry her. But she cared nothing for any of the young men,
and she liked the freedom of the green woods better than all the fine
things she might have had in a palace.
The young men would not take "No!" for an answer, however. They could
not believe that she really meant it, and so they kept coming and
staying until the woods of Arcadia were full of them, and there was no
getting along with them at all. So, when she could think of no other way
to get rid of them, Atalanta called them together and said:
"You want to marry me, do you? Well, if any one of you would like to run
a race with me from this mountain to the bank of the river over there,
he may do so; and I will be the wife of the one who outruns me."
"Agreed! agreed!" cried all the young fellows.
"But, listen!" she said. "Whoever tries this race must also agree that
if I outrun him, he must lose his life."
Ah, what long faces they all had then! About half of them drew away and
"But won't you give us the start of you a little?" asked the others.
"Oh, yes," she answered. "I will give you the start by a hundred paces.
But remember, if I overtake any one before he reaches the river, he
shall lose his head that very day."
Several others now found that they were in ill health or that business
called them home; and when they were next looked for, they were not to
be found. But a good many who had had some practice in sprinting across
the country stayed and made up their minds to try their luck. Could a
mere girl outrun such fine fellows as they? Nonsense!
And so it happened that a race was run almost every day. And almost
every day some poor fellow lost his head; for the fleetest-footed
sprinter in all Greece was overtaken by Atalanta long before he could
reach the river bank. But other young men kept coming and coming, and no
sooner had one been put out of the way than another took his place.
One day there came from a distant town a handsome, tall young man named
"You'd better not run with me," said Atalanta, "for I shall be sure to
overtake you, and that will be the end of you."
"We'll see about that," said Meilanion.
Now Meilanion, before coming to try his chance, had talked with Venus,
the queen of love, who lived with Jupiter among the clouds on the
mountain top. And he was so handsome and gentle and wise that Venus took
pity on him, and gave him three golden apples and told him what to do.
Well, when all was ready for the race, Atalanta tried again to persuade
Meilanion not to run, for she also took pity on him.
"I'll be sure to overtake you," she said.
"All right!" said Meilanion, and away he sped; but he had the three
golden applies in his pocket.
Atalanta gave him a good start, and then she followed after, as swift as
an arrow shot from the bow. Meilanion was not a very fast runner, and it
would not be hard for her to overtake him. She thought that she would
let him get almost to the goal, for she really pitied him. He heard her
coming close behind him; he heard her quick breath as she gained on him
very fast. Then he threw one of the golden apples over his shoulder.
Now, if there was anything in the world that Atalanta admired, it was a
bright stone or a pretty piece of yellow gold. As the apple fell to the
ground she saw how beautiful it was, and she stopped to pick it up; and
while she was doing this, Meilanion gained a good many paces. But what
of that? In a minute she was as close behind him as ever. And yet, she
really did pity him.
Just then Meilanion threw the second apple over his shoulder. It was
handsomer and larger than the first, and Atalanta could not bear the
thought of allowing some one else to get it. So she stopped to pick it
up from among the long grass, where it had fallen. It took somewhat
longer to find it than she had expected, and when she looked up again
Meilanion was a hundred feet ahead of her. But that was no matter. She
could easily overtake him. And yet, how she did pity the foolish young
Meilanion heard her speeding like the wind behind him. He took the third
apple and threw it over to one side of the path where the ground sloped
towards the river. Atalanta's quick eye saw that it was far more
beautiful than either of the others. If it were not picked up at once it
would roll down into the deep water and be lost, and that would never
do. She turned aside from her course and ran after it. It was easy
enough to overtake the apple, but while she was doing so Meilanion
gained upon her again. He was almost to the goal. How she strained every
muscle now to overtake him! But, after all, she felt that she did not
care very much. He was the handsomest young man that she had ever seen,
and he had given her three golden apples. It would be a great pity if he
should have to die. And so she let him reach the goal first.
After that, of course, Atalanta became Meilanion's wife. And he took her
with him to his distant home, and there they lived happily together for
many, many years.
THE HORSE AND THE OLIVE
I. Finding a King.
On a steep stony hill in Greece there lived in early times a few very
poor people who had not yet learned to build houses. They made their
homes in little caves which they dug in the earth or hollowed out among
the rocks; and their food was the flesh of wild animals, which they
hunted in the woods, with now and then a few berries or nuts. They did
not even know how to make bows and arrows, but used slings and clubs and
sharp sticks for weapons; and the little clothing which they had was
made of skins. They lived on the top of the hill, because they were safe
there from the savage beasts of the great forest around them, and safe
also from the wild men who sometimes roamed through the land. The hill
was so steep on every side that there was no way of climbing it save by
a single narrow footpath which was always guarded by some one at the
One day when the men were hunting in the woods, they found a strange
youth whose face was so fair and who was dressed so beautifully that
they could hardly believe him to be a man like themselves. His body was
so slender and lithe, and he moved so nimbly among the trees, that they
fancied him to be a serpent in the guise of a human being; and they
stood still in wonder and alarm. The young man spoke to them, but they
could not understand a word that he said; then he made signs to them
that he was hungry, and they gave him something to eat and were no
longer afraid. Had they been like the wild men of the woods, they might
have killed him at once. But they wanted their women and children to see
the serpent man, as they called him, and hear him talk; and so they took
him home with them to the top of the hill. They thought that after they
had made a show of him for a few days, they would kill him and offer his
body as a sacrifice to the unknown being whom they dimly fancied to have
some sort of control over their lives.
But the young man was so fair and gentle that, after they had all taken
a look at him, they began to think it would be a great pity to harm him.
So they gave him food and treated him kindly; and he sang songs to them
and played with their children, and made them happier than they had been
for many a day. In a short time he learned to talk in their language;
and he told them that his name was Cecrops, and that he had been
shipwrecked on the seacoast not far away; and then he told them many
strange things about the land from which he had come and to which he
would never be able to return. The poor people listened and wondered;
and it was not long until they began to love him and to look up to him
as one wiser than themselves. Then they came to ask him about everything
that was to be done, and there was not one of them who refused to do his
So Cecrops--the serpent man, as they still called him--became the king
of the poor people on the hill. He taught them how to make bows and
arrows, and how to set nets for birds, and how to take fish with hooks.
He led them against the savage wild men of the woods, and helped them
kill the fierce beasts that had been so great a terror to them. He
showed them how to build houses of wood and to thatch them with the
reeds which grew in the marshes. He taught them how to live in families
instead of herding together like senseless beasts as they had always
done before. And he told them about great Jupiter and the Mighty Folk
who lived amid the clouds on the mountain top.
II. CHOOSING A NAME.
By and by, instead of the wretched caves among the rocks, there was a
little town on the top of the hill, with neat houses and a market place;
and around it was a strong wall with a single narrow gate just where the
footpath began to descend to the plain. But as yet the place had no
One morning while the king and his wise men were sitting together in the
market place and planning how to make, the town become a rich, strong
city, two strangers were seen in the street. Nobody could tell how they
came there. The guard at the gate had not seen them; and no man had ever
dared to climb the narrow footway without his leave. But there the two
strangers stood. One was a man, the other a woman; and they were so
tall, and their faces were so grand and noble, that those who saw them
stood still and wondered and said not a word.
The man had a robe of purple and green wrapped round his body, and he
bore in one hand a strong staff with three sharp spear points at one
end. The woman was not beautiful, but she had wonderful gray eyes; and
in one hand she carried a spear and in the other a shield of curious
"What is the name of this town?" asked the man.
The people stared at him in wonder, and hardly understood his meaning.
Then an old man answered and said, "It has no name. We who live on this
hill used to be called Cranae; but since King Cecrops came, we have been
so busy that we have had no time to think of names."
"Where is this King Cecrops?" asked the woman.
"He is in the market place with the wise men," was the answer.
"Lead us to him at once," said the man.
When Cecrops saw the two strangers coming into the market place, he
stood up and waited for them to speak. The man spoke first:
"I am Neptune," said he, "and I rule the sea."
"And I am Athena," said the woman, "and I give wisdom to men."
"I hear that you are planning to make your town become a great city,"
said Neptune, "and I have come to help you. Give my name to the place,
and let me be your protector and patron, and the wealth of the whole
world shall be yours. Ships from every land shall bring you merchandise
and gold and silver; and you shall be the masters of the sea."
"My uncle makes you fair promises," said Athena; "but listen to me.
Give my name to your city, and let me be your patron, and I will give
you that which gold cannot buy: I will teach you how to do a thousand
things of which you now know nothing. I will make your city my favorite
home, and I will give you wisdom that shall sway the minds and hearts of
all men until the end of time."
The king bowed, and turned to the people, who had all crowded into the
market place. "Which of these mighty ones shall we elect to be the
protector and patron of our city?" he asked. "Neptune offers us wealth;
Athena promises us wisdom. Which shall we choose?"
"Neptune and wealth!" cried many.
"Athena and wisdom!" cried as many others.
At last when it was plain that the people could not agree, an old man
whose advice was always heeded stood up and said:
"These mighty ones have only given us promises, and they have promised
things of which we are ignorant. For who among us knows what wealth is
or what wisdom is? Now, if they would only give us some real gift, right
now and right here, which we can see and handle, we should know better
how to choose."
"That is true! that is true!" cried the people.
"Very well, then," said the strangers, "we will each give you a gift,
right now and right here, and then you may choose between us."
Neptune gave the first gift. He stood on the highest point of the hill
where the rock was bare, and bade the people see his power. He raised
his three-pointed spear high in the air, and then brought it down with
great force. Lightning flashed, the earth shook, and the rock was split
half way down to the bottom of the hill. Then out of the yawning crevice
there sprang a wonderful creature, white as milk, with long slender
legs, an arching neck, and a mane and tail of silk.
The people had never seen anything like it before, and they thought it a
new kind of bear or wolf or wild boar that had come out of the rock to
devour them. Some of them ran and hid in their houses, while others
climbed upon the wall, and still others grasped their weapons in alarm.
But when they saw the creature stand quietly by the side of Neptune,
they lost their fear and came closer to see and admire its beauty.
"This is my gift," said Neptune. "This animal will carry your burdens
for you; he will draw your chariots; he will pull your wagons and your
plows; he will let you sit on his back and will run with you faster than
[Illustration: "OUT OF THE YAWNING CREVICE THERE SPRANG A WONDERFUL
"What is his name?" asked the king.
"His name is Horse," answered Neptune.
Then Athena came forward. She stood a moment on a green grassy plot
where the children of the town liked to play in the evening. Then she
drove the point of her spear deep down in the soil. At once the air was
filled with music, and out of the earth there sprang a tree with slender
branches and dark green leaves and white flowers and violet green fruit.
"This is my gift," said Athena. "This tree will give you food when you
are hungry; it will shelter you from the sun when you are faint; it will
beautify your city; and the oil from its fruit will be sought by all the
"What is it called?" asked the king.
"It is called Olive," answered Athena.
Then the king and his wise men began to talk about the two gifts.
"I do not see that Horse will be of much use to us," said the old man
who had spoken before. "For, as to the chariots and wagons and plows, we
have none of them, and indeed do not know what they are; and who among
us will ever want to sit on this creature's back and be borne faster
than the wind? But Olive will be a thing of beauty and a joy for us and
our children forever."
"Which shall we choose?" asked the king, turning to the people.
"Athena has given us the best gift," they all cried, "and we choose
Athena and wisdom!"
"Be it so," said the king, "and the name of our city shall be Athens."
From that day the town grew and spread, and soon there was not room on
the hilltop for all the people. Then houses were built in the plain
around the foot of the hill, and a great road was built to the sea,
three miles away; and in all the world there was no city more fair than
In the old market place on the top of the hill the people built a temple
to Athena, the ruins of which may still be seen. The olive tree grew and
nourished; and, when you visit Athens, people will show you the very
spot where it stood. Many other trees sprang from it, and in time became
a blessing both to Greece and to all the other countries round the great
sea. As for the horse, he wandered away across the plains towards the
north and found a home at last in distant Thessaly beyond the River
Peneus. And I have heard it said that all the horses in the world have
descended from that one which Neptune brought out of the rock; but of
the truth of this story there may be some doubts.
THE ADVENTURES OF THESEUS.
I. AEGEUS AND AETHRA.
There was once a king of Athens whose name was AEgeus. He had no son; but
he had fifty nephews, and they were waiting for him to die, so that one
of them might be king in his stead. They were wild, worthless fellows,
and the people of Athens looked forward with dread to the day when the
city should be in their power. Yet so long as AEgeus lived they could not
do much harm, but were content to spend their time in eating and
drinking at the king's table and in quarreling among themselves.
It so happened one summer that AEgeus left his kingdom in the care of the
elders of the city and went on a voyage across the Saronic Sea to the
old and famous city of Troezen, which lay nestled at the foot of the
mountains on the opposite shore. Troezen was not fifty miles by water
from Athens, and the purple-peaked island of AEgina lay between them;
but to the people of that early time the distance seemed very great, and
it was not often that ships passed from one place to the other. And as
for going by land round the great bend of the sea, that was a thing so
fraught with danger that no man had ever dared try it.
King Pittheus of Troezen was right glad to see AEgeus, for they had been
boys together, and he welcomed him to his city and did all that he could
to make his visit a pleasant one. So, day after day, there was feasting
and merriment and music in the marble halls of old Troezen, and the two
kings spent many a happy hour in talking of the deeds of their youth and
of the mighty heroes whom both had known. And when the time came for the
ship to sail back to Athens, AEgeus was not ready to go. He said he would
stay yet a little longer in Troezen, for that the elders of the city
would manage things well at home; and so the ship returned without him.
But AEgeus tarried, not so much for the rest and enjoyment which he was
having in the home of his old friend, as for the sake of AEthra, his old
friend's daughter. For AEthra was as fair as a summer morning, and she
was the joy and pride of Troezen; and AEgeus was never so happy as when
in her presence. So it happened that some time after the ship had
sailed, there was a wedding in the halls of King Pittheus; but it was
kept a secret, for AEgeus feared that his nephews, if they heard of it,
would be very angry and would send men to Troezen to do him harm.
Month after month passed by, and still AEgeus lingered with his bride and
trusted his elders to see to the affairs of Athens. Then one morning,
when the gardens of Troezen were full of roses and the heather was green
on the hills, a babe was born to AEthra--a boy with a fair face and
strong arms and eyes as sharp and as bright as the mountain eagle's. And
now AEgeus was more loth to return home than he had been before, and he
went up on the mountain which overlooks Troezen, and prayed to Athena,
the queen of the air, to give him wisdom and show him what to do. Even
while he prayed there came a ship into the harbor, bringing a letter to
AEgeus and alarming news from Athens.
"Come home without delay"--these were words of the letter which the
elders had sent--"come home quickly, or Athens will be lost. A great
king from beyond the sea, Minos of Crete, is on the way with ships and a
host of fighting men; and he declares that he will carry sword and fire
within our walls, and will slay our young men and make our children his
slaves. Come and save us!"
"It is the call of duty," said AEgeus; and with a heavy heart he made
ready to go at once across the sea to the help of his people. But he
could not take AEthra and her babe, for fear of his lawless nephews, who
would have slain them both.
"Best of wives," he said, when the hour for parting had come, "listen to
me, for I shall never see your father's halls, nor dear old Troezen, nor
perhaps your own fair face, again. Do you remember the old plane tree
which stands on the mountain side, and the great flat stone which lies a
little way beyond it, and which no man but myself has ever been able to
lift? Under that stone, I have hidden my sword and the sandals which I
brought from Athens. There they shall lie until our child is strong
enough to lift the stone and take them for his own. Care for him, AEthra,
until that time; and then, and not till then, you may tell him of his
father, and bid him seek me in Athens."
Then AEgeus kissed his wife and the babe, and went on board the ship; the
sailors shouted; the oars were dipped into the waves; the white sail was
spread to the breeze; and AEthra from her palace window saw the vessel
speed away over the blue waters towards AEgina and the distant Attic
II. SWORD AND SANDALS.
Year after year went by, and yet no word reached AEthra from her husband
on the other side of the sea. Often and often she would climb the
mountain above Troezen, and sit there all day, looking out over the blue
waters and the purple hills of AEgina to the dim, distant shore beyond.
Now and then she could see a white-winged ship sailing in the offing;
but men said that it was a Cretan vessel, and very likely was filled
with fierce Cretan warriors, bound upon some cruel errand of war. Then
it was rumored that King Minos had seized upon all the ships of Athens,
and had burned a part of the city, and had forced the people to pay him
a most grievous tribute. But further than this there was no news.
In the meanwhile AEthra's babe had grown to be a tall, ruddy-cheeked lad,
strong as a mountain lion; and she had named him Theseus. On the day
that he was fifteen years old he went with her up to the top of the
mountain, and with her looked out over the sea.
"Ah, if only your father would come!" she sighed.
"My father?" said Theseus. "Who is my father, and why are you always
watching and waiting and wishing that he would come? Tell me about him."
And she answered: "My child, do you see the great flat stone which lies
there, half buried in the ground, and covered with moss and trailing
ivy? Do you think you can lift it?"
"I will try, mother," said Theseus. And he dug his fingers into the
ground beside it, and grasped its uneven edges, and tugged and lifted
and strained until his breath came hard and his arms ached and his body
was covered with sweat; but the stone was moved not at all. At last he
said, "The task is too hard for me until I have grown stronger. But why
do you wish me to lift it?"
"When you are strong enough to lift it," answered AEthra, "I will tell
you about your father."
After that the boy went out every day and practiced at running and
leaping and throwing and lifting; and every day he rolled some stone out
of its place. At first he could move only a little weight, and those who
saw him laughed as he pulled and puffed and grew red in the face, but
never gave up until he had lifted it. And little by little he grew
stronger, and his muscles became like iron bands, and his limbs were
like mighty levers for strength. Then on his next birthday he went up on
the mountain with his mother, and again tried to lift the great stone.
But it remained fast in its place and was not moved.
"I am not yet strong enough, mother," he said.
"Have patience, my son," said AEthra.
So he went on again with his running and leaping and throwing and
lifting; and he practiced wrestling, also, and tamed the wild horses of
the plain, and hunted the lions among the mountains; and his strength
and swiftness and skill were the wonder of all men, and old Troezen was
filled with tales of the deeds of the boy Theseus. Yet when he tried
again on his seventeenth birthday, he could not move the great flat
stone that lay near the plane tree on the mountain side.
"Have patience, my son," again said AEthra; but this time the tears were
standing in her eyes.
So he went back again to his exercising; and he learned to wield the
sword and the battle ax and to throw tremendous weights and to carry
tremendous burdens. And men said that since the days of Hercules there
was never so great strength in one body. Then, when he was a year older,
he climbed the mountain yet another time with his mother, and he stooped
and took hold of the stone, and it yielded to his touch; and, lo, when
he had lifted it quite out of the ground, he found underneath it a sword
of bronze and sandals of gold, and these he gave to his mother.
"Tell me now about my father," he said.
[Illustration: "SHE BUCKLED THE SWORD TO HIS BELT."]
AEthra knew that the time had come for which she had waited so long, and
she buckled the sword to his belt and fastened the sandals upon his
feet. Then she told him who his father was, and why he had left them in
Troezen, ands how he had said that when the lad was strong enough to
lift the great stone, he must take the sword and sandals and go and seek
him in Athens.
Theseus was glad when he heard this, and his proud eyes flashed with
eagerness as he said: "I am ready, mother; and I will set out for Athens
this very day."
Then they walked down the mountain together and told King Pittheus what
had happened, and showed him the sword and the sandals. But the old man
shook his head sadly and tried to dissuade Theseus from going.
"How can you go to Athens in these lawless times?" he said. "The sea is
full of pirates. In fact, no ship from Troezen has sailed across the
Saronic Sea since your kingly father went home to the help of his
people, eighteen years ago."
Then, finding that this only made Theseus the more determined, he said:
"But if you must go, I will have a new ship built for you, stanch and
stout and fast sailing; and fifty of the bravest young men in Troezen
shall go with you; and mayhap with fair winds and fearless hearts you
shall escape the pirates and reach Athens in safety."
"Which is the most perilous way?" asked Theseus--"to go by ship or to
make the journey on foot round the great bend of land?"
"The seaway is full enough of perils," said his grandfather, "but the
landway is beset with dangers tenfold greater. Even if there were good
roads and no hindrances, the journey round the shore is a long one and
would require many days. But there are rugged mountains to climb, and
wide marshes to cross, and dark forests to go through. There is hardly a
footpath in all that wild region, nor any place to find rest or shelter;
and the woods are full of wild beasts, and dreadful dragons lurk in the
marshes, and many cruel robber giants dwell in the mountains."
"Well," said Theseus, "if there are more perils by land than by sea,
then I shall go by land, and I go at once."
"But you will at least take fifty young men, your companions, with you?"
said King Pittheus.
"Not one shall go with me," said Theseus; and he stood up and played
with his sword hilt, and laughed at the thought of fear.
Then when there was nothing more to say, he kissed his mother and bade
his grandfather good-by, and went out of Troezen towards the trackless
coastland which lay to the west and north. And with blessings and tears
the king and AEthra followed him to the city gates, and watched him until
his tall form was lost to sight among the trees which bordered the shore
of the sea.
III. ROUGH ROADS AND ROBBERS.
With a brave heart Theseus walked on, keeping the sea always upon his
right. Soon the old city of Troezen was left far behind, and he came to
the great marshes, where the ground sank under him at every step, and
green pools of stagnant water lay on both sides of the narrow pathway.
But no fiery dragon came out of the reeds to meet him; and so he walked
on and on till he came to the rugged mountain land which bordered the
western shore of the sea. Then he climbed one slope after another, until
at last he stood on the summit of a gray peak from which he could see
the whole country spread out around him. Then downward and onward he
went again, but his way led him through dark mountain glens, and along
the edges of mighty precipices, and underneath many a frowning cliff,
until he came to a dreary wood where the trees grew tall and close
together and the light of the sun was seldom seen.
In that forest there dwelt a robber giant, called Club-carrier, who was
the terror of all the country. For oftentimes he would go down into the
valleys where the shepherds fed their flocks, and would carry off not
only sheep and lambs, but sometimes children and the men themselves. It
was his custom to hide in the thickets of underbrush, close to a
pathway, and, when a traveler passed that way, leap out upon him and
beat him to death. When he saw Theseus coming through the woods, he
thought that he would have a rich prize, for he knew from the youth's
dress and manner that he must be a prince. He lay on the ground, where
leaves of ivy and tall grass screened him from view, and held his great
iron club ready to strike.
But Theseus had sharp eyes and quick ears, and neither beast nor robber
giant could have taken him by surprise. When Club-carrier leaped out of
his hiding place to strike him down, the young man dodged aside so
quickly that the heavy club struck the ground behind him; and then,
before the robber giant could raise it for a second stroke, Theseus
seized the fellow's legs and tripped him up.
Club-carrier roared loudly, and tried to strike again; but Theseus
wrenched the club out of his hands, and then dealt him such a blow on
the head that he never again harmed travelers passing through the
forest. Then the youth went on his way, carrying the huge club on his
shoulder, and singing a song of victory, and looking sharply around him
for any other foes that might be lurking among the trees.
Just over the ridge of the next mountain he met an old man who warned
him not to go any farther. He said that close by a grove of pine trees,
which he would soon pass on his way down the slope, there dwelt a robber
named Sinis, who was very cruel to strangers.
"He is called Pine-bender," said the old man; "for when he has caught a
traveler, he bends two tall, lithe pine trees to the ground and binds
his captive to them--a hand and a foot to the top of one, and a hand and
a foot to the top of the other. Then he lets the trees fly up, and he
roars with laughter when he sees the traveler's body torn in sunder."
"It seems to me," said Theseus, "that it is full time to rid the world
of such a monster;" and he thanked the kind man who had warned him, and
hastened onward, whistling merrily as he went down towards the grove of
Soon he came in sight of the robber's house, built near the foot of a
jutting cliff. Behind it was a rocky gorge and a roaring mountain
stream; and in front of it was a garden wherein grew all kinds of rare
plants and beautiful flowers. But the tops of the pine trees below it
were laden with the bones of unlucky travelers, which hung bleaching
white in the sun and wind.
On a stone by the roadside sat Sinis himself; and when he saw Theseus
coming, he ran to meet him, twirling a long rope in his hands and crying
"Welcome, welcome, dear prince! Welcome to our inn--the true Traveler's
"What kind of entertainment have you?" asked Theseus. "Have you a pine
tree bent down to the ground and ready for me?"
"Ay; two of them!" said the robber. "I knew that you were coming, and I
bent two of them for you."
As he spoke he threw his rope towards Theseus and tried to entangle him
in its coils. But the young man leaped aside, and when the robber rushed
upon him, he dodged beneath his hands and seized his legs, as he had
seized Club-carrier's, and threw him heavily to the ground. Then the two
wrestled together among the trees, but not long, for Sinis was no match
for his lithe young foe; and Theseus knelt upon the robber's back as he
lay prone among the leaves, and tied him with his own cord to the two
pine trees which were already bent down. "As you would have done unto
me, so will I do unto you," he said.
Then Pine-bender wept and prayed and made many a fair promise; but
Theseus would not hear him. He turned away, the trees sprang up, and the
robber's body was left dangling from their branches.
Now this old Pine-bender had a daughter named Perigune, who was no more
like him than a fair and tender violet is like the gnarled old oak at
whose feet it nestles; and it was she who cared for the flowers and the
rare plants which grew in the garden by the robber's house. When she saw
how Theseus had dealt with her father, she was afraid and ran to hide
herself from him.
"Oh, save me, dear plants!" she cried, for she often talked to the
flowers as though they could understand her. "Dear plants, save me; and
I will never pluck your leaves nor harm you in any way so long as I
There was one of the plants which up to that time had had no leaves, but
came up out of the ground looking like a mere club or stick. This plant
took pity on the maiden. It began at once to send out long feathery
branches with delicate green leaves, which grew so fast that Perigune
was soon hidden from sight beneath them. Theseus knew that she must be
somewhere in the garden, but he could not find her, so well did the
feathery branches conceal her. So he called to her:
"Perigune," he said, "you need not fear me; for I know that you are
gentle and good, and it is only against things dark and cruel that I
lift up my hand."
The maiden peeped from her hiding-place, and when she saw the fair face
of the youth and heard his kind voice, she came out, trembling, and
talked with him. And Theseus rested that evening in her house, and she
picked some of her choicest flowers for him and gave him food. But when
in the morning the dawn began to appear in the east, and the stars grew
dim above the mountain peaks, he bade her farewell and journeyed onward
over the hills. And Perigune tended her plants and watched her flowers
in the lone garden in the midst of the piny grove; but she never plucked
the stalks of asparagus nor used them for food, and when she afterwards
became the wife of a hero and had children and grandchildren and
great-grandchildren, she taught them all to spare the plant which had
taken pity upon her in her need.
The road which Theseus followed now led him closer to the shore, and by
and by he came to a place where the mountains seemed to rise sheer out
of the sea, and there was only a, narrow path high up along the side of
the cliff. Far down beneath his feet he could hear the waves dashing
evermore against the rocky wall, while above him the mountain eagles
circled and screamed, and gray crags and barren peaks glistened in the
But Theseus went on fearlessly and came at last to a place where a
spring of clear water bubbled out from a cleft in the rock; and there
the path was narrower still, and the low doorway of a cavern opened out
upon it. Close by the spring sat a red-faced giant, with a huge club
across his knees, guarding the road so that no one could pass; and in
the sea at the foot of the cliff basked a huge turtle, its leaden eyes
looking always upward for its food. Theseus knew--for Perigune had told
him--that this was the dwelling-place of a robber named Sciron, who was
the terror of all the coast, and whose custom it was to make strangers
wash his feet, so that while they were doing so, he might kick them over
the cliff to be eaten, by his pet turtle below.
When Theseus came up, the robber raised his club, and said fiercely: "No
man can pass here until he has washed my feet! Come, set to work!"
Then Theseus smiled, and said: "Is your turtle hungry to-day? and do you
want me to feed him?" The robber's eyes flashed fire, and he said, "You
shall feed him, but you shall wash my feet first;" and with that he
brandished his club in the air and rushed forward to strike.
But Theseus was ready for him. With the iron club which he had taken
from Club-carrier in the forest he met the blow midway, and the robber's
weapon was knocked out of his hands and sent spinning away over the edge
of the cliff. Then Sciron, black with rage, tried to grapple with him;
but Theseus was too quick for that. He dropped his club and seized
Sciron by the throat; he pushed him back against the ledge on which he
had been sitting; he threw him sprawling upon the sharp rocks, and held
him there, hanging half way over the cliff.
"Enough! enough!" cried the robber. "Let me up, and you may pass on your
"It is not enough," said Theseus; and he drew his sword and sat down by
the side of the spring. "You must wash my feet now. Come, set to work!"
Then Sciron, white with fear, washed his feet.
"And now," said Theseus, when the task was ended, "as you have done unto
others, so will I do unto you."
There was a scream in mid air which the mountain eagles answered from
above; there was a great splashing in the water below, and the turtle
fled in terror from its lurking place. Then the sea cried out: "I will
have naught to do with so vile a wretch!" and a great wave cast the body
of Sciron out upon the shore. But it had no sooner touched the ground
than the land cried out: "I will have naught to do with so vile a
wretch!" and there was a sudden earthquake, and the body of Sciron was
thrown back into the sea. Then the sea waxed furious, a raging storm
arose, the waters were lashed into foam, and the waves with one mighty
effort threw the detested body high into the air; and there it would
have hung unto this day had not the air itself disdained to give it
lodging and changed it into a huge black rock. And this rock, which men
say is the body of Sciron, may still be seen, grim, ugly, and desolate;
and one third of it lies in the sea, one third is embedded in the sandy
shore, and one third is exposed to the air.
IV. WRESTLER AND WRONG-DOER.
Keeping the sea always in view, Theseus went onward a long day's journey
to the north and east; and he left the rugged mountains behind and came
down into the valleys and into a pleasant plain where there were sheep
and cattle pasturing and where there were many fields of ripening
grain. The fame of his deeds had gone before him, and men and women
came crowding to the roadside to see the hero who had slain Club-carrier
and Pine-bender and grim old Sciron of the cliff.
"Now we shall live in peace," they cried; "for the robbers who devoured
our flocks and our children are no more."
Then Theseus passed through the old town of Megara, and followed the
shore of the bay towards the sacred city of Eleusis.
"Do not go into Eleusis, but take the road which leads round it through
the hills," whispered a poor man who was carrying a sheep to market.
"Why shall I do that?" asked Theseus.
"Listen, and I will tell you," was the answer. "There is a king in
Eleusis whose name is Cercyon, and he is a great wrestler. He makes
every stranger who comes into the city wrestle with him; and such is the
strength of his arms that when he has overcome a man he crushes the life
out of his body. Many travelers come to Eleusis, but no one ever goes
"But I will both come and go away," said Theseus; and with his club upon
his shoulder, he strode onward into the sacred city.
"Where is Cercyon, the wrestler?" he asked of the warden at the gate.
"The king is dining in his marble palace," was the answer. "If you wish
to save yourself, turn now and flee before he has heard of your coming."
"Why should I flee?" asked Theseus. "I am not afraid;" and he walked on
through the narrow street to old Cercyon's palace.
The king was sitting at his table, eating and drinking; and he grinned
hideously as he thought of the many noble young men whose lives he had
destroyed. Theseus went up boldly to the door, and cried out:
"Cercyon, come out and wrestle with me!"
"Ah!" said the king, "here comes another young fool whose days are
numbered. Fetch him in and let him dine with me; and after that he shall
have his fill of wrestling."
So Theseus was given a place at the table of the king, and the two sat
there and ate and stared at each other, but spoke not a word. And
Cercyon, as he looked at the young man's sharp eyes and his fair face
and silken hair, had half a mind to bid him go in peace and seek not to
test his strength and skill. But when they had finished, Theseus arose
and laid aside his sword and his sandals and his iron club, and stripped
himself of his robes, and said:
"Come now, Cercyon, if you are not afraid; come, and wrestle with me."
Then the two went out into the courtyard where many a young man had met
his fate, and there they wrestled until the sun went down, and neither
could gain aught of advantage over the other. But it was plain that the
trained skill of Theseus would, in the end, win against the brute
strength of Cercyon. Then the men of Eleusis who stood watching the
contest, saw the youth lift the giant king bodily into the air and hurl
him headlong over his shoulder to the hard pavement beyond.
"As you have done to others, so will I do unto you!" cried Theseus.
But grim old Cercyon neither moved nor spoke; and when the youth turned
his body over and looked into his cruel face, he saw that the life had
quite gone out of him.
Then the people of Eleusis came to Theseus and wanted to make him their
king. "You have slain the tyrant who was the bane of Eleusis," they
said, "and we have heard how you have also rid the world of the giant
robbers who were the terror of the land. Come now and be our king; for
we know that you will rule over us wisely and well."
"Some day," said Theseus, "I will be your king, but not now; for there
are other deeds for me to do." And with that he donned his sword and
his sandals and his princely cloak, and threw his great iron club upon
his shoulder, and went out of Eleusis; and all the people ran after him
for quite a little way, shouting, "May good fortune be with you, O king,
and may Athena bless and guide you!"
V. PROCRUSTES THE PITILESS.
Athens was now not more than twenty miles away, but the road thither led
through the Parnes Mountains, and was only a narrow path winding among
the rocks and up and down many a lonely wooded glen. Theseus had seen
worse and far more dangerous roads than this, and so he strode bravely
onward, happy in the thought that he was so near the end of his long
journey. But it was very slow traveling among the mountains, and he was
not always sure that he was following the right path. The sun was almost
down when he came to a broad green valley where the trees had been
cleared away. A little river flowed through the middle of this valley,
and on either side were grassy meadows where cattle were grazing; and on
a hillside close by, half hidden among the trees, there was a great
stone house with vines running over its walls and roof.
While Theseus was wondering who it could be that lived in this pretty
but lonely place, a man came out of the house and hurried down to the
road to meet him. He was a well-dressed man, and his face was wreathed
with smiles; and he bowed low to Theseus and invited him kindly to come
up to the house and be his guest that night.
"This is a lonely place," he said, "and it is not often that travelers
pass this way. But there is nothing that gives me so much joy as to find
strangers and feast them at my table and hear them tell of the things
they have seen and heard. Come up, and sup with me, and lodge under my
roof; and you shall sleep on a wonderful bed which I have--a bed which
fits every guest and cures him of every ill."
Theseus was pleased with the man's ways, and as he was both hungry and
tired, he went up with him and sat down under the vines by the door; and
the man said:
"Now I will go in and make the bed ready for you, and you can lie down
upon it and rest; and later, when you feel refreshed, you shall sit at
my table and sup with me, and I will listen to the pleasant tales which
I know you will tell."
When he had gone into the house, Theseus looked around him to see what
sort of a place it was. He was filled with surprise at the richness of
it--at the gold and silver and beautiful things with which every room
seemed to be adorned--for it was indeed a place fit for a prince. While
he was looking and wondering, the vines before him were parted and the
fair face of a young girl peeped out.
"Noble stranger," she whispered, "do not lie down on my master's bed,
for those who do so never rise again. Fly down the glen and hide
yourself in the deep woods ere he returns, or else there will be no
escape for you."
"Who is your master, fair maiden, that I should be afraid of him?" asked
"Men call him Procrustes, or the Stretcher," said the girl--and she
talked low and fast. "He is a robber. He brings hither all the strangers
that he finds traveling through the mountains. He puts them on his iron
bed. He robs them of all they have. No one who comes into his house ever
goes out again."
"Why do they call him the Stretcher? And what is that iron bed of his?"
asked Theseus, in no wise alarmed.
"Did he not tell you that it fits all guests?" said the girl; "and most
truly it does fit them. For if a traveler is too long, Procrustes hews
off his legs until he is of the right length; but if he is too short, as
is the case with most guests, then he stretches his limbs and body with
ropes until he is long enough. It is for this reason that men call him
"Methinks that I have heard of this Stretcher before," said Theseus; and
then he remembered that some one at Eleusis had warned him to beware of
the wily robber, Procrustes, who lurked in the glens of the Parnes peaks
and lured travelers into his den.
"Hark! hark!" whispered the girl. "I hear him coming!" And the vine
leaves closed over her hiding-place.
The very next moment Procrustes stood in the door, bowing and smiling as
though he had never done any harm to his fellow men.
"My dear young friend," he said, "the bed is ready, and I will show you
the way. After you have taken a pleasant little nap, we will sit down at
table, and you may tell me of the wonderful things which you have seen
in the course of your travels."
Theseus arose and followed his host; and when they had come into an
inner chamber, there, surely enough, was the bedstead, of iron, very
curiously wrought, and upon it a soft couch which seemed to invite him
to lie down and rest. But Theseus, peering about, saw the ax and the
ropes with cunning pulleys lying hidden behind the curtains; and he saw,
too, that the floor was covered with stains of blood.
"Now, my dear young friend," said Procrustes, "I pray you to lie down
and take your ease; for I know that you have traveled far and are faint
from want of rest and sleep. Lie down, and while sweet slumber overtakes
you, I will have a care that no unseemly noise, nor buzzing fly, nor
vexing gnat disturbs your dreams."
"Is this your wonderful bed?" asked Theseus.
"It is," answered Procrustes, "and you need but to lie down upon it, and
it will fit you perfectly."
"But you must lie upon it first," said Theseus, "and let me see how it
will fit itself to your stature."
"Ah, no," said Procrustes, "for then the spell would be broken," and as
he spoke his cheeks grew ashy pale.
"But I tell you, you must lie upon it," said Theseus; and he seized the
trembling man around the waist and threw him by force upon the bed. And
no sooner was he prone upon the couch than curious iron arms reached out
and clasped his body in their embrace and held him down so that he could
not move hand or foot. The wretched man shrieked and cried for mercy;
but Theseus stood over him and looked him straight in the eye.
"Is this the kind of bed on which you have your guests lie down?" he
But Procrustes answered not a word. Then Theseus brought out the ax and
the ropes and the pulleys, and asked him what they were for, and why
they were hidden in the chamber. He was still silent, and could do
nothing now but tremble and weep.
"Is it true," said Theseus, "that you have lured hundreds of travelers
into your den only to rob them? Is it true that it is your wont to
fasten them in this bed, and then chop off their legs or stretch them
out until they fit the iron frame? Tell me, is this true?"
"It is true! it is true!" sobbed Procrustes; "and now kindly touch the
spring above my head and let me go, and you shall have everything that I
But Theseus turned away. "You are caught," he said, "in the trap which
you set for others and for me. There is no mercy for the man who shows
no mercy;" and he went out of the room, and left the wretch to perish by
his own cruel device.
Theseus looked through the house and found there great wealth of gold
and silver and costly things which Procrustes had taken from the
strangers who had fallen into his hands. He went into the dining hall,
and there indeed was the table spread with a rich feast of meats and
drinks and delicacies such as no king would scorn; but there was a seat
and a plate for only the host, and none at all for guests.
Then the girl whose fair face Theseus had seen among the vines, came