Part 4 out of 4
his face, he spoke as follows:
"What would you do, brave Jason," asked he, "if there were a
man in the world, by whom, as you had reason to believe, you
were doomed to be ruined and slain--what would you do, I say,
if that man stood before you, and in your power?"
When Jason saw the malice and wickedness which King Pelias
could not prevent from gleaming out of his eyes, he probably
guessed that the king had discovered what he came for, and that
he intended to turn his own words against himself. Still he
scorned to tell a falsehood. Like an upright and honorable
prince as he was, he determined to speak out the real truth.
Since the king had chosen to ask him the question, and since
Jason had promised him an answer, there was no right way save
to tell him precisely what would be the most prudent thing to
do, if he had his worst enemy in his power.
Therefore, after a moment's consideration, he spoke up, with a
firm and manly voice.
"I would send such a man," said he, "in quest of the Golden
This enterprise, you will understand, was, of all others, the
most difficult and dangerous in the world. In the first place
it would be necessary to make a long voyage through unknown
seas. There was hardly a hope, or a possibility, that any young
man who should undertake this voyage would either succeed in
obtaining the Golden Fleece, or would survive to return home,
and tell of the perils he had run. The eyes of King Pelias
sparkled with joy, therefore, when he heard Jason's reply.
"Well said, wise man with the one sandal!" cried he. "Go, then,
and at the peril of your life, bring me back the Golden
"I go," answered Jason, composedly. "If I fail, you need not
fear that I will ever come back to trouble you again. But if I
return to Iolchos with the prize, then, King Pelias, you must
hasten down from your lofty throne, and give me your crown and
"That I will," said the king, with a sneer. "Meantime, I will
keep them very safely for you."
The first thing that Jason thought of doing, after he left the
king's presence, was to go to Dodona, and inquire of the
Talking Oak what course it was best to pursue. This wonderful
tree stood in the center of an ancient wood. Its stately trunk
rose up a hundred feet into the air, and threw a broad and
dense shadow over more than an acre of ground. Standing beneath
it, Jason looked up among the knotted branches and green
leaves, and into the mysterious heart of the old tree, and
spoke aloud, as if he were addressing some person who was
hidden in the depths of the foliage.
"What shall I do," said he, "in order to win the Golden
At first there was a deep silence, not only within the shadow
of the Talking Oak, but all through the solitary wood. In a
moment or two, however, the leaves of the oak began to stir and
rustle, as if a gentle breeze were wandering amongst them,
although the other trees of the wood were perfectly still. The
sound grew louder, and became like the roar of a high wind. By
and by, Jason imagined that he could distinguish words, but
very confusedly, because each separate leaf of the tree seemed
to be a tongue, and the whole myriad of tongues were babbling
at once. But the noise waxed broader and deeper, until it
resembled a tornado sweeping through the oak, and making one
great utterance out of the thousand and thousand of little
murmurs which each leafy tongue had caused by its rustling. And
now, though it still had the tone of a mighty wind roaring
among the branches, it was also like a deep bass voice,
speaking as distinctly as a tree could be expected to speak,
the following words:
"Go to Argus, the shipbuilder, and bid him build a galley with
Then the voice melted again into the indistinct murmur of the
rustling leaves, and died gradually away. When it was quite
gone, Jason felt inclined to doubt whether he had actually
heard the words, or whether his fancy had not shaped them out
of the ordinary sound made by a breeze, while passing through
the thick foliage of the tree.
But on inquiry among the people of Iolchos, he found that there
was really a man in the city, by the name of Argus, who was a
very skilful builder of vessels. This showed some intelligence
in the oak; else how should it have known that any such person
existed? At Jason's request, Argus readily consented to build
him a galley so big that it should require fifty strong men to
row it; although no vessel of such a size and burden had
heretofore been seen in the world. So the head carpenter and
all his journeymen and apprentices began their work; and for a
good while afterwards, there they were, busily employed, hewing
out the timbers, and making a great clatter with their hammers;
until the new ship, which was called the Argo, seemed to be
quite ready for sea. And, as the Talking Oak had already given
him such good advice, Jason thought that it would not be amiss
to ask for a little more. He visited it again, therefore, and
standing beside its huge, rough trunk, inquired what he should
This time, there was no such universal quivering of the leaves,
throughout the whole tree, as there had been before. But after
a while, Jason observed that the foliage of a great branch
which stretched above his head had begun to rustle, as if the
wind were stirring that one bough, while all the other boughs
of the oak were at rest.
"Cut me off!" said the branch, as soon as it could speak
distinctly; "cut me off! cut me off! and carve me into a
figure-head for your galley."
Accordingly, Jason took the branch at its word, and lopped it
off the tree. A carver in the neighborhood engaged to make the
figurehead. He was a tolerably good workman, and had already
carved several figure-heads, in what he intended for feminine
shapes, and looking pretty much like those which we see
nowadays stuck up under a vessel's bowsprit, with great staring
eyes, that never wink at the dash of the spray. But (what was
very strange) the carver found that his hand was guided by some
unseen power, and by a skill beyond his own, and that his tools
shaped out an image which he had never dreamed of. When the
work was finished, it turned out to be the figure of a
beautiful woman, with a helmet on her head, from beneath which
the long ringlets fell down upon her shoulders. On the left arm
was a shield, and in its center appeared a lifelike
representation of the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. The
right arm was extended, as if pointing onward. The face of this
wonderful statue, though not angry or forbidding, was so grave
and majestic, that perhaps you might call it severe; and as for
the mouth, it seemed just ready to unclose its lips, and utter
words of the deepest wisdom.
Jason was delighted with the oaken image, and gave the carver
no rest until it was completed, and set up where a figure-head
has always stood, from that time to this, in the vessel's prow.
"And now," cried he, as he stood gazing at the calm, majestic
face of the statue, "I must go to the Talking Oak and inquire
what next to do."
"There is no need of that, Jason," said a voice which, though
it was far lower, reminded him of the mighty tones of the great
oak. "When you desire good advice, you can seek it of me."
Jason had been looking straight into the face of the image when
these words were spoken. But he could hardly believe either his
ears or his eyes. The truth was, however, that the oaken lips
had moved, and, to all appearance, the voice had proceeded from
the statue's mouth. Recovering a little from his surprise,
Jason bethought himself that the image had been carved out of
the wood of the Talking Oak, and that, therefore, it was really
no great wonder, but on the contrary, the most natural thing in
the world, that it should possess the faculty of speech. It
would have been very odd, indeed, if it had not. But certainly
it was a great piece of good fortune that he should be able to
carry so wise a block of wood along with him in his perilous
"Tell me, wondrous image," exclaimed Jason, --"since you
inherit the wisdom of the Speaking Oak of Dodona, whose
daughter you are,--tell me, where shall I find fifty bold
youths, who will take each of them an oar of my galley? They
must have sturdy arms to row, and brave hearts to encounter
perils, or we shall never win the Golden Fleece."
"Go," replied the oaken image, "go, summon all the heroes of
And, in fact, considering what a great deed was to be done,
could any advice be wiser than this which Jason received from
the figure-head of his vessel? He lost no time in sending
messengers to all the cities, and making known to the whole
people of Greece, that Prince Jason, the son of King Jason, was
going in quest of the Fleece of Gold, and that he desired the
help of forty-nine of the bravest and strongest young men
alive, to row his vessel and share his dangers. And Jason
himself would be the fiftieth.
At this news, the adventurous youths, all over the country,
began to bestir themselves. Some of them had already fought
with giants, and slain dragons; and the younger ones, who had
not yet met with such good fortune, thought it a shame to have
lived so long without getting astride of a flying serpent, or
sticking their spears into a Chimaera, or, at least, thrusting
their right arms down a monstrous lion's throat. There was a
fair prospect that they would meet with plenty of such
adventures before finding the Golden Fleece. As soon as they
could furbish up their helmets and shields, therefore, and gird
on their trusty swords, they came thronging to Iolchos, and
clambered on board the new galley. Shaking hands with Jason,
they assured him that they did not care a pin for their lives,
but would help row the vessel to the remotest edge of the
world, and as much farther as he might think it best to go.
Many of these brave fellows had been educated by Chiron, the
four-footed pedagogue, and were therefore old schoolmates of
Jason, and knew him to be a lad of spirit. The mighty Hercules,
whose shoulders afterwards upheld the sky, was one of them. And
there were Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers, who were never
accused of being chicken-hearted, although they had been
hatched out of an egg; and Theseus, who was so renowned for
killing the Minotaur, and Lynceus, with his wonderfully sharp
eyes, which could see through a millstone, or look right down
into the depths of the earth, and discover the treasures that
were there; and Orpheus, the very best of harpers, who sang and
played upon his lyre so sweetly, that the brute beasts stood
upon their hind legs, and capered merrily to the music. Yes,
and at some of his more moving tunes, the rocks bestirred their
moss-grown bulk out of the ground, and a grove of forest trees
uprooted themselves, and, nodding their tops to one another,
performed a country dance.
One of the rowers was a beautiful young woman, named Atalanta.
who had been nursed among the mountains by a bear. So light of
foot was this fair damsel, that she could step from one foamy
crest of a wave to the foamy crest of another, without wetting
more than the sole of her sandal. She had grown up in a very
wild way, and talked much about the rights of women, and loved
hunting and war far better than her needle. But in my opinion,
the most remarkable of this famous company were two sons of the
North Wind (airy youngsters, and of rather a blustering
disposition) who had wings on their shoulders, and, in case of
a calm, could puff out their cheeks, and blow almost as fresh a
breeze as their father. I ought not to forget the prophets and
conjurors, of whom there were several in the crew, and who
could foretell what would happen to-morrow or the next day, or
a hundred years hence, but were generally quite unconscious of
what was passing at the moment.
Jason appointed Tiphys to be helmsman because he was a
star-gazer, and knew the points of the compass. Lynceus, on
account of his sharp sight, was stationed as a look-out in the
prow, where he saw a whole day's sail ahead, but was rather apt
to overlook things that lay directly under his nose. If the sea
only happened to be deep enough, however, Lynceus could tell
you exactly what kind of rocks or sands were at the bottom of
it; and he often cried out to his companions, that they were
sailing over heaps of sunken treasure, which yet he was none
the richer for beholding. To confess the truth, few people
believed him when he said it.
Well! But when the Argonauts, as these fifty brave adventurers
were called, had prepared everything for the voyage, an
unforeseen difficulty threatened to end it before it was begun.
The vessel, you must understand, was so long, and broad, and
ponderous, that the united force of all the fifty was
insufficient to shove her into the water. Hercules, I suppose,
had not grown to his full strength, else he might have set her
afloat as easily as a little boy launches his boat upon a
puddle. But here were these fifty heroes, pushing, and
straining, and growing red in the face, without making the Argo
start an inch. At last, quite wearied out, they sat themselves
down on the shore exceedingly disconsolate, and thinking that
the vessel must be left to rot and fall in pieces, and that
they must either swim across the sea or lose the Golden Fleece.
All at once, Jason bethought himself of the galley's miraculous
"O, daughter of the Talking Oak," cried he, "how shall we set
to work to get our vessel into the water?"
"Seat yourselves," answered the image (for it had known what
had ought to be done from the very first, and was only waiting
for the question to be put),--" seat yourselves, and handle
your oars, and let Orpheus play upon his harp."
Immediately the fifty heroes got on board, and seizing their
oars, held them perpendicularly in the air, while Orpheus (who
liked such a task far better than rowing) swept his fingers
across the harp. At the first ringing note of the music, they
felt the vessel stir. Orpheus thrummed away briskly, and the
galley slid at once into the sea, dipping her prow so deeply
that the figure-head drank the wave with its marvelous lips,
and rising again as buoyant as a swan. The rowers plied their
fifty oars; the white foam boiled up before the prow; the water
gurgled and bubbled in their wake; while Orpheus continued to
play so lively a strain of music, that the vessel seemed to
dance over the billows by way of keeping time to it. Thus
triumphantly did the Argo sail out of the harbor, amidst the
huzzas and good wishes of everybody except the wicked old
Pelias, who stood on a promontory, scowling at her, and wishing
that he could blow out of his lungs the tempest of wrath that
was in his heart, and so sink the galley with all on board.
When they had sailed above fifty miles over the sea, Lynceus
happened to cast his sharp eyes behind, and said that there was
this bad-hearted king, still perched upon the promontory, and
scowling so gloomily that it looked like a black thunder-cloud
in that quarter of the horizon.
In order to make the time pass away more pleasantly during the
voyage, the heroes talked about the Golden Fleece. It
originally belonged, it appears, to a Boeotian ram, who had
taken on his back two children, when in danger of their lives,
and fled with them over land and sea as far as Colchis. One of
the children, whose name was Helle, fell into the sea and was
drowned. But the other (a little boy, named Phrixus) was
brought safe ashore by the faithful ram, who, however, was so
exhausted that he immediately lay down and died. In memory of
this good deed, and as a token of his true heart, the fleece of
the poor dead ram was miraculously changed to gold, and became
one of the most beautiful objects ever seen on earth. It was
hung upon a tree in a sacred grove, where it had now been kept
I know not how many years, and was the envy of mighty kings,
who had nothing so magnificent in any of their palaces.
If I were to tell you all the adventures of the Argonauts, it
would take me till nightfall, and perhaps a great deal longer.
There was no lack of wonderful events, as you may judge from
what you have already heard. At a certain island, they were
hospitably received by King Cyzicus, its sovereign, who made a
feast for them, and treated them like brothers. But the
Argonauts saw that this good king looked downcast and very much
troubled, and they therefore inquired of him what was the
matter. King Cyzicus hereupon informed them that he and his
subjects were greatly abused and incommoded by the inhabitants
of a neighboring mountain, who made war upon them, and killed
many people, and ravaged the country. And while they were
talking about it, Cyzicus pointed to the mountain, and asked
Jason and his companions what they saw there.
"I see some very tall objects," answered Jason; "but they are
at such a distance that I cannot distinctly make out what they
are. To tell your majesty the truth, they look so very
strangely that I am inclined to think them clouds, which have
chanced to take something like human shapes."
"I see them very plainly," remarked Lynceus, whose eyes, you
know, were as far-sighted as a telescope. "They are a band of
enormous giants, all of whom have six arms apiece, and a club,
a sword, or some other weapon in each of their hands."
"You have excellent eyes," said King Cyzicus. "Yes; they are
six-armed giants, as you say, and these are the enemies whom I
and my subjects have to contend with."
The next day, when the Argonauts were about setting sail, down
came these terrible giants, stepping a hundred yards at a
stride, brandishing their six arms apiece, and looking
formidable, so far aloft in the air. Each of these monsters was
able to carry on a whole war by himself, for with one arm he
could fling immense stones, and wield a club with another, and
a sword with a third, while the fourth was poking a long spear
at the enemy, and the fifth and sixth were shooting him with a
bow and arrow. But, luckily, though the giants were so huge,
and had so many arms, they had each but one heart, and that no
bigger nor braver than the heart of an ordinary man. Besides,
if they had been like the hundred-armed Briareus, the brave
Argonauts would have given them their hands full of fight.
Jason and his friends went boldly to meet them, slew a great
many, and made the rest take to their heels, so that if the
giants had had six legs apiece instead of six arms, it would
have served them better to run away with.
Another strange adventure happened when the voyagers came to
Thrace, where they found a poor blind king, named Phineus,
deserted by his subjects, and living in a very sorrowful way,
all by himself: On Jason's inquiring whether they could do him
any service, the king answered that he was terribly tormented
by three great winged creatures, called Harpies, which had the
faces of women, and the wings, bodies, and claws of vultures.
These ugly wretches were in the habit of snatching away his
dinner, and allowed him no peace of his life. Upon hearing
this, the Argonauts spread a plentiful feast on the sea-shore,
well knowing, from what the blind king said of their
greediness, that the Harpies would snuff up the scent of the
victuals, and quickly come to steal them away. And so it turned
out; for, hardly was the table set, before the three hideous
vulture women came flapping their wings, seized the food in
their talons, and flew off as fast as they could. But the two
sons of the North Wind drew their swords, spread their pinions,
and set off through the air in pursuit of the thieves, whom
they at last overtook among some islands, after a chase of
hundreds of miles. The two winged youths blustered terribly at
the Harpies (for they had the rough temper of their father),
and so frightened them with their drawn swords, that they
solemnly promised never to trouble King Phineus again.
Then the Argonauts sailed onward and met with many other
marvelous incidents, any one of which would make a story by
itself. At one time they landed on an island, and were reposing
on the grass, when they suddenly found themselves assailed by
what seemed a shower of steel-headed arrows. Some of them stuck
in the ground, while others hit against their shields, and
several penetrated their flesh. The fifty heroes started up,
and looked about them for the hidden enemy, but could find
none, nor see any spot, on the whole island, where even a
single archer could lie concealed. Still, however, the
steel-headed arrows came whizzing among them; and, at last,
happening to look upward, they beheld a large flock of birds,
hovering and wheeling aloft, and shooting their feathers down
upon the Argonauts. These feathers were the steel-headed arrows
that had so tormented them. There was no possibility of making
any resistance; and the fifty heroic Argonauts might all have
been killed or wounded by a flock of troublesome birds, without
ever setting eyes on the Golden Fleece, if Jason had not
thought of asking the advice of the oaken image.
So he ran to the galley as fast as his legs would carry him.
"O, daughter of the Speaking Oak," cried he, all out of breath,
"we need your wisdom more than ever before! We are in great
peril from a flock of birds, who are shooting us with their
steel-pointed feathers. What can we do to drive them away?"
"Make a clatter on your shields," said the image.
On receiving this excellent counsel, Jason hurried back to his
companions (who were far more dismayed than when they fought
with the six-armed giants), and bade them strike with their
swords upon their brazen shields. Forthwith the fifty heroes
set heartily to work, banging with might and main, and raised
such a terrible clatter, that the birds made what haste they
could to get away; and though they had shot half the feathers
out of their wings, they were soon seen skimming among the
clouds, a long distance off, and looking like a flock of wild
geese. Orpheus celebrated this victory by playing a triumphant
anthem on his harp, and sang so melodiously that Jason begged
him to desist, lest, as the steel-feathered birds had been
driven away by an ugly sound, they might be enticed back again
by a sweet one.
While the Argonauts remained on this island, they saw a small
vessel approaching the shore, in which were two young men of
princely demeanor, and exceedingly handsome, as young princes
generally were, in those days. Now, who do you imagine these
two voyagers turned out to be? Why, if you will believe me,
they were the sons of that very Phrixus, who, in his childhood,
had been carried to Colchis on the back of the golden-fleeced
ram. Since that time, Phrixus had married the king's daughter;
and the two young princes had been born and brought up at
Colchis, and had spent their play-days in the outskirts of the
grove, in the center of which the Golden Fleece was hanging
upon a tree. They were now on their way to Greece, in hopes of
getting back a kingdom that had been wrongfully taken from
When the princes understood whither the Argonauts were going,
they offered to turn back, and guide them to Colchis. At the
same time, however, they spoke as if it were very doubtful
whether Jason would succeed in getting the Golden Fleece.
According to their account, the tree on which it hung was
guarded by a terrible dragon, who never failed to devour, at
one mouthful, every person who might venture within his reach.
"There are other difficulties in the way," continued the young
princes. "But is not this enough? Ah, brave Jason, turn back
before it is too late. It would grieve us to the heart, if you
and your nine and forty brave companions should be eaten up, at
fifty mouthfuls, by this execrable dragon."
"My young friends," quietly replied Jason, "I do not wonder
that you think the dragon very terrible. You have grown up from
infancy in the fear of this monster, and therefore still regard
him with the awe that children feel for the bugbears and
hobgoblins which their nurses have talked to them about. But,
in my view of the matter, the dragon is merely a pretty large
serpent, who is not half so likely to snap me up at one
mouthful as I am to cut off his ugly head, and strip the skin
from his body. At all events, turn back who may, I will never
see Greece again, unless I carry with me the Golden Fleece."
"We will none of us turn back!" cried his nine and forty brave
comrades. "Let us get on board the galley this instant; and if
the dragon is to make a breakfast of us, much good may it do
And Orpheus (whose custom it was to set everything to music)
began to harp and sing most gloriously, and made every mother's
son of them feel as if nothing in this world were so delectable
as to fight dragons, and nothing so truly honorable as to be
eaten up at one mouthful, in case of the worst.
After this (being now under the guidance of the two princes,
who were well acquainted with the way), they quickly sailed to
Colchis. When the king of the country, whose name was Aetes,
heard of their arrival, he instantly summoned Jason to court.
The king was a stern and cruel looking potentate; and though he
put on as polite and hospitable an expression as he could,
Jason did not like his face a whit better than that of the
wicked King Pelias, who dethroned his father. "You are welcome,
brave Jason," said King Aetes. "Pray, are you on a pleasure
voyage?--Or do you meditate the discovery of unknown
islands?--or what other cause has procured me the happiness of
seeing you at my court?"
"Great sir," replied Jason, with an obeisance--for Chiron had
taught him how to behave with propriety, whether to kings or
beggars--"I have come hither with a purpose which I now beg
your majesty's permission to execute. King Pelias, who sits on
my father's throne (to which he has no more right than to the
one on which your excellent majesty is now seated), has engaged
to come down from it, and to give me his crown and sceptre,
provided I bring him the Golden Fleece. This, as your majesty
is aware, is now hanging on a tree here at Colchis; and I
humbly solicit your gracious leave to take it away." In spite
of himself, the king's face twisted itself into an angry frown;
for, above all things else in the world, he prized the Golden
Fleece, and was even suspected of having done a very wicked
act, in order to get it into his own possession. It put him
into the worst possible humor, therefore, to hear that the
gallant Prince Jason, and forty-nine of the bravest young
warriors of Greece, had come to Colchis with the sole purpose
of taking away his chief treasure.
"Do you know," asked King Aetes, eyeing Jason very sternly,
"what are the conditions which you must fulfill before getting
possession of the Golden Fleece?"
"I have heard," rejoined the youth, "that a dragon lies beneath
the tree on which the prize hangs, and that whoever approaches
him runs the risk of being devoured at a mouthful."
"True," said the king, with a smile that did not look
particularly good-natured. "Very true, young man. But there are
other things as hard, or perhaps a little harder, to be done
before you can even have the privilege of being devoured by the
dragon. For example, you must first tame my two brazen-footed
and brazen-lunged bulls, which Vulcan, the wonderful
blacksmith, made for me. There is a furnace in each of their
stomachs; and they breathe such hot fire out of their mouths
and nostrils, that nobody has hitherto gone nigh them without
being instantly burned to a small, black cinder. What do you
think of this, my brave Jason?"
"I must encounter the peril," answered Jason, composedly,
"since it stands in the way of my purpose."
"After taming the fiery bulls," continued King Aetes, who was
determined to scare Jason if possible, "you must yoke them to a
plow, and must plow the sacred earth in the Grove of Mars, and
sow some of the same dragon's teeth from which Cadmus raised a
crop of armed men. They are an unruly set of reprobates, those
sons of the dragon's teeth; and unless you treat them suitably,
they will fall upon you sword in hand. You and your nine and
forty Argonauts, my bold Jason, are hardly numerous or strong
enough to fight with such a host as will spring up."
"My master Chiron," replied Jason, "taught me, long ago, the
story of Cadmus. Perhaps I can manage the quarrelsome sons of
the dragon's teeth as well as Cadmus did."
"I wish the dragon had him," muttered King Aetes to himself,
"and the four-footed pedant, his schoolmaster, into the
bargain. Why, what a foolhardy, self-conceited coxcomb he is!
We'll see what my fire-breathing bulls will do for him. Well,
Prince Jason," he continued, aloud, and as complaisantly as he
could, "make yourself comfortable for to-day, and to-morrow
morning, since you insist upon it, you shall try your skill at
While the king talked with Jason, a beautiful young woman was
standing behind the throne. She fixed her eyes earnestly upon
the youthful stranger, and listened attentively to every word
that was spoken; and when Jason withdrew from the king's
presence, this young woman followed him out of the room.
"I am the king's daughter," she said to him, "and my name is
Medea. I know a great deal of which other young princesses are
ignorant, and can do many things which they would be afraid so
much as to dream of. If you will trust to me, I can instruct
you how to tame the fiery bulls, and sow the dragon's teeth,
and get the Golden Fleece."
"Indeed, beautiful princess," answered Jason, "if you will do
me this service, I promise to be grateful to you my whole life
long."' Gazing at Medea, he beheld a wonderful intelligence in
her face. She was one of those persons whose eyes are full of
mystery; so that, while looking into them, you seem to see a
very great way, as into a deep well, yet can never be certain
whether you see into the farthest depths, or whether there be
not something else hidden at the bottom. If Jason had been
capable of fearing anything, he would have been afraid of
making this young princess his enemy; for, beautiful as she now
looked, she might, the very next instant, become as terrible as
the dragon that kept watch over the Golden Fleece.
"Princess," he exclaimed, "you seem indeed very wise and very
powerful. But how can you help me to do the things of which you
speak? Are you an enchantress?"
"Yes, Prince Jason," answered Medea, with a smile, "you have
hit upon the truth. I am an enchantress. Circe, my father's
sister, taught me to be one, and I could tell you, if I
pleased, who was the old woman with the peacock, the
pomegranate, and the cuckoo staff, whom you carried over the
river; and, likewise, who it is that speaks through the lips of
the oaken image, that stands in the prow of your galley. I am
acquainted with some of your secrets, you perceive. It is well
for you that I am favorably inclined; for, otherwise, you would
hardly escape being snapped up by the dragon."
"I should not so much care for the dragon," replied Jason, "if
I only knew how to manage the brazen-footed and fiery-lunged
"If you are as brave as I think you, and as you have need to
be," said Medea, "your own bold heart will teach you that there
is but one way of dealing with a mad bull. What it is I leave
you to find out in the moment of peril. As for the fiery breath
of these animals, I have a charmed ointment here, which will
prevent you from being burned up, and cure you if you chance to
be a little scorched."
So she put a golden box into his hand, and directed him how to
apply the perfumed unguent which it contained, and where to
meet her at midnight.
"Only be brave," added she, "and before daybreak the brazen
bulls shall be tamed."
The young man assured her that his heart would not fail him. He
then rejoined his comrades, and told them what had passed
between the princess and himself, and warned them to be in
readiness in case there might be need of their help. At the
appointed hour he met the beautiful Medea on the marble steps
of the king's palace. She gave him a basket, in which were the
dragon's teeth, just as they had been pulled out of the
monster's jaws by Cadmus, long ago. Medea then led Jason down
the palace steps, and through the silent streets of the city,
and into the royal pasture ground, where the two brazen-footed
bulls were kept. It was a starry night, with a bright gleam
along the eastern edge of the sky, where the moon was soon
going to show herself. After entering the pasture, the princess
paused and looked around.
"There they are," said she, "reposing them. selves and chewing
their fiery cuds in that farthest corner of the field. It will
be excellent sport, I assure you, when they catch a glimpse of
your figure. My father and all his court delight in nothing so
much as to see a stranger trying to yoke them, in order to come
at the Golden Fleece. It makes a holiday in Colchis whenever
such a thing happens. For my part, I enjoy it immensely. You
cannot imagine in what a mere twinkling of an eye their hot
breath shrivels a young man into a black cinder."
"Are you sure, beautiful Medea," asked Jason, "quite sure, that
the unguent in the gold box will prove a remedy against those
"If you doubt, if you are in the least afraid," said the
princess, looking him in the face by the dim starlight, "you
had better never have been born than to go a step nigher to the
But Jason had set his heart steadfastly on getting the Golden
Fleece; and I positively doubt whether he would have gone back
without it, even had he been certain of finding himself turned
into a red-hot cinder, or a handful of white ashes, the instant
he made a step farther. He therefore let go Medea's hand, and
walked boldly forward in the direction whither she had pointed.
At some distance before him he perceived four streams of fiery
vapor, regularly appearing and again vanishing, after dimly
lighting up the surrounding obscurity. These, you will
understand, were caused by the breath of the brazen bulls,
which was quietly stealing out of their four nostrils, as they
lay chewing their cuds.
At the first two or three steps which Jason made, the four
fiery streams appeared to gush out somewhat more plentifully;
for the two brazen bulls had heard his foot tramp, and were
lifting up their hot noses to snuff the air. He went a little
farther, and by the way in which the red vapor now spouted
forth, he judged that the creatures had got upon their feet.
Now he could see glowing sparks, and vivid jets of flame. At
the next step, each of the bulls made the pasture echo with a
terrible roar, while the burning breath, which they thus
belched forth, lit up the whole field with a momentary flash.
One other stride did bold Jason make; and, suddenly as a streak
of lightning, on came these fiery animals, roaring like
thunder, and sending out sheets of white flame, which so
kindled up the scene that the young man could discern every
object more distinctly than by daylight. Most distinctly of all
he saw the two horrible creatures galloping right down upon
him, their brazen hoofs rattling and ringing over the ground,
and their tails sticking up stiffly into the air, as has always
been the fashion with angry bulls. Their breath scorched the
herbage before them. So intensely hot it was, indeed, that it
caught a dry tree under which Jason was now standing, and set
it all in a light blaze. But as for Jason himself (thanks to
Medea's enchanted ointment), the white flame curled around his
body, without injuring him a jot more than if he had been made
Greatly encouraged at finding himself not yet turned into a
cinder, the young man awaited the attack of the bulls. Just as
the brazen brutes fancied themselves sure of tossing him into
the air, he caught one of them by the horn, and the other by
his screwed-up tail, and held them in a gripe like that of an
iron vice, one with his right hand, the other with his left.
Well, he must have been wonderfully strong in his arms, to be
sure. But the secret of the matter was, that the brazen bulls
were enchanted creatures, and that Jason had broken the spell
of their fiery fierceness by his bold way of handling them.
And, ever since that time, it has been the favorite method of
brave men, when danger assails them, to do what they call "
taking the bull by the horns"; and to gripe him by the tail is
pretty much the same thing--that is, to throw aside fear, and
overcome the peril by despising it. It was now easy to yoke the
bulls, and to harness them to the plow, which had lain rusting
on the ground for a great many years gone by; so long was it
before anybody could be found capable of plowing that piece of
land. Jason, I suppose, had been taught how to draw a furrow by
the good old Chiron, who, perhaps, used to allow himself to be
harnessed to the plow. At any rate, our hero succeeded
perfectly well in breaking up the greensward; and, by the time
that the moon was a quarter of her journey up the sky, the
plowed field lay before him, a large tract of black earth,
ready to be sown with the dragon's teeth. So Jason scattered
them broadcast, and harrowed them into the soil with a
brush-harrow, and took his stand on the edge of the field,
anxious to see what would happen next.
"Must we wait long for harvest time?" he inquired of Medea, who
was now standing by his side.
"Whether sooner or later, it will be sure to come," answered
the princess. "A crop of armed men never fails to spring up,
when the dragon's teeth have been sown."
The moon was now high aloft in the heavens, and threw its
bright beams over the plowed field, where as yet there was
nothing to be seen. Any farmer, on viewing it, would have said
that Jason must wait weeks before the green blades would peep
from among the clods, and whole months before the yellow grain
would be ripened for the sickle. But by and by, all over the
field, there was something that glistened in the moonbeams,
like sparkling drops of dew. These bright objects sprouted
higher, and proved to be the steel heads of spears. Then there
was a dazzling gleam from a vast number of polished brass
helmets, beneath which, as they grew farther out of the soil,
appeared the dark and bearded visages of warriors, struggling
to free themselves from the imprisoning earth. The first look
that they gave at the upper world was a glare of wrath and
defiance. Next were seen their bright breastplates; in every
right hand there was a sword or a spear, and on each left arm a
shield; and when this strange crop of warriors had but half
grown out of the earth, they struggled--such was their
impatience of restraint--and, as it were, tore themselves up by
the roots. Wherever a dragon's tooth had fallen, there stood a
man armed for battle. They made a clangor with their swords
against their shields, and eyed one another fiercely; for they
had come into this beautiful world, and into the peaceful
moonlight, full of rage and stormy passions, and ready to take
the life of every human brother, in recompense of the boon of
their own existence.
There have been many other armies in the world that seemed to
possess the same fierce nature with the one which had now
sprouted from the dragon's teeth; but these, in the moonlit
field, were the more excusable, because they never had women
for their mothers. And how it would have rejoiced any great
captain, who was bent on conquering the world, like Alexander
or Napoleon, to raise a crop of armed soldiers as easily as
Jason did! For a while, the warriors stood flourishing their
weapons, clashing their swords against their shields, and
boiling over with the red-hot thirst for battle. Then they
began to shout--"Show us the enemy! Lead us to the charge!
Death or victory!" "Come on, brave comrades! Conquer or die!"
and a hundred other outcries, such as men always bellow forth
on a battle field, and which these dragon people seemed to have
at their tongues' ends. At last, the front rank caught sight of
Jason, who, beholding the flash of so many weapons in the
moonlight, had thought it best to draw his sword. In a moment
all the sons of the dragon's teeth appeared to take Jason for
an enemy; and crying with one voice, "Guard the Golden Fleece!"
they ran at him with uplifted swords and protruded spears.
Jason knew that it would be impossible to withstand this
blood-thirsty battalion with his single arm, but determined,
since there was nothing better to be done, to die as valiantly
as if he himself had sprung from a dragon's tooth.
Medea, however, bade him snatch up a stone from the ground.
"Throw it among them quickly!" cried she. "It is the only way
to save yourself."
The armed men were now so nigh that Jason could discern the
fire flashing out of their enraged eyes, when he let fly the
stone, and saw it strike the helmet of a tall warrior, who was
rushing upon him with his blade aloft. The stone glanced from
this man's helmet to the shield of his nearest comrade, and
thence flew right into the angry face of another, hitting him
smartly between the eyes. Each of the three who had been struck
by the stone took it for granted that his next neighbor had
given him a blow; and instead of running any farther towards
Jason, they began to fight among themselves. The confusion
spread through the host, so that it seemed scarcely a moment
before they were all hacking, hewing, and stabbing at one
another, lopping off arms, heads, and legs and doing such
memorable deeds that Jason was filled with immense admiration;
although, at the same time, he could not help laughing to
behold these mighty men punishing each other for an offense
which he himself had committed. In an incredibly short space of
time (almost as short, indeed, as it had taken them to grow
up), all but one of the heroes of the dragon's teeth were
stretched lifeless on the field. The last survivor, the bravest
and strongest of the whole, had just force enough to wave his
crimson sword over his head and give a shout of exultation,
crying, "Victory! Victory! Immortal fame!" when he himself fell
down, and lay quietly among his slain brethren.
And there was the end of the army that had sprouted from the
dragon's teeth. That fierce and feverish fight was the only
enjoyment which they had tasted on this beautiful earth.
"Let them sleep in the bed of honor," said the Princess Medea,
with a sly smile at Jason. "The world will always have
simpletons enough, just like them, fighting and dying for they
know not what, and fancying that posterity will take the
trouble to put laurel wreaths on their rusty and battered
helmets. Could you help smiling, Prince Jason, to see the
self-conceit of that last fellow, just as he tumbled down?"
"It made me very sad," answered Jason, gravely. "And, to tell
you the truth, princess, the Golden Fleece does not appear so
well worth the winning, after what I have here beheld!"
"You will think differently in the morning," said Medea. "True,
the Golden Fleece may not be so valuable as you have thought
it; but then there is nothing better in the world; and one must
needs have an object, you know. Come! Your night's work has
been well performed; and to-morrow you can inform King Aetes
that the first part of your allotted task is fulfilled."
Agreeably to Medea's advice, Jason went betimes in the morning
to the palace of King Aetes. Entering the presence chamber, he
stood at the foot of the throne, and made a low obeisance.
"Your eyes look heavy, Prince Jason," observed the king; "you
appear to have spent a sleepless night. I hope you have been
considering the matter a little more wisely, and have concluded
not to get yourself scorched to a cinder, in attempting to tame
my brazen-lunged bulls."
"That is already accomplished, may it please your majesty,"
replied Jason. "The bulls have been tamed and yoked; the field
has been plowed; the dragon's teeth have been sown broadcast,
and harrowed into the soil; the crop of armed warriors have
sprung up, and they have slain one another, to the last man.
And now I solicit your majesty's permission to encounter the
dragon, that I may take down the Golden Fleece from the tree,
and depart, with my nine and forty comrades."
King Aetes scowled, and looked very angry and excessively
disturbed; for he knew that, in accordance with his kingly
promise, he ought now to permit Jason to win the Fleece, if his
courage and skill should enable him to do so. But, since the
young man had met with such good luck in the matter of the
brazen bulls and the dragon's teeth, the king feared that he
would be equally successful in slaying the dragon. And
therefore, though he would gladly have seen Jason snapped up at
a mouthful, he was resolved (and it was a very wrong thing of
this wicked potentate) not to run any further risk of losing
his beloved Fleece.
"You never would have succeeded in this business, young man,"
said he, "if my undutiful daughter Medea had not helped you
with her enchantments. Had you acted fairly, you would have
been, at this instant, a black cinder, or a handful of white
ashes. I forbid you, on pain of death, to make any more
attempts to get the Golden Fleece. To speak my mind plainly,
you shall never set eyes on so much as one of its glistening
Jason left the king's presence in great sorrow and anger. He
could think of nothing better to be done than to summon
together his forty-nine brave Argonauts, march at once to the
Grove of Mars, slay the dragon, take possession of the Golden
Fleece, get on board the Argo, and spread all sail for Iolchos.
The success of this scheme depended, it is true, on the
doubtful point whether all the fifty heroes might not be
snapped up, at so many mouthfuls, by the dragon. But, as Jason
was hastening down the palace steps, the Princess Medea called
after him, and beckoned him to return. Her black eyes shone
upon him with such a keen intelligence, that he felt as if
there were a serpent peeping out of them; and, although she had
done him so much service only the night before, he was by no
means very certain that she would not do him an equally great
mischief before sunset. These enchantresses, you must know, are
never to be depended upon.
"What says King Aetes, my royal and upright father?" inquired
Medea, slightly smiling. "Will he give you the Golden Fleece,
without any further risk or trouble?"
"On the contrary," answered Jason, "he is very angry with me
for taming the brazen bulls and sowing the dragon's teeth. And
he forbids me to make any more attempts, and positively refuses
to give up the Golden Fleece, whether I slay the dragon or no."
"Yes, Jason," said the princess, "and I can tell you more.
Unless you set sail from Colchis before to-morrow's sunrise,
the king means to burn your fifty-oared galley, and put
yourself and your forty-nine brave comrades to the sword. But
be of good courage. The Golden Fleece you shall have, if it
lies within the power of my enchantments to get it for you.
Wait for me here an hour before midnight."
At the appointed hour you might again have seen Prince Jason
and the Princess Medea, side by side, stealing through the
streets of Colchis, on their way to the sacred grove, in the
center of which the Golden Fleece was suspended to a tree.
While they were crossing the pasture ground, the brazen bulls
came towards Jason, lowing, nodding their heads, and thrusting
forth their snouts, which, as other cattle do, they loved to
have rubbed and caressed by a friendly hand. Their fierce
nature was thoroughly tamed; and, with their fierceness, the
two furnaces in their stomachs had likewise been extinguished,
insomuch that they probably enjoyed far more comfort in grazing
and chewing their cuds than ever before. Indeed, it had
heretofore been a great inconvenience to these poor animals,
that, whenever they wished to eat a mouthful of grass, the fire
out of their nostrils had shriveled it up, before they could
manage to crop it. How they contrived to keep themselves alive
is more than I can imagine. But now, instead of emitting jets
of flame and streams of sulphurous vapor, they breathed the
very sweetest of cow breath.
After kindly patting the bulls, Jason followed Medea's guidance
into the Grove of Mars, where the great oak trees, that had
been growing for centuries, threw so thick a shade that the
moonbeams struggled vainly to find their way through it. Only
here and there a glimmer fell upon the leaf-strewn earth, or
now and then a breeze stirred the boughs aside, and gave Jason
a glimpse of the sky, lest, in that deep obscurity, he might
forget that there was one, overhead. At length, when they had
gone farther and farther into the heart of the duskiness, Medea
squeezed Jason's hand.
"Look yonder," she whispered. "Do you see it?"
Gleaming among the venerable oaks, there was a radiance, not
like the moonbeams, but rather resembling the golden glory of
the setting sun. It proceeded from an object, which appeared to
be suspended at about a man's height from the ground, a little
farther within the wood.
"What is it?" asked Jason.
"Have you come so far to seek it," exclaimed Medea, "and do you
not recognize the meed of all your toils and perils, when it
glitters before your eyes? It is the Golden Fleece."
Jason went onward a few steps farther, and then stopped to
gaze. O, how beautiful it looked, shining with a marvelous
light of its own, that inestimable prize which so many heroes
had longed to behold, but had perished in the quest of it,
either by the perils of their voyage, or by the fiery breath of
the brazen- lunged bulls.
"How gloriously it shines!" cried Jason, in a rapture. "It has
surely been dipped in the richest gold of sunset. Let me hasten
onward, and take it to my bosom."
"Stay," said Medea, holding him back. "Have you forgotten what
To say the truth, in the joy of beholding the object of his
desires, the terrible dragon had quite slipped out of Jason's
memory. Soon, however, something came to pass, that reminded
him what perils were still to be encountered. An antelope, that
probably mistook the yellow radiance for sunrise, came bounding
fleetly through the grove. He was rushing straight towards the
Golden Fleece, when suddenly there was a frightful hiss, and
the immense head and half the scaly body of the dragon was
thrust forth (for he was twisted round the trunk of the tree on
which the Fleece hung), and seizing the poor antelope,
swallowed him with one snap of his jaws.
After this feat, the dragon seemed sensible that some other
living creature was within reach, on which he felt inclined to
finish his meal. In various directions he kept poking his ugly
snout among the trees, stretching out his neck a terrible long
way, now here, now there, and now close to the spot where Jason
and the princess were hiding behind an oak. Upon my word, as
the head came waving and undulating through the air, and
reaching almost within arm's length of Prince Jason, it was a
very hideous and uncomfortable sight. The gape of his enormous
jaws was nearly as wide as the gateway of the king's palace.
"Well, Jason," whispered Medea (for she was ill natured, as all
enchantresses are, and wanted to make the bold youth tremble),
"what do you think now of your prospect of winning the Golden
Jason answered only by drawing his sword, and making a step
"Stay, foolish youth," said Medea, grasping his arm. "Do not
you see you are lost, without me as your good angel? In this
gold box I have a magic potion, which will do the dragon's
business far more effectually than your sword."
The dragon had probably heard the voices; for swift as
lightning, his black head and forked tongue came hissing among
the trees again, darting full forty feet at a stretch. As it
approached, Medea tossed the contents of the gold box right
down the monster's wide-open throat. Immediately, with an
outrageous hiss and a tremendous wriggle--flinging his tail up
to the tip-top of the tallest tree, and shattering all its
branches as it crashed heavily down again--the dragon fell at
full length upon the ground, and lay quite motionless.
"It is only a sleeping potion," said the enchantress to Prince
Jason. "One always finds a use for these mischievous creatures,
sooner or later; so I did not wish to kill him outright. Quick!
Snatch the prize, and let us begone. You have won the Golden
Jason caught the fleece from the tree, and hurried through the
grove, the deep shadows of which were illuminated as he passed
by the golden glory of the precious object that he bore along.
A little way before him, he beheld the old woman whom he had
helped over the stream, with her peacock beside her. She
clapped her hands for joy, and beckoning him to make haste,
disappeared among the duskiness of the trees. Espying the two
winged sons of the North Wind (who were disporting themselves
in the moonlight, a few hundred feet aloft), Jason bade them
tell the rest of the Argonauts to embark as speedily as
possible. But Lynceus, with his sharp eyes, had already caught
a glimpse of him, bringing the Golden Fleece, although several
stone walls, a hill, and the black shadows of the Grove of
Mars, intervened between. By his advice, the heroes had seated
themselves on the benches of the galley, with their oars held
perpendicularly, ready to let fall into the water.
As Jason drew near, he heard the Talking Image calling to him
with more than ordinary eagerness, in its grave, sweet voice:
"Make haste, Prince Jason! For your life, make haste!"
With one bound, he leaped aboard. At sight of the glorious
radiance of the Golden Fleece, the nine and forty heroes gave a
mighty shout, and Orpheus, striking his harp, sang a song of
triumph, to the cadence of which the galley flew over the
water, homeward bound, as if careering along with wings!