Part 4 out of 5
through the labyrinth.
That day the youths and maidens of Athens were brought through
the labyrinth and to the hall where the Minotaur was. They went
through the passages weeping and lamenting. Some cried out for
Theseus, and some said that Theseus had deserted
them. The heavy door was opened. Then those who were with the
youths and maidens saw the Minotaur lying stark and stiff with
Theseus's sword through its neck. They shouted and blew trumpets
and the noise of their trumpets filled the labyrinth. Then they
turned back, bringing the youths and maidens with them, and a
whisper went through the whole palace that the Minotaur had been
slain. The youths and maidens were lodged in the chamber where
Minos gave his judgments.
Theseus, wearied and overcome, fell into a deep sleep by the wall
of the palace. He awakened with a feeling that the claw of the
Minotaur was upon him. There were stars in the sky above the high
palace wall, and he saw a dark-robed and ancient man standing
beside him. Theseus knew that this was Daedalus, the builder of
the palace and the labyrinth. Daedalus called and a slim youth
came Icarus, the son of Daedalus. Minos had set father and son
apart from the rest of the palace, and Theseus had come near the
place where they were confined. Icarus came and brought him to a
winding stairway and showed him a way to go.
A dark-faced servant met and looked him full in the face. Then,
as if he knew that Theseus was the one whom he had been searching
for, he led him into a little chamber where there were three
maidens. One started up and came to him quickly, and Theseus
again saw Ariadne.
She hid him in the chamber of the palace where her singing birds
were, and she would come and sit beside him, asking about his own
country and telling him that she would go with him there. "I
showed you how you might come to the Minotaur," she said, "and
you went there and you slew the monster, and now I may not stay
in my father's palace."
And Theseus thought all the time of his return, and of how he
might bring the youths and maidens of Athens back to their own
people. For Ariadne, that strange princess, was not dear to him
as Medea was dear to Jason, or Atalanta the Huntress to young
One sunset she led him to a roof of the palace and she showed him
the harbor with the ships, and she showed him the ship with the
black sail that had brought him to Knossos. She told him she
would take him aboard that ship, and that the youths and maidens
of Athens could go with them. She would bring to the master of
the ship the seal of King Minos, and the master, seeing it, would
set sail for whatever place Theseus desired to go.
Then did she become dear to Theseus because of her great
kindness, and he kissed her eyes and swore that he would not go
from the palace unless she would come with him to his own
country. The strange princess smiled and wept as if she doubted
what he said. Nevertheless, she led him from the roof and down
into one of the palace gardens. He waited there, and the youths
and maidens of Athens were led into the garden, all wearing
cloaks that hid their forms and faces. Young Icarus led them from
the grounds of the palace and down to the ships. And Ariadne went
with them, bringing with her the seal of her father, King Minos.
And when they came on board of the black-sailed ship they showed
the seal to the master, Nausitheus, and the master of the ship
let the sail take the breeze of the evening, and so Theseus went
away from Crete.
To the Island of Naxos they sailed. And when they reached that
place the master of the ship, thinking that what had been done
was not in accordance with the will of King Minos, stayed the
ship there. He waited until other ships came from Knossos. And
when they came they brought word that Minos would not slay nor
demand back Theseus nor the youths and maidens of Athens. His
daughter, Ariadne, he would have back, to reign with him over
Then Ariadne left the black-sailed ship, and went back to Crete
from Naxos. Theseus let the princess go, although he might have
struggled to hold her. But more strange than dear did Ariadne
remain to Theseus.
And all this time his father, Aegeus, stayed on the tower of his
palace, watching for the return of the ship that had sailed for
Knossos. The life of the king wasted since the departure of
Theseus, and now it was but a thread. Every day he watched for
the return of the ship, hoping against hope that Theseus
would return alive to him. Then a ship came into the harbor. It
had black sails. IF-geus did not know that Theseus was aboard of
it, and that Theseus in the hurry of his flight and in the
sadness of his parting from Ariadne had not thought of taking out
the white sail that his father had given to Nausitheus.
Joyously Theseus sailed into the harbor, having slain the
Minotaur and lifted for ever the tribute put upon Athens.
Joyously he sailed into the harbor, bringing back to their
parents the youths and maidens of Athens. But the king, his
father, saw the black sails on his ship, and straightway the
thread of his life broke, and he died on the roof of the tower
which he had built to look out on the sea.
Theseus landed on the shore of his own country. He had the ship
drawn up on the beach and he made sacrifices of thanksgiving to
the gods. Then he sent messengers to the city to announce his
return. They went toward the city, these joyful messengers, but
when they came to the gate they heard the sounds of mourning and
lamentation. The mourning and the lamentation were for the death
of the king, Theseus's father. They hurried back and they came to
Theseus where he stood on the beach. They brought a wreath of
victory for him, but as they put it into his hand they told him
of the death of his father. Then Theseus left the wreath on the
ground, and he wept for the death of Aegeus--of Aegeus, the hero,
who had left the sword under the stone for him before he was
The men and women who came to the beach wept and laughed
as they clasped in their arms the children brought back to them.
And Theseus stood there, silent and bowed; the memory of his last
moments with his father, of his fight with the Minotaur, of his
parting with Ariadne--all flowed back upon him. He stood there
with head bowed, the man who might not put upon his brows the
wreath of victory that had been brought to him.
There had come into the city a youth of great valor whose name
was Peirithous: from a far country he had come, filled with a
desire of meeting Theseus, whose fame had come to him. The youth
was in Athens at the time Theseus returned. He went down to the
beach with the townsfolk, and he saw Theseus standing alone with
his head bowed down. He went to him and he spoke, and Theseus
lifted his head and he saw before him a young man of strength and
beauty. He looked upon him, and the thought of high deeds came
into his mind again. He wanted this young man to be his comrade
in dangers and upon quests. And Peirithous looked upon Theseus,
and he felt that he was greater and nobler than he had thought.
They became friends and sworn brothers, and together they went
into far countries.
Now there was in Epirus a savage king who had a very fair
daughter. He had named this daughter Persephone, naming her thus
to show that she was held as fast by him as that other Persephone
was held who ruled in the Underworld. No man might see her, and
no man might wed her. But Peirithous had seen the daughter of
this king, and he desired above all things to take her from. her
father and make her his wife. He begged Theseus to help him enter
that king's palace and carry off the maiden.
So they came to Epirus, Theseus and Peirithous, and they entered
the king's palace, and they heard the bay of the dread hound that
was there to let no one out who had once come within the walls.
Suddenly the guards of the savage king came upon them, and they
took Theseus and Peirithous and they dragged them down into dark
Two great chairs of stone were there, and Theseus and Peirithous
were left seated in them. And the magic powers that were in the
chairs of stone were such that the heroes could not lift
themselves out of them. There they stayed, held in the great
stone chairs in the dungeons of that savage king.
Then it so happened that Heracles came into the palace of the
king. The harsh king feasted Heracles and abated his savagery
before him. But he could not forbear boasting of how he had
trapped the heroes who had come to carry off Persephone. And he
told how they could not get out of the stone chairs and how they
were held captive in his dark dungeon. Heracles listened, his
heart full of pity for the heroes from Greece who had met with
such a harsh fate. And when the king mentioned that one of the
heroes was Theseus, Heracles would feast no more with him until
he had promised that the one who had been his comrade on the Argo
would be let go.
The king said he would give Theseus his liberty if Heracles would
carry the stone chair on which he was seated out of the dungeon
and into the outer world. Then Heracles went down into the
dungeon. He found the two heroes in the great chairs of stone.
But one of them, Peirithous, no longer breathed. Heracles took
the great chair of stone that Theseus was seated in, and he
carried it up, up, from the dungeon and out into the world. It
was a heavy task even for Heracles. He broke the chair in pieces,
and Theseus stood up, released.
Thereafter the world was before Theseus. He went with Heracles,
and in the deeds that Heracles was afterward to accomplish
IV. THE LIFE AND LABORS OF HERACLES
Heracles was the son of Zeus, but he was born into the family of
a mortal king. When he was still a youth, being overwhelmed by a
madness sent upon him by one of the goddesses, he slew the
children of his brother Iphicles. Then, coming to know what he
had done, sleep and rest went from him: he went to Delphi, to the
shrine of Apollo, to be purified of his crime.
At Delphi, at the shrine of Apollo, the priestess purified him,
and when she had purified him she uttered this prophecy: "From
this day forth thy name shall be, not Alcides, but Heracles. Thou
shalt go to Eurystheus, thy cousin, in Mycenae, and serve him in
all things. When the labors he shall lay upon thee are
accomplished, and when the rest of thy life is lived out, thou
shalt become one of the immortals." Heracles, on hearing these
words, set out for Mycenae.
He stood before his cousin who hated him; he, a towering man,
stood before a king who sat there weak and trembling. And
Heracles said, "I have come to take up the labors that you will
lay upon me; speak now, Eurystheus, and tell me what you would
have me do."
Eurystheus, that weak king, looking on the young man who stood as
tall and as firm as one of the immortals, had a heart that was
filled with hatred. He lifted up his head and he said with a
"There is a lion in Nemea that is stronger and more fierce than
any lion known before. Kill that lion, and bring the lion's skin
to me that I may know that you have truly performed your task."
So Eurystheus said, and Heracles, with neither shield nor arms,
went forth from the king's palace to seek and to combat the dread
lion of Nemea.
He went on until he came into a country where the fences were
overthrown and the fields wasted and the houses empty and fallen.
He went on until he came to the waste around that land: there he
came on the trail of the lion; it led up the side
of a mountain, and Heracles, without shield or arms, followed the
He heard the roar of the lion. Looking up he saw the beast
standing at the mouth of a cavern, huge and dark against the
sunset. The lion roared three times, and then it went within the
Around the mouth were strewn the bones of creatures it had killed
and carried there. Heracles looked upon them when he came to the
cavern. He went within. Far into the cavern he went, and then he
came to where he saw the lion. It was sleeping.
Heracles viewed the terrible bulk of the lion, and then he looked
upon his own knotted hands and arms. He remembered that it was
told of him that, while still a child of eight months, he had
strangled a great serpent that had come to his cradle to devour
him. He had grown and his strength had grown too.
So he stood, measuring his strength and the size of the lion. The
breath from its mouth and nostrils came heavily to him as the
beast slept, gorged with its prey. Then the lion yawned. Heracles
sprang on it and put his great hands upon its throat. No growl
came out of its mouth, but the great eyes blazed while the
terrible paws tore at Heracles. Against the rock Heracles held
the beast; strongly he held it, choking it through the skin that
was almost impenetrable. Terribly the lion struggled; but the
strong hands of the hero held around its throat until it
struggled no more.
Then Heracles stripped off that impenetrable skin from the lion's
body; he put it upon himself for a cloak. Then, as he went
through the forest, he pulled up a young oak tree and trimmed it
and made a club for himself. With the lion's skin over him--that
skin that no spear or arrow could pierce--and carrying the club
in his hand he journeyed on until he came to the palace of King
The king, seeing coming toward him a towering man all covered
with the hide of a monstrous lion, ran and hid himself in a great
jar. He lifted the lid up to ask the servants what was the
meaning of this terrible appearance. And the servants told him
that it was Heracles come back with the skin of the lion of
Nemea. On hearing this Eurystheus hid himself again.
He would not speak with Heracles nor have him come near him, so
fearful was he. But Heracles was content to be left alone. He sat
down in the palace and feasted himself.
The servants came to the king; Eurystheus lifted the lid of the
jar and they told him how Heracles was feasting and devouring all
the goods in the palace. The king flew into a rage, but still he
was fearful of having the hero before him. He issued commands
through his heralds ordering Heracles to go forth at once and
perform the second of his tasks.
It was to slay the great water snake that made its lair in the
swamps of Lerna. Heracles stayed to feast another day, and then,
with the lion's skin across his shoulders and the great
club in his hands, he started off. But this time he did not go
alone; the boy Iolaus went with him.
Heracles and Iolaus went on until they came to the vast swamp of
Lerna. Right in the middle of the swamp was the water snake that
was called the Hydra. Nine heads it had, and it raised them up
out of the water as the hero and his companion came near. They
could not cross the swamp to come to the monster, for man or
beast would sink and be lost in it.
The Hydra remained in the middle of the swamp belching mud at the
hero and his companion. Then Heracles took up his bow and he shot
flaming arrows at its heads. It grew into such a rage that it
came through the swamp to attack him. Heracles swung his club. As
the Hydra came near he knocked head after head off its body.
But for every head knocked off two grew upon the Hydra. And as he
struggled with the monster a huge crab came out of the swamp, and
gripping Heracles by the foot tried to draw him in. Then Heracles
cried out. The boy Iolaus came; he killed the crab that had come
to the Hydra's aid.
Then Heracles laid hands upon the Hydra and drew it out of the
swamp. With his club he knocked off a head and he had Iolaus put
fire to where it had been, so that two heads might not grow in
that place. The life of the Hydra was in its middle head; that
head he had not been able to knock off with his club. Now, with
his hands he tore it off, and he placed this head under a great
stone so that it could not rise into life again. The Hydra's life
was now destroyed. Heracles dipped his arrows into the gall of
the monster, making his arrows deadly; no thing that was struck
by these arrows afterward could keep its life.
Again he came to Eurystheus's palace, and Eurystheus, seeing him,
ran again and hid himself in the jar. Heracles ordered the
servants to tell the king that he had returned and that the
second labor was accomplished.
Eurystheus, hearing from the servants that Heracles was mild in
his ways, came out of the jar. Insolently he spoke. "Twelve
labors you have to accomplish for me," said he to Heracles, "and
eleven yet remain to be accomplished."
"How?" said Heracles. "Have I not performed two of the labors?
Have I not slain the lion of Nemea and the great water snake of
"In the killing of the water snake you were helped by Iolaus,"
said the king, snapping out his words and looking at Heracles
with shifting eyes. "That labor cannot be allowed you."
Heracles would have struck him to the ground. But then he
remembered that the crime that he had committed in his madness
would have to be expiated by labors performed at the order of
this man. He looked full upon Eurystheus and he said, "Tell me of
the other labors, and I will go forth from Mycenx and accomplish
Then Eurystheus bade him go and make clean the stables of King
Augeias. Heracles came into that king's country. The smell
from the stables was felt for miles around. Countless herds of
cattle and goats had been in the stables for years, and because
of the uncleanness and the smell that came from it the crops were
withered all around. Heracles told the king that he would clean
the stables if he were given one tenth of the cattle and the
goats for a reward.
The king agreed to this reward. Then Heracles drove the cattle
and the goats out of the stables; he broke through the
foundations and he made channels for the two rivers Alpheus and
Peneius. The waters flowed through the stables, and in a day all
the uncleanness was washed away. Then Heracles turned the rivers
back into their own courses.
He was not given the reward he had bargained for, however.
He went back to Mycenae with the tale of how he had cleaned the
stables. "Ten labors remain for me to do now," he said.
"Eleven," said Eurystheus. "How can I allow the cleaning of King
Augeias's stables to you when you bargained for a reward for
Then while Heracles stood still, holding himself back from
striking him, Eurystheus ran away and hid himself in the jar.
Through his heralds he sent word to Heracles, telling him what
the other labors would be.
He was to clear the marshes of Stymphalus of the maneating birds
that gathered there; he was to capture and bring
to the king the golden-horned deer of Coryneia; he was also to
capture and bring alive to Mycenae the boar of Erymanthus.
Heracles came to the marshes of Stymphalus. The growth of jungle
was so dense that he could not cut his way through to where the
man-eating birds were; they sat upon low bushes within the
jungle, gorging themselves upon the flesh they had carried there.
For days Heracles tried to hack his way through. He could not get
to where the birds were. Then, thinking he might not be able to
accomplish this labor, he sat upon the ground in despair.
It was then that one of the immortals appeared to him; for the
first and only time he was given help from the gods.
It was Athena who came to him. She stood apart from Heracles,
holding in her hands brazen cymbals. These she clashed together.
At the sound of this clashing the Stymphalean birds rose up from
the low bushes behind the jungle. Heracles shot at them with
those unerring arrows of his. The maneating birds fell, one after
the other, into the marsh.
Then Heracles went north to where the Coryneian deer took her
pasture. So swift of foot was she that no hound nor hunter had
ever been able to overtake her. For the whole of a year Heracles
kept Golden Horns in chase, and at last, on the side of the
Mountain Artemision, he caught her. Artemis, the goddess of the
wild things, would have punished Heracles for capturing the deer,
but the hero pleaded with her, and she relented and agreed to let
him bring the deer to Mycenm and show her to King Eurystheus. And
Artemis took charge of Golden Horns while Heracles went off to
capture the Erymanthean boar.
He came to the city of Psophis, the inhabitants of which were in
deadly fear because of the ravages of the boar. Heracles made
his way up the mountain to hunt it. Now on this mountain a band
of centaurs lived, and they, knowing him since the time he had
been fostered by Chiron, welcomed Heracles. One of them, Pholus,
took Heracles to the great house where the centaurs had their
Seldom did the centaurs drink wine; a draft of it made them wild,
and so they stored it away, leaving it in the charge of one of
their band. Heracles begged Pholus to give him a draft of wine;
after he had begged again and again the centaur opened one of his
Heracles drank wine and spilled it. Then the centaurs that were
without smelt the wine and came hammering at the door, demanding
the drafts that would make them wild. Heracles came forth to
drive them away. They attacked him. Then he shot at them with his
unerring arrows and he drove them away. Up the mountain and away
to far rivers the centaurs raced, pursued by Heracles with his
One was slain, Pholus, the centaur who had entertained him. By
accident Heracles dropped a poisoned arrow on his foot. He took
the body of Pholus up to the top of the mountain and buried the
centaur there. Afterward, on the snows of Erymanthus, he set a
snare for the boar and caught him there.
Upon his shoulders he carried the boar to Mycenae and he led the
deer by her golden horns. When Eurystheus bad looked upon them
the boar was slain, but the deer was loosed and she fled back to
the Mountain Artemision.
King Eurystheus sat hidden in the great jar, and he thought of
more terrible labors he would make Heracles engage in. Now he
would send him oversea and make him strive with fierce tribes and
more dread monsters. When he had it all thought out he had
Heracles brought before him and he told him of these other
He was to go to savage Thrace and there destroy the man-eating
horses of King Diomedes; afterward he was to go amongst the dread
women, the Amazons, daughters of Ares, the god of war, and take
from their queen, Hippolyte, the girdle that Ares had given her;
then he was to go to Crete and take from the keeping of King
Minos the beautiful bull that Poseidon had given him; afterward
he was to go to the Island of Erytheia and take away from
Geryoneus, the monster that had three bodies instead of one, the
herd of red cattle that the two-headed hound Orthus kept guard
over; then he was to go to the Garden of the Hesperides, and from
that garden he was to take the golden apples that Zeus had given
to Hera for a marriage gift--where the Garden of the Hesperides
was no mortal knew.
So Heracles set out on a long and perilous quest. First he went
to Thrace, that savage land that was ruled over by Diomedes, son
of Ares, the war god. Heracles broke into the stable where the
horses were; he caught three of them by their heads, and although
they kicked and bit and trampled he forced them out of the stable
and down to the seashore, where his companion, Abderus, waited
for him. The screams of the fierce horses were heard by the men
of Thrace, and they, with their king, came after Heracles. He
left the horses in charge of Abderus while he fought the
Thracians and their savage king.
Heracles shot his deadly arrows amongst them, and then he fought
with their king. He drove them from the seashore, and then he
came back to where he had left Abderus with the fierce horses.
They had thrown Abderus upon the ground, and they were trampling
upon him. Heracles drew his bow and he shot the horses with the
unerring arrows that were dipped with the gall of the Hydra he
had slain. Screaming, the horses of King Diomedes raced toward
the sea, but one fell and another fell, and then, as it came to
the line of the foam, the third of the fierce horses fell. They
were all slain with the unerring arrows. Then Heracles took up
the body of his companion and he buried it with proper rights,
and over it he raised a column. Afterward, around that column a
city that bore the name of Heracles's friend was built.
Then toward the Euxine Sea he went. There, where the River
Themiscyra flows into the sea he saw the abodes of the Amazons.
And upon the rocks and the steep place he saw the warrior women
standing with drawn bows in their hands. Most dangerous
did they seem to Heracles. He did not know how to approach them;
he might shoot at them with his unerring arrows, but when his
arrows were all shot away, the Amazons, from their steep places,
might be able to kill him with the arrows from their bows.
While he stood at a distance, wondering what he might do, a horn
was sounded and an Amazon mounted upon a white stallion rode
toward him. When the warrior-woman came near she cried out,
"Heracles, the Queen Hippolyte permits you to come amongst the
Amazons. Enter her tent and declare to the queen what has brought
you amongst the never-conquered Amazons."
Heracles came to the tent of the queen. There stood tall
Hippolyte with an iron crown upon her head and with a beautiful
girdle of bronze and iridescent glass around her waist. Proud and
fierce as a mountain eagle looked the queen of the Amazons:
Heracles did not know in what way he might conquer her. Outside
the tent the Amazons stood; they struck their shields with their
spears, keeping up a continuous savage din.
"For what has Heracles come to the country of the Amazons?" Queen
"For the girdle you wear," said Heracles, and he held his hands
ready for the struggle.
"Is it for the girdle given me by Ares, the god of war, that you
have come, braving the Amazons, Heracles?" asked the queen.
"For that," said Heracles.
"I would not have you enter into strife with the Amazons," said
Queen Hippolyte. And so saying she drew óff the girdle of bronze
and iridescent glass, and she gave it into his hands.
Heracles took the beautiful girdle into his hands. Fearful he was
that some piece of guile was being played upon him, but then he
looked into the open eyes of the queen and he saw that she meant
no guile. He took the girdle and he put it around his great
brows; then he thanked Hippolyte and he went from the tent. He
saw the Amazons standing on the rocks and the steep places with
bows bent; unchallenged he went on, and he came to his ship and
he sailed away from that country with one more labor
The labor that followed was not dangerous. He sailed over sea and
he came to Crete, to the land that King Minos ruled over. And
there he found, grazing in a special pasture, the bull that
Poseidon had given King Minos. He laid his hands upon the bull's
horns and he struggled with him and he overthrew him. Then he
drove the bull down to the seashore.
His next labor was to take away the herd of red cattle that was
owned by the monster Geryoneus. In the Island of Erytheia, in the
middle of the Stream of Ocean, lived the monster, his herd
guarded by the two-headed hound Orthus--that hound was the
brother of Cerberus, the threeheaded hound that kept guard in the
Mounted upon the bull given Minos by Poseidon, Heracles
fared across the sea. He came even to the straits that divide
Europe from Africa, and there he set up two pillars as a memorial
of his journey--the Pillars of Heracles that stand to this day.
He and the bull rested there. Beyond him stretched the Stream of
Ocean; the Island of Erytheia was there, but Heracles thought
that the bull would not be able to bear him so far.
And there the sun beat upon him, and drew all strength away from
him, and he was dazed and dazzled by the rays of the sun. He
shouted out against the sun, and in his anger he wanted to strive
against the sun. Then he drew his bow and shot arrows upward.
Far, far out of sight the arrows of Heracles went. And the sun
god, Helios, was filled with admiration for Heracles, the man who
would attempt the impossible by shooting arrows at him; then did
Helios fling down to Heracles his great golden cup.
Down, and into the Stream of Ocean fell the great golden cup of
Helios. It floated there wide enough to hold all the men who
might be in a ship. Heracles put the bull of Minos into the cup
of Helios, and the cup bore them away, toward the west, and
across the Stream of Ocean.
Thus Heracles came to the Island of Erytheia. All over the island
straggled the red cattle of Geryoneus, grazing upon the rich
pastures. Heracles, leaving the bull of Minos in the cup, went
upon the island; he made a club for himself out of a tree and he
went toward the cattle.
The hound Orthus bayed and ran toward him; the two-headed hound
that was the brother of Cerberus sprang at Heracles with
poisonous foam upon his jaws. Heracles swung his club and
struck the two heads off the hound. And where the foam of the
hound's jaws dropped down a poisonous plant sprang up. Heracles
took up the body of the hound, and swung it around and flung it
far out into the Ocean.
Then the monster Geryoneus came upon him. Three bodies he had
instead of one; he attacked Heracles by hurling great stones at
him. Heracles was hurt by the stones. And then the monster beheld
the cup of Helios, and he began to hurl stones at the golden
thing, and it seemed that he might sink it in the sea, and leave
Heracles without a way of getting from the island. Heracles took
up his bow and he shot arrow after arrow at the monster, and he
left him dead in the deep grass of the pastures.
Then he rounded up the red cattle, the bulls and the cows, and he
drove them down to the shore and into the golden cup of Helios
where the bull of Minos stayed. Then back across the Stream of
Ocean the cup floated, and the bull of Crete and the cattle of
Geryoneus were brought past Sicily and through the straits called
the Hellespont. To Thrace, that savage land, they came. Then
Heracles took the cattle out, and the cup of Helios sank in the
sea. Through the wild lands of Thrace he drove the herd of
Geryoneus and the bull of Minos, and he came into Mycenae once
But he did not stay to speak with Eurystheus. He started off to
find the Garden of the Hesperides, the Daughters of the
Evening Land. Long did he search, but he found no one who could
tell him where the garden was. And at last he went to Chiron on
the Mountain Pelion, and Chiron told Heracles what journey he
would have to make to come to the Hesperides, the Daughters of
the Evening Land.
Far did Heracles journey; weary he was when he came to where
Atlas stood, bearing the sky upon his weary shoulders. As he came
near he felt an undreamt-of perfume being wafted toward him. So
weary was he with his journey and all his toils that he would
fain sink down and dream away in that evening land. But he roused
himself, and he journeyed on toward where the perfume came from.
Over that place a star seemed always about to rise.
He came to where a silver lattice fenced a garden that was full
of the quiet of evening. Golden bees hummed through the air, and
there was the sound of quiet waters. How wild and laborious was
the world he had come from, Heracles thought! He felt that it
would be hard for him to return to that world.
He saw three maidens. They stood with wreaths upon their heads
and blossoming branches in their hands. When the maidens saw him
they came toward him crying out: "O man who has come into the
Garden of the Hesperides, go not near the tree that the sleepless
dragon guards!" Then they went and stood by a tree as if to keep
guard over it. All around were trees that bore flowers and fruit,
but this tree had golden apples amongst its bright green leaves.
Then he saw the guardian of the tree. Beside its trunk a dragon
lay, and as Heracles came near the dragon showed its glittering
scales and its deadly claws.
The apples were within reach, but the dragon, with its glittering
scales and claws, stood in the way. Heracles shot an arrow; then
a tremor went through Ladon, the sleepless dragon; it screamed
and then lay stark. The maidens cried in their grief; Heracles
went to the tree, and he plucked the golden apples and he put
them into the pouch he carried. Down on the ground sank the
Hesperides, the Daughters of the Evening Land, and he heard their
laments as he went from the enchanted garden they had guarded.
Back from the ends of the earth came Heracles, back from the
place where Atlas stood holding the sky upon his weary shoulders.
He went back through Asia and Libya and Egypt, and he came again
to Mycenae and to the palace of Eurystheus.
He brought to the king the herd of Geryoneus; he brought to the
king the bull of Minos; he brought to the king the girdle of
Hippolyte; he brought to the king the golden apples of the
Hesperides. And King Eurystheus, with his thin white face, sat
upon his royal throne and he looked over all the wonderful things
that the hero had brought him. Not pleased was Eurystheus; rather
was he angry that one he hated could win such wonderful things.
He took into his hands the golden apples of the Hesperides. But
this fruit was not for such as he. An eagle snatched the
branch from his hand, and the eagle flew and flew until it came
to where the Daughters of the Evening Land wept in their garden.
There the eagle let fall the branch with the golden apples, and
the maidens set it back upon the tree, and behold! it grew as it
had been growing before Heracles plucked it.
The next day the heralds of Eurystheus came to Heracles and they
told him of the last labor that he would have to set out to
accomplish--this time he would have to go down into the
Underworld, and bring up from King Aidoneus's realm Cerberus, the
Heracles put upon him the impenetrable lion's skin and set forth
once more. This might indeed be the last of his life's labors:
Cerberus was not an earthly monster, and he who would struggle
with Cerberus in the Underworld would have the gods of the dead
But Heracles went on. He journeyed to the cave Tainaron, which
was an entrance to the Underworld. Far into that dismal cave he
went, and then down, down, until he came to Acheron, that dim
river that has beyond it only the people of the dead. Cerberus
bayed at him from the place where the dead cross the river.
Knowing that he was no shade, the hound sprang at Heracles, but
be could neither bite nor tear through that impenetrable lion's
skin. Heracles held him by the neck of his middle head so that
Cerberus was neither able to bite nor tear nor bellow.
Then to the brink of Acheron came Persephone, queen of the
Underworld. She declared to Heracles that the gods of the dead
would not strive against him if he promised to bring Cerberus
back to the Underworld, carrying the hound downward again as he
carried him upward.
This Heracles promised. He turned around and he carried Cerberus,
his hands around the monster's neck while foam dripped from his
jaws. He carried him on and upward toward the world of men. Out
through a cave that was in the land of Trcezen Heracles came,
still carrying Cerberus by the neck of his middle head.
From Troezen to Mycenae the hero went and men fled before him at
the sight of the monster that he carried. On he went toward the
king's palace. Eurystheus was seated outside his palace that day,
looking at the great jar that he had often hidden in, and
thinking to himself that Heracles would never appear to affright
him again. Then Heracles appeared. He called to Eurystheus, and
when the king looked up he held the hound toward him. The three
heads grinned at Eurystheus; he gave a cry and scrambled into the
jar. But before his feet touched the bottom of it Eurystheus was
dead of fear. The jar rolled over, and Heracles looked upon the
body that was all twisted with fright. Then he turned around and
made his way back to the Underworld. On the brink of Acheron he
loosed Cerberus, and the bellow of the three-headed hound was
It was then that Heracles was given arms by the gods the sword of
Hermes, the bow of Apollo, the shield made by Hephaestus; it was
then that Heracles joined the Argonauts and journeyed with them
to the edge of the Caucasus, where, slaying the vulture that
preyed upon Prometheus's liver, he, at the will of Zeus,
liberated the Titan. Thereafter Zeus and Prometheus were
reconciled, and Zeus, that neither might forget how much the
enmity between them had cost gods and men, had a ring made for
Prometheus to wear; that ring was made out of the fetter that had
been upon him, and in it was set a fragment of the rock that the
Titan had been bound to.
The Argonauts had now won back to Greece. But before he saw any
of them he had been in Oichalia, and had seen the maiden Iole.
The king of Oichalia had offered his daughter Iole in marriage to
the hero who could excel himself and his sons in shooting with
arrows. Heracles saw Iole, the blue-eyed and childlike maiden,
and he longed to take her with him to some place near the Garden
of the Hesperides. And Iole looked on him, and he knew that she
wondered to see him so tall and so strongly knit even as he
wondered to see her so childlike and delicate.
Then the contest began. The king and his sons shot wonderfully
well, and none of the heroes who stood before Heracles had a
chance of winning. Then Heracles shot his arrows. No matter how
far away they moved the mark, Heracles struck it and struck the
very center of it. The people wondered who this great archer
might be. And then a name was guessed at and went around--
When the king heard the name of Heracles he would not let him
strive in the contest any more. For the maiden Iole would not be
given as a prize to one who had been mad and whose madness might
afflict him again. So the king said, speaking in judgment in the
Rage came on Heracles when he heard this judgment given. He would
not let his rage master him lest the madness that was spoken of
should come with his rage. So he left the city of Oichalia
declaring to the king and the people that he would return.
It was then that, wandering down to Crete, he heard of the
Argonauts being near. And afterward he heard of them being in
Calydon, hunting the boar that ravaged Oeneus's country. To
Calydon Heracles went. The heroes had departed when he came into
the country, and all the city was in grief for the deaths of
Prince Meleagrus and his two uncles.
On the steps of the temple where Meleagrus and his uncles had
been brought Heracles saw Deianira, Meleagrus's sister. She was
pale with her grief, this tall woman of the mountains; she looked
like a priestess, but also like a woman who could cheer camps of
men with her counsel, her bravery, and her good companionship;
her hair was very dark and she had dark eyes.
Straightway she became friends with Heracles; and when they saw
each other for a while they loved each other. And Heracles forgot
Iole, the childlike maiden whom he had seen in Oichalia.
He made himself a suitor for Deianira, and those who protected
her were glad of Heracles's suit, and they told him they would
give him the maiden to marry as soon as the mourning for Prince
Meleagrus and his uncles was over. Heracles stayed in Calydon,
happy with Deianira, who had so much beauty, wisdom, and bravery.
But then a dreadful thing happened in Calydon; by an accident,
while using his strength unthinkingly, Heracles killed a lad who
was related to Deianira. He might not marry her now until he had
taken punishment for slaying one who was close to her in blood.
As a punishment for the slaying it was judged that Heracles
should be sold into slavery for three years. At the end of his
three years' slavery he could come back to Calydon and wed
And so Heracles and Deianira were parted. He was sold as a slave
in Lydia; the one who bought him was a woman, a widow named
Omphale. To her house Heracles went, carrying his armor and
wearing his lion's skin. And Omphale laughed to see this tall man
dressed in a lion's skin coming to her house to do a servant's
tasks for her.
She and all in her house kept up fun with Heracles. They would
set him to do housework, to carry water, and set vessels on the
tables, and clear the vessels away. Omphale set him to spin with
a spindle as the women did. And often she would put on Heracles's
lion skin and go about dragging his club, while he, dressed in
woman's garb, washed dishes and emptied pots.
But he would lose patience with these servant's tasks, and then
Omphale would let him go away and perform some great exploit.
Often he went on long journeys and stayed away for long times. It
was while he was in slavery to Omphale that he liberated Theseus
from the dungeon in which he was held with Peirithous, and it was
while he still was in slavery that he made his journey to Troy.
At Troy he helped to repair for King Laomedon the great walls
that years before Apollo and Poseidon had built around the city.
As a reward for this labor he was offered the Princess Hesione in
marriage; she was the daughter of King Laomedon, and the sister
of Priam, who was then called, not Priam but Podarces. He helped
to repair the wall, and two of the Argonauts were there to aid
him: one was Peleus and the other was Telamon. Peleus did not
stay for long: Telamon stayed, and to reward Telamon Heracles
withdrew his own claim for the hand of the Princess Hesione. It
was not hard on Heracles to do this, for his thoughts were ever
But Telamon rejoiced, for he loved Hesione greatly. On the day
they married Heracles showed the two an eagle in the sky.
He said it was sent as an omen to them--an omen for their
marriage. And in memory of that omen Telamon named his son
"Alas"; that is, "Eagle."
Then the walls of Troy were repaired and Heracles turned toward
Lydia, Omphale's home. Not long would he have to serve Omphale
now, for his three years' slavery was n arly over. Soon he would
go back to Calydon and wed Deianira.
As he went along the road to Lydia he thought of all the
pleasantries that had been made in Omphale's house and he
laughed at the memory of them. Lydia was a friendly country, and
even though he had been in slavery Heracles had had his good
He was tired with the journey and made sleepy with the heat of
the sun, and when he came within sight of Omphale's house he lay
down by the side of the road, first taking off his armor, and
laying aside his bow, his quiver, and his shield. He wakened up
to see two men looking down upon him; he knew that these were the
Cercopes, robbers who waylaid travelers upon this road. They were
laughing as they looked down on him, and Heracles saw that they
held his arms and his armor in their hands.
They thought that this man, for all his tallness, would yield to
them when he saw that they had his arms and his armor. But
Heracles sprang up, and he caught one by the waist and the other
by the neck, and he turned them upside down and tied them
together by the heels. Now he held them securely and he would
take them to the town and give them over to those whom they had
waylaid and robbed. He hung them by their heels across his
shoulders and marched on.
But the robbers, as they were being bumped along, began to relate
pleasantries and mirthful tales to each other, and Heracles,
listening, had to laugh. And one said to the other, "O my
brother, we are in the position of the frogs when the mice fell
upon them with such fury." And the other said, "Indeed nothing
can save us if Zeus does not send an ally to us as he sent an
ally to the frogs." And the first robber said, "Who began that
conflict, the frogs or the mice?" And thereupon the second
robber, his head reaching down to Heracles's waist, began:
THE BATTLE OF THE FROGS AND MICE
A warlike mouse came down to the brink of a pond for no other
reason than to take a drink of water. Up to him hopped a frog.
Speaking in the voice of one who had rule and authority, the frog
"Stranger to our shore, you may not know it, but I am Puff Jaw,
king of the frogs. I do not speak to common mice, but you, as I
judge, belong to the noble and kingly sort. Tell me your race. If
I know it to be a noble one I shall show you my kingly
The mouse, speaking haughtily, said: "I am Crumb Snatcher, and my
race is a famous one. My father is the heroic Bread Nibbler, and
he married Quern Licker, the lovely daughter of a king. Like all
my race I am a warrior who has never been wont to flinch in
battle. Moreover, I have been brought up as a mouse of high
degree, and figs and nuts, cheese and honeycakes is the provender
that I have been fed on."
Now this reply of Crumb Snatcher pleased the kingly frog greatly.
"Come with me to my abode, illustrious Crumb Snatcher," said he,
"and I shall show you such entertainment as may be found in the
house of a king."
But the mouse looked sharply at him. "How may I get to your
house?" he asked. "We live in different elements, you and I. We
mice want to be in the driest of dry places, while you frogs have
your abodes in the water."
"Ah," answered Puff jaw, "you do not know how favored the frogs
are above all other creatures. To us alone the gods have given
the power to live both in the water and on the land. I shall take
you to my land palace that is the other side of the pond."
"How may I go there with you?" asked Crumb Snatcher the mouse,
"Upon my back," said the frog. "Up now, noble Crumb Snatcher. And
as we go I will show you the wonders of the deep."
He offered his back and Crumb Snatcher bravely mounted. The mouse
put his forepaws around the frog's neck. Then Puff jaw swam out.
Crumb Snatcher at first was pleased to feel himself moving
through the water. But as the dark waves began to rise his mighty
heart began to quail. He longed to be back upon the land. He
"How quickly we get on," cried Puff Jaw; "soon we shall be at my
Heartened by this speech, Crumb Snatcher put his tail into the
water and worked it as a steering oar. On and on they went, and
Crumb Snatcher gained heart for the adventure. What a wonderful
tale he would have to tell to the clans of the mice!
But suddenly, outof the depths of the pond, a water snake raised
his horrid head. Fearsome did that head seem to both mouse and
frog. And forgetful of the guest that he carried upon his back,
Puff jaw dived down into the water. He reached the bottom of the
pond and lay on the mud in safety.
But far from safety was Crumb Snatcher the mouse. He sank and
rose, and sank again. His wet fur weighed him down. But before he
sank for the last time he lifted up his voice and cried out and
his cry was heard at the brink of the pond:
"Ah, Puff Jaw, treacherous frog! An evil thing you have done,
leaving me to drown in the middle of the pond. Had you faced me
on the land I should have shown you which of us two was the
better warrior. Now I must lose my life in the water. But I tell
you my death shall not go unavenged--the cowardly frogs will be
punished for the ill they have done to me who am the son of the
king of the mice."
Then Crumb Snatcher sank for the last time. But Lick Platter, who
was at the brink of the pond, had heard his words. Straightway
this mouse rushed to the hole of Bread Nibbler and told him of
the death of his princely son.
Bread Nibbler called out the clans of the mice. The warrior mice
armed themselves, and this was the grand way of their arming:
First, the mice put on greaves that covered their forelegs. These
they made out of bean shells broken in two. For shield, each had
a lamp's centerpiece. For spears they had the long bronze needles
that they had carried out of the houses of men. So armed and so
accoutered they were ready to war upon the frogs. And Bread
Nibbler, their king, shouted to them: "Fall upon the cowardly
frogs, and leave not one alive upon the bank of the pond.
Henceforth that bank is ours, and ours only. Forward! "
And, on the other side, Puff jaw was urging the frogs to battle.
"Let us take our places on the edge of the pond," he said, "and
when the mice come amongst us, let each catch hold of one and
throw him into the pond. Thus we will get rid of these dry bobs,
The frogs applauded the speech of their king, and straightway
they went to their armor and their weapons. Their legs they
covered with the leaves of mallow. For breastplates they had the
leaves of beets. Cabbage leaves, well cut, made their strong
shields. They took their spears from the pond side--deadly
pointed rushes they were, and they placed upon their heads
helmets that were empty snail shells. So armed and so accoutered
they were ready to meet the grand attack of the mice.
When the robber came to this part of the story Heracles halted
his march, for he was shaking with laughter. The robber stopped
in his story. Heracles slapped him on the leg and said: "What
more of the heroic exploits of the mice?" The second robber said,
"I know no more, but perhaps my brother at the other side of you
can tell you of the mighty combat between them and the frogs."
Then Heracles shifted the first robber from his back to his
front, and the first robber said: "I will tell you what I know
about the heroical combat between the frogs and the mice." And
thereupon he began:
The gnats blew their trumpets. This was the dread signal for war.
Bread Nibbler struck the first blow. He fell upon Loud Crier the
frog, and overthrew him. At this Loud Crier's friend, Reedy,
threw down spear and shield and dived into the water. This seemed
to presage victory for the mice. But then Water Larker, the most
warlike of the frogs, took up a great pebble and flung it at Ham
Nibbler who was then pursuing Reedy. Down fell Ham Nibbler, and
there was dismay in the ranks of the mice.
Then Cabbage Climber, a great-hearted frog, took up a clod
of mud and flung it full at a mouse that was coming furiously
upon him. That mouse's helmet was knocked off and his forehead
was plastered with the clod of mud, so that he was well-nigh
It was then that victory inclined to the frogs. Bread Nibbler
again came into the fray. He rushed furiously upon Puff jaw the
Leeky, the trusted friend of Puff jaw, opposed Bread Nibbler's
onslaught. Mightily he drove his spear at the king of the mice.
But the point of the spear broke upon Bread Nibbler's shield, and
then Leeky was overthrown.
Bread Nibbler came upon Puff jaw, and the two great kings faced
each other. The frogs and the mice drew aside, and there was a
pause in the combat. Bread Nibbler the mouse struck Puff jaw the
frog terribly upon the toes.
Puff jaw drew out of the battle. Now all would have been lost for
the frogs had not Zeus, the father of the gods, looked down upon
"Dear, dear," said Zeus, "what can be done to save the frogs?
They will surely be annihilated if the charge of yonder mouse is
For the father of the gods, looking down, saw a warrior mouse
coming on in the most dreadful onslaught of the whole battle.
Slice Snatcher was the name of this warrior. He had come late
into the field. He waited to split a chestnut in two and to put
the halves upon his paws. Then, furiously dashing amongst the
frogs, he cried out that he would not leave the ground until he
had destroyed the race, leaving the bank of the pond a playground
for the mice and for the mice alone.
To stop the charge of Slice Snatcher there was nothing for Zeus
to do but to hurl the thunderbolt that is the terror of gods and
Frogs and mice were awed by the thunder and the flame. But still
the mice, urged on by Slice Snatcher, did not hold back from
their onslaught upon the frogs.
Now would the frogs have been utterly destroyed; but, as they
dashed on, the mice encountered a new and a dreadful army. The
warriors in these ranks had mailed backs and curving claws. They
had bandy legs and long-stretching arms. They had eyes that
looked behind them. They came on sideways. These were the crabs,
creatures until now unknown to the mice. And the crabs had been
sent by Zeus to save the race of the frogs from utter
Coming upon the mice they nipped their paws. The mice turned
around and they nipped their tails. In vain the boldest of the
mice struck at the crabs with their sharpened spears. Not upon
the hard shells on the backs of the crabs did the spears of the
mice make any dint. On and on, on their queer feet and with their
terrible nippers, the crabs went. Bread Nibbler could not rally
them any more, and Slice Snatcher ceased to speak of the monument
of victory that the mice would erect upon the bank of the pond.
With their heads out of the water they had retreated to, the
frogs watched the finish of the battle. The mice threw down their
spears and shields and fled from the battleground. On went the
crabs as if they cared nothing for their victory, and the frogs
came out of the water and sat upon the bank and watched them in
Heracles had laughed at the diverting tale that the robbers had
told him; he could not bring them then to a place where they
would meet with captivity or death. He let them loose upon the
highway, and the robbers thanked him with highflowing speeches,
and they declared that if they should ever find him sleeping by
the roadway again they would let him lie. Saying this they went
away, and Heracles, laughing as he thought upon the great
exploits of the frogs and mice, went on to Omphale's house.
Omphale, the widow, received him mirthfully, and then set him to
do tasks in the kitchen while she sat and talked to him about
Troy and the affairs of King Laomedon. And afterward she put on
his lion's skin, and went about in the courtyard dragging the
heavy club after her. Mirthfully and pleasantly she made the rest
of his time in Lydia pass for Heracles, and the last day of his
slavery soon came, and he bade good-by to Omphale, that pleasant
widow, and to Lydia, and he started off for Calydon to claim his
Beautiful indeed Deianira looked now that she had ceased to mourn
for her brother, for the laughter that had been under her grief
always now flashed out even while she looked priestesslike and of
good counsel; her dark eyes shone like stars, and her being had
the spirit of one who wanders from camp to camp, always greeting
friends and leaving friends behind her. Heracles and Deianira
wed, and they set out for Tiryns, where a king had left a kingdom
They came to the River Evenus. Heracles could have crossed the
river by himself, but he could not cross it at the part he came
to, carrying Deianira. He and she went along the river, seeking a
ferry that might take them across. They wandered along the side
of the river, happy with each other, and they came to a place
where they had sight of a centaur.
Heracles knew this centaur. He was Nessus, one of the centaurs
whom he had chased up the mountain the time when he went to hunt
the Erymanthean boar. The centaurs knew him, and Nessus spoke to
Heracles as if he had friendship for him. He would, he said,
carry Heracles's bride across the river.
Then Heracles crossed the river, and he waited on the other side
for Nessus and Deianira. Nessus went to another part of the river
to make his crossing. Then Heracles, upon the other bank, heard
screams--the screams of his wife, Deianira. He saw that the
centaur was savagely attacking her.
Then Heracles leveled his bow and he shot at Nessus. Arrow after
arrow he shot into the centaur's body. Nessus loosed his
hold on Deianira, and he lay down on the bank of the river, his
lifeblood streaming from him.
Then Nessus, dying, but with his rage against Heracles unabated,
thought of a way by which the hero might be made to suffer for
the death he had brought upon him. He called to Deianira, and
she, seeing he could do her no more hurt, came close to him. He
told her that in repentance for his attack upon her he would
bestow a great gift upon her. She was to gather up some of the
blood that flowed from him; his blood, the centaur said, would be
a love philter, and if ever her husband's love for her waned it
would grow fresh again if she gave to him something from her
hands that would have this blood upon it.
Deianira, who had heard from Heracles of the wisdom of the
centaurs, believed what Nessus told her. She took a phial and let
the blood pour into it. Then Nessus plunged into the river and
died there as Heracles came up to where Deianira stood.
She did not speak to him about the centaur's words to her, nor
did she tell him that she had hidden away the phial that had
Nessus's blood in it. They crossed the river at another point and
they came after a time to Tiryns and to the kingdom that had been
left to Heracles.
There Heracles and Deianira lived, and a son who was named Hyllos
was born to them. And after a time Heracles was led into a war
with Eurytus--Eurytus who was king of Oichalia.
Word came to Deianira that Oichalia was taken by Heracles, and
that the king and his daughter Iole were held captive.
Deianira knew that Heracles had once tried to win this maiden for
his wife, and she feared that the sight of Iole would bring his
old longing back to him.
She thought upon the words that Nessus had said to her, and even
as she thought upon them messengers came from Heracles to ask her
to send him a robe--a beautifully woven robe that she had--that
he might wear it while making a sacrifice. Deianira took down the
robe; through this robe, she thought, the blood of the centaur
could touch Heracles and his love for her would revive. Thinking
this she poured Nessus's blood over the robe.
Heracles was in Oichalia when the messengers returned to him. He
took the robe that Deianira sent, and he went to a mountain that
overlooked the sea that he might make the sacrifice there. Iole
went with him. Then he put on the robe that Deianira had sent.
When it touched his flesh the robe burst into flame. Heracles
tried to tear it off, but deeper and deeper into his flesh the
flames went. They burned and burned and none could quench them.
Then Heracles knew that his end was near. He would die by fire,
and knowing that he piled up a great heap of wood and he climbed
upon it. There he stayed with the flaming robe burning into him,
and he begged of those who passed to fire the pile that his end
might come more quickly.
None would fire the pile. But at last there came that way a young
warrior named Philoctetes, and Heracles begged of him to fire the
pile. Philoctetes, knowing that it was the will of
the gods that Heracles should die that way, lighted the pile. For
that Heracles bestowed upon him his great bow and his unerring
arrows. And it was this bow and these arrows, brought from
Philoctetes, that afterward helped to take Priam's city.
The pile that Heracles stood upon was fired. High up, above the
sea, the pile burned. All who were near that burning fled--all
except Iole, that childlike maiden. She stayed and watched the
flames mount up and up. They wrapped the sky, and the voice of
Heracles was heard calling upon Zeus. Then a great chariot came
and Heracles was borne away to Olympus. Thus, after many labors,
Heracles passed away, a mortal passing into an immortal being in
a great burning high above the sea.
It happened once that Zeus would punish Apollo, his son. Then he
banished him from Olympus, and he made him put off his divinity
and appear as a mortal man. And as a mortal Apollo sought to earn
his bread amongst men. He came to the house of King Admetus and
took service with him as his herdsman.
For a year Apollo served the young king, minding his herds of
black cattle. Admetus did not know that it was one of the
immortal gods who was in his house and in his fields. But he
treated him in friendly wise, and Apollo was happy whilst serving
Afterward people wondered at Admetus's ever-smiling face and
everradiant being. It was the god's kindly thought of him that
gave him such happiness. And when Apollo was leaving his house
and his fields he revealed himself to Admetus, and he made a
promise to him that when the god of the Underworld sent Death for
him he would have one more chance of baffling Death than any
That was before Admetus sailed on the Argo with Jason and the
companions of the quest. The companionship of Admetus brought
happiness to many on the voyage, but the hero to whom it gave the
most happiness was Heracles. And often Heracles would have
Admetus beside him to tell him about the radiant god Apollo,
whose bow and arrows Heracles had been given.
After that voyage and after the hunt in Calydon Admetus went back
to his own land. There he wed that fair and loving woman,
Alcestis. He might not wed her until he had yoked lions and
leopards to the chariot that drew her. This was a feat that no
hero had been able to accomplish. With Apollo's aid he
accomplished it. Thereafter Admetus, having the love of Alcestis,
was even more happy than he had been before.
One day as he walked by fold and through pasture field he saw a
figure standing beside his herd of black cattle. A radiant figure
it was, and Admetus knew that this was Apollo come to him again.
He went toward the god and he made reverence and began to speak
to him. But Apollo turned to Admetus a face that was without joy.
"What years of happiness have been mine, O Apollo, through your
friendship for me," said Admetus. "Ah, as I walked my pasture
land today it came into my mind how much I loved this green earth
and the blue sky! And all that I know of love and happiness has
come to me through you."
But still Apollo stood before him with a face that was without
joy. He spoke and his voice was not that clear and vibrant voice
that he had once in speaking to Admetus. "Admetus, Admetus," he
said, "it is for me to tell you that you may no more look on the
blue sky nor walk upon the green earth. It is for me to tell you
that the god of the Underworld will have you come to him.
Admetus, Admetus, know that even now the god of the Underworld is
sending Death for you."
Then the light of the world went out for Admetus, and he heard
himself speaking to Apollo in a shaking voice: "O Apollo, Apollo,
tliou art a god, and surely thou canst save me! Save me now from
this Death that the god of the Underworld is sending for me!"
But Apollo said, "Long ago, Admetus, I made a bargain with the
god of the Underworld on thy behalf. Thou hast been given a
chance more than any mortal man. If one will go willingly in thy
place with Death, thou canst still live on. Go, Admetus. Thou art
well loved, and it may be that thou wilt find one to take thy
Then Apollo went up unto the mountaintop and Admetus stayed for a
while beside the cattle. It seemed to him that a little of the
darkness had lifted from the world. He would go to his palace.
There were aged men and women there, servants and slaves, and one
of them would surely be willing to take the king's place and go
with Death down to the Underworld.
So Admetus thought as he went toward the palace. And then he came
upon an ancient woman who sat upon stones in the courtyard,
grinding corn between two stones. Long had she been doing that
wearisome labor. Admetus had known her from the first time he had
come into that courtyard as a little child, and he had never seen
aught in her face but a heavy misery. There she was sitting as he
had first known her, with her eyes bleared and her knees shaking,
and with the dust of the courtyard and the husks of the corn in
her matted hair. He went to her and spoke to her, and he asked
her to take the place of the king and go with Death.
But when she heard the name of Death horror came into the face of
the ancient woman, and she cried out that she would not let Death
come near her. Then Admetus left her, and he came upon another,
upon a sightless man who held out a shriveled hand for the food
that the servants of the palace might bestow upon him. Admetus
took the man's shriveled hand, and he asked him if he would not
take the king's place and go with Death that was coming for him.
The sightless man, with howls and shrieks, said he would not go.
Then Admetus went into the palace and into the chamber where his
bed was, and he lay down upon the bed and he lamented that he
would have to go with Death that was coming for him from the god
of the Underworld, and he lamented that none of the wretched ones
around the palace would take his place.
A hand was laid upon him. He looked up and he saw his tall and
grave-eyed wife, Alcestis, beside him. Alcestis spoke to him
slowly and gravely. "I have heard what you have said, O my
husband," said she. "One should go in your place, for you are the
king and have many great affairs to attend to. And if none other
will go, I, Alcestis, will go in your place, Admetus."
It had seemed to Admetus that ever since he had heard the words
of Apollo that heavy footsteps were coming toward him. Now the
footsteps seemed to stop. It was not so terrible for him as
before. He sprang up, and he took the hands of Alcestis and he
said, "You, then, will take my place?"
"I will go with Death in your place, Admetus," Alcestis said.
Then, even as Admetus looked into her face, he saw a pallor come
upon her; her body weakened and she sank down upon the bed. Then,
watching over her, he knew that not he but Alcestis would go with
Death. And the words he had spoken he would have taken back--the
words that had brought her consent to go with Death in his place.
Paler and weaker Alcestis grew. Death would soon be here for her.
No, not here, for he would not have Death come into the palace.
He lifted Alcestis from the bed and he carried her from the
palace. He carried her to the temple of the gods. He laid her
there upon the bier and waited there beside her. No more speech
came from her. He went back to the palace where all was silent--
the servants moved about with heads bowed, lamenting silently for
As Admetus was coming back from the temple he heard a great
shout; he looked up and saw one standing at the palace doorway.
He knew him by his lion's skin and his great height. This was
Heracles--Heracles come to visit him, but come at a sad hour. He
could not now rejoice in the company of Heracles. And yet
Heracles might be on his way from the accomplishment of some
great labor, and it would not be right to say a word that might
turn him away from his doorway; he might have much need of rest
Thinking this Admetus went up to Heracles and took his hand and
welcomed him into his house. "How is it with you, friend
Admetus?" Heracles asked. Admetus would only say that nothing was
happening in his house and that Heracles, his hero-companion, was
welcome there. His mind was upon a great sacrifice, he said, and
so he would not be able to feast with him.
The servants brought Heracles to the bath, and then showed him
where a feast was laid for him. And as for Admetus, he went
within the chamber, and knelt beside the bed on which Alcestis
had lain, and thought of his terrible loss.
Heracles, after the bath, put on the brightly colored tunic that
the servants of Admetus brought him. He put a wreath upon his
head and sat down to the feast. It was a pity, he thought, that
Admetus was not feasting with him. But this was only the first of
many feasts. And thinking of what companionship he would have
with Admetus, Heracles left the feasting hall and came to where
the servants were standing about in silence.
"Why is the house of Admetus so hushed to-day?" Heracles asked.
"It is because of what is befalling," said one of the servants.
"Ah, the sacrifice that the king is making," said Heracles. "To
what god is that sacrifice due?"
"To the god of the Underworld," said the servant. "Death is
coming to Alcestis the queen where she lies on a bier in the
temple of the gods."
Then the servant told Heracles the story of how Alcestis had
taken her husband's place, going in his stead with Death.
Heracles thought upon the sorrow of his friend, and of the great
sacrifice that his wife was making for him. How noble it was of
Admetus to bring him into his house and give entertainment to him
while such sorrow was upon him. And then Heracles felt that
another labor was before him.
"I have dragged up from the Underworld," he thought, "the hound
that guards those whom Death brings down into the realm of the
god of the Underworld. Why should I not strive with Death? And
what a noble thing it would be to bring back this faithful woman
to her house and to her husband! This is a labor that has not
been laid upon me, and it is a labor I will undertake." So
Heracles said to himself.
He left the palace of Admetus and he went to the temple of the
gods. He stood inside the temple and he saw the bier on which
Alcestis was laid. He looked upon the queen. Death had not
touched her yet, although she lay so still and so silent.
Heracles would watch beside her and strive with Death for her.
Heracles watched and Death came. When Death entered the temple
Heracles laid hands upon him. Death had never been gripped by
mortal hands and he strode on as if that grip meant nothing to
him. But then he had to grip Heracles. In Death's grip there was
a strength beyond strength. And upon Heracles a dreadful sense of
loss came as Death laid hands upon him a sense of the loss of
light and the loss of breath and the loss of movement. But
Heracles struggled with Death although his breath went and his
strength seemed to go from him. He held that stony body to him,
and the cold of that body went through him, and its stoniness
seemed to turn his bones to stone, but still Heracles strove with
him, and at last he overthrew him and he held Death down upon the
"Now you are held by me, Death," cried Heracles. "You are held by
me, and the god of the Underworld will be--made angry because you
cannot go about his business--either this business or any other
business. You are held by me, Death, and you will not be let go
unless you promise to go forth from this temple without bringing
one with you." And Death, knowing that Heracles could hold him
there, and that the business of the god of the Underworld would
be left undone if he were held, promised that he would leave the
temple without bringing one with him. Then Heracles took his grip
off Death, and that stony shape went from the temple.
Soon a flush came into the face of Alcestis as Heracles watched
over her. Soon she arose from the bier on which she had been
laid. She called out to Admetus, and Heracles went to her and
spoke to her, telling her that he would bring her back to her
Admetus left the chamber where his wife had lain and stood before
the door of his palace. Dawn was coming, and as he looked toward
the temple he saw Heracles coming to the palace. A woman came
with him. She was veiled, and Admetus could not see her features.
"Admetus," Heracles said, when he came before him, "Admetus,
there is something I would have you do for me. Here is a woman
whom I am bringing back to her husband. I won her from an enemy.
Will you not take her into your house while I am away on a
"You cannot ask me to do this, Heracles," said Admetus. "No woman
may come into the house where Alcestis, only yesterday, had her
"For my sake take her into your house," said Heracles. "Come now,
Admetus, take this woman by the hand."
A pang came to Admetus as he looked at the woman who stood beside
Heracles and saw that she was the same stature as his lost wife.
He thought that he could not bear to take her hand. But Heracles
pleaded with him, and he took her by the hand.
"Now take her across your threshold, Admetus," said Heracles.
Hardly could Admetus bear to do this--hardly could he bear to
think of a strange woman being in his house and his own wife gone
with Death. But Heracles pleaded with him, and by the hand he
held he drew the woman across his threshold.
"Now raise her veil, Admetus," said Heracles.
"This I cannot do," said Admetus. "I have had pangs enough. How
can I look upon a woman's face and remind myself that I cannot
look upon Alcestis's face ever again?"
"Raise her veil, Admetus," said Heracles.
Then Admetus raised the veil of the woman he had taken across the
threshold of his house. He saw the face of Alcestis. He looked
again upon his wife brought back from the grip of Death by
Heracles, the son of Zeus. And then a deeper joy than he had ever
known came to Admetus. Once more his wife was with him, and
Admetus the friend of Apollo and the friend of Heracles had all
that he cared to have.
VI. HOW ORPHEUS THE MINSTREL WENT DOWN TO THE WORLD OF THE DEAD
Many were the minstrels who, in the early days, went through the
world, telling to men the stories of the gods, telling of their
wars and their births. Of all these minstrels none was so famous
as Orpheus who had gone with the Argonauts; none could tell truer
things about the gods, for he himself was half divine.
But a great grief came to Orpheus, a grief that stopped his
singing and his playing upon the lyre. His young wife Eurydice
was taken from him. One day, walking in the garden, she was
bitten on the heel by a serpent, and straightway she went down to
the world of the dead.
Then everything in this world was dark and bitter for the
minstrel Orpheus; sleep would not come to him, and for him food
had no taste. Then Orpheus said: "I will do that which no mortal
has ever done before; I will do that which even the immortals
might shrink from doing: I will go down into the world of the
dead, and I will bring back to the living and to the light my
Then Orpheus went on his way to the valley of Acherusia which
goes down, down into the world of the dead. He would never have
found his way to that valley if the trees had not shown him the
way. For as he went along Orpheus played upon his lyre and sang,
and the trees heard his song and they were moved by his grief,
and with their arms and their heads they showed him the way to
the deep, deep valley of Acherusia.
Down, down by winding paths through that deepest and most shadowy
of all valleys Orpheus went. He came at last to the great gate
that opens upon the world of the dead. And the silent guards who
keep watch there for the rulers of the dead were affrighted when
they saw a living being, and they would not let Orpheus approach
But the minstrel, knowing the reason for their fear, said: "I am
not Heracles come again to drag up from the world of the dead
your three-headed dog Cerberus. I am Orpheus, and all that my
hands can do is to make music upon my lyre."
And then he took the lyre in his hands and played upon it. As he
played, the silent watchers gathered around him, leaving the gate
unguarded. And as he played the rulers of the dead
came forth, Aidoneus and Persephone, and listened to the words of
the living man.
"The cause of my coming through the dark and fearful ways," sang
Orpheus, "is to strive to gain a fairer fate for Eurydice, my
bride. All that is above must come down to you at last, O rulers
of the most lasting world. But before her time has Eurydice been
brought here. I have desired strength to endure her loss, but I
cannot endure it. And I come before you, Aidoneus and Persephone,
brought here by Love."
When Orpheus said the name of Love, Persephone, the queen of the
dead, bowed her young head, and bearded Aidoneus, the king, bowed
his head also. Persephone remembered how Demeter, her mother, had
sought her all through the world, and she remembered the touch of
her mother's tears upon her face. And Aidoneus remembered how his
love for Persephone had led him to carry her away from the valley
in the upper world where she had been gathering flowers. He and
Persephone bowed their heads and stood aside, and Orpheus went
through the gate and came amongst the dead.
Still upon his lyre he played. Tantalus--who, for his crimes, had
been condemned to stand up to his neck in water and yet never be
able to assuage his thirst--Tantalus heard, and for a while did
not strive to put his lips toward the water that ever flowed away
from him; Sisyphus--who had been condemned to roll up a hill a
stone that ever rolled back Sisyphus heard the music that Orpheus
played, and for a while he sat still upon his stone. And even
those dread ones who bring to the dead the memories of all their
crimes and all their faults, even the Eumenides had their cheeks
wet with tears.
In the throng of the newly come dead Orpheus saw Eurydice. She
looked upon her husband, but she had not the power to come near
him. But slowly she came when Aidoneus called her. Then with joy
Orpheus took her hands.
It would be granted them--no mortal ever gained such privilege
before to leave, both together, the world of the dead, and to
abide for another space in the world of the living. One condition
there would be--that on their way up through the valley of
Acherusia neither Orpheus nor Eurydice should look back.
They went through the gate and came amongst the watchers that are
around the portals. These showed them the path that went up
through the valley of Acherusia. That way they went, Orpheus and
Eurydice, he going before her.
Up and up through the darkened ways they went, Orpheus knowing,
that Eurydice was behind him, but never looking back upon her.
But as he went, his heart was filled with things to tell--how the
trees were blossoming in the garden she had left; how the water
was sparkling in the fountain; how the doors of the house stood
open, and how they, sitting together, would watch the sunlight on
the laurel bushes. All these things were in his heart to tell
her, to tell her who came behind him, silent and unseen.
And now they were nearing the place where the valley of Acherusia
opened on the world of the living. Orpheus looked on the blue of
the sky. A white-winged bird flew by. Orpheus turned around and
cried, "O Eurydice, look upon the world that I have won you back
He turned to say this to her. He saw her with her long dark hair
and pale face. He held out his arms to clasp her. But in that
instant she slipped back into the depths of the valley. And all
he heard spoken was a single word, "Farewell!" Long, long had it
taken Eurydice to climb so far, but in the moment of his turning
around she had fallen back to her place amongst the dead.
Down through the valley of Acherusia Orpheus went again. Again he
came before the watchers of the gate. But now he was not looked
at nor listened to, and, hopeless, he had to return to the world
of the living.
The birds were his friends now, and the trees and the stones. The
birds flew around him and mourned with him; the trees and stones
often followed him, moved by the music of his lyre. But a savage
band slew Orpheus and threw his severed head and his lyre into
the River Hebrus. It is said by the poets that while they floated
in midstream the lyre gave out some mournful notes and the head
of Orpheus answered the notes with song.
And now that he was no longer to be counted with the living,
Orpheus went down to the world of the dead, not going now by that
steep descent through the valley of Acherusia, but going down
straightway. The silent watchers let him pass, and he went
amongst the dead and saw his Eurydice in the throng. Again they
were together, Orpheus and Eurydice, and as they went through the
place that King Aidoneus ruled over, they had no fear of looking
back, one upon the other.
VII. JASON AND MEDEA
Jason and Medea, unable to win to Iolcus, staved at Corinth, at
the court of King Creon. Creon was proud to have Jason in his
city, but of Medea the king was fearful, for he had heard how she
had brought about the death of Apsyrtus, her brother.
Medea wearied of this long waiting in the palace of King Creon. A
longing came upon her to exercise her powers of enchantment. She
did not forget what Queen Arete had said to her--that if she
wished to appease the wrath of the gods she should have no more
to do with enchantments. She did not forget this, but still there
grew in her a longing to use all her powers of enchantment.
And Jason, at the court of King Creon, had his longings, too. He
longed to enter Iolcus and to show the people the Golden Fleece
that he had won; he longed to destroy Pelias, the mur
derer of his mother and father; above all he longed to be a king,
and to rule in the kingdom that Cretheus had founded.
Once Jason spoke to Medea of his longing. "O Jason," Medea said,
"I have done many things for thee and this thing also I will do.
I will go into Iolcus, and by my enchantments I will make clear
the way for the return of the Argo and for thy return with thy
comrades-yea, and for thy coming to the kingship, O Jason."
He should have remembered then the words of Queen Arete to Medea,
but the longing that he had for his triumph and his revenge was
in the way of his remembering. He said, "O Medea, help me in this
with all thine enchantments and thou wilt be more dear to me than
ever before thou wert."
Medea then went forth from the palace of King Creon and she made
more terrible spells than ever she had made in Colchis. All night
she stayed in a tangled place weaving her spells. Dawn came, and
she knew that the spells she had woven had not been in vain, for
beside her there stood a car that was drawn by dragons.
Medea the Enchantress had never looked on these dragon shapes
before. When she looked upon them now she was fearful of them.
But then she said to herself, "I am Medea, and I would be a
greater enchantress and a more cunning woman than I have been,
and what I have thought of, that will I carry out." She mounted
the car drawn by the dragons, and in the first light of the day
she went from Corinth.
To the places where grew the herbs of magic Medea journeyed in
her dragon-drawn car--to the Mountains Ossa, Pelion, Oethrys,
Pindus, and Olympus; then to the rivers Apidanus, Enipeus, and
Peneus. She gathered herbs on the mountains and grasses on the
rivers' banks; some she plucked up by the roots and some she cut
with the curved blade of a knife. When she had gathered these
herbs and grasses she went back to Corinth on her dragon-drawn
Then Jason saw her; pale and drawn was her face, and her eyes
were strange and gleaming. He saw her standing by the car drawn
by the dragons, and a terror of Medea came into his mind. He went
toward her, but in a harsh voice she bade him not come near to
disturb the brewing that she was going to begin. Jason turned
away. As he went toward the palace he saw Glauce, King Creon's
daughter; the maiden was coming from the well and she carried a
pitcher of water. He thought how fair Glauce looked in the light
of the morning, how the wind played with her hair and her
garments, and how far away she was from witcheries and
As for Medea, she placed in a heap beside her the magic herbs and
grasses she had gathered. Then she put them in a bronze pot and
boiled them in water from the stream. Soon froth came on the
boiling, and Medea stirred the pot with a withered branch of an
apple tree. The branch was withered it was indeed no more than a
dry stick, but as she stirred the herbs and grasses with it,
first leaves, then flowers, and lastly, bright gleaming apples
came on it. And when the pot boiled over and drops from it fell
upon the ground, there grew up out of the dry earth soft grasses
and flowers. Such was the power of renewal that was in the
magical brew that Medea had made.
She filled a phial with the liquid she had brewed, and she
scattered the rest in the wild places of the garden. Then, taking
the phial and the apples that had grown on the withered branch,
she mounted the car drawn by the dragons, and she went once more
On she journeyed in her dragon-drawn car until she came to a
place that was near to Iolcus. There the dragons descended. They
had come to a dark pool. Medea, making herself naked, stood in
that dark pool. For a while she looked down upon herself, seeing
in the dark water her white body and her lovely hair. Then she
bathed herself in the water. Soon a dread change came over her:
she saw her hair become scant and gray, and she saw her body
become bent and withered. She stepped out of the pool a withered
and witchlike woman; when she dressed herself the rich clothes
that she had worn before hung loosely upon her, and she looked
the more forbidding because of them. She bade the dragons go, and
they flew through the air with the empty car. Then she hid in her
dress the phial with the liquid she had brewed and, the apples
that had grown upon the withered branch. She picked up a stick to
lean upon, and with the gait of an ancient woman she went
hobbling upon the road to Iolcus.
On the streets of the city the fierce fighting men that Pelias
had brought down from the mountains showed themselves; few of the
men or women of the city showed themselves even in the daytime.
Medea went through the city and to the palace of King Pelias. But
no one might enter there, and the guards laid hands upon her and
Medea did not struggle with them. She drew from the folds of her
dress one of the gleaming apples that she carried and she gave it
to one of the guards. "It is for King Pelias," she said. " Give
the apple to him and then do with me as the king would have you
The guards brought the gleaming apple to the king. When he had
taken it into his hand and had smelled its fragrance, old
trembling Pelias asked where the apple had come from. The guards
told him it had been brought by an ancient woman who was now
outside seated on a stone in the courtyard.
He looked on the shining apple and he felt its fragrance and he
could not help thinking, old trembling Pelias, that this apple
might be the means of bringing him back to the fullness of health
and courage that he had had before. He sent for the ancient woman
who had brought it that she might tell him where it had come from
and who it was that had sent it to him. Then the guards brought
Medea before him.
She saw an old man, white-faced and trembling, with shaking hands
and eyes that looked on her fearfully. "Who are you," he asked,
"and from whence came the apple that you had them bring me?"
Medea, standing before him, looked a withered and shrunken
beldame, a woman bent with years, but yet with eyes that were
bright and living. She came near him and she said: "The apple, O
King, came from the garden that is watched over by the Daughters
of the Evening Land. He who eats it has a little of the weight of
old age taken from him. But things more wonderful even than the
shining apples grow in that far garden. There are plants there
the juices of which make youthful again all aged and failing
things. The apple would bring you a little way toward the vigor
of your prime. But the juices I have can bring you to a time more
wonderful--back even to the strength and the glory of your
When the king heard her say this a light came into his heavy
eyes, and his hands caught Medea and drew her to him. "Who are
you?" he cried, "who speak of the garden watched over by the
Daughters of the Evening Land? Who are you who speak of juices
that can bring back one to the strength and glory of his youth?"
Medea answered: "I am a woman who has known many and great
griefs, O king. My griefs have brought me through the world. Many
have searched for the garden watched over by the Daughters of the
Evening Land, but I came to it unthinkingly, and without wanting
them I gathered the gleaming apples and took from the plants
there the juices that can bring youth back."
Pelias said: "If you have been able to come by those juices, how
is it that you remain in woeful age and decrepitude?"
She said: "Because of my many griefs, king, I would not renew my
life. I would be ever nearer death and the end of all things. But
you are a king and have all things you desire at your hand--
beauty and state and power. Surely if any one would desire it,
you would desire to have youth back to you."
Pelias, when he heard her say this, knew that besides youth there
was nothing that he desired. After crimes that had gone through
the whole of his manhood he had secured for himself the kingdom
that Cretheus had founded. But old age had come on him, and the
weakness of old age, and the power he had won was falling from
his hands. He would be overthrown in his weakness, or else he
would soon come to die, and there would be an end then to his
name and to his kingship.
How fortunate above all kings he would be, he thought, if it
could be that some one should come to him with juices that would
renew his youth! He looked longingly into the eyes of the
ancient-seeming woman before him, and he said: "How is it that
you show no gains from the juices that you speak of? You are old
and in woeful decrepitude. Even if you would not win back to
youth you could have got riches and state for that which you say
Then Medea said: "I have lost so much and have suffered so much
that I would not have youth back at the price of facing the
years. I would sink down to the quiet of the grave. But
I hope for some ease before I die--for the ease that is in king's
houses, with good food to eat, and rest, and servants to wait
upon one's aged body. These are the things I desire, O Pelias,
even as you desire youth. You can give me such things, and I have
come to you who desire youth eagerly rather than to kings who
have a less eager desire for it. To you I will give the juices
that bring one back to the strength and the glory of youth."
Pelias said: "I have only your word for it that you possess these
juices. Many there are who come and say deceiving things to a
Said Medea: "Let there be no more words between us, O king.
To-morrow I will show you the virtue of the juices I have brought
with me. Have a great vat prepared--a vat that a man could lay
himself in with the water covering him. Have this vat filled with
water, and bring to it the oldest creature you can get--a ram or
a goat that is the oldest of their flock. Do this, O king, and
you will be shown a thing to wonder at and to be hopeful over."
So Medea said, and then she turned around and left the king's
presence. Pelias called to his guards and he bade them take the
woman into their charge and treat her considerately. The guards
took Medea away. Then all day the king mused on what had been
told him and a wild hope kept beating about his heart. He had the
servants prepare a great vat in the lower chambers, and he had
his shepherd bring him a ram that was the oldest in the flock.
Only Medea was permitted to come into that chamber with the king;
the ways to it were guarded, and all that took place in it was
secret. Medea was brought to the closed door by her guard. She
opened it and she saw the king there and the vat already
prepared; she saw a ram tethered near the vat.
Medea looked upon the king. In the light of the torches his face
was white and fierce and his mouth moved gaspingly. She spoke to
him quietly, and said: "There is no need for you to hear me
speak. You will watch a great miracle, for behold! the ram which
is the oldest and feeblest in the flock will become young and
invigorated when it comes forth from this vat."
She untethered the ram, and with the help of Pelias drew it to
the vat. This was not hard to do, for the beast was very feeble;
its feet could hardly bear it upright, its wool was yellow and
stayed only in patches on its shrunken body. Easily the beast was
forced into the vat. Then Medea drew the phial out of her bosom
and poured into the water some of the brew she had made in
Creon's garden in Corinth. The water in the vat took on a strange
bubbling, and the ram sank down.
Then Medea, standing beside the vat, sang an incantation.
"O Earth," she sang, "O Earth who dost provide wise men with
potent herbs, O Earth help me now. I am she who can drive the
clouds; I am she who can dispel the winds; I am she who can break
the jaws of serpents with my incantations; I am she who can
uproot living trees and rocks; who can make the mountains shake;
who can bring the ghosts from their tombs. O Earth, help me now."
At this strange incantation the mixture in the vat boiled and
bubbled more and more. Then the boiling and bubbling ceased. Up
to the surface came the ram. Medea helped it to struggle out of
the vat, and then it turned and smote the vat with its head.
Pelias took down a torch and stood before the beast. Vigorous
indeed was the ram, and its wool was white and grew evenly upon
it. They could not tether it again, and when the.servants were
brought into the chamber it took two of them to drag away the
The king was most eager to enter the vat and have Medea put in
the brew and speak the incantation over it. But Medea bade him
wait until the morrow. All night the king lay awake, thinking of
how he might regain his youth and his strength and be secure and
At the first light he sent for Medea and he told her that he
would have the vat made ready and that he would go into it that
night. Medea looked upon him, and the helplessness that he showed
made her want to work a greater evil upon him, or, if not upon
him, upon his house. How soon it would have reached its end, all
her plot for the destruction of this king! But she would leave in
the king's house a misery that would not have an end so soon.
So she said to the king: "I would say the incantation over a
beast of the field, but over a king I could not say it. Let those
of your own blood be with you when you enter the vat that will
bring such change to you. Have your daughters there. I will give
them the juice to mix in the vat, and I will teach them the
incantation that has to be said."
So she said, and she made Pelias consent to having his daughters
and not Medea in the chamber of the vat. They were sent for and
they came before Medea, the daughters of King Pelias.
They were women who had been borne down by the tyranny of their
father; they stood before him now, two dim-eyed creatures, very
feeble and fearful. To them Medea gave the phial that had in it
the liquid to mix in the vat; also she taught them the words of
the incantation, but she taught them to use these words wrongly.
The vat was prepared in the lower chambers; Pelias and his
daughters went there, and the chamber was guarded, and what
happened there was in secret. Pelias went into the vat; the brew
was thrown into it, and the vat boiled and bubbled as before.
Pelias sank down in it. Over him then his daughters said the
magic words as Medea had taught them.
Pelias sank down, but he did not rise again. The hours went past
and the morning came, and the daughters of King Pelias raised
frightened laments. Over the sides of the vat the mixture boiled
and bubbled, and Pelias was to be seen at the bottom with his
limbs stiffened in death.
Then the guards came, and they took King Pelias out of the vat
and left him in his royal chamber. The word went through
the palace that the king was dead. There was a hush in the
palace then, but not the hush of grief. One by one servants and
servitors stole away from the palace that was hated by all. Then
there was clatter in the streets as the fierce fighting men from
the mountains galloped away with what plunder they could seize.
And through all this the daughters of King Pelias sat crouching
in fear above the body of their father.
And Medea, still an ancient woman seemingly, went through the
crowds that now came on the streets of the city. She told those
she went amongst that the son of ,Eson was alive and would soon
be in their midst. Hearing this the men of the city formed a
council of elders to rule the people until Jason's coming. In
such way Medea brought about the end of King Pelias's reign.
In triumph she went through the city. But as she was passing the
temple her dress was caught and held, and turning around she
faced the ancient priestess of Artemis, Iphias. "Thou art
Aeetes's daughter," Iphias said, "who in deceit didst come into
Iolcus. Woe to thee and woe to Jason for what thou hast done this
day! Not for the slaying of Pelias art thou blameworthy, but for
the misery that thou hast brought upon his daughters by bringing
them into the guilt of the slaying. Go from the city, daughter of
King ,Eetes; never, never wilt thou come back into it."
But little heed did Medea pay to the ancient priestess, Iphias.
Still in the guise of an old woman she went through the streets
of the city, and out through the gate and along the highway
that led from Iolcus. To that dark pool she came where she had
bathed herself before. But now she did not step into the pool nor
pour its water over her shrinking flesh; instead she built up two
altars of green sods an altar to Youth and an altar to Hecate,
queen of the witches; she wreathed them with green boughs from
the forest, and she prayed before each. Then she made herself
naked, and she anointed herself with the brew she had made from
the magical herbs and grasses. All marks of age and decrepitude
left her, and when she stood over the dark pool and looked down
on herself she saw that her body was white and shapely as before,
and that her hair was soft and lovely.
She stayed all night between the tangled wood and the dark pool,
and with the first light the car drawn by the scaly dragons came
to her. She mounted the car, and she journeyed back to Corinth.
Into Jason's mind a fear of Medea had come since the hour when he
had seen her mount the car drawn by the scaly dragons. He could
not think of her any more as the one who had been his companion
on the Argo. He thought of her as one who could help him and do
wonderful things for him, but not as one whom he could talk
softly and lovingly to. Ah, but if Jason had thought less of his
kingdom and less of his triumphing with the Fleece of Gold, Medea
would not have had the dragons come to her.
And now that his love for Medea had altered, Jason noted the
loveliness of another--of Glauce, the daughter of Creon, the
King of Corinth. And Glauce, who had red lips and the eyes of a
child, saw in Jason who had brought the Golden Fleece out of
Colchis the image of every hero she had heard about in stories.
Creon, the king, often brought Jason and Glauce together, for his
hope was that the hero would wed his daughter and stay in Corinth
and strengthen his kingdom. He thought that Medea, that strange
woman, could not keep a companionship with Jason.
Two were walking in the king's garden, and they were Jason and
Glauce. A shadow fell betwen them, and when Jason looked up he