The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum

THE GOLDEN FLEECE AND THE HEROES WHO LIVED BEFORE ACHILLES by PADRAIC COLUM 1921 Part I. The Voyage to Colchis I. The Youth Jason A man in the garb of a slave went up the side of that mountain that is all covered with forest, the Mountain Pelion. He carried in his arms a little
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1921
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days



Part I. The Voyage to Colchis

I. The Youth Jason

A man in the garb of a slave went up the side of that mountain that is all covered with forest, the Mountain Pelion. He carried in his arms a little child.

When it was full noon the slave came into a clearing of the forest so silent that it seemed empty of all life. He laid the child down on the soft moss, and then, trembling with the fear of what might come before him, he raised a horn to his lips and blew three blasts upon it.

Then he waited. The blue sky was above him, the great trees stood away from him, and the little child lay at his feet. He waited, and then he heard the thud-thud of great hooves. And then from between the trees he saw coming toward him the strangest of all beings, one who was half man and half horse; this was Chiron the centaur.

Chiron came toward the trembling slave. Greater than any horse was Chiron, taller than any man. The hair of his head flowed back into his horse’s mane, his great beard flowed over his horse’s chest; in his man’s hand he held a great spear.

Not swiftly he came, but the slave could see that in those great limbs of his there was speed like to the wind’s. The slave fell upon his knees. And with eyes that were full of majesty and wisdom and limbs that were full of strength and speed, the king-centaur stood above him. “O my lord,” the slave said, “I have come before thee sent by Aeson, my master, who told me where to come and what blasts to blow upon the horn. And Aeson, once King of Iolcus, bade me say to thee that if thou dost remember his ancient friendship with thee thou wilt, perchance, take this child and guard and foster him, and, as he grows, instruct him with thy wisdom.”

“For Aeson’s sake I will rear and foster this child,” said Chiron the king-centaur in a deep voice.

The child lying on the moss had been looking up at the four-footed and two-handed centaur. Now the slave lifted him up and placed him in the centaur’s arms. He said:

“Aeson bade me tell thee that the child’s name is Jason. He bade me give thee this ring with the great ruby in it that thou mayst give it to the child when he is grown. By this ring with its ruby and the images engraved on it Aeson may know his son when they meet after many years and many changes. And another thing Aeson bade me say to thee, O my lord Chiron: not presumptuous is he, but he knows that this child has the regard of the immortal Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus.”

Chiron held Aeson’s son in his arms, and the little child put hands into his great beard. Then the centaur said, “Let Aeson know that his son will be reared and fostered by me, and that, when they meet again, there will be ways by which they will be known to each other.”

Saying this Chiron the centaur, holding the child in his arms, went swiftly toward the forest arches; then the slave took up the horn and went down the side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to where a horse was hidden, and he mounted and rode, first to a city, and then to a village that was beyond the city.

All this was before the famous walls of Troy were built; before King Priam had come to the throne of his father and while he was still known, not as Priam, but as Podarces. And the beginning of all these happenings was in Iolcus, a city in Thessaly.

Cretheus founded the city and had ruled over it in days before King Priam was born. He left two sons, Aeson and Pelias. Aeson succeeded his father. And because he was a mild and gentle man, the men of war did not love Aeson; they wanted a hard king who would lead them to conquests.

Pelias, the brother of Aeson, was ever with the men of war; he knew what mind they had toward Aeson and he plotted with them to overthrow his brother. This they did, and they brought Pelias to reign as king in Iolcus.

The people loved Aeson; and they feared Pelias. And because the people loved him and would be maddened by his slaying, Pelias and the men of war left him living. With his wife, Alcimide, and his infant son, Aeson went from the city, and in a village that was at a distance from Iolcus he found a hidden house and went to dwell in it.

Aeson would have lived content there were it not that he was fearful for Jason, his infant son. Jason, he knew, would grow into a strong and a bold youth, and Pelias, the king, would be made uneasy on his account. Pelias would slay the son, and perhaps would slay the father for the son’s sake when his memory would come to be less loved by the people. Aeson thought of such things in his hidden house, and he pondered on ways to have his son reared away from Iolcus and the dread and the power of King Pelias.

He had for a friend one who was the wisest of all creatures Chiron the centaur; Chiron who was half man and half horse; Chiron who had lived and was yet to live measureless years. Chiron had fostered Heracles, and it might be that he would not refuse to foster Jason, Aeson’s child.

Away in the fastnesses of Mount Pelion Chiron dwelt; once Aeson had been with him and had seen the centaur hunt with his great bow and his great spears. And Aeson knew a way that one might come to him; Chiron himself had told him of the way.

Now there was a slave in his house who had been a huntsman and who knew all the ways of the Mountain Pelion. Aeson talked with this slave one day, and after he had talked with him he sat for a long time over the cradle of his sleeping infant. And then he spoke to Alcimide, his wife, telling her of a parting that made her weep. That evening the slave came in and Aeson took the child from the arms of the mournful-eyed mother and put him in the slave’s arms. Also he gave him a horn and a ring with a great ruby in it and mystic images engraved on its gold. Then when the ways were dark the slave mounted a horse, and, with the child in his arms, rode through the city that King Pelias ruled over. In the morning he came to that mountain that is all covered with forest, the Mountain Pelion. And that evening he came back to the village and to Aeson’s hidden house, and he told his master how he had prospered.

Aeson was content thereafter although he was lonely and although his wife was lonely in their childlessness. But the time came when they rejoiced that their child had been sent into an unreachable place. For messengers from King Pelias came inquiring about the boy. They told the king’s messengers that the child had strayed off from his nurse, and that whether he had been slain by a wild beast or had been drowned in the swift River Anaurus they did not know.

The years went by and Pelias felt secure upon the throne he had taken from his brother. Once he sent to the oracle of the gods to ask of it whether he should be fearful of anything. What the oracle answered was this: that King Pelias had but one thing to dread–the coming of a halfshod man.

The centaur nourished the child Jason on roots and fruits and honey; for shelter they had a great cave that Chiron had lived in for numberless years. When he had grown big enough to leave the cave Chiron would let Jason mount on his back; with the child holding on to his great mane he would trot gently through the ways of the forest.

Jason began to know the creatures of the forest and their haunts. Sometimes Chiron would bring his great bow with him; then Jason, on his back, would hold the quiver and would hand him the arrows. The centaur would let the boy see him kill with a single arrow the bear, the boar, or the deer. And soon Jason, running beside him, hunted too.

No heroes were ever better trained than those whose childhood and youth had been spent with Chiron the king-centaur. He made them more swift of foot than any other of the children of men. He made them stronger and more ready with the spear and bow. Jason was trained by Chiron as Heracles just before him had been trained, and as Achilles was to be trained afterward.

Moreover, Chiron taught him the knowledge of the stars and the wisdom that had to do with the ways of the gods.

Once, when they were hunting together, Jason saw a form at the end of an alley of trees–the form of a woman it was–of a woman who had on her head a shining crown. Never had Jason dreamt of seeing a form so wondrous. Not very near did he come, but he thought he knew that the woman smiled upon him. She was seen no more, and Jason knew that he had looked upon one of the immortal goddesses.

All day Jason was filled with thought of her whom he had seen. At night, when the stars were out, and when they were seated outside the cave, Chiron and Jason talked together, and Chiron told the youth that she whom he had seen was none other than Hera, the wife of Zeus, who had for his father Aeson and for himself an especial friendliness.

So Jason grew up upon the mountain and in the forest fastnesses. When he had reached his full height and had shown himself swift in the hunt and strong with the spear and bow, Chiron told him that the time had come when he should go back to the world of men and make his name famous by the doing of great deeds.

And when Chiron told him about his father Aeson–about how he had been thrust out of the kingship by Pelias, his uncle a great longing came upon Jason to see his father and a fierce anger grew up in his heart against Pelias.

Then the time came when he bade good-by to Chiron his great instructor; the time came when he went from the centaur’s cave for the last time, and went through the wooded ways and down the side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to the river, to the swift Anaurus, and he found it high in flood. The stones by which one might cross were almost all washed over; far apart did they seem in the flood.

Now as he stood there pondering on what he might do there came up to him an old woman who had on her back a load of brushwood. “Wouldst thou cross?” asked the old woman. “Wouldst thou cross and get thee to the city of Iolcus, Jason, where so many things await thee?”

Greatly was the youth astonished to hear his name spoken by this old woman, and to hear her give the name of the city he was bound for. “Wouldst thou cross the Anaurus?” she asked again. “Then mount upon my back, holding on to the wood I carry, and I will bear thee over the river.”

Jason smiled. How foolish this old woman was to think that she could bear him across the flooded river! She came near him and she took him in her arms and lifted him up on her shoulders. Then, before he knew what she was about to do, she had stepped into the water.

>From stone to stepping-stone she went, Jason holding on to the wood that she had drawn to her shoulders. She left him down upon the bank. As she was lifting him down one of his feet touched the water; the swift current swept away a sandal.

He stood on the bank knowing that she who had carried him across the flooded river had strength from the gods. He looked upon her, and behold! she was transformed. Instead of an old woman there stood before him one who had on a golden robe and a shining crown. Around her was a wondrous light–the light of the sun when it is most golden. Then Jason knew that she who had carried him across the broad Anaurus was the goddess whom he had seen in the ways of the forest–Hera, great Zeus’s wife.

“Go into Iolcus, Jason,” said great Hera to him, “go into Iolcus, and in whatever chance doth befall thee act as one who has the eyes of the immortals upon him.”

She spoke and she was seen no more. Then Jason went on his way to the city that Cretheus, his grandfather, had founded and that his father Aeson had once ruled over. He came into that city, a tall, great-limbed, unknown youth, dressed in a strange fashion, and having but one sandal on.


That day King Pelias, walking through the streets of his city, saw coming toward him a youth who was half shod. He remembered the words of the oracle that bade him beware of a half-shod man, and straightway he gave orders to his guards to lay hands upon the youth.

But the guards wavered when they went toward him, for there was something about the youth that put them in awe of him. He came with the guards, however, and he stood before the king’s judgment seat.

Fearfully did Pelias look upon him. But not fearfully did the youth look upon the king. With head lifted high he cried out, “Thou art Pelias, but I do not salute thee as king. Know that I am Jason, the son of Aeson from whom thou hast taken the throne and scepter that were rightfully his.”

King Pelias looked to his guards. He would have given them a sign to destroy the youth’s life with their spears, but behind his guards he saw a threatening multitude–the dwellers of the city of Iolcus; they gathered around, and Pelias knew that he had become more and more hated by them. And from the multitude a cry went up, “Aeson, Aeson! May Aeson come back to us! Jason, son of Aeson! May nothing evil befall thee, brave youth!”

Then Pelias knew that the youth might not be slain. He bent his head while he plotted against him in his heart. Then he raised his eyes, and looking upon Jason he said, “O goodly youth, it well may be that thou art the son of Aeson, my brother. I am well pleased to see thee here. I have had hopes that I might be friends with Aeson, and thy coming here may be the means to the renewal of our friendship. We two brothers may come together again. I will send for thy father now, and he will be brought to meet thee in my royal palace. Go with my guards and with this rejoicing people, and in a little while thou and I and thy father Aeson will sit at a feast of friends.”

So Pelias said, and Jason went with the guards and the crowd of people, and he came to the palace of the king and he was brought within. The maids led him to the bath and gave him new robes to wear. Dressed in these Jason looked a prince indeed.

But all that while King Pelias remained on his judgment seat with his crowned head bent down. When he raised his head his dark brows were gathered together and his thin lips were very close. He looked to the swords and spears of his guards, and he made a sign to the men to stand close to him. Then he left the judgment seat and he went to the palace.


They brought Jason into a hall where Aeson, his father, waited. Very strange did this old and grave-looking man appear to him. But when Aeson spoke, Jason remembered even without the sight of the ruby ring the tone of his father’s voice and he clasped him to him. And his father knew him even without the sight of the ruby ring which Jason had upon his finger.

Then the young man began to tell of the centaur and of his life upon the Mountain Pelion. As they were speaking together Pelias came to where they stood, Pelias in the purple robe of a king and with the crown upon his head. Aeson tightly clasped Jason as if he had become fearful for his son. Pelias smilingly took the hand of the young man and the hand of his brother, and he bade them both welcome to his palace.

Then, walking between them, the king brought the two into the feasting hall. The youth who had known only the forest and the mountainside had to wonder at the beauty and the magnificence of all he saw around him. On the walls were bright pictures; the tables were of polished wood, and they had vessels of gold and dishes of silver set upon them; along the walls were vases of lovely shapes and colors, and everywhere there were baskets heaped with roses white and red.

The king’s guests were already in the hall, young men and elders, and maidens went amongst them carrying roses which they strung into wreaths for the guests to put upon their heads. A soft-handed maiden gave Jason a wreath of roses and he put it on his head as he sat down at the king’s table. When he looked at all the rich and lovely things in that hall, and when he saw the guests looking at him with friendly eyes, Jason felt that he was indeed far away from the dim spaces of the mountain forest and from the darkness of the centaur’s cave.

Rich food and wine such as he had never dreamt of tasting were brought to the tables. He ate and drank, and his eyes followed the fair maidens who went through the hall. He thought how glorious it was to be a king. He heard Pelias speak to Aeson, his father, telling him that he was old and that he was weary of ruling; that he longed to make friends, and that he would let no enmity now be between him and his brother. And he heard the king say that he, Jason, was young and courageous, and that he would call upon him to help to rule the land, and that, in a while, Jason would bear full sway over the kingdom that Cretheus had founded.

So Pelias spoke to Aeson as they both sat together at the king’s high table. But Jason, looking on them both, saw that the eyes that his father turned on him were full of warnings and mistrust.

After they had eaten King Pelias made a sign, and a cupbearer bringing a richly wrought cup came and stood before the king. The king stood up, holding the cup in his hands, and all in the hall waited silently. Then Pelias put the cup into Jason’s hands and he cried out in a voice that was heard all through the hall, “Drink from this cup, O nephew Jason! Drink from this cup, O man who will soon come to rule over the kingdom that Cretheus founded!”

All in the hall stood up and shouted with delight at that speech. But the king was not delighted with their delight, Jason saw. He took the cup and he drank the rich wine; pride grew in him; he looked down the hall and he saw faces all friendly to him; he felt as a king might feel, secure and triumphant. And then he heard King Pelias speaking once more.

“This is my nephew Jason, reared and fostered in the centaur’s cave. He will tell you of his life in the forest and the mountains, his life that was like to the life of the half gods.”

Then Jason spoke to them, telling them of his life on the Mountain Pelion. When he had spoken, Pelias said:

“I was bidden by the oracle to beware of the man whom I should see coming toward me half shod. But, as you all see, I have brought the half-shod man to my palace and my feasting hall, so little do I dread the anger of the gods.

“And I dread it little because I am blameless. This youth, the son of my brother, is strong and courageous, and I rejoice in his strength and courage, for I would have him take my place and reign over you. Ali, that I were as young as he is now! Ali, that I had been reared and fostered as he was reared and fostered by the wise centaur and under the eyes of the immortals! Then would I do that which in my youth I often dreamed of doing! Then would I perform a deed that would make my name and the name of my city famous throughout all Greece! Then would I bring from far Colchis, the famous Fleece of Gold that King Aetes keeps guard over!”

He finished speaking, and all in the hall shouted out, “The Golden Fleece, the Golden Fleece from Colchis!” Jason stood up, and his father’s hand gripped him. But he did not heed the hold of his father’s hand, for “The Golden Fleece, the Golden Fleece!” rang in his ears, and before his eyes were the faces of those who were all eager for the sight of the wonder that King Aetes kept guard over.

Then said Jason, “Thou hast spoken well, O King Pelias! Know, and know all here assembled, that I have heard of the Golden Fleece and of the dangers that await on any one who should strive to win it from King Aetes’s care. But know, too, that I would strive to win the Fleece and bring it to Iolcus, winning fame both for myself and for the city.”

When he had spoken he saw his father’s stricken eyes; they were fixed upon him. But he looked from them to the shining eyes of the young men who were even then pressing around where he stood. “Jason, Jason!” they shouted. “The Golden Fleece for Iolcus!”

“King Pelias knows that the winning of the Golden Fleece is a feat most difficult,” said Jason. “But if he will have built for me a ship that can make the voyage to far Colchis, and if he will send throughout all Greece the word of my adventuring so that all the heroes who would win fame might come with me, and if ye, young heroes of Iolcus, will come with me, I will peril my life to win the wonder that King Aetes keeps guard over.”

He spoke and those in the hall shouted again and made clamor around him. But still his father sat gazing at him with stricken eyes.

King Pelias stood up in the hall and holding up his scepter he said, “O my nephew Jason, and O friends assembled here, I promise that I will have built for the voyage the best ship that ever sailed from a harbor in Greece. And I promise that I will send throughout all Greece a word telling of Jason’s voyage so that all heroes desirous of winning fame may come to help him and to help all of you who may go with him to win from the keeping of King Aetes the famous Fleece of Gold.”

So King Pelias said, but Jason, looking to the king from his father’s stricken eyes, saw that he had been led by the king into the acceptance of the voyage so that he might fare far from Iolcus, and perhaps lose his life in striving to gain the wonder that King Aetes kept guarded. By the glitter in Pelias’s eyes he knew the truth. Nevertheless Jason would not take back one word that he had spoken; his heart was strong within him, and he thought that with the help of the bright-eyed youths around and with the help of those who would come to him at the word of the voyage, he would bring the Golden Fleece to Iolcus and make famous for all time his own name.


First there came the youths Castor and Polydeuces. They came riding on white horses, two noble-looking brothers. From Sparta they came, and their mother was Leda, who, after the twin brothers, had another child born to her–Helen, for whose sake the sons of many of Jason’s friends were to wage war against the great city of Troy. These were the first heroes who came to Iolcus after the word had gone forth through Greece of Jason’s adventuring in quest of the Golden Fleece.

And then there came one who had both welcome and reverence from Jason; this one came without spear or bow, bearing in his hands a lyre only. He was Orpheus, and he knew all the ways of the gods and all the stories of the gods; when he sang to his lyre the trees would listen and the beasts would follow him. It was Chiron who had counseled Orpheus to go with Jason; Chiron the centaur had met him as he was wandering through the forests on the Mountain Pelion and had sent him down into Iolcus.

Then there came two men well skilled in the handling of ships– Tiphys and Nauplius. Tiphys knew all about the sun and winds and stars, and all about the signs by which a ship might be steered, and Nauplius had the love of Poseidon, the god of the sea.

Afterward there came, one after the other, two who were famous for their hunting. No two could be more different than these two were. The first was Arcas. He was dressed in the skin of a bear; he had red hair and savage-looking eyes, and for arms he carried a mighty bow with bronzetipped arrows. The folk were watching an eagle as he came into the city, an eagle that was winging its way far, far up in the sky. Arcas drew his bow, and with one arrow he brought the eagle down.

The other hunter was a girl, Atalanta. Tall and brighthaired was Atalanta, swift and good with the bow. She had dedicated herself to Artemis, the guardian of the wild things, and she had vowed that she would remain unwedded. All the heroes welcomed Atalanta as a comrade, and the maiden did all the things that the young men did.

There came a hero who was less youthful than Castor or Polydeuces; he was a man good in council named Nestor. Afterward Nestor went to the war against Troy, and then he was the oldest of the heroes in the camp of Agamemnon.

Two brothers came who were to be special friends of Jason’s– Peleus and Telamon. Both were still youthful and neither had yet achieved any notable deed. Afterward they were to be famous, but their sons were to be even more famous, for the son of Telamon was strong Aias, and the son of Peleus was great Achilles.

Another who came was Admetus; afterward he became a famous king. The God Apollo once made himself a shepherd and he kept the flocks of King Admetus.

And there came two brothers, twins, who were a wonder to all who beheld them. Zetes and Calais they were named; their mother was Oreithyia, the daughter of Erechtheus, King of Athens, and their father was Boreas, the North Wind. These two brothers had on their ankles wings that gleamed with golden scales; their black hair was thick upon their shoulders, and it was always being shaken by the wind.

With Zetes and Calais there came a youth armed with a great sword whose name was Theseus. Theseus’s father was an unknown king; he had bidden the mother show their son where his sword was hidden. Under a great stone the king had hidden it before Theseus was born. Before he had grown out of his boyhood Theseus had been able to raise the stone and draw forth his father’s sword. As yet he had done no great deed, but he was resolved to win fame and to find his unknown father.

On the day that the messengers had set out to bring through Greece the word of Jason’s going forth in quest of the Golden Fleece the woodcutters made their way up into the forests of Mount Pelion; they began to fell trees for the timbers of the ship that was to make the voyage to far Colchis.

Great timbers were cut and brought down to Pagasae, the harbor of Iolcus. On the night of the day he had helped to bring them down Jason had a dream. He dreamt that she whom he had seen in the forest ways and afterward by the River Anaurus appeared to him. And in his dream the goddess bade him rise early in the morning and welcome a man whom he would meet at the city’s gate – a tall and gray-haired man who would have on his shoulders tools for the building of a ship.

He went to the city’s gate and he met such a man. Argus was his name. He told Jason that a dream had sent him to the city of Iolcus. Jason welcomed him and lodged him in the king’s palace, and that day the word went through the city that the building of the great ship would soon be begun.

But not with the timbers brought from Mount Pelion did Argus begin. Walking through the palace with Jason he noted a great beam in the roof. That beam, he said, had been shown him in his dream; it was from an oak tree in Dodona, the grove of Zeus. A sacred power was in the beam, and from it the prow of the ship should be fashioned. Jason had them take the beam from the roof of the palace; it was brought to where the timbers were, and that day the building of the great ship was begun.

Then all along the waterside came the noise of hammering; in the street where the metalworkers were came the noise of beating upon metals as the smiths fashioned out of bronze armor for the heroes and swords and spears. Every day, under the eyes of Argus the master, the ship that had in it the beam from Zeus’s grove was built higher and wider. And those who were building the ship often felt going through it tremors as of a living creature.

When the ship was built and made ready for the voyage a name was given to it–the Argo it was called. And naming themselves from the ship the heroes called themselves the Argonauts. All was ready for the voyage, and now Jason went with his friends to view the ship before she was brought into the water.

Argus the master was on the ship, seeing to it that the last things were being done before Argo was launched. Very grave and wise looked Argus–Argus the builder of the ship. And wonderful to the heroes the ship looked now that Argus, for their viewing, had set up the mast with the sails and had even put the oars in their places. Wonderful to the heroes Argo looked with her long oars and her high sails, with her timbers painted red and gold and blue, and with a marvelous figure carved upon her prow. All over the ship Jason’s eyes went. He saw a figure standing by the mast; for a moment he looked on it, and then the figure became shadowy. But Jason knew that he had looked upon the goddess whom he had seen in the ways of the forest and had seen afterward by the rough Anaurus.

Then mast and sails were taken down and the oars were left in the ship, and the Argo was launched into the water. The heroes went back to the palace of King Pelias to feast with the king’s guests before they took their places on the ship, setting out on the voyage to far Colchis.

When they came into the palace they saw that another hero had arrived. His shield was hung in the hall; the heroes all gathered around, amazed at the size and the beauty of it. The shield shone all over with gold. In its center was the figure of Fear–of Fear that stared backward with eyes burning as with fire. The mouth was open and the teeth were shown. And other figures were wrought around the figure of Fear–Strife and Pursuit and Flight; Tumult and Panic and Slaughter. The figure of Fate was there dragging a dead man by the feet; on her shoulders Fate had a garment that was red with the blood of men.

Around these figures were heads of snakes, heads with black jaws and glittering eyes, twelve heads such as might affright any man. And on other parts of the shield were shown the horses of Ares, the grim god of war. The figure of Ares himself was shown also. He held a spear in his hand, and he was urging the warriors on.

Around the inner rim of the shield the sea was shown, wrought in white metal. Dolphins swam in the sea, fishing for little fishes that were shown there in bronze. Around the rim chariots were racing along with wheels running close together; there were men fighting and women watching from high towers. The awful figure of the Darkness of Death was shown there, too, with mournful eyes and the dust of battles upon her shoulders. The outer rim of the shield showed the Stream of Ocean, the stream that encircles the world; swans were soaring above and swimming on its surface.

All in wonder the heroes gazed on the great shield, telling each other that only one man in all the world could carry it–Heracles the son of Zeus. Could it be that Heracles had come amongst them? They went into the feasting hall and they saw one there who was tall as a pine tree, with unshorn tresses of hair upon his head. Heracles indeed it was! He turned to them a smiling face with smiling eyes. Heracles! They all gathered around the strongest hero in the world, and he took the hand of each in his mighty hand.


The heroes went the next day through the streets of Iolcus down to where the ship lay. The ways they went through were crowded; the heroes were splendid in their appearance, and Jason amongst them shone like a star.

The people praised him, and one told the other that it would not be long until they would win back to Iolcus, for this band of heroes was strong enough, they said, to take King Aetes’s city and force him to give up to them the famous Fleece of Gold. Many of the bright-eyed youths of Iolcus went with the heroes who had come from the different parts of Greece.

As they marched past a temple a priestess came forth to speak to Jason; Iphias was her name. She had a prophecy to utter about the voyage. But Iphias was very old, and she stammered in her speech to Jason. What she said was not heard by him. The heroes went on, and ancient Iphias was left standing there as the old are left by the young.

The heroes went aboard the Argo. They took their seats as at an assembly. Then Jason faced them and spoke to them all.

“Heroes of the quest,” said Jason, “we have come aboard the great ship that Argus has built, and all that a ship needs is in its place or is ready to our hands. All that we wait for now is the coming of the morning’s breeze that will set us on our way for far Colchis.

“One thing we have first to do–that is, to choose a leader who will direct us all, one who will settle disputes amongst ourselves and who will make treaties between us and the strangers that we come amongst. We must choose such a leader now.”

Jason spoke, and some looked to him and some looked to Heracles. But Heracles stood up, and, stretching out his hand, said:

“Argonauts! Let no one amongst you offer the leadership to me. I will not take it. The hero who brought us together and made all things ready for our going–it is he and no one else who should be our leader in this voyage.”

So Heracles said, and the Argonauts all stood up and raised a cry for Jason. Then Jason stepped forward, and he took the hand of each Argonaut in his hand, and he swore that he would lead them with all the mind and all the courage that he possessed. And he prayed the gods that it would be given to him to lead them back safely with the Golden Fleece glittering on the mast of the Argo.

They drew lots for the benches they would sit at; they took the places that for the length of the voyage they would have on the ship. They made sacrifice to the gods and they waited for the breeze of the morning that would help them away from Iolcus.

And while they waited Aeson, the father of Jason, sat at his own hearth, bowed and silent in his grief. Alcimide, his wife, sat near him, but she was not silent; she lamented to the women of Iolcus who were gathered around her. “I did not go down to the ship,” she said, “for with my grief I would not be a bird of ill omen for the voyage. By this hearth my son took farewell of me– the only son I ever bore. From the doorway I watched him go down the street of the city, and I heard the people shout as he went amongst them, they glorying in my son’s splendid appearance. Ah, that I might live to see his return and to hear the shout that will go up when the people look on Jason again! But I know that my life will not be spared so long; I will not look on my son when he comes back from the dangers he will run in the quest of the Golden Fleece.”

Then the women of Iolcus asked her to tell them of the Golden Fleece, and Alcimide told them of it and of the sorrows that were upon the race of Aeolus.

Cretheus, the father of Aeson, and Pelias, was of the race of Aeolus, and of the race of Aeolus, too, was Athamas, the king who ruled in Thebes at the same time that Cretheus ruled in Iolcus. And the first children of Athamas were Phrixus and Helle.

“Ah, Phrixus and ah, Helle,” Alcimide lamented, “what griefs you have brought on the race of Aeolus! And what griefs you yourselves suffered! The evil that Athamas, your father, did you lives to be a curse to the line of Aeolus!

“Athamas was wedded first to Nephele, the mother of Phrixus and Helle, the youth and maiden. But Athamas married again while the mother of these children was still living, and Ino, the new queen, drove Nephele and her children out of the king’s palace.

“And now was Nephele most unhappy. She had to live as a servant, and her children were servants to the servants of the palace. They were clad in rags and had little to eat, and they were beaten often by the servants who wished to win the favor of the new queen.

“But although they wore rags and had menial tasks to do, Phrixus and Helle looked the children of a queen. The boy was tall, and in his eyes there often came the flash of power, and the girl looked as if she would grow into a lovely maiden. And when Athamas, their father, would meet them by chance he would sigh, and Queen Ino would know by that sigh that he had still some love for them in his heart. Afterward she would have to use all the power she possessed to win the king back from thinking upon his children.

“And now Queen Ino had children of her own. She knew that the people reverenced the children of Nephele and cared nothing for her children. And because she knew this she feared that when Athamas died Phrixus and Helle, the children of Nephele, would be brought to rule in Thebes. Then she and her children would be made to change places with them.

“This made Queen Ino think on ways by which she could make Phrixus and Helle lose their lives. She thought long upon this, and at last a desperate plan came into her mind.

“When it was winter she went amongst the women of the countryside, and she gave them jewels and clothes for presents. Then she asked them to do secretly an unheard-of thing. She asked the women to roast over their fires the grains that had been left for seed. This the women did. Then spring came on, and the men sowed in the fields the grain that had been roasted over the fires. No shoots grew up as the spring went by. In summer there was no waving greenness in the fields. Autumn came, and there was no grain for the reaping. Then the men, not knowing what had happened, went to King Athamas and told him that there would be famine in the land.

“The king sent to the temple of Artemis to ask how the people might be saved from the famine. And the guardians of the temple, having taken gold from Queen Ino, told them that there would be worse and worse famine and that all the people of Thebes would die of hunger unless the king was willing to make a great sacrifice.

“When the king asked what sacrifice he should make he was told by the guardians of the temple that he must sacrifice to the goddess his two children, Phrixus and Helle. Those who were around the king, to save themselves from famine after famine, clamored to have the children sacrificed. Athamas, to save his people, consented to the sacrifice.

“They went toward the king’s palace. They found Helle by the bank of the river washing clothes. They took her and bound her. They found Phrixus, half naked, digging in a field, and they took him, too, and bound him. That night they left brother and sister in the same prison. Helle wept over Phrixus, and Phrixus wept to think that he was not able to do anything to save his sister.

“The servants of the palace went to Nephele, and they mocked at her, telling her that her children would be sacrificed on the morrow. Nephele nearly went wild in her grief. And then, suddenly, there came into her mind the thought of a creature that might be a helper to her and to her children.

“This creature was a ram that had wings and a wonderful fleece of gold. The god of the sea, Poseidon, had sent this wonderful ram to Athamas and Nephele as a marriage gift. And the ram had since been kept in a special fold.

“To that fold Nephele went. She spent the night beside the ram praying for its help. The morning came and the children were taken from their prison and dressed in white, and wreaths were put upon their heads to mark them as things for sacrifice. They were led in a procession to the temple of Artemis. Behind that procession King Athamas walked, his head bowed in shame.

“But Queen Ino’s head was not bowed; rather she carried it high, for her thought was all upon her triumph. Soon Phrixus and Helle would be dead, and then, whatever happened, her own children would reign after Athamas in Thebes.

“Phrixus and Helle, thinking they were taking their last look at the sun, went on. And even then Nephele, holding the horns of the golden ram, was making her last prayer. The sun rose and as it did the ram spread out its great wings and flew through the air. It flew to the temple of Artemis. Down beside the altar came the golden ram, and it stood with its horns threatening those who came. All stopped in surprise. Still the ram stood with threatening head and great golden wings spread out. Then Phrixus ran from those who were holding him and laid his hands upon the ram. He called to Helle and she, too, came to the golden creature. Phrixus mounted on the ram and he pulled Helle up beside him. Then the golden ram flew upward. Up, up, it went, and with the children upon its back it became like a star in the day-lit sky.

“Then Queen Ino, seeing the children saved by the golden ram, shrieked and fled away from that place. Athamas ran after her. As she ran and as he followed hatred for her grew up within him. Ino ran on and on until she came to the cliffs that rose over the sea. Fearing Athamas who came behind her she plunged down. But as she fell she was changed by Poseidon, the god of the sea. She became a seagull. Athamas, who followed her, was changed also; he became the sea eagle that, with beak and talons ever ready to strike, flies above the sea.

“And the golden ram with wings outspread flew on and on. Over the sea it flew while the wind whistled around the children. On and on they went, and the children saw only the blue sea beneath them. Then poor Helle, looking downward, grew dizzy. She fell off the golden ram before her brother could take hold of her. Down she fell, and still the ram flew on and on. She was drowned in that sea. The people afterward named it in memory of her, calling it ‘Hellespont’–‘Helle’s Sea.’

“On and on the ram flew. Over a wild and barren country it flew and toward a river. Upon that river a white city was built. Down the ram flew, and alighting on the ground, stood before the gate of that city. It was the city of Aea, in the land of Colchis.

“The king was in the street of the city, and he joined with the crowd that gathered around the strange golden creature that had a youth upon its back. The ram folded its wings and then the youth stood beside it. He spoke to the people, and then the king– Aeetes was his name–spoke to him, asking him from what place he had come, and what was the strange creature upon whose back he had flown.

“To the king and to the people Phrixus told his story, weeping to tell of Helle and her fall. Then King Aeetes brought him into the city, and he gave him a place in the palace, and for the golden ram he had a special fold made.

“Soon after the ram died, and then King Aeetes took its golden fleece and hung it upon an oak tree that was in a place dedicated to Ares, the god of war. Phrixus wed one of the daughters of the king, and men say that afterward he went back to Thebes, his own land.

“And as for the Golden Fleece it became the greatest of King Aeetes’s treasures. Well indeed does he guard it, and not with armed men only, but with magic powers. Very strong and very cunning is King Aeetes, and a terrible task awaits those who would take away from him that Fleece of Gold.”

So Alcimide spoke, sorrowfully telling to the women the story of the Golden Fleece that her son Jason was going in quest of. So she spoke, and the night waned, and the morning of the sailing of the Argo came on.

And when the Argonauts beheld the dawn upon the high peaks of Pelion they arose and poured out wine in offering to Zeus, the highest of the gods. Then Argo herself gave forth a strange cry, for the beam from Dodona that had been formed into her prow had endued her with life. She uttered a strange cry, and as she did the heroes took their places at the benches, one after the other, as had been arranged by lot, and Tiphys, the helmsman, went to the steering place. To the sound of Orpheus’s lyre they smote with oars the rushing sea water, and the surge broke over the oar blades. The sails were let out and the breeze came into them, piping shrilly, and the fishes came darting through the green sea, great and small, and followed them, gamboling along the watery paths. And Chiron, the king-centaur, came down from the Mountain Pelion, and standing with his feet in the foam cried out, “Good speed, O Argonauts, good speed, and a sorrowless return.”


Orpheus sang to his lyre, Orpheus the minstrel, who knew the ways and the stories of the gods; out in the open sea on the first morning of the voyage Orpheus sang to them of the beginning of things.

He sang how at first Earth and Heaven and Sea were all mixed and mingled together. There was neither Light nor Darkness then, but only a Dimness. This was Chaos. And from Chaos came forth Night and Erebus. From Night was born Aether, the Upper Air, and from Night and Erebus wedded there was born Day.

And out of Chaos came Earth, and out of Earth came the starry Heaven. And from Heaven and Earth wedded there were born the Titan gods and goddesses–Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus; Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, gold-crowned Phoebe, and lovely Tethys. And then Heaven and Earth had for their child Cronos, the most cunning of all.

Cronos wedded Rhea, and from Cronos and Rhea were born the gods who were different from the Titan gods.

But Heaven and Earth had other children–Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes. These were giants, each with fifty heads and a hundred arms. And Heaven grew fearful when he looked on these giant children, and he hid them away in the deep places of the Earth.

Cronos hated Heaven, his father. He drove Heaven, his father, and Earth, his mother, far apart. And far apart they stay, for they have never been able to come near each other since. And Cronos married to Rhea had for children Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Aidoneus, and Poseidon, and these all belonged to the company of the deathless gods. Cronos was fearful that one of his sons would treat him as he had treated Heaven, his father. So when another child was born to him and his wife Rhea he commanded that the child be given to him so that he might swallow him. But Rhea wrapped a great stone in swaddling clothes and gave the stone to Cronos. And Cronos swallowed the stone, thinking to swallow his latest-born child.

That child was Zeus. Earth took Zeus and hid him in a deep cave and those who minded and nursed the child beat upon drums so that his cries might not be heard. His nurse was Adrastia; when he was able to play she gave him a ball to play with. All of gold was the ball, with a dark-blue spiral around it. When the boy Zeus would play with this ball it would make a track across the sky, flaming like a star.

Hyperion the Titan god wed Theia the Titan goddess, and their children were Hellos, the bright Sun, and Selene, the clear Moon. And Coeus wed Phoebe, and their children were Leto, who is kind to gods and men, and Asteria of happy name, and Hecate, whom Zeus honored above all. Now the gods who were the children of Cronos and Rhea went up unto the Mountain Olympus, and there they built their shining palaces. But the Titan gods who were born of Heaven and Earth went up to the Mountain Othrys, and there they had their thrones.

Between the Olympians and the Titan gods of Othrys a war began. Neither side might prevail against the other. But now Zeus, grown up to be a youth, thought of how he might help the Olympians to overthrow the Titan gods.

He went down into the deep parts of the Earth where the giants Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes had been hidden by their father. Cronos had bound them, weighing them down with chains. But now Zeus loosed them and the hundred-armed giants in their gratitude gave him the lightning and showed him how to use the thunderbolt.

Zeus would have the giants fight against the Titan gods. But although they had mighty strength Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes had no fire of courage in their hearts. Zeus thought of a way to give them this courage; he brought the food and drink of the gods to them, ambrosia and nectar, and when they had eaten and drunk their spirits grew within the giants, and they were ready to make war upon the Titan gods.

“Sons of Earth and Heaven,” said Zeus to the hundred-armed giants, “a long time now have the Dwellers on Olympus been striving with the Titan gods. Do you lend your unconquerable might to the gods and help them to overthrow the Titans.”

Cottus, the eldest of the giants, answered, “Divine One, through your devising we are come back again from the murky gloom of the mid Earth and we have escaped from the hard bonds that Cronos laid upon us. Our minds are fixed to aid you in the war against the Titan gods.”

So the hundred-armed giants said, and thereupon Zeus went and he gathered around him all who were born of Cronos and Rhea. Cronos himself hid from Zeus. Then the giants, with their fifty heads growing from their shoulders and their hundred hands, went forth against the Titan gods. The boundless sea rang terribly and the earth crashed loudly; wide Heaven was shaken and groaned, and high Olympus reeled from its foundation. Holding huge rocks in their hands the giants attacked the Titan gods.

Then Zeus entered the war. He hurled the lightning; the bolts flew thick and fast from his strong hand, with thunder and lightning and flame. The earth crashed around in burning, the forests crackled with fire, the ocean seethed. And hot flames wrapped the earth-born Titans all around. Three hundred rocks, one upon another, did Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes hurl upon the Titans. And when their ranks were broken the giants seized upon them and held them for Zeus.

But some of the Titan gods, seeing that the strife for them was vain, went over to the side of Zeus. These Zeus became friendly with. But the other Titans he bound in chains and he hurled them down to Tartarus.

As far as Earth is from Heaven so is Tartarus from Earth. A brazen anvil falling down from Heaven to Earth nine days and nine nights would reach the earth upon the tenth day. And again, a brazen anvil falling from Earth nine nights and nine days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth night. Around Tartarus runs a fence of bronze and Night spreads in a triple line all about it, as a necklace circles the neck. There Zeus imprisoned the Titan gods who had fought against him; they are hidden in the misty gloom, in a dank place, at the ends of the Earth. And they may not go out, for Poseidon fixed gates of bronze upon their prison, and a wall runs all round it. There Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes stay, guarding them.

And there, too, is the home of Night. Night and Day meet each other at that place, as they pass a threshold of bronze. They draw near and they greet one another, but the house never holds them both together, for while one is about to go down into the house, the other is leaving through the door. One holds Light in her hand and the other holds in her arms Sleep.

There the children of dark Night have their dwellings–Sleep, and Death, his brother. The sun never shines upon these two. Sleep may roam over the wide earth, and come upon the sea, and he is kindly to men. But Death is not kindly, and whoever he seizes upon, him he holds fast.

There, too, stands the hall of the lord of the Underworld, Aidoneus, the brother of Zeus. Zeus gave him the Underworld to be his dominion when he shared amongst the Olympians the world that Cronos had ruled over. A fearful hound guards the hall of Aidoneus: Cerberus he is called; he has three heads. On those who go within that hall Cerberus fawns, but on those who would come out of it he springs and would devour them.

Not all the Titans did Zeus send down to Tartarus. Those of them who had wisdom joined him, and by their wisdom Zeus was able to overcome Cronos. Then Cronos went to live with the friendly Titan gods, while Zeus reigned over Olympus, becoming the ruler of gods and men.

So Orpheus sang, Orpheus who knew the ways and the histories of the gods.


All the places that the Argonauts came nigh to and went past need not be told–Melibcea, where they escaped a stormy beach; Homole, from where they were able to look on Ossa and holy Olympus; Lemnos, the island that they were to return to; the unnamed country where the Earth-born Men abide, each having six arms, two growing from his shoulders, and four fitting close to his terrible sides; and then the Mountain of the Bears, where they climbed, to make sacrifice there to Rhea, the mighty mother of the gods.

Afterward, for a whole day, no wind blew and the sail of the Argo hung slack. But the heroes swore to each other that they would make their ship go as swiftly as if the storm-footed steeds of Poseidon were racing to overtake her. Mightily they labored at the oars, and no one would be first to leave his rower’s bench.

And then, just as the breeze of the evening came up, and just as the rest of the heroes were leaning back, spent with their labor, the oar that Heracles still pulled at broke, and half of it was carried away by the waves. Heracles sat there in ill humor, for he did not know what to do with his unlaboring hands.

All through the night they went on with a good breeze filling their sails, and next day they came to the mouth of the River Cius. There they landed so that Heracles might get himself an oar. No sooner did they set their feet upon the shore than the hero went off into the forest, to pull up a tree that he might shape into an oar.

Where they had landed was near to the country of the Bebrycians, a rude people whose king was named Amycus. Now while Heracles was away from them this king came with his followers, huge, rude men, all armed with clubs, down to where the Argonauts were lighting their fires on the beach.

He did not greet them courteously, asking them what manner of men they were and whither they were bound, nor did he offer them hospitality. Instead, he shouted at them insolently:

“Listen to something that you rovers had better know. I am Amycus, and any stranger that comes to this land has to get into a boxing bout with me. That’s the law that I have laid down. Unless you have one amongst you who can stand up to me you won’t be let go back to your ship. If you don’t heed my law, look out, for something’s going to happen to you.”

So he shouted, that insolent king, and his followers raised their clubs and growled approval of what their master said. But the Argonauts were not dismayed at the words of Amycus. One of them stepped toward the Bebrycians. He was Polydeuces, good at boxing.

“Offer us no violence, king,” said Polydeuces. “We are ready to obey the law that you have laid down. Willingly do I take up your challenge, and I will box a bout with you.”

The Argonauts cheered when they saw Polydeuces, the good boxer, step forward, and when they heard what he had to say. Amycus turned and shouted to his followers, and one of them brought up two pairs of boxing gauntlets–of rough cowhide they were. The Argonauts feared that Polydeuces’ hands might have been made numb with pulling at the oar, and some of them went to him, and took his hands and rubbed them to make them supple; others took from off his shoulders his beautifully colored mantle.

Amycus straightway put on his gauntlets and threw off his mantle; he stood there amongst his followers with his great arms crossed, glowering at the Argonauts as a wild beast might glower. And when the two faced each other Amycus seemed like one of the Earthborn Men, dark and hugely shaped, while Helen’s brother stood there light and beautiful. Polydeuces was like that star whose beams are lovely at evening-tide.

Like the wave that breaks over a ship and gives the sailors no respite Amycus came on at Polydeuces. He pushed in upon him, thinking to bear him down and overwhelm him. But as the skillful steersman keeps the ship from being overwhelmed by the monstrous wave, so Polydeuces, all skill and lightness, baffled the rushes of Amycus. At last Amycus, standing on the tips of his toes and rising high above him, tried to bring down his great fist upon the head of Polydeuces. The hero swung aside and took the blow on his shoulder. Then he struck his blow. It was a strong one, and under it the king of the Bebrycians staggered and fell down. “You see,” said Polydeuces, “that we keep your law.”

The Argonauts shouted, but the rude Bebrycians raised their clubs to rush upon them. Then would the heroes have been hard pressed, and forced, perhaps, to get back to the Argo. But suddenly Heracles appeared amongst them, coming up from the forest.

He carried a pine tree in his hands with all its branches still upon it, and seeing this mighty-statured man appear with the great tree in his hands, the Bebrycians hurried off, carrying their fallen king with them. Then the Argonauts gathered around Polydeuces, saluted him as their champion, and put a crown of victory upon his head. Heracles, meanwhile, lopped off the branches of the pine tree and began to fashion it into an oar.

The fires were lighted upon the shore, and the thoughts of all were turned to supper. Then young Hylas, who used to sit by Heracles and keep bright the hero’s arms and armor, took a bronze vessel and went to fetch water.

Never was there a boy so beautiful as young Hylas. He had golden curls that tumbled over his brow. He had deep blue eyes and a face that smiled at every glance that was given him, at every word that was said to him. Now as he walked through the flowering grasses, with his knees bare, and with the bright vessel swinging in his hand, he looked most lovely. Heracles had brought the boy with him from the country of the Dryopians; he would have him sit beside him on the bench of the Argo, and the ill humors that often came upon him would go at the words and the smile of Hylas.

Now the spring that Hylas was going toward was called Pegae, and it was haunted by the nymphs. They were dancing around it when they heard Hylas singing. They stole softly off to watch him. Hidden behind trees the nymphs saw the boy come near, and they felt such love for him that they thought they could never let him go from their sight.

They stole back to their spring, and they sank down below its clear surface. Then came Hylas singing a song that he had heard from his mother. He bent down to the spring, and the brimming water flowed into the sounding bronze of the pitcher. Then hands came out of the water. One of the nymphs caught Hylas by the elbow; another put her arms around his neck, another took the hand that held the vessel of bronze. The pitcher sank down to the depths of the spring. The hands of the nymphs clasped Hylas tighter, tighter; the water bubbled around him as they drew him down. Down, down they drew him,and into the cold and glimmering cave where they live.

There Hylas stayed. But although the nymphs kissed him and sang to him, and showed him lovely things, Hylas was not content to be there.

Where the Argonauts were the fires burned, the moon arose, and still Hylas did not return. Then they began to fear lest a wild beast had destroyed the boy. One went to Heracles and told him that young Hylas had not come back, and that they were fearful for him. Heracles flung down the pine tree that he was fashioning into an oar, and he dashed along the way that Hylas had gone as if a gadfly were stinging him. “Hylas, Hylas,” he cried. But Hylas, in the cold and glimmering cave that the nymphs had drawn him into, did not hear the call of his friend Heracles.

All the Argonauts went searching, calling as they went through the island, “Hylas, Hylas, Hylas!” But only their own calls came back to them. The morning star came up, and Tiphys, the steersman, called to them from the Argo. And when they came to the ship Tiphys told them that they would have to go aboard and make ready to sail from that place.

They called to Heracles, and Heracles at last came down to the ship. They spoke to him, saying that they would have to sail away. Heracles would not go on board. “I will not leave this island,” he said, “until I find young Hylas or learn what has happened to him.”

Then Jason arose to give the command to depart. But before the words were said Telamon stood up and faced him. “Jason,” he said angrily, “you do not bid Heracles come on board, and you would have the Argo leave without him. You would leave Heracles here so that he may not be with us on the quest where his glory might overshadow your glory, Jason.”

Jason said no word, but he sat back on his bench with head bowed. And then, even as Telamon said these angry words, a strange figure rose up out of the waves of the sea.

It was the figure of a man, wrinkled and old, with seaweed in his beard and his hair. There was a majesty about him, and the Argonauts all knew that this was one of the immortals–he was Nereus, the ancient one of the sea.

“To Heracles, and to you, the rest of the Argonauts, I have a thing to say,” said the ancient one, Nereus. “Know, first, that Hylas has been taken by the nymphs who love him and who think to win his love, and that he will stay forever with them in their cold and glimmering cave. For Hylas seek no more. And to you, Heracles, I will say this: Go aboard the Argo again; the ship will take you to where a great labor awaits you, and which, in accomplishing, you will work out the will of Zeus. You will know what this labor is when a spirit seizes on you.” So the ancient one of the sea said, and he sank back beneath the waves.

Heracles went aboard the Argo once more, and he took his place on the bench, the new oar in his hand. Sad he was to think that young Hylas who used to sit at his knee would never be there again. The breeze filled the sail, the Argonauts pulled at the oars, and in sadness they watched the island where young Hylas had been lost to them recede from their view.


Said Tiphys, the steersman: “If we could enter the Sea of Pontus, we could make our way across that sea to Colchis in a short time. But the passage into the Sea of Pontus is most perilous, and few mortals dare even to make approach to it.”

Said Jason, the chieftain of the host: “The dangers of the passage, Tiphys, we have spoken of, and it may be that we shall have to carry Argo overland to the Sea of Pontus. But You, Tiphys, have spoken of a wise king who is hereabouts, and who might help us to make the dangerous passage. Speak again to us, and tell us what the dangers of the passage are, and who the king is who may be able to help us to make these dangers less.”

Then said Tiphys, the steersman of the Argo: “No ship sailed by mortals has as yet gone through the passage that brings this sea into the Sea of Pontus. In the way are the rocks that mariners call The Clashers. These rocks are not fixed as rocks should be, but they rush one against the other, dashing up the sea, and crushing whatever may be between. Yea, if Argo were of iron, and if she were between these rocks when they met, she would be crushed to bits. I have sailed as far as that passage, but seeing The Clashers strike together I turned back my ship, and journeyed as far as the Sea of Pontus overland.

“But I have been told of one who knows how a ship may be taken through the passage that The Clashers make so perilous. He who knows is a king hereabouts, Phineus, who has made himself as wise as the gods. To no one has Phineus told how the passage may be made, but knowing what high favor has been shown to us, the Argonauts, it may be that he will tell us.”

So Tiphys said, and Jason commanded him to steer the Argo toward the city where ruled Phineus, the wise king.

To Salmydessus, then, where Phineus ruled, Tiphys steered the Argo. They left Heracles with Tiphys aboard to guard the ship, and, with the rest of the heroes, Jason went through the streets of the city. They met many men, but when they asked any of them how they might come to the palace of King Phineus the men turned fearfully away.

They found their way to the king’s palace. Jason spoke to the servants and bade them tell the king of their coming. The servants, too, seemed fearful, and as Jason and his comrades were wondering what there was about him that made men fearful at his name, Phineus, the king, came amongst them.

Were it not that he had a purple border to his robe no one would have known him for the king, so miserable did this man seem. He crept along, touching the walls, for the eyes in his head were blind and withered. His body was shrunken, and when he stood before them leaning on his staff he was like to a lifeless thing. He turned his blinded eyes upon them, looking from one to the other as if he were searching for a face.

Then his sightless eyes rested upon Zetes and Calais, the sons of Boreas, the North Wind. A change came into his face as it turned upon them. One would think that he saw the wonder that these two were endowed with–the wings that grew upon their ankles. It was awhile before he turned his face from them; then he spoke to Jason and said:

“You have come to have counsel with one who has the wisdom of the gods. Others before you have come for such counsel, but seeing the misery that is visible upon me they went without asking for counsel: I would strive to hold you here for a while. Stay, and have sight of the misery the gods visit upon those who would be as wise as they. And when you have seen the thing that is wont to befall me, it may be that help will come from you for me.”

Then Phineus, the blind king, left them, and after a while the heroes were brought into a great hall, and they were invited to rest themselves there while a banquet was being prepared for them. The hall was richly adorned, but it looked to the heroes as if it had known strange happenings; rich hangings were strewn upon the ground, an ivory chair was overturned, and the dais where the king sat had stains upon it. The servants who went through the hall making ready the banquet were white-faced and fearful.

The feast was laid on a great table, and the heroes were invited to sit down to it. The king did not come into the hall before they sat down, but a table with food was set before the dais. When the heroes had feasted, the king came into the hall. He sat at the table, blind, white-faced, and shrunken, and the Argonauts all turned their faces to him.

Said Phineus, the blind king: “You see, O heroes, how much my wisdom avails me. You see me blind and shrunken, who tried to make myself in wisdom equal to the gods. And yet you have not seen all. Watch now and see what feasts Phineus, the wise king, has to delight him.”

He made a sign, and the white-faced and trembling servants brought food and set it upon the table that was before him. The king bent forward as if to eat, and they saw that his face was covered with the damp of fear. He took food from the dish and raised it to his mouth. As he did, the doors of the hall were flung open as if by a storm. Strange shapes flew into the hall and set themselves beside the king. And when the Argonauts looked upon them they saw that these were terrible and unsightly shapes.

They were things that had the wings and claws of birds and the heads of women. Black hair and gray feathers were mixed upon them; they had red eyes, and streaks of blood were upon their breasts and wings. And as the king raised the food to his mouth they flew at him and buffeted his head with their wings, and snatched the food from his hands. Then they devoured or scattered what was upon the table, and all the time they screamed and laughed and mocked.

“Ah, now ye see,” Phineus panted, “what it is to have wisdom equal to the wisdom of the gods. Now ye all see my misery. Never do I strive to put food to my lips but these foul things, the Harpies, the Snatchers, swoop down and scatter or devour what I would eat. Crumbs they leave me that my life may not altogether go from me, but these crumbs they make foul to my taste and my smell.”

And one of the Harpies perched herself on the back of the king’s throne and looked upon the heroes with red eyes. “Hah,” she screamed, “you bring armed men into your feasting hall, thinking to scare us away. Never, Phineus, can you scare us from you! Always you will have us, the Snatchers, beside you when you would still your ache of hunger. What can these men do against us who are winged and who can travel through the ways of the air?”

So said the unsightly Harpy, and the heroes drew together, made fearful by these awful shapes. All drew back except Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind. They laid their hands upon their swords. The wings on their shoulders spread out and the wings at their heels trembled. Phineus, the king, leaned forward and panted: “By the wisdom I have I know that there are two amongst you who can save me. O make haste to help me, ye who can help me, and I will give the counsel that you Argonauts have come to me for, and besides I will load down your ship with treasure and costly stuffs. Oh, make haste, ye who can help me!”

Hearing the king speak like this, the Harpies gathered together and gnashed with their teeth, and chattered to one another. Then, seeing Zetes and Calais with their hands upon their swords, they rose up on their wings and flew through the wide doors of the hall. The king cried out to Zetes and Calais. But the sons of the North Wind had already risen with their wings, and they were after the Harpies, their bright swords in their hands.

On flew the Harpies, screeching and gnashing their teeth in anger and dismay, for now they felt that they might be driven from Salmydessus, where they had had such royal feasts. They rose high in the air and flew out toward the sea. But high as the Harpies rose, the sons of the North Wind rose higher. The Harpies cried pitiful cries as they flew on, but Zetes and Calais felt no pity for them, for they knew that these dread Snatchers, with the stains of blood upon their breasts and wings, had shown pity neither to Phineus nor to any other.

On they flew until they came to the island that is called the Floating Island. There the Harpies sank down with wearied wings. Zetes and Calais were upon them now, and they would have cut them to pieces with their bright swords, if the messenger of Zeus, Iris, with the golden wings, had not come between.

“Forbear to slay the Harpies, sons of Boreas,” cried Iris warningly, “forbear to slay the Harpies that are the hounds of Zeus. Let them cower here and hide themselves, and I, who come from Zeus, will swear the oath that the gods most dread, that they will never again come to Salmydessus to trouble Phineus, the king.”

The heroes yielded to the words of Iris. She took the oath that the gods most dread–the oath by the Water of Styx–that never again would the Harpies show themselves to Phineus. Then Zetes and Calais turned back toward the city of Salmydessus. The island that they drove the Harpies to had been called the Floating Island, but thereafter it was called the Island of Turning. It was evening when they turned back, and all night long the Argonauts and King Phineus sat in the hall of the palace and awaited the return of Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind.

VIII. King Phineus’s Counsel; the Landing in Lemnos

They came into King Phineus’s hall, their bright swords in their hands. The Argonauts crowded around them and King Phineus raised his head and stretched out his thin hands to them. And Zetes and Calais told their comrades and told the king how they had driven the Harpies down to the Floating Island, and how Iris, the messenger of Zeus, had sworn the great oath that was by the Water of Styx that never again would the Snatchers show themselves in the palace.

Then a great golden cup brimming with wine was brought to the king. He stood holding it in his trembling hands, fearful even then that the Harpies would tear the cup out of his hands. He drank–long and deeply he drank–and the dread shapes of the Snatchers did not appear. Down amongst the heroes he came and he took into his the hands of Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind.

“O heroes greater than any kings,” he said, “ye have delivered me from the terrible curse that the gods had sent upon me. I thank ye, and I thank ye all, heroes of the quest. And the thanks of Phineus will much avail you all.”

Clasping the hands of Zetes and Calais he led the heroes through hall after hall of his palace and down into his treasure chamber. There he bestowed upon the banishers of the Harpies crowns and arm rings of gold and richly-colored garments and brazen chests in which to store the treasure that he gave. And to Jason he gave an ivory-hilted and golden-cased sword, and on each of the voyagers he bestowed a rich gift, not forgetting the heroes who had remained on the Argo, Heracles and Tiphys.

They went back to the great hall, and a feast was spread for the king and for the Argonauts. They ate from rich dishes and they drank from flowing wine cups. Phineus ate and drank as the heroes did, and no dread shapes came before him to snatch from him nor to buffet him. But as Jason looked upon the man who had striven to equal the gods in wisdom, and noted his blinded eyes and shrunken face, he resolved never to harbor in his heart such presumption as Phineus had harbored.

When the feast was finished the king spoke to Jason, telling him how the Argo might be guided through the Symplegades, the dread passage into the Sea of Pontus. He told them to bring their ship near to the Clashing Rocks. And one who had the keenest sight amongst them was to stand at the prow of the ship holding a pigeon in his hands. As the rocks came together he was to loose the pigeon. If it found a space to fly through they would know that the Argo could make the passage, and they were to steer straight toward where the pigeon had flown. But if it fluttered down to the sea, or flew back to them, or became lost in the clouds of spray, they were to know that the Argo might not make that passage. Then the heroes would have to take their ship overland to where they might reach the Sea of Pontus.

That day they bade farewell to Phineus, and with the treasures he had bestowed upon them they went down to the Argo. To Heracles and Tiphys they gave the presents that the king had sent them. In the morning they drew the Argo out of the harbor of Salmydessus, and set sail again.

But not until long afterward did they come to the Symplegades, the passage that was to be their great trial. For they landed first in a country that was full of woods, where they were welcomed by a king who had heard of the voyagers and of their quest. There they stayed and hunted for many days in the woods. And there a great loss befell the Argonauts, for Tiphys, as he went through the woods, was bitten by a snake and died. He who had braved so many seas and so many storms lost his life away from the ship. The Argonauts made a tomb for him on the shore of that land–a great pile of stones, in which they fixed upright his steering oar. Then they set sail again, and Nauplius was made the steersman of the ship.

The course was not so clear to Nauplius as it had been to Tiphys. The steersman did not find his bearings, and for many days and nights the Argo was driven on a backward course. They came to an island that they knew to be that Island of Lemnos that they had passed on the first days of the voyage, and they resolved to rest there for a while, and then to press on for the passage into the Sea of Pontus.

They brought the Argo near the shore. They blew trumpets and set the loudest-voiced of the heroes to call out to those upon the island. But no answer came to them, and all day the Argo lay close to the island.

There were hidden people watching them, people with bows in their hands and arrows laid along the bowstrings. And the people who thus threatened the unknowing Argonauts were women and young girls.

There were no men upon the Island of Lemnos. Years before a curse had fallen upon the people of that island, putting strife between the men and the women. And the women had mastered the men and had driven them away from Lemnos. Since then some of the women had grown old, and the girls who were children when their fathers and brothers had been banished were now of an age with Atalanta, the maiden who went with the Argonauts.

They chased the wild beasts of the island, and they tilled the fields, and they kept in good repair the houses that were built before the banishing of the men. The older women served those who were younger, and they had a queen, a girl whose name was Hypsipyle.

The women who watched with bows in their hands would have shot their arrows at the Argonauts if Hypsipyle’s nurse, Polyxo, had not stayed them. She forbade them to shoot at the strangers until she had brought to them the queen’s commands.

She hastened to the palace and she found the young queen weaving at a loom. She told her about the ship and the strangers on board the ship, and she asked the queen what word she should bring to the guardian maidens.

“Before you give a command, Hypsipyle,” said Polyxo, the nurse, “consider these words of mine. We, the elder women, are becoming ancient now; in a few years we will not be able to serve you, the younger women, and in a few years more we will have gone into the grave and our places will know us no more. And you, the younger women, will be becoming strengthless, and no more will be you able to hunt in the woods nor to till the fields, and a hard old age will be before you.

“The ship that is beside our shore may have come at a good time. Those on board are goodly heroes. Let them land in Lemnos, and stay if they will. Let them wed with the younger women so that there may be husbands and wives, helpers and helpmeets, again in Lemnos.”

Hypsipyle, the queen, let the shuttle fall from her hands and stayed for a while looking full into Polyxo’s face. Had her nurse heard her say something like this out of her dreams, she wondered? She bade the nurse tell the guardian maidens to let the heroes land in safety, and that she herself would put the crown of King Thoas, her father, upon her head, and go down to the shore to welcome them.

And now the Argonauts saw people along the shore and they caught sight of women’s dresses. The loudest-voiced amongst them shouted again, and they heard an answer given in a woman’s voice. They drew up the Argo upon the shore, and they set foot upon the land of Lemnos.

Jason stepped forth at the head of his comrades, and he was met by Hypsipyle, her father’s crown upon her head, at the head of her maidens. They greeted each other, and Hypsipyle bade the heroes come with them to their town that was called Myrine and to the palace that was there.

Wonderingly the Argonauts went, looking on women’s forms and faces and seeing no men. They came to the palace and went within. Hypsipyle mounted the stone throne that was King Thoas’s and the four maidens who were her guards stood each side of her. She spoke to the heroes in greeting and bade them stay in peace for as long as they would. She told them of the curse that had fallen upon the people of Lemnos, and of how the menfolk had been banished. Jason, then, told the queen what voyage he and his companions were upon and what quest they were making. Then in friendship the Argonauts and the women of Lemnos stayed together –all the Argonauts except Heracles, and he, grieving still for Hylas, stayed aboard the Argo.

IX. The Lemnian Maidens

And now the Argonauts were no longer on a ship that was being dashed on by the sea and beaten upon by the winds. They had houses to live in; they had honey-tasting things to eat, and when they went through the island each man might have with him one of the maidens of Lemnos. It was a change that was welcome to the wearied voyagers.

They helped the women in the work of the fields; they hunted the beasts with them, and over and over again they were surprised at how skillfully the women had ordered all affairs. Everything in Lemnos was strange to the Argonauts, and they stayed day after day, thinking each day a fresh adventure.

Sometimes they would leave the fields and the chase, and this hero or that hero, with her who was his friend amongst the Lemnian maidens, would go far into that strange land and look upon lakes that were all covered with golden and silver water lilies, or would gather the blue flowers from creepers that grew around dark trees, or would hide themselves so that they might listen to the quick-moving birds that sang in the thickets. Perhaps on their way homeward they would see the Argo in the harbor, and they would think of Heracles who was aboard, and they would call to him. But the ship and the voyage they had been on now seemed far away to them, and the Quest of the Golden Fleece seemed to them a story they had heard and that they had thought of, but that they could never think on again with all that fervor.

When Jason looked on Hypsipyle he saw one who seemed to him to be only childlike in size. Greatly was he amazed at the words that poured forth from her as she stood at the stone throne of King Thoas–he was amazed as one is amazed at the rush of rich notes that comes from the throat of a little bird; all that she said was made lightninglike by her eyes–her eyes that were not clear and quiet like the eyes of the maidens he had seen in Iolcus, but that were dark and burning. Her mouth was heavy and this heavy mouth gave a shadow to her face that, but for it, was all bright and lovely.

Hypsipyle spoke two languages–one, the language of the mothers of the women of Lemnos, which was rough and harsh, a speech to be flung out to slaves, and the other the language of Greece, which their fathers had spoken, and which Hypsipyle spoke in a way that made it sound like strange music. She spoke and walked and did all things in a queenlike way, and Jason could see that, for all her youth and childlike size, Hypsipyle was one who was a ruler.

>From the moment she took his hand it seemed that she could not bear to be away from him. Where he walked, she walked too; where he sat she sat before him, looking at him with her great eyes while she laughed or sang.

Like the perfume of strange flowers, like the savor of strange fruit was Hypsipyle to Jason. Hours and hours he would spend sitting beside her or watching her while she arrayed herself in white or in brightly colored garments. Not to the chase and not into the fields did Jason go, nor did he ever go with the others into the Lemnian land; all day he sat in the palace with her, watching her, or listening to her singing, or to the long, fierce speeches that she used to make to her nurse or to the four maidens who attended her.

In the evening they would gather in the hall of the palace, the Argonauts and the Lemnian maidens who were their comrades. There were dances, and always Jason and Hypsipyle danced together. All the Lemnian maidens sang beautifully, but none of them had any stories to tell.

And when the Argonauts would have stories told, the Lemnian maidens would forbid any tale that was about a god or a hero; only stories that were about the goddesses or about some maiden would they let be told.

Orpheus, who knew the histories of the gods, would have told them many stories, but the only story of his that they would come from the dance to listen to was a story of the goddesses, of Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

Demeter And Persephone


Once when Demeter was going through the world, giving men grain to be sown in their fields, she heard a cry that came to her from across high mountains and that mounted up to her from the sea. Demeter’s heart shook when she heard that cry, for she knew that it came to her from her daughter, from her only child, young Persephone.

She stayed not to bless the fields in which the grain was being sown, but she hurried, hurried away, to Sicily and to the fields of Enna, where she had left Persephone. All Enna she searched, and all Sicily, but she found no trace of Persephone, nor of the maidens whom Persephone had been playing with. From all whom she met she begged for tidings, but although some had seen maidens gathering flowers and playing together, no one could tell Demeter why her child had cried out nor where she had since gone to.

There were some who could have told her. One was Cyane, a water nymph. But Cyane, before Demeter came to her, had been changed into a spring of water. And now, not being able to speak and tell Demeter where her child had gone to and who had carried her away, she showed in the water the girdle of Persephone that she had caught in her hands. And Demeter, finding the girdle of her child in the spring, knew that she had been carried off by violence.She lighted a torch at Etna’s burning mountain, and for nine days and nine nights she went searching for her through the darkened places of the earth.

Then, upon a high and a dark hill, the Goddess Demeter came face to face with Hecate, the Moon. Hecate, too, had heard the cry of Persephone; she had sorrow for Demeter’s sorrow: she spoke to her as the two stood upon that dark, high hill, and told her that she should go to Helios for tidings–to bright Helios, the watcher for the gods, and beg Helios to tell her who it was who had carried off by violence her child Persephone.

Demeter came to Helios. He was standing before his shining steeds, before the impatient steeds that draw the sun through the course of the heavens. Demeter stood in the way of those impatient steeds; she begged of Helios who sees all things upon the earth to tell her who it was had carried off by violence, Persephone, her child.

And Helios, who may make no concealment, said: “Queenly Demeter, know that the king of the Underworld, dark Aidoneus, has carried off Persephone to make her his queen in the realm that I never shine upon.” He spoke, and as he did, his horses shook their manes and breathed out fire, impatient to be gone. Helios sprang into his chariot and went flashing away.

Demeter, knowing that one of the gods had carried off Persephone against her will, and knowing that what was done had been done by the will of Zeus, would go no more into the assemblies of the gods. She quenched the torch that she had held in her hands for nine days and nine nights; she put off her robe of goddess, and she went wandering over the earth, uncomforted for the loss of her child. And no longer did she appear as a gracious goddess to men; no longer did she give them grain; no longer did she bless their fields. None of the things that it had pleased her once to do would Demeter do any longer.


Persephone had been playing with the nymphs who are the daughters of Ocean–Phaeno, Ianthe, Melita, Ianeira, Acast–in the lovely fields of Enna. They went to gather flowers–irises and crocuses, lilies, narcissus, hyacinths and roseblooms–that grow in those fields. As they went, gathering flowers in their baskets, they had sight of Pergus, the pool that the white swans come to sing in.

Beside a deep chasm that had been made in the earth a wonder flower was growing–in color it was like the crocus, but it sent forth a perfume that was like the perfume of a hundred flowers. And Persephone thought as she went toward it that having gathered that flower she would have something much more wonderful than her companions had.

She did not know that Aidoneus, the lord of the Underworld, had caused that flower to grow there so that she might be drawn by it to the chasm that he had made.

As Persephone stooped to pluck the wonder flower, Aidoneus, in his chariot of iron, dashed up through the chasm, and grasping the maiden by the waist, set her beside him. Only Cyane, the nymph, tried to save Persephone, and it was then that she caught the girdle in her hands.

The maiden cried out, first because her flowers had been spilled, and then because she was being reft away. She cried out to her mother, and her cry went over high mountains and sounded up from the sea. The daughters of Ocean, affrighted, fled and sank down into the depths of the sea.

In his great chariot of iron that was drawn by black steeds Aidoneus rushed down through the chasm he had made. Into the Underworld he went, and he dashed across the River Styx, and he brought his chariot up beside his throne. And on his dark throne he seated Persephone, the fainting daughter of Demeter.


No more did the Goddess Demeter give grain to men; no more did she bless their fields: weeds grew where grain had been growing, and men feared that in a while they would famish for lack of bread.

She wandered through the world, her thought all upon her child, Persephone, who had been taken from her. Once she sat by a well by a wayside, thinking upon the child that she might not come to and who might not come to her.

She saw four maidens come near; their grace and their youth reminded her of her child. They stepped lightly along, carrying bronze pitchers in their hands, for they were coming to the Well of the Maiden beside which Demeter sat.

The maidens thought when they looked upon her that the goddess was some ancient woman who had a sorrow in her heart. Seeing that she was so noble and so sorrowful-looking, the maidens, as they drew the clear water into their pitchers, spoke kindly to her.

“Why do you stay away from the town, old mother?” one of the maidens said. “Why do you not come to the houses? We think that you look as if you were shelterless and alone, and we should like to tell you that there are many houses in the town where you would be welcomed.”

Demeter’s heart went out to the maidens, because they looked so young and fair and simple and spoke out of such kind hearts. She said to them: “Where can I go, dear children? My people are far away, and there are none in all the world who would care to be near me.”

Said one of the maidens: “There are princes in the land who would welcome you in their houses if you would consent to nurse one of their young children. But why do I speak of other princes beside Celeus, our father? In his house you would indeed have a welcome. But lately a baby has been born to our mother, Metaneira, and she would greatly rejoice to have one as wise as you mind little Demophoon.”

All the time that she watched them and listened to their voices Demeter felt that the grace and youth of the maidens made them like Persephone. She thought that it would ease her heart to be in the house where these maidens were, and she was not loath to have them go and ask of their mother to have her come to nurse the infant child.

Swiftly they ran back to their home, their hair streaming behind them like crocus flowers; kind and lovely girls whose names are well remembered–Callidice and Cleisidice, Demo and Callithoe. They went to their mother and they told her of the stranger-woman whose name was Doso. She would make a wise and a kind nurse for little Demophoon, they said. Their mother, Metaneira, rose up from the couch she was sitting on to welcome the stranger. But when she saw her at the doorway, awe came over her, so majestic she seemed.

Metaneira would have her seat herself on the couch but the goddess took the lowliest stool, saying in greeting: “May the gods give you all good, lady.”

“Sorrow has set you wandering from your good home,” said Metaneira to the goddess, “but now that you have come to this place you shall have all that this house can bestow if you will rear up to youth the infant Demophoon, child of many hopes and prayers.”

The child was put into the arms of Demeter; she clasped him to her breast, and little Demophoon looked up into her face and smiled. Then Demeter’s heart went out to the child and to all who were in the household.

He grew in strength and beauty in her charge. And little Demophoon was not nourished as other children are nourished, but even as the gods in their childhood were nourished. Demeter fed him on ambrosia, breathing on him with her divine breath the while. And at night she laid him on the hearth, amongst the embers, with the fire all around him. This she did that she might make him immortal, and like to the gods.

But one night Metaneira looked out from the chamber where she lay, and she saw the nurse take little Demophoön and lay him in a place on the hearth with the burning brands all around him. Then Metaneira started up, and she sprang to the hearth, and she snatched the child from beside the burning brands. “Demophoön, my son,” she cried, “what would this strangerwoman do to you, bringing bitter grief to me that ever I let her take you in her arms?”

Then said Demeter: “Foolish indeed are you mortals, and not able to foresee what is to come to you of good or of evil,”

“Foolish indeed are you, Metaneira, for in your heedlessness you have cut off this child from an immortality like to the immortality of the gods themselves. For he had lain in my bosom and had become dear to me and I would have bestowed upon him the greatest gift that the Divine Ones can bestow, for I would have made him deathless and unaging. All this, now, has gone by. Honor he shall have indeed, but Demophoon will know age and death.”

The seeming old age that was upon her had fallen from Demeter; beauty and stature were hers, and from her robe there came a heavenly fragrance. There came such light from her body that the chamber shone. Metaneira remained trembling and speechless, unmindful even to take up the child that had been laid upon the ground.

It was then that his sisters heard Demophoon wail; one ran from her chamber and took the child in her arms; another kindled again the fire upon the hearth, and the others made ready to bathe and care for the infant. All night they cared for him, holding him in their arms and at their breasts, but the child would not be comforted, becauses the nurses who handled him now were less skillful than was the goddess-nurse.

And as for Demeter, she left the house of Celeus and went upon her way, lonely in her heart, and unappeased. And in the world that she wandered through, the plow went in vain through the ground; the furrow was sown without any avail, and the race of men saw themselves near perishing for lack of bread.

But again Demeter came near the Well of the Maiden. She thought of the daughters of Celeus as they came toward the well that day, the bronze pitchers in their hands, and with kind looks for the stranger–she thought of them as she sat by the well again. And then she thought of little Demophoon, the child she had held at her breast. No stir of living was in the land near their home, and only weeds grew in their fields. As she sat there and looked around her there came into Demeter’s heart a pity for the people in whose house she had dwelt.

She rose up and she went to the house of Celeus. She found him beside his house measuring out a little grain. The goddess went to him and she told him that because of the love she bore his household she would bless his fields so that the seed he had sown in them would come to growth. Celeus rejoiced, and he called all the people together, and they raised a temple to Demeter. She went through the fields and blessed them, and the seed that they had sown began to grow. And the goddess for a while dwelt amongst that people, in her temple at Eleusis.


But still she kept away from the assemblies of the gods. Zeus sent a messenger to her, Iris with the golden wings, bidding her to Olympus. Demeter would not join the Olympians. Then, one after the other, the gods and goddesses of Olympus came to her; none were able to make her cease from grieving for Persephone, or to go again into the company of the immortal gods.

And so it came about that Zeus was compelled to send a messenger down to the Underworld to bring Persephone back to the mother who grieved so much for the loss of her. Hermes was the messenger whom Zeus sent. Through the darkened places of the earth Hermes went, and he came to that dark throne where the lord Aidoneus sat, with Persephone beside him. Then Hermes spoke to the lord of the Underworld, saying that Zeus commanded that Persephone should come forth from the Underworld that her mother might look upon her.

Then Persephone, hearing the words of Zeus that might not be gainsaid, uttered the only cry that had left her lips since she had sent out that cry that had reached her mother’s heart. And Aidoneus, hearing the command of Zeus that might not be denied, bowed his dark, majestic head.

She might go to the Upperworld and rest herself in the arms of her mother, he said. And then he cried out: “Ah, Persephone, strive to feel kindliness in your heart toward me who carried you off by violence and against your will. I can give to you one of the great kingdoms that the Olympians rule over. And I, who am brother to Zeus, am no unfitting husband for you, Demeter’s child.”

So Aidoneus, the dark lord of the Underworld said, and he made ready the iron chariot with its deathless horses that Persephone might go up from his kingdom.

Beside the single tree in his domain Aidoneus stayed the chariot. A single fruit grew on that tree, a bright pomegranate fruit. Persephone stood up in the chariot and plucked the fruit from the tree. Then did Aidoneus prevail upon her to divide the fruit, and, having divided it, Persephone ate seven of the pomegranate seeds.

It was Hermes who took the whip and the reins of the chariot. He drove on, and neither the sea nor the water-courses, nor the glens nor the mountain peaks stayed the deathless horses of Aidoneus, and soon the chariot was brought near to where Demeter awaited the coming of her daughter.

And when, from a hilltop, Demeter saw the chariot approaching, she flew like a wild bird to clasp her child. Persephone, when she saw her mother’s dear eyes, sprang out of the chariot and fell upon her neck and embraced her. Long and long Demeter held her dear child in her arms, gazing, gazing upon her. Suddenly her mind misgave her. With a great fear at her heart she cried out: “Dearest, has any food passed your lips in all the time you have been in the Underworld?”

She had not tasted food in all the time she was there, Persephone said. And then, suddenly, she remembered the pomegranate that Aidoneus had asked her to divide. When she told that she had eaten seven seeds from it Demeter wept, and her tears fell upon Persephone’s face.

“Ah, my dearest,” she cried, “if you had not eaten the pomegranate seeds you could have stayed with me, and always we should have been together. But now that you have eaten food in it, the Underworld has a claim upon you. You may not stay always with me here. Again you will have to go back and dwell in the dark places under the earth and sit upon Aidoneus’s throne. But