|A Story of the Golden Age of Greek Heroes|
|by James Baldwin|
|This book paves the way to an enjoyable reading of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by presenting the legends about the causes of the Trojan War woven into a continuous narrative, ending where the story of the Iliad begins. The youthful Odysseus is the hero, as he journeys to visit his grandfather Autolycus, then Nestor and Menelaus, hearing the old stories as he goes. Ages 8-12 |
THE SILVER-BOWED APOLLO
 ONE morning Odysseus sat in the shadow of Parnassus
with one of the priests of Apollo, and they talked of
many wonderful things; and the boy began to think to
himself that there was more wisdom in the words of his
companion than in all the waters of the Castalian
spring. He could see, from where he sat, the stream of
that far-famed fountain, flowing out of the rocks
between two cliffs, and falling in sparkling cascades
down the steep slopes.
"Men think that they gain wisdom by drinking from that
spring," said he to the priest; "but I think that they
gain it in quite another way. They drink of its waters
every day; but while they drink, they listen to the
wonderful words which fall from your lips, and they
become wise by hearing, and not by drinking."
The old priest smiled at the shrewdness of the boy.
"Let them think as they please," said he. "In any case,
their wisdom would come hard, and be of little use, if
it were not for the silver-bowed Apollo."
"Tell me about Apollo," said Odysseus.
 The priest could not have been better pleased. He moved
his seat, so that he could look the boy full in the
face, and at the same time have the temple before him,
and then he began:—
"A very long time ago, Apollo was born in distant
Delos. And when the glad news of his birth was told,
Earth smiled, and decked herself with flowers; the
nymphs of Delos sang songs of joy that were heard to
the utmost bounds of Hellas; and choirs of white swans
flew seven times around the island, piping notes of
praise to the pure being who had come to dwell among
men. Then Zeus looked down from high Olympus, and
crowned the babe with a golden head-band, and put into
his hands a silver bow and a sweet-toned lyre such as
no man had ever seen; and he gave him a team of white
swans to drive, and bade him go forth to teach men the
things which are right and good, and to make light that
which is hidden and in darkness.
"And so Apollo arose, beautiful as the morning sun, and
journeyed through many lands, seeking a dwelling-place.
He stopped for a time at the foot of Mount Olympus, and
played so sweetly upon his lyre that Zeus and all his
court were entranced. Then he went into Pieria and
Iolcos, and he wandered up and down through the whole
length of the Thessalian land; but nowhere could he
find a spot in which he was willing to dwell. Then he
climbed into his car, and bade his swan-team fly with
him to the country of the Hyperboreans beyond
 the far-off northern mountains. Forthwith they obeyed; and
through the pure regions of the upper air they bore
him, winging their way ever northward. They carried him
over the desert flats where the shepherd folk of
Scythia dwell in houses of wicker-work perched on
well-wheeled wagons, and daily drive their flocks and
herds to fresher pastures. They carried him over that
unknown land where the Arimaspian host of one-eyed
horsemen dwell beside a river running bright with gold;
and on the seventh day they came to the great
Rhipæan Mountains where the griffins, with
lion bodies and eagle wings, guard the golden treasures
of the North. In these mountains, the North Wind has
his home; and from his deep caves he now and then comes
forth, chilling with his cold and angry breath the
orchards and the fair fields of Hellas, and bringing
death and dire disasters in his train. But northward
this blustering Boreas cannot blow, for the
heaven-towering mountains stand like a wall against
him, and drive him back; and hence it is that beyond
these mountains the storms of winter never come, but
one happy springtime runs through all the year. There
the flowers bloom, and the grain ripens, and the fruits
drop mellowing to the earth, and the red wine is
pressed from the luscious grape, every day the same.
And the Hyperboreans who dwell in that favored land
know neither pain nor sickness, nor wearying labor nor
eating care; but their youth is as unfading as the
springtime, and old age with its wrinkles and its
sorrows is evermore a stranger to them.
 For the spirit
of evil, which leads all men to err, has never found
entrance among them, and they are free from vile
passions and unworthy thoughts; and among them there is
neither war, nor wicked deeds, nor fear of the avenging
Furies, for their hearts are pure and clean, and never
burdened with the love of self.
"When the swan-team of silver-bowed Apollo had carried
him over the Rhipæan Mountains, they alighted in
the Hyperborean land. And the people welcomed Apollo
with shouts of joy and songs of triumph, as one for
whom they had long been waiting. And he took up his
abode there, and dwelt with them one whole year,
delighting them with his presence, and ruling over them
as their king. But when twelve moons had passed, he
bethought him that the toiling, suffering men of Hellas
needed most his aid and care. Therefore he bade the
Hyperboreans farewell, and again went up into his
sun-bright car; and his winged team carried him back to
the land of his birth.
"Long time Apollo sought a place where he might build a
temple to which men might come to learn of him and to
seek his help in time of need. At length he came to the
plain of fair Tilphussa, by the shore of Lake Copais;
and there he began to build a house, for the land was a
pleasant one, well-watered, and rich in grain and
fruit. But the nymph Tilphussa liked not to have Apollo
dwell so near her, lest men seeing and loving him
should forget to honor her; and one day,
 garmented with
mosses and crowned with lilies, she came and stood
before him in the sunlight.
" 'Apollo of the silver bow,' said she, 'have you not
made a mistake in choosing this place for a dwelling?
These rich plains around us will not always be as
peaceful as now; for their very richness will tempt the
spoiler, and the song of the cicada will then give
place to the din of battle. Even in times of peace, you
would hardly have a quiet hour here: for great herds of
cattle come crowding down every day to my lake for
water; and the noisy ploughman, driving his team
afield, disturbs the morning hour with his boorish
shouts; and boys and dogs keep up a constant din, and
make life in this place a burden.'
" 'Fair Tilphussa,' said Apollo, 'I had hoped to dwell
here in thy happy vale, a neighbor and friend to thee.
Yet, since this place is not what it seems to be,
whither shall I go, and where shall I build my house?'
" 'Go to the cleft in Parnassus where the swift eagles
of Zeus met above the earth's centre,' answered the
nymph. 'There thou canst dwell in peace, and men will
come from all parts of the world to do thee honor.'
"And so Apollo came down towards Crissa, and here in
the cleft of the mountain he laid the foundations of
his shrine. Then he called the master-architects of the
world, Trophonius and Agamedes, and gave to them the
building of the high walls and the massive roof. And
when they had finished their work, he said, 'Say
what reward you most desire for your labor, and I will
give it you.'
" 'Give us,' said the brothers, 'that which is the best
" 'It is well,' answered Apollo. 'When the full moon is
seen above the mountain-tops, you shall have your
"But when the moon rose full and clear above the
heights, the two brothers were dead.
"And Apollo was pleased with the place which he had
chosen for a home; for here were peace and quiet,
and neither the hum of labor nor the din of battle would be
likely ever to enter. Yet there was one thing to be
done before he could have perfect rest. There lived
near the foot of the mountain a huge serpent called
Python, which was the terror of all the land.
Oftentimes, coming out of his den, this monster
attacked the flocks and herds, and sometimes even their
keepers; and he had been known to carry little children
and helpless women to his den, and there devour them.
APOLLO SLAYING THE PYTHON.
"The men of Delphi came one day to Apollo, and prayed
him to drive out or destroy their terrible enemy. So,
taking in hand his silver bow, he sallied out at break
of day to meet the monster when he should issue from
his slimy cave. The vile creature shrank back when he
saw the radiant god before him, and would fain have
hidden himself in the deep gorges of the mountain. But
Apollo quickly launched a swift arrow at him, crying,
'Thou bane of man, lie thou upon the
 earth, and enrich
it with thy dead body!' And the never-erring arrow sped
to the mark; and the great beast died, wallowing in his
gore. And the people in their joy came out to meet the
archer, singing pæans in his praise; and they
crowned him with wild flowers and wreaths of olives,
and hailed him as the Pythian king; and the
nightingales sang to him in the groves, and the
swallows and cicadas twittered and tuned their melodies
in harmony with his lyre.
"But as yet there were no priests in Apollo's temple;
and he pondered, long doubting, as to whom he should
choose. One day he stood upon the mountain's topmost
peak, whence he could see all Hellas and the seas
around it. Far away in the south, he spied a little
ship sailing from Crete to sandy Pylos; and the men who
were on board were Cretan merchants.
" 'These men shall serve in my temple!' he cried.
"Upward he sprang, and high he soared above the sea;
then swiftly descending like a fiery star, he plunged
into the waves. There he changed himself into the form
of a dolphin, and swam with speed to overtake the
vessel. Long before the ship had reached Pylos, the
mighty fish came up with it, and struck its stern. The
crew were dumb with terror, and sat still in their
places; their oars were motionless; the sail hung limp
and useless from the mast. Yet the vessel sped through
the waves with the speed of the wind, for the dolphin
was driving it forward by the force of
 his fins. Past
many a headland, past Pylos and many pleasant harbors,
they hastened. Vainly did the pilot try to land at
Cyparissa and at Cyllene: the ship would not obey her
helm. They rounded the headland of Araxus, and came
into the long bay of Crissa; and there the dolphin left
off guiding the vessel, and swam playfully around it,
while a brisk west wind filled the sail, and bore the
voyagers safely into port.
"Then the dolphin changed into the form of a glowing
star, which, shooting high into the heavens, lit up the
whole world with its glory; and as the awe-stricken
crew stood gazing at the wonder, it fell with the
quickness of light upon Parnassus. Into his temple
Apollo hastened, and there he kindled an undying fire.
Then, in the form of a handsome youth, with golden hair
falling in waves upon his shoulders, he hastened to the
beach to welcome the Cretan strangers.
" 'Hail, seamen!' he cried. 'Who are you, and from
whence do you come? Shall I greet you as friends and
guests, or shall I know you as robbers bringing death
and distress to many a fair home?'
"Then answered the Cretan captain, 'Fair stranger, the
gods have brought us hither; for by no wish of our own
have we come. We are Cretan merchants, and we were on
our way to sandy Pylos with stores of merchandise, to
barter with the tradesmen of that city. But some
unknown being, whose might is greater than the might of
men, has carried us far beyond our wished-for port,
even to this unknown shore. Tell us now, we
 pray thee,
what land is this? And who art thou who lookest so like
" 'Friends and guests, for such indeed you must be,'
answered the radiant youth, 'think never again of
sailing upon the wine-faced sea, but draw now your
vessel high up on the beach. And when you have brought
out all your goods, and built an altar upon the shore,
take of your white barley which you have with you, and
offer it reverently to Phœbus Apollo. For I am
he; and it was I who brought you hither, so that you
might keep my temple, and make known my wishes unto
men. And since it was in the form of a dolphin that you
first saw me, let the town which stands around my
temple be known as Delphi, and let men worship me there
as Apollo Delphinius.'
"Then the Cretans did as he had bidden them: they drew
their vessel high up on the white beach, and when they
had unladen it of their goods, they built an altar on
the shore, and offered white barley to Phœbus
Apollo, and gave thanks to the ever-living powers who
had saved them from the terrors of the deep. And after
they had feasted, and rested from their long voyage,
they turned their faces toward Parnassus; and Apollo,
playing sweeter music than men had ever heard, led the
way; and the folk of Delphi, with choirs of boys and
maidens, came to meet them, and they sang a pæan
and songs of victory as they helped the Cretans up the
steep pathway to the cleft of Parnassus.
 " 'I leave you now to have sole care of my temple,' said
Apollo. 'I charge you to keep it well; deal righteously
with all men; let no unclean thing pass your lips;
forget self; guard well your thoughts, and keep your
hearts free from guile. If you do these things, you
shall be blessed with length of days, and all that
makes life glad. But if you forget my words, and deal
treacherously with men, and cause any to wander from
the path of right, then shall you be driven forth
homeless and accursed, and others shall take your
places in the service of my house.'
"And then the bright youth left them, and hastened away
into Thessaly and to Mount Olympus. But, every year he
comes again, and looks into his house, and speaks words
of warning and of hope to his servants; and often men
have seen him on Parnassus, playing; his lyre to the
listening Muses, or with his sister, arrow-loving
Artemis, chasing the mountain deer."
Such was the story which the old priest related to
Odysseus, sitting in the shadow of the mountain; and
the boy listened with eyes wide open and full of
wonder, half expecting to see the golden-haired Apollo
standing by his side.
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