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Children of the Dawn by  Elsie Finnimore Buckley





N ORTH-WEST of the Ægean, where the cliffs of Pelion rise sheer out of the sea, dwelt long ago Cheiron, the centaur, the wisest of living things, half man, half horse. Many brothers had he, who in form were like himself, but their hearts within were hard and wild, and because of their untamed passions and their cruelty and lust they were hated alike by gods and men. But Cheiron was gentle and mild. He knew all manner of strange things; he could prophesy, and play upon the lyre, and cure men of their hurts by means of healing herbs. He was brave withal, and had been in many a bloody fight, and knew the arts of war full as well as the arts of peace. Wherefore the old Hellenes called him Cheiron, the Better One, and sent up their sons to live with him that they might be taught all the things which man should know. In a hollow cave on the mountain-side he had his home. Far up above him the snow-capped peaks of Pelion kept watch over the nestling townships of the plain, and far, far below the waves of [238] the Ægean washed without ceasing on the rocks of that pitiless coast, now soft and soothing as the song a mother sings to her child, now loud and boisterous beneath the lash of the storm-wind, when the seabirds fly screaming to the shelter of the shore. All around were dark forests of chestnut, pine and oak, where many a fierce beast had his lair. In the branches of the trees the wild birds built their nests and filled the dark glades with song. About the mouth of the cave the ground was trampled hard beneath the tread of many feet, and paths led this way and that, some into the heart of the forests, others down the steep cliff to the shore.

Every morning at sunrise a troop of boys and youths would come forth from the cave, and, dividing into groups, would go their several ways to fish or to hunt, or to follow the course of some stream to its unknown source in the mountains. Sometimes Cheiron himself would go with them, if he thought they had need of his help; but more often he left them to their own devices, to follow each one his own bent as Nature prompted him. In the evening they would come home and tell him of their doings in the day; and he would praise or blame them, according as they had done well or ill, and show them how they might do better another time. Then they would go to their couches of dried moss and leaves, and sleep the deep sleep of youth and health, while the cool night breeze blew in upon their faces from the mouth of the cave, and put fresh life and strength into their tired limbs. In the winter-time, when the night was longer than the day, and the snow lay deep upon the hills, they would light a great fire in front of the cave with logs they had stored in the [239] summer months, and Cheiron would take his lyre and sing to them of all things in heaven and earth, while they lay round about and listened. The songs which he sang to them then they never forgot, because Cheiron was wise, and spoke to their souls in his singing. So they laid up his songs in their hearts; and many a long year after, when they were grown men far away, and some danger or difficulty stood in their path, the drift of his teaching would come back to them in the words of a song, and their hearts would grow brave and strong once more to act worthily of their boyhood's sunny days on Pelion. Many a hero whose name still lives among man had been trained by Cheiron in his youth—Peleus, who married a goddess, and Achilles his son, the swiftest and bravest of mortal men; and Jason, the leader of the Argonauts; and Asklepios, the mighty healer; and, not least among them, Orpheus, the greatest of Greek musicians and mystics, whose tale I will tell you now.

One day, as the shades of evening were beginning to fall, Cheiron stood before the mouth of the cave waiting for the lads to come home. Sooner than he expected he saw one of them far away coming down a path from the mountains, and he marvelled that he should return so soon and alone. As he came nearer Cheiron saw that he walked with his eyes upon the ground, deep in thought. Every now and again he stopped and looked round upon the peaceful hillsides stretching calm and smiling in the golden glow of the evening; and when he had gazed for a moment he sighed, as though he would breath into his soul the beauty he saw around him, and then went on his way once more with his eyes on the ground. [240] So he walked till he came close to the cave and saw Cheiron standing in the entrance. Then he ran up to him and put his hand upon his shoulder.

"My father," he cried, "look round upon the hills, hast thou ever seen them so fair as they have been this day?"

Cheiron smiled at his words.

"Orpheus," he said, "the fair face of the earth changes but little. In the soul of man it lies to look upon her and see her beauty or to be blind."

"Till this day I have been blind, Cheiron," he said.

"And who has lifted the veil from thine eyes, my son?" asked his master.

"I know not," he said. "But this morning, while yet it was dark, there came to me a strange unrest and a longing to be alone. So I crept forth from the cave whilst you were all sleeping, and climbed up the mountain-side—up, up, in the grey light before dawn, till I came to the place where the white snow lies like a cloak about the shaggy shoulders of Pelion. There I left the track of my footsteps where no feet but mine had trod, and climbed up upon a boulder and looked out across the sea. And I saw the great sun rise out of the east. As I looked it seemed that I beheld the face of God; and as snow and sea and the forests awoke to life in the light of His glory, my soul awoke within me. All the day long I wandered about the forests and hills; and I saw the beauty of the trees and the grass, and the grace of the wild deer as he bounded over the rocks, as I had never seen it before. The wonder of this day lies like a burden on my heart that I fain would ease, yet I have no words to tell of it."

[241] Then Cheiron took up the lyre which was lying by his side and passed his fingers gently over the strings.

"Orpheus," he said, "many a long year ago, when thou wast a little lad, thy mother Calliope brought thee to me. And she put thy hand in my hand, and said: 'Cheiron, make a man of my son. Make him brave and fearless and strong, a worthy companion of the noble lads thou hast around thee. When the right time comes I will breathe my spirit upon him, and he shall be great, as few in this world are great.' This day she has kept her word, Orpheus. She has breathed her spirit upon thee, and has opened the eyes of thy soul and made them see."

"Who is my mother Calliope?" asked the lad.

"She is the Fair-voiced One who speaks through the lips of mortals by music and song, Orpheus. With her sisters, she dwells for ever by the sunlit streams of Helicon, where they follow in the footsteps of Apollo, their lord, across the green lawns and the flowery meadows. All knowledge, all music of sound and of words, comes to men by their gift—those nine great sisters, the Muses. Happy art thou to be her son. Take now this lyre from mine hand. Ease the burden of thy soul in song, and learn how great is the gift she has given thee."

So Orpheus took the lyre from his master, and struck the chords, as all the lads who dwelt with Cheiron knew full well how to do. But instead of the old songs that he had learnt from his childhood, a new song came to his lips, and he sang as he had never sung before. Far away upon the hillsides his companions heard his voice, [242] and they stopped upon their homeward way to listen, as the evening breeze bore the sound to their ears. When they knew that the voice came from home, they hastened on and drew silently near, that no sound might disturb the singer, and throwing themselves upon the ground at his feet, forgot their weariness and hunger as they listened. On and on he sang, forgetful of all else but his song, till the red glow of the evening died away in the west and the stars shone pale in the twilight. There was a strange magic about his music which drew all living things to his feet, as a magnet draws the cold heart of steel. From the woods and forests they came, and from the bare hillsides—the lion, the leopard and the trembling fawn. The snake came forth from his hiding-place, the rabbit from his hole, and the wild birds wheeled about his head and settled on the brow of the cave. The very trees seemed to hear him, as they swayed their heads to and fro to the rhythm of his song. As he looked round upon his comrades whilst he sang, his heart grew strong within him, for he felt that a strange new power had been born in his soul, which could bow the heads of men beneath his will as the wind bows the rushes by the stream. So he sang on as the twilight deepened into night, and all the stars of heaven came forth to listen, till at length his song died upon his lips, like a breeze lulled to rest at sunset. For a moment the creatures lay spellbound around him; then one by one they crept back to their homes, with their fears and their hatreds tamed for a while by the magic of his singing. And his companions crowded round him with words of praise and eager questions.

[243] "Who taught thee thy magic song, Orpheus?" they cried.

"The sunrise and the snow," he answered, "and the teaching of Cheiron, and my happy days with you, and the spirit of my mother Calliope—all these have taught me my song."

But his answer was a dark saying to them, and not one of them understood it, save Cheiron. He knew that it is the commonest things in life that are the material of all that is beautiful and fair, just as a temple may be built of common stone; but that the children of the Muses are few, who can by music and art open the blind hearts of men to see.

Thus did the gift of song fall upon Orpheus, so that he became the greatest of all singers upon the earth. All day long he would wander about the woods and the hill, and tame the heart of every living thing with the magic of his voice.

One day it chanced that he came into the wood where he had never been before, and he followed a grass-grown track which led to the mouth of a cave. On one side of the cave stood a tall beech-tree, whose moss-covered roots offered a tempting seat, and close by a clear stream gushed forth from the rocks. He drank eagerly of the water, for he had wandered far and was thirsty; and when he had quenched his thirst, he sat down on the roots of the beech-tree and began his song. As before, the wild things gathered about him, and crouched at his feet, tame and silent, as he sang; and from the shadow of the cave crept a wood-nymph, and lay upon the grass, with her chin between her hands, looking up into his face. For a time he did not see her, so silently had she come; [244] but at last the power of her eyes drew his eyes upon her, and he turned his head and looked at her. When he saw her, his arm fell useless by his side and his voice died away in his throat, for he had never looked upon anyone so fair. Her hair was black as the storm-cloud, but her eyes were blue as the summer sky, and she lay like a white flower in the grass at his feet. For a long moment he gazed into her face without speaking, as she gazed back at him, and at last he spoke.



"Who art thou, maiden?" he asked.

"I am Eurydice," she answered.

"Thy hair is black as midnight, Eurydice," he said, "and thine eyes are bright as the noonday."

"Are not midnight and noonday fair to thine eyes?" she asked.

"They are fair indeed, but thou art fairer."

"Then I am well content," she said.

"I know not thy name nor thy face, Eurydice," said he, "but my heart beats with thy heart as though we were not strangers."

"When two hearts beat together, Orpheus, they are strangers no more, whether they have known each other all their days or have met as thou and I have met. Long ago the fame of thee, and of thy singing, reached mine ears, but I hardened my heart against thee, and said, 'It is an idle rumour, and he is no better than other men, before whose face I flee.' But now the gods have brought thy steps to the hollow cave where I dwell, and thou, by thy magic, has drawn me to thy feet, so that I, who doubted thy power, must follow thee whithersoever thou wilt."

[247] "Shall I sing the a song, Eurydice—the song thou hast sown in my heart?"

"Yes, sing me that song," she answered.

So he struck the chords of his lyre and sang her the song that was born of her beauty. One by one the wild creatures stole back to the forest, for that song was not for them, and they two were left alone beneath the spreading boughs of the beech-tree. As he sang, Eurydice crept closer to him, till her head rested on his knee and her long black hair fell in a cloud about his feet. As she drew nearer his voice grew lower, till it became a whisper in her ear. Then he laid his lyre on the ground beside him and put his arms about her, and their hearts spoke to each other in the tongue that knows not sound nor words.

So it came to pass that Orpheus returned no more to dwell with Cheiron and his companions in the hollow cave below Pelion, but lived with Eurydice, his wife, in her cave in the heart of the forest. But he never forgot his boyhood's happy days, nor all that Cheiron had done for him. He would come often to see him and take counsel with him, and sing to the lads his magic song. For a few short years he lived a life the gods might envy, till the dark days came, when not even music could bring comfort to his heart. For one day, as he roamed with Eurydice through the dark forest, it chanced that she unwittingly trod upon a snake, and the creature turned upon her and pierced her white foot with its venomous fang. Like liquid fire the poison ran through her veins, and she lay faint and dying in his arms.

[248] "O Eurydice," he cried, "Eurydice, open thine eyes and come back to me!"

For a moment the agony of his voice awoke her to life.

"Orpheus," she said, "beloved, this side of the river of death we can dwell together no more. But love, my dear one, is stronger than death, and some day our love shall prevail, never again to be conquered."

When she had spoken her head sank down upon his breast, and her spirit fled away, to return no more. So he bore the fair image of his wife in his arms, and laid her in the depths of the cave that had been their home. Above her head he placed a great pine torch, and all the long night watches he sat with his arms about her and his cheek against her cheek; and his heart groaned within him with a grief too great for words. Ere the day dawned he kissed for the last time the lips that could speak to him never again, and laid back her head on a pillow of leaves and moss. Then he pulled down the earth and stones about the mouth of the cave, so that no one could find the opening, and left for evermore the home he had loved so well. Onward he walked in the grey light of dawn, little caring where he went, and struck the chords of his lyre to tell all the earth of his grief. The trees and the flowers bowed down their heads as they listened, the clouds of heaven dropped tears upon the ground, and the whole world mourned with him for the death of Eurydice his wife.

"Oh, sleep no more, ye woods and forests!" he sang, "sleep no more, but toss your arms in the sighing wind, and bow your heads beneath the sky that weeps with [249] me. For Eurydice is dead. She is dead. No more shall her white feet glance through the grass, nor the field flowers shine in her hair. But, like last year's snow, she is melted away, and my heart is desolate without her. Oh! why may the dried grass grow green again, but my love must be dead for ever? O ye woods and forests, sleep no more, but awake and mourn with me. For Eurydice is dead; she is dead, dead, dead!"

So he wandered, making his moan and wringing the hearts of all who heard him, with the sorrow of his singing. And when he could find no more comfort upon earth he bethought him of the words of his wife:

"This side of the river of death we can dwell together no more. But love, my dear one, is stronger than death, and some day our love shall prevail, never again to be conquered."

He pondered the words in his heart, and wondered what she might mean.

"If love is stronger than death," he thought, "then my love can win her back. If I can charm the hearts of living things with the magic of my song, I may charm, too, the souls of the dead and of their pitiless king, so that he shall give me back Eurydice, my wife. I will go down to the dark halls of Hades, and bring her up to the fair earth once more."

When hope was thus born anew in his heart he grew brave for any venture, and pressed forward on his way till he came to the place men called the mouth of Hades. Nothing daunted by the tales of horror they told him, he entered the fearsome cave, which led deep down into the bowels of the earth, where noisome vapours chocked the [250] breath in his throat, and the dark forms crouched in his path and fled shrieking before him, till at last he stood by the shores of the ninefold Styx, that winds about the realms of the dead. Then he shouted aloud to Charon, the ferryman, to row him across in his boat. When the old man heard his voice, he stopped midway across the stream.

"Who is it that calls me in the voice of the living?" he asked.

"It is Orpheus," he answered. "I am come to fetch back Eurydice, my wife."

But the old man laughed, and his laugh cut the heart of Orpheus like a knife.

"O beardless innocent," he said, "who gave thee power over life and death? I tell thee that many have stood by the shores of this stream and entreated me to take them across, that they might bring their dear ones back with them. But no living soul shall sit in my boat, nor shall the dead, who have sat in it once, ever return to sit in it again. Go back to earth, young man, and when thy time has come, thou too shalt sit in my boat, never fear."

"That time has come, Charon," he said, "and I shall sit in thy boat this day."

Raising his lyre, he struck the chords, and his love taught him the tune and the words to sing. Steadfastly he gazed at Charon, and the magic of his singing drew the old man towards him as surely as though the rope of the boat were in his hands. Without ceasing his song, he took his place in the stern, and in time to the music Charon dipped his oars in the stream, so that the boat swung over the river as it had never swung before. [251] As it stranded in the shallow water, Orpheus leaped lightly to the shore.

"Farewell for the present, Charon," he cried; "we shall meet again ere long."

He hastened on his way, playing and singing his magic song. Resting on his pole, the old man looked after him with wonder in his heart, and shaded his eyes with his hand. For a ray of the sun seemed to shine for a moment in that cold grey land as Orpheus passed by. The pale flowers of hell tossed their heads to and fro, as though the west wind played through their leaves, and their colour and their scent came back to them once more. With a sigh, Charon breathed in the perfume from the air, and tossed back the grey locks from his brow and straightened his drooping shoulders.

"It is long since I smelt the fresh smell of the earth," he muttered. "Who is this young god, who can bring light to the darkness and life to the realms of the dead?"

So till Orpheus passed out of sight and the sound of his singing grew faint in the distance Charon stood looking after him, and then with a sigh he sat down in his boat and bent to his oars once more.

And Orpheus went on his way, with hope beating high in his heart, till he came to the portals of the palace of Death. On the threshold lay Cerberus, the three-headed hound of hell, who night and day kept watch beside the gate to see that no one passed in save those who had died upon earth, and that those who had passed him once should pass him never again. When he heard Orpheus coming, he sprang to his feet and snarled and growled and bared his sharp white fangs; but as the [252] strains of music grew clearer he sank silent to the ground, and stretched his three great heads between his paws. Orpheus, as he passed by, bent down and stroked him, and the fierce beast licked his hands. So did he enter into the gates of Death, and passed through the shadowy halls, till he stood before the throne of Pluto, the king. A dim and awful form did he sit, wrapped about in darkness and mist, and on his right hand sat Persephone, his wife, whom he stole from the meadows of Sicily. When he saw Orpheus his eyes gleamed like the gleam of cold steel, and he stretched forth his gaunt right arm towards him.

"What dost thou here, Orpheus?" he asked.

"I am come to ask thee a boon, O king," he answered.

"There be many that ask me a boon," said Pluto, "but none that receive it."

"Yet none have stood before thee in the flesh, as I do, O king, to ask their boon."

"Because thou hast trespassed unlawfully on my domain, dost thou think that I will grant thee thy boon?"

"Nay; but because my grief is so great that I have dared what none have dared before me, I pray thee to hear me."

Without waiting for an answer, he struck his lyre and sang to them the story of his life, and how he had loved and lost Eurydice. The eyes of the pale queen brightened when she heard him, and the colour came back to her cheeks, as the song brought back to her mind the days of her girlhood and the sunlit meadows of Sicily. Then a great pity filled her heart for Eurydice, who had left the green earth for ever, and might not [253] return, as she herself did, in the spring-time, living only the dark winter months below. As Orpheus ceased his song she laid her hand upon her husband's.

"My lord," she said, "grant his boon, I pray thee. He is brave and true-hearted, and he sings as no man has ever sung before."

But the stern king sat with his head upon his hand and eyes cast down, deep in thought. At length he spoke, and his voice was soft and kind.

"Orpheus," he said, "thou hast touched my heart with thy singing. Yet it lies not with me to grant thee thy boon."

"But if the queen, thy wife, may return to the earth in the spring-time, may not Eurydice, too, come back at thy command?" asked Orpheus.

"The ways of the gods are not the ways of mortals, Orpheus; they walk by paths you may not tread. Yet, though I have no power to give thee back Eurydice, thou mayest win her thyself if thou hast the strength."

"How may that be?" cried Orpheus. "For the sake of Eurydice I have strength for any venture."

"No strength of the flesh can win her, Orpheus, but the strength of a faith unfaltering. I will send for her, and when thou seest her stand within the hall, holding out her hands towards thee, thou must harden thy heart, and turn and flee before her by the way thou camest. For the love of thee she will follow, and she will entreat thee to look at her and give her thy hand over the stony way. But thou must neither look at her nor speak to her. One look, one word, will be thine undoing, and she must vanish from thine eyes for ever. The spell of thy song still [254] rests upon the guardians of my kingdom, and they will let thee and thy wife pass by. But think not by word nor deed to help her. Alone she passed from life to death, and alone she must pass back from death to life. Her love and thy faith can be the only bond between you. Hast thou the strength for this?"

"My lord," cried Orpheus, " 'tis but a small thing to ask for a love like mine."

"It will be harder than thou thinkest," the king replied. "Nevertheless, I will call Eurydice."

He signed to a messenger to fetch her. In a few moments he returned, and behind him came Eurydice from the garden of Death. The dank dew hung heavy about her, and she walked with her eyes upon the ground, while her long black hair hid the paleness of her face. Thus did she come into the centre of the hall, and, not speaking or moving, Orpheus gazed upon her till she raised her eyes and saw him. With a cry she sprang towards him.

"Orpheus!" she cried.

But, remembering the words of the king, he turned and fled before her through the misty halls and out by the great gate, where Cerberus lay tamed with his heads between his paws. And he tried to shut his ears to her pleading as they sped across the plain, but every word that she said cut his heart like a stab, and more than once he almost turned to answer her, so piteous was her cry.

"Oh, Orpheus, what have I done? Why dost thou flee from me? Oh, give me one word, one look, to say thou lov'st me still."

But he remained firm in his resolve, and sat himself in [257] Charon's boat, and steeled his heart, whilst she sat beside him, but could not touch him. For he was a living soul, and she was a shade, and might not touch him if she would. But still she pleaded with him.

"O Orpheus, my heart is starving for one look, one word. I know thou lovest me, but oh! to see thine eyes tell me so and hear thy lips say it."

He longed to turn and clasp her in his arms, and tell her how he loved her better than life. But still he refrained, and hugged his lyre close to his breast in his agony; and as soon as the boat touched the shore he leapt out and hastened up the steep, dark path, whilst the sweat stood out in drops upon his brow, so hard was the way and so stifling the air. Behind him followed Eurydice, and if the way was hard for him, for her it was ten times harder. She had no strength for words, and only by her sobs did Orpheus know she was following still. So they went on, till at length the air grew pure and fresh, and the daylight shone before them at the mouth of the cave. With eager steps Orpheus pressed forward, longing for the moment when he might clasp his wife in his arms and speak to her once more. But as the way grew easier for him, it grew harder for Eurydice; since no one may pass from death to life without sore travail and pain. So she struggled and stumbled after him, and her heart gave way within her as she felt she could follow no farther.

"Orpheus!" she cried in her despair, "thy hand."



Ere reason could restrain him, his heart had answered her sudden cry, and he turned and held out his arms to help her. All too late he knew his folly. For even as he was about to hold her she slipped away, and as smoke is [258] borne away on the wings of the wind, so was she borne away, helpless and lifeless, to the realms of the dead, and her voice floated back like the echo of a dream.

"Farewell, Orpheus. Alas! Alas! farewell!"

So for the second time did he lose Eurydice; and if his grief was great before, it was ten times greater now. For as the cup of joy had touched his lips it had slipped from his hand and broken, and he knew that the chance the gods had given him once they would give him never again, but that all his life long he must dwell in loneliness without Eurydice his wife. Blindly he went forward with his lyre beneath his arm. The strings hung broken and lifeless, for the rocks and thorns had torn them as he passed on his way up from Hades. But he heeded not nor made any effort to mend them, for the strings of his heart hung broken too, and the music in his soul was dead. In black despair he wandered on, and the sunshine to his eyes was darkness, and the fair forms of earth were sadder than the phantoms of Hades had seemed to him while hope still beat in his breast. As a colt that has wandered far by unknown paths returns at last surely to his homestead, so did his feet carry him back to Pelion and the dear home of his boyhood. Not till he stood in the path which led up to the cave did he know where he had come; but when he saw the mouth of the cave before him his eyes were opened once more, and a faint joy stole into his heart as he went on and sat down on a stone outside. All was silent and deserted, and he sat for a while alone with his own sad thoughts, till he felt a touch upon his shoulder, and looked up into the face of Cheiron standing beside him.

[259] "Oh my master!" he cried.

"My son, thou hast suffered," said Cheiron.

"I have been down into Hades, Cheiron," he answered.

"My child," said Cheiron, "I know it all."

He gazed upon him, his great mild eyes full of pity, and Orpheus gazed back at him, and knew that he understood, though how he had learnt his tale he could not tell. His heart drew comfort from the sympathy that understood without words, and was softened as the parched earth is softened by rain, so that he took Cheiron's hands between his, and bowed his head upon them, and wept.

Thus it came to pass that he returned to his boyhood's home, and dwelt once more with Cheiron and his lads beneath the shade of snow-capped Pelion. In time the bitterness of his grief was purged away, and he remembered Eurydice as something bright and fair that had been woven into the web of his life while yet it was young, and which could never be taken away. As he listened again to the old songs which Cheiron had sung to him and his comrades when they were lads, the fire and the eagerness of his youth were born once more within him. When he saw the elder ones go forth into the world and little lads brought up to take their place with Cheiron, he felt how life stands ever beckoning and calling to those in whose veins the blood of gods and heroes runs, and they go forth to rule and to serve, to fight and to labour, in answer to the call which the foolish do not hear. So one morning he took his lyre, which for many a long day had lain silent, and putting fresh strings for the ones that were broken, he passed his fingers lovingly over them as of old. And [260] the spirit of music sprang to life once more in his heart, as the flowers spring to life when the winter is past, so that once again he could charm every living thing by the magic of his song.

When Cheiron knew that his power had come back to him he was glad.

"Orpheus," he said, "thou hast conquered. A weaker man than thou art would have lain crushed beneath the foot of adversity. But those who bravely rise again are stronger than before."

"Master," he said, "when I saw the broken strings of my lyre and felt my voice choked within me, I said, 'With the breaking of this string the music dies and becomes a voiceless echo of the past, just as now Eurydice is a shade in the shadowy land while her body is dust upon earth,' and lo! ere the strings were mended or the voice grew strong again, the soul of song lived once more in my heart, as on the day when first my mother Calliope breathed her spirit upon me. If music may live without sound or words, may not the soul live without bones and flesh? This is a mystery, and I must seek the wide world for an answer."

And Cheiron smiled upon him.

"It is good to seek," said he, "though thou find no answer in the end."

"Yet will I find an answer," said Orpheus.

So when the call of Jason came soon after, for him to sail with the heroes in the good ship Argo for the finding of the Golden Fleece, and to be their minstrel on the stormy seas, he went down right gladly to Iolchos. At the sound of his song the gallant ship leapt over the [261] stones and into the sea like a charger ready for battle, though before she had been too heavy to move. So he sailed with the heroes on their perilous venture, filling their hearts with courage and hope, and took them safely through many a danger by the magic of his song. But though many had set out, there were few that returned, and he saw the wreck of many a promising life on that terrible voyage, but found no answer for his quest. He bowed his head in reverence to the memory of those who, for the sake of adventure and honour and a noble name, had poured forth their lives like water on a thirsty soil, knowing full well when they set forth that the danger would be for all, but the prize and the dear home-coming for few.

So, as soon as might be, he set forth again to wander the wide world alone with his lyre. Some say he went to Egypt, others to Crete, but wherever he went he found the great god Dionysos, the god of many names—Bromios, Bacchos, Zagreus—who fills men's minds with inspiration and divine madness, so that they become one with him and with the life that lives for ever behind the forms of things that die. He ate of the flesh of the mystic bull, which is the god himself, and to the sound of his lyre the Mænads danced over the mountains and through untrodden woods, and held to their breasts young lions, and cubs of the untamed wolf. Far away from towns and cities, where custom and language raise barriers between man and man, on the breast of the untouched earth they danced their mystic dance, and became one with Bacchos and with all things that have life in the present, or have [262] lived in the past. There Orpheus found Eurydice again in the communion of soul with soul, and learnt what she had meant when she said, "Some day our love shall prevail, never again to be conquered." So it came to pass that he became the priest of Bacchos, the mystic god, who is one with Life and Love. And he wrote upon tablets the rule of life, by which, through purity and initiation, men may become one with god, and when they have been purified by birth and re-birth in many diverse forms, they may win, because they are one with him, the immortal life that changeth not, like the life of the stars in heaven.

The tale goes of Orpheus that he at last came to Thrace and the wild mountain lands that lie to the north of Greece. There he tamed the fierce hill tribes with the magic of his song, and lived a life of abstinence and purity and ecstasy of the soul. But the followers of Dionysos who dwelt in those parts looked on him askance; for whereas they worshiped the god with sheding of blood and rending of goats, in the madness that is born of wine, the ecstasy of his worship was born of music and beauty, and he would have no part nor lot in their wild revels. And because there is no hate that is greater than the hate of those who worship one god in divers way, there came a day when the mad frenzy of the Mænads was turned against Orpheus himself. As he sat looking forth on the sunrise and singing as he touched his lyre, the raving band came up behind him, full of madness and of wine. And they tore him limb from limb in their frenzy, as they had torn the wild goats before, and cast his head into the Hebrus, thinking to silence his singing for ever. [263] But his head floated on the waves of the eddying stream, fair and fresh as in life, singing as it floated its magic enchanting song. Gently the river bore it along and down to the sea, and the blue sea waves kissed it and passed it from one to the other, till at last they cast it up, still singing, on the shore of the Lesbian Isle. There the Muses came and buried it, and made of its tomb a sacred shrine, where, for many a long year, men came from far and wide to worship and consult the oracle. About that shrine the nightingales sang more sweetly than in any other spot on earth, for they learnt their song from the lips of Orpheus himself. And men bound themselves in a holy brotherhood which they called by his name, and lived by the rules he had written on his tablets. Some of those who pretended to follow him were charlatans and rogues, and brought dishonour and ridicule upon his name, while others kept the letter without the spirit of his law; but among them were those of a pure and blameless life, who kept his doctrines, and handed them down from generation to generation, till in time they became the foundation-stones of the great philosophies of Pythagoras and Plato.

Thus did Orpheus live and die, and pointed out to men the path of immortality by purity and abstinence and ecstasy of the soul. There were many of old who hated his doctrine, and many who hate it now; and, indeed, it is not one by which every man can live. But there are those to whom it brings peace and joy, though they call it by other names than his; and these are the Bacchoi, the initiated, who have seen the inward light, and their souls are at peace.

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