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The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Before Achilles by  Padraic Colum

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THE LEMNIAN MAIDENS

[58]

A ND 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 [59] 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 [60] 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.


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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

I

[61] 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 [62] been carried off by violence. She lighted a torch at Ætna'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 assem- [63] blies 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.

II

Persephone had been playing with the nymphs who are the daughters of Ocean—Phæno, Ianthe, Melita, Ianeira, Acaste—in the lovely fields of Enna. They went to gather flowers—irises and crocuses, lilies, narcissus, hyacinths and rose-blooms—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, [64] 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.


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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.

III

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 [65] 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 Demophoön."

All the time that she watched them and listened to their [66] 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 Callithoë. 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 Demophoön, 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 Demophoön, child of many hopes and prayers."

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

[67] He grew in strength and beauty in her charge. And little Demophoön 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 Demopho÷n 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. "Demopho÷n, my son," she cried, "what would this stranger-woman do to you, bringing bitter grief to me that ever I let her take you in her arms?"


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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 Demophoön will know age and death."

The seeming old age that was upon her had fallen from [68] 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 Demophoön 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 Demophoön, 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.

[69] 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.

IV

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.


[Illustration]

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 [70] 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.


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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 [71] 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 not always you will be there. When the flowers bloom upon the earth you shall come up from the realm of darkness, and in great joy we shall go through the world together, Demeter and Persephone."

And so it has been since Persephone came back to her mother [72] after having eaten of the pomegranate seeds. For two seasons of the year she stays with Demeter, and for one season she stays in the Underworld with her dark lord. While she is with her mother there is springtime upon the earth. Demeter blesses the furrows, her heart being glad because her daughter is with her once more. The furrows become heavy with grain, and soon the whole wide earth has grain and fruit, leaves and flowers. When the furrows are reaped, when the grain has been gathered, when the dark season comes, Persephone goes from her mother, and going down into the dark places, she sits beside her mighty lord Aidoneus and upon his throne. Not sorrowful is she there; she sits with head unbowed, for she knows herself to be a mighty queen. She has joy, too, knowing of the seasons when she may walk with Demeter, her mother, on the wide places of the earth, through fields of flowers and fruit and ripening grain.


Such was the story that Orpheus told—Orpheus who knew the histories of the gods.

A day came when the heroes, on their way back from a journey they had made with the Lemnian maidens, called out to Heracles upon the Argo. Then Heracles, standing on the prow of the ship, shouted angrily to them. Terrible did he seem to the Lemnian maidens, and they ran off, drawing the heroes with them. Heracles shouted to his comrades again, saying that if they did not come aboard the Argo  and make ready [73] for the voyage to Colchis, he would go ashore and carry them to the ship, and force them again to take the oars in their hands. Not all of what Heracles said did the Argonauts hear.

That evening the men were silent in Hypsipyle's hall, and it was Atalanta, the maiden, who told the evening's story.

ATALANTA'S RACE

There are two Atalantas, she said; she herself, the Huntress, and another who is noted for her speed of foot and her delight in the race—the daughter of Schœneus, King of Bœotia, Atalanta of the Swift Foot.

So proud was she of her swiftness that she made a vow to the gods that none would be her husband except the youth who won past her in the race. Youth after youth came and raced against her, but Atalanta, who grew fleeter and fleeter of foot, left each one of them far behind her. The youths who came to the race were so many and the clamor they made after defeat was so great, that her father made a law that, as he thought, would lessen their number. The law that he made was that the youth who came to race against Atalanta and who lost the race should lose his life into the bargain. After that the youths who had care for their lives stayed away from Bœotia.

Once there came a youth from a far part of Greece into the country that Atalanta's father ruled over. Hippomenes was his name. He did not know of the race, but having come into [74] the city and seeing the crowd of people, he went with them to the course. He looked upon the youths who were girded for the race, and he heard the folk say amongst themselves, "Poor youths, as mighty and as high-spirited as they look, by sunset the life will be out of each of them, for Atalanta will run past them as she ran past the others." Then Hippomenes spoke to the folk in wonder, and they told him of Atalanta's race and of what would befall the youths who were defeated in it. "Unlucky youths," cried Hippomenes, "how foolish they are to try to win a bride at the price of their lives."

Then, with pity in his heart, he watched the youths prepare for the race. Atalanta had not yet taken her place, and he was fearful of looking upon her. "She is a witch," he said to himself, "she must be a witch to draw so many youths to their deaths, and she, no doubt, will show in her face and figure the witch's spirit."

But even as he said this, Hippomenes saw Atalanta. She stood with the youths before they crouched for the first dart in the race. He saw that she was a girl of a light and a lovely form. Then they crouched for the race; then the trumpets rang out, and the youths and the maiden darted like swallows over the sand of the course.

On came Atalanta, far, far ahead of the youths who had started with her. Over her bare shoulders her hair streamed, blown backward by the wind that met her flight. Her fair neck shone, and her little feet were like flying doves. It seemed to Hippomenes as he watched her that there was fire in her [75] lovely body. On and on she went as swift as the arrow that the Scythian shoots from his bow. And as he watched the race he was not sorry that the youths were being left behind. Rather would he have been enraged if one came near overtaking her, for now his heart was set upon winning her for his bride, and he cursed himself for not having entered the race.

She passed the last goal mark and she was given the victor's wreath of flowers. Hippomenes stood and watched her and he did not see the youths who had started with her—they had thrown themselves on the ground in their despair.

Then wild, as though he were one of the doomed youths, Hippomenes made his way through the throng and came before the black-bearded King of Bœotia. The king's brows were knit, for even then he was pronouncing doom upon the youths who had been left behind in the race. He looked upon Hippomenes, another youth who would make the trial, and the frown became heavier upon his face.

But Hippomenes saw only Atalanta. She came beside her father; the wreath was upon her head of gold, and her eyes were wide and tender. She turned her face to him, and then she knew by the wildness that was in his look that he had come to enter the race with her. Then the flush that was on her face died away, and she shook her head as if she were imploring him to go from that place.

The dark-bearded king bent his brows upon him and said, "Speak, O youth, speak and tell us what brings you here."

[76] Then cried Hippomenes as if his whole life were bursting out with his words: "Why does this maiden, your daughter, seek an easy renown by conquering weakly youths in the race? She has not striven yet. Here stand I, one of the blood of Poseidon, the god of the sea. Should I be defeated by her in the race, then, indeed, might Atalanta have something to boast of."

Atalanta stepped forward and said: "Do not speak of it, youth. Indeed I think that it is some god, envious of your beauty and your strength, who sent you here to strive with me and to meet your doom. Ah, think of the youths who have striven with me even now! Think of the hard doom that is about to fall upon them! You venture your life in the race, but indeed I am not worthy of the price. Go hence, O stranger youth, go hence and live happily, for indeed I think that there is some maiden who loves you well."

"Nay, maiden," said Hippomenes, "I will enter the race and I will venture my life on the chance of winning you for my bride. What good will my life and my spirit be to me if they cannot win this race for me?"

She drew away from him then and looked upon him no more, but bent down to fasten the sandals upon her feet. And the black-bearded king looked upon Hippomenes and said, "Face, then, this race to-morrow. You will be the only one who will enter it. But bethink thee of the doom that awaits thee at the end of it." The king said no more, and Hippomenes went [77] from him and from Atalanta, and he came again to the place where the race had been run.

He looked across the sandy course with its goal marks, and in his mind he saw again Atalanta's swift race. He would not meet doom at the hands of the king's soldiers, he knew, for his spirit would leave him with the greatness of the effort he would make to reach the goal before her. And he thought it would be well to die in that effort and on that sandy place that was so far from his own land.

Even as he looked across the sandy course now deserted by the throng, he saw one move across it, coming toward him with feet that did not seem to touch the ground. She was a woman of wonderful presence. As Hippomenes looked upon her he knew that she was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and of love.

"Hippomenes," said the immortal goddess, "the gods are mindful of you who are sprung from one of the gods, and I am mindful of you because of your own worth. I have come to help you in your race with Atalanta, for I would not have you slain, nor would I have that maiden go unwed. Give your greatest strength and your greatest swiftness to the race, and behold! here are wonders that will prevent the fleet-footed Atalanta from putting all her spirit into the race."

And then the immortal goddess held out to Hippomenes a branch that had upon it three apples of shining gold.

"In Cyprus," said the goddess, "where I have come from, there is a tree on which these golden apples grow. Only I [78] may pluck them. I have brought them to you, Hippomenes. Keep them in your girdle, and in the race you will find out what to do with them, I think."

So Aphrodite said, and then she vanished, leaving a fragrance in the air and the three shining apples in the hands of Hippomenes. Long he looked upon their brightness. They were beside him that night, and when he arose in the dawn he put them in his girdle. Then, before the throng, he went to the place of the race.

When he showed himself beside Atalanta, all around the course were silent, for they all admired Hippomenes for his beauty and for the spirit that was in his face; they were silent out of compassion, for they knew the doom that befell the youths who raced with Atalanta.

And now Schœneus, the black-bearded king, stood up, and he spoke to the throng, saying, "Hear me all, both young and old: this youth, Hippomenes, seeks to win the race from my daughter, winning her for his bride. Now, if he be victorious and escape death I will give him my dear child, Atalanta, and many fleet horses besides as gifts from me, and in honor he shall go back to his native land. But if he fail in the race, then he will have to share the doom that has been meted out to the other youths who raced with Atalanta hoping to win her for a bride."

Then Hippomenes and Atalanta crouched for the start. The trumpets were sounded and they darted off.

[79] Side by side with Atalanta Hippomenes went. Her flying hair touched his breast, and it seemed to him that they were skimming the sandy course as if they were swallows. But then Atalanta began to draw away from him. He saw her ahead of him, and then he began to hear the words of cheer that came from the throng—"Bend to the race, Hippomenes! Go on, go on! Use your strength to the utmost." He bent himself to the race, but further and further from him Atalanta drew.

Then it seemed to him that she checked her swiftness a little to look back at him. He gained on her a little. And then his hand touched the apples that were in his girdle. As it touched them it came into his mind what to do with the apples.

He was not far from her now, but already her swiftness was drawing her further and further away. He took one of the apples into his hand and tossed it into the air so that it fell on the track before her.

Atalanta saw the shining apple. She checked her speed and stooped in the race to pick it up. And as she stooped Hippomenes darted past her, and went flying toward the goal that now was within his sight.

But soon she was beside him again. He looked, and he saw that the goal marks were far, far ahead of him. Atalanta with the flying hair passed him, and drew away and away from him. He had not speed to gain upon her now, he thought, so he put his strength into his hand and he flung the second of the shin- [80] ing apples. The apple rolled before her and rolled off the course. Atalanta turned off the course, stooped and picked up the apple.

Then did Hippomenes draw all his spirit into his breast as he raced on. He was now nearer to the goal than she was. But he knew that she was behind him, going lightly where he went heavily. And then she was beside him, and then she went past him. She paused in her speed for a moment and she looked back on him.

As he raced on, his chest seemed weighted down and his throat was crackling dry. The goal marks were far away still, but Atalanta was nearing them. He took the last of the golden apples into his hand. Perhaps she was now so far that the strength of his throw would not be great enough to bring the apple before her.

But with all the strength he could put into his hand he flung the apple. It struck the course before her feet and then went bounding wide. Atalanta swerved in her race and followed where the apple went. Hippomenes marveled that he had been able to fling it so far. He saw Atalanta stoop to pick up the apple, and he bounded on. And then, although his strength was failing, he saw the goal marks near him. He set his feet between them and then fell down on the ground.


[Illustration]

The attendants raised him up and put the victor's wreath upon his head. The concourse of people shouted with joy to see him victor. But he looked around for Atalanta and he [81] saw her standing there with the golden apples in her hands. "He has won," he heard her say, "and I have not to hate myself for bringing a doom upon him. Gladly, gladly do I give up the race, and glad am I that it is this youth who has won the victory from me."

She took his hand and brought him before the king. Then Schœneus, in the sight of all the rejoicing people, gave Atalanta to Hippomenes for his bride, and he bestowed upon him also a great gift of horses. With his dear and hard-won bride, Hippomenes went to his own country, and the apples that she brought with her, the golden apples of Aphrodite, were reverenced by the people.


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