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THE SLAYING OF APSYRTUS
HAT silver veil was to be splashed with a brother's blood, and
the Argonauts, because of that calamity, were for a long time to
be held back from a return to their native land.
Now as they went down the river they saw that dangers were coming
swiftly upon them. The chariots of the Colchians were upon the
banks. Jason saw King Æetes in his chariot, a blazing torch
lighting his corselet and his helmet. Swiftly the Argo went, but
there were ships behind her, and they went swiftly too.
They came into the Sea of Pontus, and Phrontis, the son of
Phrixus, gave counsel to them. "Do not strive to make the passage
of the Symplegades," he said. "All who live around the Sea of
Pontus are friendly to King Æetes; they will be warned by him,
and they will be ready to slay us and take the Argo. Let us
journey up the River Ister, and by that way we can come to the
Thrinacian Sea that is close to your land."
The Argonauts thought well of what Phrontis said; into the waters
of the Ister the ship was brought. Many of the Colchian ships
passed by the mouth of the river, and went seeking the Argo
toward the passage of the Symplegades.
But the Argonauts were on a way that was dangerous for them. For
Apsyrtus had not gone toward the Symplegades
 seeking the Argo. He
had led his soldiers overland to the River Ister at a place that
was at a distance above its mouth. There were islands in the
river at that place, and the soldiers of Apsyrtus landed on the
islands, while Apsyrtus went to the kings of the people around
and claimed their support.
The Argo came and the heroes found themselves cut off. They could
not make their way between the islands that were filled with the
Colchian soldiers, nor along the banks that were lined with men
friendly to King Æetes. Argo was stayed. Apsyrtus sent for the
chiefs; he had men enough to overwhelm them, but he shrank from a
fight with the heroes, and he thought that he might gain all he
wanted from them without a struggle.
Theseus and Peleus went to him. Apsyrtus would have them give up
the Golden Fleece; he would have them give up Medea and the sons
of Phrixus also.
Theseus and Peleus appealed to the judgment of the kings who
supported Apsyrtus. Æetes, they said, had no more claim on the
Golden Fleece. He had promised it to Jason as a reward for tasks
that he had imposed. The tasks had been accomplished and the
Fleece, no matter in what way it was taken from the grove of
Ares, was theirs. So Theseus and Peleus said, and the kings who
supported Apsyrtus gave judgment for the Argonauts.
But Medea would have to be given to her brother. If that were
done the Argo would be let go on her course, Apsyrtus said, and
the Golden Fleece would be left with them. Apsyrtus said,
 too, that he would not take Medea back to the wrath of her
father; if the Argonauts gave her up she would be let stay on the
island of Artemis and under the guardianship of the goddess.
The chiefs brought Apsyrtus's words back. There was a council of
the Argonauts, and they agreed that they should leave Medea on
the island of Artemis.
But grief and wrath took hold of Medea when she heard of this
resolve. Almost she would burn the Argo. She went to where Jason
stood, and she spoke again of all she had done to save his life
and win the Golden Fleece for the Argonauts. Jason made her look
on the ships and the soldiers that were around them; he showed
her how these could overwhelm the Argonauts and slay them all.
With all the heroes slain, he said, Medea would come into the
hands of Apsyrtus, who then could leave her on the island of
Artemis or take her back to the wrath of her father.
But Medea would not consent to go nor could Jason's heart consent
to let her go. Then these two made a plot to deceive Apsyrtus.
"I have not been of the council that agreed to give you up to
him," Jason said. "After you have been left there I will take you
off the island of Artemis secretly. The Colchians and the kings
who support them, not knowing that you have been taken off and
hidden on the Argo, will let us pass." This Medea and Jason
planned to do, and it was an ill thing, for it
 was breaking the
covenant that the chiefs had entered with Apsyrtus.
Medea then was left by the Argonauts on the island of Artemis.
Now Apsyrtus had been commanded by his father to bring her back
to Aea; he thought that when she had been left by the Argonauts
he could force her to come with him. So he went over to the
island. Jason, secretly leaving his companions, went to the
island from the other side.
Before the temple of Artemis Jason and Apsyrtus came face to
face. Both men, thinking they had been betrayed to their deaths,
drew their swords. Then, before the vestibule of the temple and
under the eyes of Medea, Jason and Apsyrtus fought. Jason's sword
pierced the son of Æetes; as he fell Apsyrtus cried out bitter
words against Medea, saying that it was on her account that he
had come on his death. And as he fell the blood of her brother
splashed Medea's silver veil.
Jason lifted Medea up and carried her to the Argo. They hid the
maiden under the Fleece of Gold and they sailed past the ships of
the Colchians. When darkness came they were far from the island
of Artemis. It was then that they heard a loud wailing, and they
knew that the Colchians had discovered that their prince had been
The Colchians did not pursue them. Fearing the wrath of Æetes
they made settlements in the lands of the kings who had supported
Apsyrtus; they never went back to Aea; they
 called themselves
Apsyrtians henceforward, naming themselves after the prince they
had come with.
They had escaped the danger that had hemmed them in, but the
Argonauts, as they sailed on, were not content; covenants had
been broken, and blood had been shed in a bad cause. And as they
went on through the darkness the voice of the ship was heard; at
the sound of that voice fear and sorrow came upon the voyagers,
for they felt that it had a prophecy of doom.
Castor and Polydeuces went to the front of the ship; holding up
their hands, they prayed. Then they heard the words that the
voice uttered: in the night as they went on the voice proclaimed
the wrath of Zeus on account of the slaying of Apsyrtus.
What was their doom to be? It was that the Argonauts would have
to wander forever over the gulfs of the sea unless Medea had
herself cleansed of her brother's blood. There was one who could
cleanse Medea—Circe, the daughter of Helios and Perse. The voice
urged the heroes to pray to the immortal gods that the way to the
island of Circe be shown to them.