| Gods and Heroes|
|by Robert Edward Francillon|
|One of the best introductions to Greek mythology for children. Includes the stories of all the prominent gods and heroes, woven together into a continuous narrative, ending with a full treatment of the twelve labors of Hercules. Ages 8-12 |
THE FLAYED PIPER; OR, THE STORY OF MARSYAS
HE men who filled the earth after the Great Flood
were a great deal cleverer than people are now.
A king's son named Cadmus invented the alphabet—which
is, perhaps, the most wonderful thing in the
world. And when he wanted to build the city of
Thebes, he got a great musician, named Amphion, to
play to the stones and trees, so that they, by dancing
to his tunes, built themselves into walls and houses
without the help of any masons or carpenters. At last
men became so wonderfully clever in everything, that
a physician named Æsculapius, who was a son of Apollo,
found out how to bring back dead people to life again.
But when Jupiter heard that Æsculapius had really
made a dead man live, he was angry, and rather frightened too.
For he thought, "If men know how to live
forever, they will become as great and as wise as the
gods, and who knows what will happen then?" So
he ordered the Cyclopes to make him a thunderbolt,
and he threw it down from heaven upon Æsculapius
and killed him. No other man knew the secret of
Æsculapius, and it died with him.
 But Apollo was very fond and proud of his son, and
was in a great rage with Jupiter for having killed him.
He could not punish Jupiter, but he took his bow and
arrows and shot all the Cyclopes who had made the
Then it was Jupiter's turn to be angry with Apollo
for killing his servants, who had only done what they
were told to do. He sentenced him to be banished
from the sky for nine years.
So Apollo left the sky and came down to the earth,
bringing with him nothing but his lyre. You know
that Mount Olympus, where the gods live, is in Thessaly,
so that Thessaly was the country in which Apollo
found himself when he came down from the sky. He
did not know what to do with himself for the nine
years, so he went to a king of Thessaly named Admētus,
who received him very kindly, and made him his shepherd.
I don't think Admetus could have known who
Apollo was, or he would hardly have set the great god
of the Sun to look after his sheep for him.
So Apollo spent his time pleasantly enough in watching
the king's sheep and in playing on his lyre.
Now there was a very clever but very conceited
musician named Marsyas, who had invented the flute,
and who played on it better than anybody in the world.
One day Marsyas happened to be passing through
Thessaly, when he saw a shepherd sitting by a brook
 watching his sheep, and playing to them very beautifully
on a lyre. He went up to the shepherd, and
"You play very nicely, my man. But nobody can
do much with those harps and fiddles and trumpery
stringed things. You should learn the flute; then
you'd know what music means!"
"Indeed?" said Apollo. "I'm sorry, for your sake,
that your ears are so hard to please. As for me, I
don't care for whistles and squeaking machines."
"Ah!" said Marsyas, "that's because you never
"And you dare to tell me," said Apollo, "that you
put a wretched squeaking flute before the lyre, which
makes music for the gods in the sky?"
"And you dare to say," said Marsyas, "that a miserable
twanging, tinkling lyre is better than a flute?
What an ignorant blockhead you must be!"
At last their wrangling about their instruments grew
to quarreling; and then Apollo said:—
"We shall never settle the question in this way. We
will go to the next village and give a concert. You
shall play your flute and I will play my lyre, and the
people shall say which is the best—yours or mine."
"With all my heart," said Marsyas. "I know what
they will say. But we must have a wager on it. What
shall it be?"
 "We will bet our skins," said Apollo. "If I lose,
you shall skin me; and if you lose, I will skin you."
"Agreed," said Marsyas.
So they went to the next village, and called the
people together to judge between the flute and the lyre.
Marsyas played first. He played a little simple tune
on his flute so beautifully that everybody was charmed.
But Apollo then played the same tune on his lyre, even
more beautifully still.
Then Marsyas took his flute again and played all sorts
of difficult things—flourishes, runs, shakes, everything
you can think of—in the most amazing manner, till
the people thought they had never heard anything so
wonderful. And indeed never had such flute-playing
But Apollo, instead of following him in the same
fashion, only played another simple tune—but this
time he sang while he played.
You can imagine how gloriously the god of Music
sang! You can fancy how much chance Marsyas had
of winning when Apollo's voice was carrying the hearts
of the people away. . . . "There," said Apollo, when
he had finished, "beat that if you can—and give me
"It is not fair," said Marsyas. "This is not a singing match:
the question is, Which is the best instrument—the flute or the lyre?"
 "It is fair," said Apollo. "If you can sing while
you are playing the flute, then I have nothing to say.
But you can't sing, you see, because you have to use
your lips and your breath in blowing into those holes.
Is not that instrument best which makes you sing best—Yes
or No? And if I mustn't use my breath, you
mustn't use yours."
You must judge for yourself which was right. But
the people decided for Apollo. And so Apollo, having
won the wager, took Marsyas and skinned him, and
hung his body on a tree.
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