|by Charles Kingsley|
|Stories of the heroes of ancient Greece, told in fine poetic prose. Includes accounts of Perseus who slew Medusa the Gorgon, Jason who sought the Golden Fleece, and Theseus who slew the Minotaur. By preserving the Greek spirit in the retelling of these myths, Kingsley gives us plain strength and seriousness, courage, steadfastness, and beauty. Dozens of attractive illustrations by T. H. Robinson enliven the text. Ages 9-12 |
HOW THE CENTAUR TRAINED THE HEROES ON PELION
 I HAVE told you of a hero who fought with wild beasts and
with wild men; but now I have a tale of heroes who sailed
away into a distant land, to win themselves renown forever,
in the adventure of the Golden Fleece.
Whither they sailed, my children, I cannot clearly tell. It
all happened long ago; so long that it has all grown dim,
like a dream which you dreamt last year. And why they went I
cannot tell; some say
 that it was to win gold. It may be
so; but the noblest deeds which have been done on earth, have
not been done for gold. It was not for the sake of gold that
the Lord came down and died, and the Apostles went out to
preach the good news in all lands. The Spartans looked for
no reward in money when they fought and died at Thermopylæ;
and Socrates the wise asked no pay from his countrymen, but
lived poor and barefoot all his days, only caring to make men
good. And there are heroes in our days also, who do noble
deeds, but not for gold. Our discoverers did not go to make
themselves rich, when they sailed out one after another into
the dreary frozen seas; nor did the ladies, who went out last
year to drudge in the hospitals of the East, making
themselves poor, that they might be rich in noble works. And
young men, too, whom you know, children, and some of them of
your own kin, did they say to themselves,
 "How much money
shall I earn?" when they went out to the war, leaving wealth,
and comfort, and a pleasant home, and all that money can
give, to face hunger and thirst, and wounds and death, that
they might fight for their country and their Queen? No,
children, there is a better thing on earth than wealth, a
better thing than life itself; and that is, to have done
something before you die, for which good men may honour you,
and God your Father smile upon your work.
Therefore we will believe—why should we not?—of these
same Argonauts of old, that they too were noble men, who
planned and did a noble deed; and that therefore their fame
has lived, and been told in story and in song, mixed up, no
doubt, with dreams and fables, and yet true and right at
heart. So we will honour these old Argonauts, and listen to
their story as it stands; and we will try to be like them,
each of us in our place; for each
 of us has a Golden Fleece
to seek, and a wild sea to sail over ere we reach it, and
dragons to fight ere it be ours.
And what was that first Golden Fleece? I do not know, nor
care. The old Hellenes said that it hung in Colchis, which we
call the Circassian coast, nailed to a beech-tree in the war-God's wood;
and that it was the fleece of the wondrous ram,
who bore Phrixus and Helle across the Euxine sea. For
Phrixus and Helle were the children of the cloud-nymph, and
of Athamas the Minuan king. And when a famine came upon the
land, their cruel step-mother, Ino, wished to kill them, that
her own children might reign, and said that they must be
sacrificed on an altar, to turn away the anger of the Gods.
So the poor children were brought to the altar, and the
priest stood ready with his knife, when out of the clouds
came the Golden Ram, and took them on his back, and vanished.
 madness came upon that foolish king Athamas, and ruin
upon Ino and her children. For Athamas killed one of them in
his fury, and Ino fled from him with the other in her arms,
and leaped from a cliff into the sea, and was changed into a
dolphin, such as you have seen, which wanders over the waves
forever sighing, with its little one clasped to its breast.
But the people drove out King Athamas, because he had killed
his child; and he roamed about in his misery, till he came to
the Oracle in Delphi. And the Oracle told him that he must
wander for his sin, till the wild beasts should feast him as
their guest. So he went on in hunger and sorrow for many a
weary day, till he saw a pack of wolves. The wolves were
tearing a sheep; but when they saw Athamas they fled, and
left the sheep for him, and he ate of it; and then he knew
that the oracle was fulfilled at last. So he wandered no
more; but settled, and built a town, and became a king again.
 But the ram carried the two children far away over land and
sea, till he came to the Thracian Chersonese, and there Helle
fell into the sea. So those narrow straits are called
"Hellespont," after her; and they bear that name until this
Then the ram flew on with Phrixus to the northeast across
the sea which we call the Black Sea now; but the Hellens call
it Euxine. And at last, they say, he stopped at Colchis, on
the steep Circassian coast; and there Phrixus married
Chalciope, the daughter of Aietes the king; and offered the
ram in sacrifice; and Aietes nailed the ram's fleece to a
beech, in the grove of Ares the war-God.
And after awhile Phrixus died, and was buried, but his spirit
had no rest; for he was buried far from his native land, and
the pleasant hills of Hellas. So he came in dreams to the
heroes of the Minuai, and called sadly by their beds,—"Come
and set my spirit free, that I may go
 home to my fathers and
to my kinsfolk, and the pleasant Minuan land."
And they asked,—"How shall we set your spirit free?"
"You must sail over the sea to Colchis, and bring home the
golden fleece; and then my spirit will come back with it, and
I shall sleep with my fathers and have rest."
He came thus, and called to them often; but when they woke
they looked at each other, and said—"Who dare sail to
Colchis, or bring home the golden fleece?" And in all the
country none was brave enough to try it; for the man and the
time were not come.
Phrixus had a cousin called Æson, who was king in Iolcos by
the sea. There he ruled over the rich Minuan heroes, as
Athamas his uncle ruled in Bœotia; and, like Athamas, he was
an unhappy man. For he had a step-brother named Pelias, of
whom some said that he was a nymph's
 son, and there were dark
and sad tales about his birth. When he was a babe he was
cast out on the mountains, and a wild mare came by and kicked
him. But a shepherd passing found the baby, with its face
all blackened by the blow; and took him home, and called him
Pelias, because his face was bruised and black. And he grew
up fierce and lawless, and did many a fearful deed; and at
last he drove out Æson his step-brother, and then his own
brother Neleus, and took the kingdom to himself, and ruled
over the rich Minuan heroes, in Iolcos by the sea.
And Æson, when he was driven out, went sadly away out of the
town, leading his little son by the hand; and he said to
himself, "I must hide the child in the mountains; or Pelias
will surely kill him, because he is the heir."
So he went up from the sea across the valley, through the
vineyards and the olive groves, and across the torrent of
 toward Pelion the ancient mountain, whose brows are
white with snow.
He went up and up into the mountain, over marsh, and crag,
and down, till the boy was tired and footsore, and Æson had
to bear him in his arms, till he came to the mouth of a
lonely cave, at the foot of a mighty cliff.
Above the cliff the snow-wreaths hung, dripping and cracking
in the sun: but at its foot around the cave's mouth grew all
fair flowers and herbs, as if in a garden, ranged in order,
each sort by itself. There they grew gayly in the sunshine,
and the spray of the torrent from above; while from the cave
came the sound of music, and a man's voice singing to the
Then Æson put down the lad, and whispered,—
"Fear not, but go in, and whomsoever you shall find, lay your
hands upon his knees, and say, 'In the name of Zeus the
father of Gods and men, I am your guest from this day
 Then the lad went in without trembling, for he too was a
hero's son: but when he was within, he stopped in wonder, to
listen to that magic song.
And there he saw the singer lying, upon bear-skins and
fragrant boughs; Cheiron, the ancient centaur, the wisest of
all things beneath the sky. Down to the waist he was a man;
but below he was a noble horse; his white hair rolled down
over his broad shoulders, and his white beard over his broad
brown chest; and his eyes were wise and mild, and his
forehead like a mountain-wall.
And in his hands he held a harp of gold, and struck it with a
golden key; and as he struck, he sang till his eyes
glittered, and filled all the cave with light.
And he sang of the birth of Time, and of the heavens and the
dancing stars; and of the ocean, and the ether, and the fire,
and the shaping of the wondrous earth.
 And he sang of the
treasures of the hills, and the hidden jewels of the mine,
and the veins of fire and metal, and the virtues of all
healing herbs, and of the speech of birds, and of prophecy,
and of hidden things to come.
Then he sang of health, and strength, and manhood, and a
valiant heart; and of music, and hunting, and wrestling, and
all the games which heroes love; and of travel, and wars,
and sieges, and a noble death in fight; and then he sang of
peace and plenty, and of equal justice in the land; and as he
sang, the boy listened wide-eyed, and forgot his errand in the
And at the last old Cheiron was silent, and called the lad
with a soft voice.
And the lad ran trembling to him, and would have laid his
hands upon his knees: but Cheiron smiled, and said, "Call
hither your father Æson, for I know you, and all that has
befallen, and saw you both
 afar in the valley, even before
you left the town."
Then Æson came in sadly, and Cheiron asked him, "Why camest
you not yourself to me, Æson the Æolid?"
And Æson said,—
"I thought, Cheiron will pity the lad if he sees him come
alone; and I wished to try whether he was fearless, and dare
venture like a hero's son. But now I entreat you by Father
Zeus, let the boy be your guest till better times, and train
him among the sons of the heroes, that he may avenge his
Then Cheiron smiled, and drew the lad to him, and laid his
hand upon his golden locks, and said, "Are you afraid of my
horse's hoofs, fair boy, or will you be my pupil from this
"I would gladly have horse's hoofs like you, if I could sing
such songs as yours."
And Cheiron laughed, and said, "Sit here by me till sundown,
when your playfellows
 will come home, and you shall learn
like them to be a king, worthy to rule over gallant men."
Then he turned to Æson, and said, "Go back in peace, and
bend before the storm like a prudent man. This boy shall not
cross the Anauros again, till he has become a glory to you
and to the house of Æolus."
And Æson wept over his son and went away; but the boy did
not weep, so full was his fancy of that strange cave, and the
Centaur, and his song, and the playfellows whom he was to
Then Cheiron put the lyre into his hands, and taught him how
to play it, till the sun sank low behind the cliff, and a
shout was heard outside.
And then in came the sons of the heroes, Æneas, and
Heracles, and Peleus, and many another mighty name.
And great Cheiron leapt up joyfully, and his hoofs made the
cave resound, as they shouted, "Come out, Father Cheiron;
 out and see our game." And one cried, "I have killed
two deer," and another, "I took a wild cat among the crags;"
and Heracles dragged a wild goat after him by its horns, for
he was as huge as a mountain crag; and Cæneus carried a
bear-cub under each arm, and laughed when they scratched and
bit, for neither tooth nor steel could wound him.
And Cheiron praised them all, each according to his deserts.
Only one walked apart and silent, Asclepius, the too-wise
child, with his bosom full of herbs and flowers, and round
his wrist a spotted snake; he came with downcast eyes to
Cheiron, and whispered how he had watched the snake cast his
old skin, and grow young again before his eyes, and how he
had gone down into a village in the vale, and cured a dying
man with a herb which he had seen a sick goat eat.
And Cheiron smiled, and said, "To each Athené and Apollo give
some gift, and
 each is worthy in his place; but to this child
they have given an honour beyond all honours, to cure while
Then the lads brought in wood, and split it, and lighted a
blazing fire; and others skinned the deer and quartered them,
and set them to roast before the fire; and while the venison
was cooking they bathed in the snow-torrent, and washed away
the dust and sweat.
And then all ate till they could eat no more (for they had
tasted nothing since the dawn,) and drank of the clear spring
water, for wine is not fit for growing lads. And when the
remnants were put away, they all lay down upon the skins and
leaves about the fire, and each took the lyre in turn, and
sang and played with all his heart.
And after a while they all went out to a plot of grass at the
cave's mouth, and there they boxed, and ran, and wrestled,
 and laughed till the stones fell from the cliffs.
Then Cheiron took his lyre, and all the lads joined hands;
and as he played, they danced to his measure, in and out, and
round and round. There they danced hand in hand, till the
night fell over land and sea, while the black glen shone with
their broad white limbs, and the gleam of their golden hair.
And the lad danced with them, delighted, and then slept a
wholesome sleep, upon fragrant leaves of bay, and myrtle, and
marjoram, and flowers of thyme; and rose at the dawn, and
bathed in the torrent, and became a schoolfellow to the
heroes' sons, and forgot Iolcos, and his father, and all his
former life. But he grew strong, and brave and cunning, upon
the pleasant downs of Pelion, in the keen hungry mountain
air. And he learnt to wrestle, and to box, and to hunt, and
to play upon the harp; and next he learnt to ride, for old
Cheiron used to mount him on his back; and he learnt the
virtues of all herbs and how to cure all wounds; and Cheiron
called him Jason the healer, and that is his name until this
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