|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 ARGONAUTS WERE DRIVEN INTO THE UNKNOWN SEA
 SO they fled away in haste to the westward: but Aietes manned
his fleet and followed them. And Lynceus the quick-eyed saw
him coming, while he was still many a mile away, and cried,
"I see a hundred ships, like a flock of white swans, far in
the east." And at that they rowed hard, like heroes; but the
ships came nearer every hour.
Then Medeia, the dark witch-maiden, laid a cruel and a
cunning plot; for she killed Absyrtus her young brother, and
 cast him into the sea, and said, "Ere my father can take up
his corpse and bury it, he must wait long, and be left far
And all the heroes shuddered, and looked one at the other for
shame; yet they did not punish that dark witch-woman, because
she had won for them the golden fleece.
And when Aietes came to the place, he saw the floating corpse;
and he stopped a long while, and bewailed his son, and took
him up, and went home. But he sent on his sailors toward the
westward, and bound them by a mighty curse: "Bring back to
me that dark witch-woman, that she may die a dreadful death.
But if you return without her, you shall die by the same
So the Argonauts escaped for that time: but Father Zeus saw
that foul crime; and out of the heavens he sent a storm, and
swept the ship far from her course. Day after day the storm
drove her, amid foam
 and blinding mist, till they knew no
longer where they were, for the sun was blotted from the
skies. And at last the ship struck on a shoal, amid low
isles of mud and sand, and the waves rolled over her and
through her, and the heroes lost all hope of life.
Then Jason cried to Hera: "Fair queen, who hast befriended us
till now, why hast thou left us in our misery, to die here
among unknown seas? It is hard to lose the honour which we
have won with such toil and danger, and hard never to see
Hellas again, and the pleasant bay of Pagasai."
Then out and spoke the magic bough which stood upon the
Argo's beak: "Because Father Zeus is angry, all this has
fallen on you; for a cruel crime has been done on board, and
the sacred ship is foul with blood."
At that some of the heroes cried: "Medeia is the murderess.
Let the witch-woman
 bear her sin, and die!" And they seized
Medeia, to hurl her into the sea and atone for the young
boy's death: but the magic bough spoke again: "Let her live
till her crimes are full. Vengeance waits for her, slow and
sure; but she must live, for you need her still. She must
show you the way to her sister Circe, who lives among the
islands of the West. To her you must sail, a weary way, and
she shall cleanse you from your guilt."
Then all the heroes wept aloud when they heard the sentence
of the oak; for they knew that a dark journey lay before
them, and years of bitter toil. And some upbraided the dark
witch-woman, and some said, "Nay, we are her debtors still;
without her we should never have won the fleece." But most
of them bit their lips in silence, for they feared the
And now the sea grew calmer, and the sun shone out once more,
and the heroes
 thrust the ship off the sand-bank, and rowed
forward on their weary course under the guiding of the dark
witch-maiden, into the wastes of the unknown sea.
Whither they went I cannot tell, nor how they came to Circe's
isle. Some say that they went to the westward, and up the
and so came into the Adriatic, dragging
their ship over the snowy Alps. And others say that they
went southward, into the Red Indian Sea, and past the sunny
lands where spices grow, round Æthiopia toward the West; and
that at last they came to Libya, and dragged their ship
across the burning sands, and over the hills into the Syrtes,
where the flats and quicksands spread for many a mile,
between rich Cyrene and the Lotus-eaters' shore. But all
these are but dreams and fables, and dim hints of unknown
 But all say that they came to a place where they had to drag
their ship across the land nine days with ropes and rollers,
till they came into an unknown sea. And the best of all the
old songs tells us how they went away toward the North, till
they came to the slope of Caucasus, where it sinks into the
sea; and to the narrow Cimmerian Bosphorus
, where the
Titan swam across upon the bull; and thence into the lazy
waters of the still Mæotid lake.
And thence they went
northward ever, up the Tanais, which we call Don, past the
Geloni and Sauromatai, and many a wandering shepherd-tribe,
and the one-eyed Arimaspi, of whom old Greek poets tell, who
steal the gold from the Griffins, in the cold Rhiphaian
And they passed the Scythian archers, and the Tauri who eat
men, and the wandering Hyperboreai, who feed their
beneath the pole-star, until they came into the northern
ocean, the dull dead Cronian Sea.
And there Argo would
move on no longer; and each man clasped his elbow, and leaned
his head upon his hand, heart-broken with toil and hunger,
and gave himself up to death. But brave Ancaios the helmsman
cheered up their hearts once more, and bade them leap on
land, and haul the ship with ropes and rollers for many a
weary day, whether over land, or mud, or ice, I know not, for
the song is mixed and broken like a dream. And it says next,
how they came to the rich nation of the famous long-lived
men; and to the coast of the Cimmerians, who never saw the
sun, buried deep in the glens of the snow mountains; and to
the fair land of Hermione, where dwelt the most righteous of
all nations; and to the gates of the world below, and to the
dwelling-place of dreams.
 And at last Ancaios shouted—"Endure a little while, brave
friends, the worst is surely past; for I can see the pure
west wind ruffle the water, and hear the roar of ocean on the
sands. So raise up the mast, and set the sail, and face what
comes like men."
Then out spoke the magic bough—"Ah, would that I had
perished long ago, and been whelmed by the dread blue rocks,
beneath the fierce swell of the Euxine? Better so, than to
wander for ever, disgraced by the guilt of my princes; for
the blood of Absyrtus still tracks me, and woe follows hard
upon woe. And now some dark horror will clutch me, if I come
near the Isle of Ierne.
Unless you will cling to the
land, and sail southward and southward forever, I shall
wander beyond the Atlantic, to the ocean which has no shore."
Then they blest the magic bough, and sailed
 southward along
the land. But ere they could pass Ierne, the land of mists
and storms, the wild wind came down, dark and roaring, and
caught the sail, and strained the ropes. And away they drove
twelve nights, on the wide wild western sea, through the
foam, and over the rollers, while they saw neither sun nor
stars. And they cried again, "We shall perish, for we know
not where we are. We are lost in the dreary damp darkness,
and cannot tell north from south."
But Lynceus the long-sighted called gayly from the
bows—"Take heart again, brave sailors; for I see a pine-clad isle,
and the halls of the kind Earth-mother, with a crown of
clouds around them."
But Orpheus said, "Turn from them, for no living man can land
there: there is no harbour on the coast, but steep-walled
cliffs all round."
So Ancaios turned the ship away; and for three days more they
sailed on, till
 they came to Aiaia, Circe's home, and the
fairy island of the West.
And there Jason bid them land, and seek about for any sign of
living man. And as they went inland, Circe met them, coming
down toward the ship; and they trembled when they saw her;
for her hair, and face, and robes shone like flame.
And she came and looked at Medeia; and Medeia hid her face
beneath her veil.
And Circe cried, "Ah, wretched girl, have you forgotten all
your sins, that you come hither to my island, where the
flowers bloom all the year round? Where is your aged father,
and the brother whom you killed? Little do I expect you to
return in safety with these strangers whom you love. I will
send you food and wine: but your ship must not stay here,
for it is foul with sin, and foul with sin its crew."
And the heroes prayed her, but in vain, and cried, "Cleanse
us from our guilt!"
 But she sent them away, and said, "Go on
to Malea, and there you may be cleansed, and return home."
Then a fair wind rose, and they sailed eastward, by Tartessus
on the Iberian shore, till they came to the Pillars of
Hercules, and the Mediterranean Sea. And thence they sailed
on through the deeps of Sardinia, and past the Ausonian
islands, and the capes of the Tyrrhenian shore, till they
came to a flowery island, upon a still bright summer's eve.
And as they neared it, slowly and wearily, they heard sweet
songs upon the shore. But when Medeia heard it, she started,
and cried, "Beware, all heroes, for these are the rocks of
the Sirens. You must pass close by them, for there is no
other channel; but those who listen to that song are lost."
Then Orpheus spoke, the king of all minstrels—"Let them
match their song against mine. I have charmed stones, and
trees, and dragons, how much more the
 hearts of men!" So he
caught up his lyre, and stood upon the poop, and began his
And now they could see the Sirens, on Anthemousa, the flowery
isle; three fair maidens sitting on the beach, beneath a red
rock in the setting sun, among beds of crimson poppies and
golden asphodel. Slowly they sung and sleepily, with silver
voices, mild and clear, which stole over the golden waters,
and into the hearts of all the heroes, in spite of Orpheus's
And all things stayed around and listened; the gulls sat in
white lines along the rocks; on the beach great seals lay
basking, and kept time with lazy heads; while silver shoals
of fish came up to hearken, and whispered as they broke the
shining calm. The Wind overhead hushed his whistling, as he
shepherded his clouds toward the west; and the clouds stood
in mid blue, and listened dreaming, like a flock of golden
 And as the heroes listened, the oars fell from their hands,
and their heads drooped on their breasts, and they closed
their heavy eyes; and they dreamed of bright still gardens,
and of slumbers under murmuring pines, till all their toil
seemed foolishness, and they thought of their renown no more.
Then one lifted his head suddenly, and cried, "What use in
wandering for ever? Let us stay here and rest awhile." And
another, "Let us row to the shore, and hear the words they
sing." And another, "I care not for the words, but for the
music. They shall sing me to sleep, that I may rest."
And Butes, the son of Pandion, the fairest of all mortal men,
leapt out and swam toward the shore, crying, "I come, I come,
fair maidens, to live and die here, listening to your song."
Then Medeia clapped her hands together, and cried, "Sing
louder, Orpheus, sing a
 bolder strain; wake up these hapless
sluggards, or none of them will see the land of Hellas more."
Then Orpheus lifted his harp, and crashed his cunning hand
across the strings; and his music and his voice rose like a
trumpet through the still evening air; into the air it rushed
like thunder, till the rocks rang and the sea; and into their
souls it rushed like wine, till all hearts beat fast within
And he sung the song of Perseus, how the Gods led him over
land and sea, and how he slew the loathly Gorgon, and won
himself a peerless bride; and how he sits now with the Gods
upon Olympus, a shining star in the sky, immortal with his
immortal bride, and honoured by all men below.
So Orpheus sang, and the Sirens, answering each other across
the golden sea, till Orpheus's voice drowned the Sirens, and
the heroes caught their oars again.
 And they cried, "We will be men like Perseus, and we will
dare and suffer to the last. Sing us his song again, brave
Orpheus, that we may forget the Sirens and their spell."
And as Orpheus sang, they dashed their oars into the sea, and
kept time to his music, as they fled fast away; and the
Sirens' voices died behind them, in the hissing of the foam
along their wake.
But Butes swam to the shore, and knelt down before the
Sirens, and cried, "Sing on! sing on!" But he could say no
more, for a charmed sleep came over him, and a pleasant
humming in his ears; and he sank all along upon the pebbles,
and forgot all heaven and earth, and never looked at that sad
beach around him, all strewn with the bones of men.
Then slowly rose up those three fair sisters, with a cruel
smile upon their lips; and slowly they crept down towards
him, like leopards who creep upon their prey;
 and their hands
were like the talons of eagles, as they stept across the bones
of their victims to enjoy their cruel feast.
But fairest Aphrodite saw him from the highest Idalian peak,
and she pitied his youth and his beauty, and leapt up from
her golden throne; and like a falling star she cleft the sky,
and left a trail of glittering light, till she stooped to the
Isle of the Sirens, and snatched their prey from their claws.
And she lifted Butes as he lay sleeping, and wrapt him in
golden mist; and she bore him to the peak of Lilybæum, and
he slept there many a pleasant year.
But when the Sirens saw that they were conquered, they
shrieked for envy and rage, and leapt from the beach into the
sea, and were changed into rocks until this day.
Then they came to the straits by Lilybæum, and saw Sicily,
the three-cornered island, under which Enceladus the giant
 lies groaning day and night, and when he turns the earth
quakes, and his breath bursts out in roaring flames from the
highest cone of Ætna, above the chestnut woods. And there
Charybdis caught them in its fearful coils of wave, and
rolled mast-high about them, and spun them round and round;
and they could go neither back nor forward, while the
whirlpool sucked them in.
And while they struggled they saw near them, on the other
side the strait, a rock stand in the water, with its peak
wrapt round in clouds—a rock which no man could climb,
though he had twenty hands and feet, for the stone was smooth
and slippery, as if polished by man's hand; and halfway up a
misty cave looked out toward the west.
And when Orpheus saw it, he groaned, and struck his hands
together. And "Little will it help us," he cried, "to escape
the jaws of the whirlpool; for in that cave
 lives Scylla, the
sea-hag with a young whelp's voice; my mother warned me of
her ere we sailed away from Hellas; she has six heads, and
six long necks, and hides in that dark cleft. And from her
cave she fishes for all things which pass by, for sharks,
and seals, and dolphins, and all the herds of Amphitrite.
And never ship's crew boasted that they came safe by her
rock; for she bends her long necks down to them, and every
mouth takes up a man. And who will help us now? For Hera
and Zeus hate us, and our ship is foul with guilt; so we must
die, whatever befalls."
Then out of the depths came Thetis, Peleus's silver-footed
bride, for love of her gallant husband, and all her nymphs
around her; and they played like snow-white dolphins, diving
on from wave to wave, before the ship, and in her wake, and
beside her, as dolphins play. And they caught the ship, and
guided her, and passed her on from hand to hand, and tossed
 through the billows, as maidens toss the ball. And when
Scylla stooped to seize her, they struck back her ravening
heads, and foul Scylla whined, as a whelp whines, at the
touch of their gentle hands. But she shrank into her cave
affrighted; for all bad things shrink from good; and Argo
leapt safe past her, while a fair breeze rose behind. Then
Thetis and her nymphs sank down to their coral caves beneath
the sea, and their gardens of green and purple, where live
flowers bloom all the year round; while the heroes went on
rejoicing, yet dreading what might come next.
After that they rowed on steadily for many a weary day, till
they saw a long high island, and beyond it a mountain land.
And they searched till they found a harbour, and there rowed
boldly in. But after awhile they stopped, and wondered; for
there stood a great city on the shore, and temples and walls
and gardens, and castles high in air upon the cliffs. And
either side they saw a harbour, with a narrow mouth, but wide
within; and black ships without number, high and dry upon the
Then Ancaios, the wise helmsman, spoke, "What new wonder is
this? I know all isles, and harbours, and the windings of
all seas; and this should be Corcyra, where a few wild goat herds
dwell. But whence come these new harbours and vast
works of polished stone?"
But Jason said, "They can be no savage people. We will go in
and take our chance."
So they rowed into the harbour, among a thousand black-beaked
ships, each larger far than Argo, toward a quay of polished
stone. And they wondered at that mighty city, with its roofs
of burnished brass, and long and lofty walls of marble, with
strong palisades above. And the quays were full of people,
merchants, and mariners, and slaves, going to and fro with
 among the crowd of ships. And the heroes' hearts
were humbled, and they looked at each other and said, "We
thought ourselves a gallant crew when we sailed from Iolcos
by the sea: but how small we look before this city, like an
ant before a hive of bees."
Then the sailors hailed them roughly from the quay, "What men
are you?—we want no strangers here, nor pirates. We keep
our business to ourselves."
But Jason answered gently, with many a flattering word, and
praised their city and their harbour, and their fleet of
gallant ships. "Surely you are the children of Poseidon, and
the masters of the sea; and we are but poor wandering
mariners, worn out with thirst and toil. Give us but food
and water, and we will go on our voyage in peace."
Then the sailors laughed, and answered, "Stranger, you are no
fool; you talk like an honest man, and you shall find us
 honest too. We are the children of Poseidon, and the masters
of the sea; but come ashore to us, and you shall have the
best that we can give."
So they limped ashore, all stiff and weary, with long ragged
beards and sunburnt cheeks, and garments torn and weather-stained,
and weapons rusted with the spray, while the sailors
laughed at them (for they were rough-tongued, though their
hearts were frank and kind.) And one said, "These fellows
are but raw sailors; they look as if they had been sea-sick
all the day." And another, "Their legs have grown crooked
with much rowing, till they waddle in their walk like ducks."
At that Idas the rash would have struck them; but Jason held
him back, till one of the merchant kings spoke to them, a
tall and stately man.
"Do not be angry, strangers; the sailor boys must have their
jest. But we will treat you justly and kindly, for strangers
 and poor men come from God; and you seem no common sailors by
your strength, and height, and weapons. Come up with me to
the palace of Alcinous, the rich sea-going king, and we will
feast you well and heartily; and after that you shall tell us
But Medeia hung back, and trembled, and whispered in Jason's
ear, "We are betrayed, and are going to our ruin, for I see
my countrymen among the crowd; dark-eyed Colchi in steel
mail-shirts, such as they wear in my father's land."
"It is too late to turn," said Jason. And he spoke to the
merchant king—"What country is this, good sir; and what is
this new-built town?"
"This is the land of the Phæaces, beloved by all the
Immortals; for they come hither and feast like friends with
us, and sit by our side in the hall. Hither we came from
Liburnia to escape the unrighteous Cyclopes; for they robbed
 merchants, of our hard-earned wares and wealth.
So Nausithous, the son of Poseidon, brought us hither, and
died in peace; and now his son Alcinous rules us, and Arete
the wisest of queens."
So they went up across the square, and wondered still more as
they went; for along the quays lay in order great cables, and
yards, and masts, before the fair temple of Poseidon, the
blue-haired king of the seas. And round the square worked
the ship-wrights, as many in number as ants, twining ropes,
and hewing timber, and smoothing long yards and oars. And
the Minuai went on in silence through clean white marble
streets, till they came to the hall of Alcinous, and they
wondered then still more. For the lofty palace shone aloft
in the sun, with walls of plated brass, from the threshold to
the innermost chamber, and the doors were of silver and gold.
And on each side of the doorway sat living dogs of gold, who
never grew old or died,
 so well Hephaistos had made them in
his forges in smoking Lemnos, and gave them to Alcinous to
guard his gates by night. And within, against the walls,
stood thrones on either side, down the whole length of the
hall, strewn with rich glossy shawls; and on them the
merchant kings of those crafty sea-roving Phæaces sat eating
and drinking in pride, and feasting there all the year round.
And boys of molten gold stood each on a polished altar, and
held torches in their hands, to give light all night to the
guests. And round the house sat fifty maid-servants, some
grinding the meal in the mill, some turning the spindle, some
weaving at the loom, while their hands twinkled as they
passed the shuttle, like quivering aspen leaves.
And outside before the palace a great garden was walled
round, filled full of stately fruit-trees, with olives and
sweet figs, and pomegranates, pears, and apples, which bore
the whole year round. For the
 rich southwest wind fed them,
till pear grew ripe on pear, fig on fig, and grape on grape,
all the winter and the spring. And at the farther end gay
flower-beds bloomed through all seasons of the year; and two
fair fountains rose, and ran, one through the garden-grounds,
and one beneath the palace gate, to water all the town. Such
noble gifts the heavens had given to Alcinous the wise.
So they went in, and saw him sitting, like Poseidon, on his
throne, with his golden sceptre by him, in garments stiff
with gold, and in his hand a sculptured goblet, as he pledged
the merchant kings; and beside him stood Arete, his wise and
lovely queen, and leaned against a pillar as she spun her
Then Alcinous rose, and welcomed them, and bade them sit and
eat; and the servants brought them tables, and bread, and
meat, and wine.
But Medeia went on trembling toward
 Arete the fair queen, and
fell at her knees, and clasped them, and cried, weeping, as
"I am your guest, fair queen, and I entreat you by Zeus from
whom prayers come. Do not send me back to my father to die
some dreadful death; but let me go my way, and bear my
burden. Have I not had enough of punishment and shame?"
"Who are you, strange maiden? and what is the meaning of your
"I am Medeia, daughter of Aietes, and I saw my countrymen
here to-day; and I know that they are come to find me, and
take me home to die some dreadful death."
Then Arete frowned, and said—"Lead this girl in, my maidens;
and let the kings decide, not I."
And Alcinous leapt up from his throne, and cried, "Speak,
strangers, who are you? And who is this maiden?"
 "We are the heroes of the Minuai," said Jason; "and this
maiden has spoken truth. We are the men who took the golden
fleece, the men whose fame has run round every shore. We
came hither out of the ocean, after sorrows such as man never
saw before. We went out many, and come back few, for many a
noble comrade have we lost. So let us go, as you should let
your guests go, in peace; that the world may say, 'Alcinous
is a just king.' "
But Alcinous frowned, and stood deep in thought; and at last
"Had not the deed been done which is done, I should have said
this day to myself, 'It is an honour to Alcinous, and to his
children after him, that the far-famed Argonauts are his
guests.' But these Colchi are my guests, as you are; and for
this month they have waited here with all their fleet, for
they have hunted all the seas of Hellas, and could not find
you, and dared neither go further, nor go home."
 "Let them choose out their champions, and we will fight them,
man for man."
"No guests of ours shall fight upon our island; and if you go
outside they will outnumber you. I will do justice between
you; for I know and do what is right."
Then he turned to his kings, and said: "This may stand over
till to-morrow. To-night we will feast our guests, and hear
the story of all their wanderings, and how they came hither
out of the ocean."
So Alcinous bade the servants take the heroes in, and bathe
them, and give them clothes. And they were glad when they
saw the warm water, for it was long since they had bathed.
And they washed off the sea-salt from their limbs, and
anointed themselves from head to foot with oil, and combed
out their golden hair. Then they came back again into the
hall, while the merchant kings rose up to do them honour.
And each man said to his neighbour: "No wonder that these men
won fame. How they stand
 now like Giants, or Titans, or
Immortals come down from Olympus, though many a winter has
worn them, and many a fearful storm. What must they have
been when they sailed from Iolcos, in the bloom of their
youth, long ago?"
Then they went out to the garden; and the merchant princes
said: "Heroes, run races with us. Let us see whose feet are
"We cannot race against you, for our limbs are stiff from
sea; and we have lost our two swift comrades, the sons of the
north wind. But do not think us cowards: if you wish to try
our strength, we will shoot, and box, and wrestle, against
any men on earth."
And Alcinous smiled, and answered: "I believe you, gallant
guests; with your long limbs and broad shoulders, we could
never match you here. For we care nothing here for boxing,
or for shooting with the bow: but for feasts, and songs, and
harping, and dancing, and running races, to stretch our limbs
 So they danced there and ran races, the jolly merchant kings,
till the night fell, and all went in.
And then they ate and drank, and comforted their weary souls,
till Alcinous called a herald, and bade him go and fetch the
The herald went out, and fetched the harper, and led him in
by the hand; and Alcinous cut him a piece of meat, from the
fattest of the haunch, and sent it to him, and said, "Sing to
us, noble harper, and rejoice the heroes' hearts."
So the harper played and sang, while the dancers danced
strange figures; and after that the tumblers showed their
tricks, till the heroes laughed again.
Then, "Tell me, heroes," asked Alcinous, "you who have sailed
the ocean round, and seen the manners of all nations, have
you seen such dancers as ours here? or heard such music and
such singing? We hold ours to be the best on earth."
 "Such dancing we have never seen," said Orpheus; "and your
singer is a happy man, for Phoebus himself must have taught
him, or else he is the son of a Muse; as I am also, and have
sung once or twice, though not so well as he."
"Sing to us, then, noble stranger," said Alcinous; "and we
will give you precious gifts."
So Orpheus took his magic harp, and sang to them a stirring
song of their voyage from Iolcos, and their dangers, and how
they won the golden fleece; and of Medeia's love, and how she
helped them, and went with them over land and sea; and of all
their fearful dangers, from monsters, and rocks, and storms,
till the heart of Arete was softened, and all the women wept.
And the merchant kings rose up, each man from off his golden
throne, and clapped their hands, and shouted: "Hail to the
noble Argonauts, who sailed the unknown sea!"
Then he went on, and told their journey
 over the sluggish
northern main, and through the shoreless outer ocean, to the
fairy island of the west; and of the Sirens, and Scylla, and
Charybdis, and all the wonders they had seen, till midnight
passed, and the day dawned; but the kings never thought of
sleep. Each man sat still and listened, with his chin upon
And at last, when Orpheus had ended, they all went thoughtful
out, and the heroes lay down to sleep, beneath the sounding
porch outside, where Arete had strewn them rugs and carpets,
in the sweet still summer night.
But Arete pleaded hard with her husband for Medeia, for her
heart was softened. And she said: "The Gods will punish her,
not we. After all, she is our guest and my suppliant, and
prayers are the daughters of Zeus. And who, too, dare part
man and wife, after all they have endured together?"
And Alcinous smiled. "The minstrel's song
 has charmed you;
but I must remember what is right; for songs cannot alter
justice; and I must be faithful to my name. Alcinous I am
called, the man of sturdy sense; and Alcinous I will be."
But for all that, Arete besought him, until she won him round.
So next morning he sent a herald, and called the kings into
the square, and said: "This is a puzzling matter; remember
but one thing. These Minuai live close by us, and we may
meet them often on the seas; but Aietes lives afar off, and
we have only heard his name. Which, then, of the two is it
safer to offend, the men near us, or the men far off?"
The princes laughed, and praised his wisdom; and Alcinous
called the heroes to the square, and the Colchi also; and
they came and stood opposite each other, but Medeia stayed in
the palace. Then Alcinous spoke,—"Heroes of the Colchi, what
is your errand about this lady?"
 "To carry her home with us, that she may die a shameful
death: but if we return without her, we must die the death
she should have died."
"What say you to this, Jason the Æolid?" said Alcinous,
turning to the Minuai.
"I say," said the cunning Jason, "that they are come here on
a bootless errand. Do you think that you can make her follow
you, heroes of the Colchi? her, who knows all spells and
charms? She will cast away your ships on quicksands, or call
down on you Brimo the wild huntress; or the chains will fall
from off her wrists, and she will escape in her dragon-car;
or if not thus, some other way, for she has a thousand plans
and wiles. And why return home at all, brave heroes, and
face the long seas again, and the Bosphorus, and the stormy
Euxine, and double all your toil? There is many a fair land
round these coasts, which waits for gallant
 men like you.
Better to settle there, and build a city, and let Aietes and
Colchis help themselves."
Then a murmur rose among the Colchi, and some cried, "He has
spoken well;" and some, "We have had enough of roving, we
will sail the seas no more!" And the chief said at last, "Be
it so, then; a plague she has been to us, and a plague to the
house of her father, and a plague she will be to you. Take
her, since you are no wiser; and we will sail away toward the
Then Alcinous gave them food, and water, and garments, and
rich presents of all sorts; and he gave the same to the
Minuai, and sent them all away in peace.
So Jason kept the dark witch-maiden to breed him woe and
shame: and the Colchi went northward into the Adriatic, and
settled, and built towns along the shore.
Then the heroes rowed away to the
 eastward, to reach Hellas,
their beloved land; but a storm came down upon them, and
swept them far away toward the south. And they rowed till
they were spent with struggling, through the darkness and the
blinding rain, but where they were they could not tell, and
they gave up all hope of life. And at last touched the
ground, and when daylight came they waded to the shore; and saw
nothing round but sand and desolate salt pools; for they had
come to the quicksands of the Syrtis, and the dreary treeless
flats which lie between Numidia and Cyrene, on the burning
shore of Africa. And there they wandered starving for many a
weary day, ere they could launch their ship again, and gain
the open sea. And there Canthus was killed, while he was
trying to drive off sheep, by a stone which a herdsman threw.
And there too Mopsus died, the seer who knew the voices of
all birds: but he
 could not foretell his own end, for he was
bitten in the foot by a snake, one of those which sprang from
the Gorgon's head when Perseus carried it across the sands.
At last they rowed away toward the northward, for many a
weary day, till their water was spent, and their food eaten;
and they were worn out with hunger and thirst. But at last
they saw a long steep island, and a blue peak high among the
clouds; and they knew it for the peak of Ida, and the famous
land of Crete. And they said, "We will land in Crete, and
see Minos the just king, and all his glory and his wealth; at
least he will treat us hospitably, and let us fill our water-casks
upon the shore."
But when they came nearer to the island they saw a wondrous
sight upon the cliffs. For on a cape to the westward stood a
giant, taller than any mountain pine, who glittered aloft
against the sky like a tower of burnished brass. He
and looked on all sides round him, till he saw the Argo and
her crew; and when he saw them he came toward them, more
swiftly than the swiftest horse, leaping across the glens at
a bound, and striding at one step from down to down. And
when he came abreast of them he brandished his arms up and
down, as a ship hoists and lowers her yards, and shouted with
his brazen throat like a trumpet from off the hills—"You are
pirates, you are robbers! If you dare land here, you die."
Then the heroes cried, "We are no pirates. We are all good
men and true, and all we ask is food and water:" but the
giant cried the more—
"You are robbers, you are pirates all; I know you; and if you
land, you shall die the death."
Then he waved his arms again as a signal, and they saw the
people flying inland, driving their flocks before them,
a great flame arose among the hills. Then the giant ran up a
valley and vanished, and the heroes lay on their oars in
But Medeia stood watching all, from under her steep black
brows, with a cunning smile upon her lips, and a cunning plot
within her heart. At last she spoke; "I know this giant. I
heard of him in the East. Hephaistos the Fire King made him
in his forge in Ætna beneath the earth, and called him
Talus, and gave him to Minos for a servant, to guard the
coast of Crete. Thrice a day he walks round the island, and
never stops to sleep; and if strangers land he leaps into his
furnace, which flames there among the hills; and when he is
red-hot he rushes on them, and burns them in his brazen
Then all the heroes cried, "What shall we do, wise Medeia?
We must have water, or we die of thirst. Flesh and blood we
can face fairly; but who can face this red-hot brass?"
 "I can face red-hot brass, if the tale I hear be true. For
they say that he has but one vein in all his body, filled
with liquid fire; and that this vein is closed with a nail:
but I know not where that nail is placed. But if I can get
it once into these hands, you shall water your ship here in
Then she bade them put her on shore, and row off again, and
wait what would befall.
And the heroes obeyed her unwillingly, for they were ashamed
to leave her so alone; but Jason said, "She is dearer to me
than to any of you, yet I will trust her freely on shore; she
has more plots than we can dream of in the windings of that
fair and cunning head."
So they left the witch-maiden on the shore; and she stood
there in her beauty all alone, till the giant strode back
red-hot from head to heel, while the grass hissed and smoked
beneath his tread.
 And when he saw the maiden alone, he stopped; and she looked
boldly up into his face without moving, and began her magic
"Life is short, though life is sweet; and even men of brass
and fire must die. The brass must rust, the fire must cool,
for time gnaws all things in their turn. Life is short,
though life is sweet: but sweeter to live forever; sweeter
to live ever youthful like the Gods, who have ichor in their
veins; ichor which gives life, and youth, and joy, and a
Then Talus said, "Who are you, strange maiden, and where is
this ichor of youth?"
Then Medeia held up a flask of crystal, and said, "Here is
the ichor of youth. I am Medeia the enchantress; my sister
Circe gave me this, and said, "Go and reward Talus, the
faithful servant, for his fame is gone out into all lands."
So come, and I will pour this into your veins, that you may
live forever young."
 And he listened to her false words, that simple Talus, and
came near; and Medeia said, "Dip yourself in the sea first,
and cool yourself, lest you burn my tender hands; then show
me where the nail in your vein is, that I may pour the ichor
Then that simple Talus dipped himself in the sea, till it
hissed, and roared, and smoked; and came and knelt before
Medeia, and showed her the secret nail.
And she drew the nail out gently; but she poured no ichor in;
and instead the liquid fire spouted forth, like a stream of
red-hot iron. And Talus tried to leap up, crying, "You have
betrayed me, false witch-maiden!" But she lifted up her
hands before him, and sang, till he sank beneath her spell.
And as he sank, his brazen limbs clanked heavily, and the
earth groaned beneath his weight; and the liquid fire ran
from his heel, like a stream of lava, to the sea; and Medeia
 and called to the heroes, "Come ashore, and water
your ship in peace."
So they came, and found the giant lying dead; and they fell
down, and kissed Medeia's feet; and watered their ship, and
took sheep and oxen, and so left that inhospitable shore.
At last, after many more adventures, they came to the Cape of
Malea, at the southwest point of the Peloponnese. And there
they offered sacrifices, and Orpheus purged them from their
guilt. Then they rode away again to the northward, past the
Laconian shore, and came all worn and tired by Sunium, and up
the long Eubœan Strait, until they saw once more Pelion, and
Aphetai, and Iolcos by the sea.
And they ran the ship ashore; but they had no strength left
to haul her up the beach; and they crawled out on the
pebbles, and sat down, and wept till they could weep no more.
For the houses and the trees were all altered; and all the
 faces which they saw were strange; and their joy was
swallowed up in sorrow, while they thought of their youth,
and all their labour, and the gallant comrades they had lost.
And the people crowded round, and asked them, "Who are you,
that you sit weeping here?"
"We are the sons of your princes, who sailed out many a year
ago. We went to fetch the golden fleece; and we have brought
it, and grief therewith. Give us news of our fathers and our
mothers, if any of them be left alive on earth."
Then there was shouting, and laughing, and weeping; and all
the kings came to the shore, and they led away the heroes to
their homes, and bewailed the valiant dead.
Then Jason went up with Medeia to the palace of his uncle
Pelias. And when he came in, Pelias sat by the hearth,
crippled and blind with age; while opposite him sat Æson,
Jason's father, crippled and blind
 likewise; and the two old
men's heads shook together, as they tried to warm themselves
before the fire.
And Jason fell down at his father's knees, and wept, and
called him by his name. And the old man stretched his hands
out, and felt him, and said, "Do not mock me, young hero. My
son Jason is dead long ago at sea."
"I am your own son Jason, whom you trusted to the Centaur
upon Pelion; and I have brought home the golden fleece, and a
princess of the Sun's race for my bride. So now give me up
the kingdom, Pelias my uncle, and fulfil your promise as I
have fulfilled mine."
Then his father clung to him like a child, and wept, and
would not let him go; and cried, "Now I shall not go down
lonely to my grave. Promise me never to leave me till I
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