|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 PERSEUS SLEW THE GORGON
 SO Perseus started on his journey, going dry-shod over land
and sea; and his heart was high and joyful, for the winged
sandals bore him each day a seven days' journey.
And he went by Cythnus, and by Ceos, and the pleasant
Cyclades to Attica; and past Athens and Thebes, and the
Copaic lake, and up the vale of Cephissus, and past the peaks
of ta and Pindus, and over the rich Thessalian plains, till
the sunny hills of Greece were behind him, and before him
were the wilds of the north. Then he passed the Thracian
mountains, and many a barbarous tribe, Pæons and Dardans and
Triballi, till he came to the Ister stream, and the dreary
Scythian plains. And he walked across the Ister dry-shod,
and away through the moors and fens, day and night toward the
bleak northwest, turning neither to the right hand nor the
left, till he came to the Unshapen Land, and the place which
has no name.
And seven days he walked through it, on a path which few can
tell; for those who have trodden it like least to speak of
it, and those who go there again in dreams are glad enough
when they awake; till he came to the edge of the everlasting
night, where the air was full of feathers, and the soil was
hard with ice; and there at last he found the three Grey
Sisters, by the shore of the freezing sea, nodding upon a
white log of drift-wood, beneath the cold white winter moon;
and they chanted a low song together, "Why the old times
were better than the new."
 There was no living thing around them, not a fly, not a moss
upon the rocks. Neither seal nor sea-gull dare come near,
lest the ice should clutch them in its claws. The surge
broke up in foam, but it fell again in flakes of snow; and it
frosted the hair of the three Grey Sisters, and the bones in
the ice-cliff above their heads. They passed the eye from
one to the other, but for all that they could not see; and
they passed the tooth from one to the other, but for all that
they could not eat; and they sat in the full glare of the
moon, but they were none the warmer for her beams. And
Perseus pitied the three Grey Sisters; but they did not pity
So he said, "Oh, venerable mothers, wisdom is the daughter of
old age. You therefore should know many things. Tell me, if
you can, the path to the Gorgon."
Then one cried, "Who is this who reproaches us with old age?"
 "This is the voice of one of the children of
And he, "I do not reproach, but honour your old age, and I am
one of the sons of men and of the heroes. The rulers of
Olympus have sent me to you to ask the way to the Gorgon."
Then one—"There are new rulers in Olympus, and all new
things are bad." And another—"We hate your rulers, and the
heroes, and all the children of men. We are the kindred of
the Titans, and the Giants, and the Gorgons, and the ancient
monsters of the deep." And another—"Who is this rash and
insolent man who pushes unbidden into our world?" And the
first—"There never was such a world as ours, nor will be; if
we let him see it, he will spoil it all."
Then one cried, "Give me the eye, that I may see him;" and
another, "Give me the tooth, that I may bite him." But
Perseus, when he saw that they were foolish
 and proud, and
did not love the children of men, left off pitying them, and
said to himself, "Hungry men must needs be hasty; if I stay
making many words here, I shall be starved." Then he stepped
close to them, and watched till they passed the eye from hand
to hand. And as they groped about between themselves, he
held out his own hand gently, till one of them put the eye
into it, fancying that it was the hand of her sister. Then
he sprang back, and laughed, and cried—
"Cruel and proud old women, I have your eye; and I will throw
it into the sea, unless you tell me the path to the Gorgon,
and swear to me that you tell me right."
Then they wept, and chattered, and scolded; but in vain.
They were forced to tell the truth, though when they told
it, Perseus could hardly make out the road.
"You must go," they said, "foolish boy, to the southward,
into the ugly glare of the sun, till you come to Atlas the
 who holds the heaven and the earth apart. And you
must ask his daughters, the Hesperides, who are young and
foolish like yourself. And now give us back our eye; for we
have forgotten all the rest."
So Perseus gave them back their eye; but instead of using it,
they nodded and fell fast asleep, and were turned into blocks
of ice, till the tide came up and washed them all away. And
now they float up and down like icebergs forever, weeping
whenever they meet the sunshine, and the fruitful summer and
the warm south wind, which fill young hearts with joy.
But Perseus leaped away to the southward, leaving the snow
and the ice behind: past the isle of the Hyperboreans, and
the tin isles, and the long Iberian shore; while the sun rose
higher day by day upon a bright blue summer sea. And the
terns and the sea-gulls swept laughing round his head, and
called to him to stop and play, and the dolphins gambolled up
as he passed,
 and offered to carry him on their backs. And
all night long the sea-nymphs sang sweetly, and the Tritons
blew upon their conchs, as they played round Galatæa their
queen, in her car of pearled shells. Day by day the sun rose
higher, and leaped more swiftly into the sea at night, and
more swiftly out of the sea at dawn; while Perseus skimmed
over the billows like a sea-gull, and his feet were never
wetted; and leapt on from wave to wave, and his limbs were
never weary, till he saw far away a mighty mountain, all
rose-red in the setting sun. Its feet were wrapped in
forests, and its head in wreaths of cloud; and Perseus knew
that it was Atlas, who holds the heavens and the earth apart.
He came to the mountain, and leapt on shore, and wandered
upward, among pleasant valleys and waterfalls, and tall trees
and strange ferns and flowers; but there was no smoke rising
from any glen, nor house, nor sign of man.
 At last he heard sweet voices singing; and he guessed that he
was come to the garden of the Nymphs, the daughters of the
They sang like nightingales among the thickets, and Perseus
stopped to hear their song; but the words which they spoke he
could not understand; no, nor no man after him for many a
hundred years. So he stepped forward and saw them dancing,
hand in hand around the charmed tree, which bent under its
golden fruit; and round the tree-foot was coiled the dragon,
old Ladon the sleepless snake, who lies there for ever,
listening to the song of the maidens, blinking and watching
with dry bright eyes.
Then Perseus stopped, not because he feared the dragon, but
because he was bashful before those fair maids; but when they
saw him, they too stopped, and called to him with trembling
"Who are you? Are you Heracles the mighty, who will come to
rob our garden, and carry off our golden fruit?" And he
"I am not Heracles the mighty, and I want none of your golden
fruit. Tell me, fair nymphs, the way which leads to the
Gorgon, that I may go on my way and slay her."
"Not yet, not yet, fair boy; come dance with us around the
tree in the garden which knows no winter, the home of the
south wind and the sun. Come hither and play with us awhile;
we have danced alone here for a thousand years, and our
hearts are weary with longing for a playfellow. So come,
"I cannot dance with you, fair maidens; for I must do the
errand of the Immortals. So tell me the way to the Gorgon,
lest I wander and perish in the waves."
Then they sighed and wept; and answered:—
"The Gorgon! she
will freeze you into stone."
 "It is better to die like a hero than to live like an ox in a
stall. The Immortals have lent me weapons, and they will
give me wit to use them."
Then they sighed again and answered: "Fair boy, if you are
bent on your own ruin, be it so. We know not the way to the
Gorgon; but we will ask the giant Atlas, above upon the
mountain peak, the brother of our father, the silver Evening
Star. He sits aloft and sees across the ocean, and far away
into the Unshapen Land."
So they went up the mountain to Atlas their uncle, and
Perseus went up with them. And they found the giant
kneeling, as he held the heavens and the earth apart.
They asked him, and he answered mildly, pointing to the sea-board
with his mighty hand: "I can see the Gorgons lying on
an island far away, but this youth can never come near them,
 he has the hat of darkness, which whosoever wears
cannot be seen."
Then cried Perseus, "Where is that hat, that I may find it?"
But the giant smiled. "No living mortal can find that hat,
for it lies in the depths of Hades, in the regions of the
dead. But my nieces are immortal, and they shall fetch it
for you, if you will promise me one thing and keep your
Then Perseus promised; and the giant said: "When you come
back with the head of Medusa, you shall show me the beautiful
horror; that I may lose my feeling and my breathing, and
become a stone forever; for it is weary labor for me to
hold the heavens and the earth apart."
Then Perseus promised; and the eldest of the nymphs went
down, and into a dark cavern among the cliffs, out of which
came smoke and thunder, for it was one of the mouths of Hell.
 And Perseus and the nymphs sat down seven days, and waited
trembling, till the nymph came up again; and her face was
pale, and her eyes dazzled with the light, for she had been
long in the dreary darkness; but in her hand was the magic
Then all the nymphs kissed Perseus, and wept over him a long
while; but he was only impatient to be gone. And at last
they put the hat upon his head, and he vanished out of their
But Perseus went on boldly, past many an ugly sight, far away
into the heart of the Unshapen Land, beyond the streams of
Ocean, to the isles where no ship cruises, where is neither
night nor day, where nothing is in its right place, and
nothing has a name; till he heard the rustle of the Gorgons'
wings and saw the glitter of their brazen talons; and then he
knew that it was time to halt, lest Medusa should freeze him
He thought awhile with himself, and
 remembered Athené's
words. He rose aloft into the air, and held the mirror of
the shield above his head, and looked up into it that he
might see all that was below him.
And he saw the three Gorgons sleeping, as huge as elephants.
He knew that they could not see him, because the hat of
darkness hid him; and yet he trembled as he sank down near
them, so terrible were those brazen claws.
Two of the Gorgons were foul as swine, and lay sleeping
heavily, as swine sleep, with their mighty wings outspread;
but Medusa tossed to and fro restlessly, and as she tossed,
Perseus pitied her, she looked so fair and sad. Her plumage
was like the rainbow, and her face was like the face of a
nymph, only her eyebrows were knit, and her lips clenched,
with everlasting care and pain; and her long neck gleamed so
white in the mirror that Perseus had not the heart to strike,
 "Ah, that it had been either of her sisters!"
But as he looked, from among her tresses the vipers' heads
awoke, and peeped up with their bright dry eyes, and showed
their fangs, and hissed; and Medusa, as she tossed, threw
back her wings, and showed her brazen claws; and Perseus saw
that, for all her beauty, she was as foul and venomous as the
Then he came down and stepped to her boldly, and looked
steadfastly on his mirror, and struck with Herpé stoutly
once; and he did not need to strike again.
Then he wrapped the head in the goat-skin, turning away his
eyes, and sprang into the air aloft, faster than he ever
For Medusa's wings and talons rattled as she sank dead upon
the rocks; and her two foul sisters woke, and saw her lying
Into the air they sprang yelling, and looked
 for him who had
done the deed. Thrice they swung round and round, like hawks
who beat for a partridge; and thrice they snuffed round and
round, like hounds who draw upon a deer. At last they struck
upon the scent of the blood, and they checked for a moment to
make sure; and then on they rushed with a fearful howl, while
the wind rattled hoarse in their wings.
On they rushed, sweeping and flapping, like eagles after a
hare; and Perseus's blood ran cold, for all his courage, as he
saw them come howling on his track; and he cried: "Bear me
well, now, brave sandals, for the hounds of death are at my
And well the brave sandals bore him, aloft through cloud and
sunshine, across the shoreless sea; and fast followed the
hounds of Death, as the roar of their wings came down the
wind. But the roar came down fainter and fainter, and the
howl of their voices died away; for the sandals were too
swift, even for
 Gorgons, and by nightfall they were far
behind, two black specks in the southern sky, till the sun
sank and he saw them no more.
Then he came again to Atlas, and the garden of the Nymphs;
and when the giant heard him coming, he groaned, and said:
"Fulfil thy promise to me." Then Perseus held up to him the
Gorgon's head, and he had rest from all his toil; for he
became a crag of stone, which sleeps forever far above the
Then he thanked the Nymphs, and asked them: "By what road
shall I go homeward again, for I wandered far round in coming
And they wept and cried: "Go home no more, but stay and play
with us, the lonely maidens, who dwell forever far away from
gods and men."
But he refused, and they told him his road, and said: "Take
with you this magic
 fruit, which, if you eat once, you will
not hunger for seven days. For you must go eastward and
eastward ever, over the doleful Lybian shore, which Poseidon
gave to Father Zeus, when he burst open the Bosphorus and the
Hellespont, and drowned the fair Lectonian land. And Zeus
took that land in exchange, a fair bargain, much bad ground
for a little good, and to this day it lies waste and desert
with shingle, and rock, and sand."
Then they kissed Perseus, and wept over him, and he leapt
down the mountain, and went on, lessening and lessening like
a sea-gull, away and out to sea.
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