|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 CAME TO THE THIOPS
 SO Perseus flitted onward to the northeast, over many a
league of sea, till he came to the rolling sand-hills and the
dreary Lybian shore.
And he flitted on across the desert; over rock-ledges, and
banks of shingle, and level wastes of sand, and shell-drifts
bleaching in the sunshine, and the skeletons of great sea-monsters,
and dead bones of ancient giants, strewn up and
down upon the old sea-floor. And as he went, the blood-drops
fell to the earth from the Gorgon's head, and became
poisonous asps and adders, which breed in the desert to this
 Over the sands he went, he never knew how far or how long,
feeding on the fruit which the Nymphs had given him, till he
saw the hills of the Psylli, and the Dwarfs who fought with
cranes. Their spears were of reeds and rushes, and their
houses of the egg-shells of the cranes; and Perseus laughed,
and went his way to the northeast, hoping all day long to
see the blue Mediterranean sparkling, that he might fly
across it to his home.
But now came down a mighty wind, and swept him back southward
toward the desert. All day long he strove against it; but
even the winged sandals could not prevail. So he was forced
to float down the wind all night; and when the morning dawned
there was nothing to be seen, save the same old hateful waste
And out of the north the sand-storms rushed upon him, blood-red
pillars and wreaths, blotting out the noonday sun; and
Perseus fled before them, lest he
 should be choked by the
burning dust. At last the gale fell calm, and he tried to go
northward again; but again came down the sand-storms, and
swept him back into the waste, and then all was calm and
cloudless as before. Seven days he strove against the
storms, and seven days he was driven back, till he was spent
with thirst and hunger, and his tongue clove to the roof of
his mouth. Here and there he fancied that he saw a fair
lake, and the sunbeams shining on the water; but when he came
to it it vanished at his feet, and there was nought but
burning sand. And if he had not been of the race of the
Immortals, he would have perished in the waste; but his life
was strong within him, because it was more than man's.
Then he cried to Athené, and said,—
"Oh, fair and pure, if thou hearest me, wilt thou leave me
here to die of drought? I have brought thee the Gorgon's
head at thy bidding, and hitherto thou hast prospered
journey; dost thou desert me at the last? Else why will not
these immortal sandals prevail, even against the desert
storms? Shall I never see my mother more, and the blue
ripple round Seriphos, and the sunny hills of Hellas?"
So he prayed; and after he had prayed there was a great
The heaven was still above his head, and the sand was still
beneath his feet; and Perseus looked up, but there was
nothing but the blinding sun in the blinding blue; and round
him, but there was nothing but the blinding sand.
And Perseus stood still awhile, and waited, and said—"Surely
I am not here without the will of the Immortals, for
Athené will not lie. Were not these sandals to lead me in
the right road? Then the road in which I have tried to go
must be a wrong road."
Then suddenly his ears were opened, and he heard the sound of
 And at that his heart was lifted up, though he scarcely dare
believe his ears; and weary as he was, he hurried forward,
though he could scarcely stand upright; and within a bowshot
of him was a glen in the sand, and marble rocks, and date-trees,
and a lawn of gay green grass. And through the lawn a
streamlet sparkled and wandered out beyond the trees, and
vanished in the sand.
The water trickled among the rocks, and a pleasant breeze
rustled in the dry date-branches and Perseus laughed for joy,
and leapt down the cliff, and drank of the cool water, and
ate of the dates, and slept upon the turf, and leapt up and
went forward again: but not toward the north this time; for
he said—"Surely Athené has sent me hither, and will not
have me go homeward yet. What, if there be another noble deed
to be done, before I see the sunny hills of Hellas?"
So he went east, and east forever, by
 fresh oases and
fountains, date-palms, and lawns of grass, till he saw before
him a mighty mountain-wall, all rose-red in the setting sun.
Then he towered in the air like an eagle, for his limbs were
strong again; and he flew all night across the mountain till
the day began to dawn, and rosy-fingered Eos came blushing up
the sky. And then, behold, beneath him was the long green
garden of Egypt and the shining stream of Nile.
And he saw cities walled up to heaven, and temples, and
obelisks, and pyramids, and giant Gods of stone. And he came
down amid fields of barley, and flax, and millet, and
clambering gourds; and saw the people coming out of the gates
of a great city, and setting to work, each in his place,
among the watercourses, parting the streams among the plants
cunningly with their feet, according to the wisdom of the
Egyptians. But when they saw him they all
 stopped their
work, and gathered round him, and cried,—
"Who art thou, fair youth? and what bearest thou beneath thy
goat-skin there? Surely thou art one of the Immortals; for
thy skin is white like ivory, and ours is red like clay. Thy
hair is like threads of gold, and ours is black and curled.
Surely thou art one of the Immortals;"—and they would have
worshipped him then and there: but Perseus said,—
"I am not one of the Immortals; but I am a hero of the
Hellens. And I have slain the Gorgon in the wilderness, and
bear her head with me. Give me food, therefore, that I may
go forward and finish my work."
Then they gave him food, and fruit, and wine; but they would
not let him go. And when the news came into the city that
the Gorgon was slain, the priests came out to meet him, and
the maidens, with songs and dances, and timbrels and harps;
 and they would have brought him to their temple and to their
king; but Perseus put on the hat of darkness, and vanished
away out of their sight.
Therefore the Egyptians looked long for his return, but in
vain, and worshipped him as a hero, and made a statue of him
in Chemmis, which stood for many a hundred years; and they
said that he appeared to them at times, with sandals a cubit
long; and that whenever he appeared the season was fruitful,
and the Nile rose high that year.
Then Perseus went to the eastward, along the Red Sea shore;
and then, because he was afraid to go into the Arabian
deserts, he turned northward once more, and this time no
storm hindered him.
He went past the Isthmus, and Mount Casius, and the vast
Serbonian bog, and up the shore of Palestine, where the
dark-faced Æthiops dwelt.
He flew on past pleasant hills and valleys,
 like Argos
itself, or Lacedæmon, or the fair Vale of Tempe. But the
lowlands were all drowned by floods, and the highlands
blasted by fire, and the hills heaved like a bubbling
cauldron, before the wrath of King Poseidon, the shaker of
And Perseus feared to go inland, but flew along the shore
above the sea; and he went on all the day, and the sky was
black with smoke; and he went on all the night, and the sky
was red with flame.
And at the dawn of day he looked toward the cliffs; and at
the water's edge, under a black rock, he saw a white image
"This," thought he, "must surely be the statue of some sea-God;
I will go near and see what kind of Gods these
So he came near; but when he came, it was no statue, but a
maiden of flesh and blood; for he could see her tresses
streaming in the breeze; and as he came closer
 still, he could see how she shrank and shivered, when the waves
sprinkled her with cold salt spray. Her arms were spread
above her head, and fastened to the rock with chains of
brass; and her head drooped on her bosom, either with sleep,
or weariness, or grief. But now and then she looked up and
wailed, and called her mother; yet she did not see Perseus,
for the cap of darkness was on his head.
Full of pity and indignation Perseus drew near and looked
upon the maid. Her cheeks were darker than his were, and her
hair was blue-black like a hyacinth; but Perseus thought—"I
have never seen so beautiful a maiden; no, not in all our
isles. Surely she is a king's daughter. Do barbarians treat
their kings' daughters thus? She is too fair, at least, to
have done any wrong. I will speak to her."
And, lifting the hat from his head, he flashed into her
sight. She shrieked with terror, and tried to hide her face
 hair, for she could not with her hands; but Perseus
"Do not fear me, fair one; I am a Hellen, and no barbarian.
What cruel men have bound you? But first I will set you
And he tore at the fetters; but they were too strong for him;
while the maiden cried,—
"Touch me not; I am accursed, devoted as a victim to the
sea-Gods. They will slay you, if you dare to set me free."
"Let them try," said Perseus; and drawing Herpé from his
thigh, he cut through the brass as if it had been flax.
"Now," he said, "you belong to me, and not to these sea-Gods,
whosoever they may be!" But she only called the more on her
"Why call on your mother? She can be no mother to have left
you here. If a bird is dropped out of the nest, it belongs
to the man who picks it up. If a jewel
 is cast by the
wayside, it is his who dare win it and wear it, as I will win
you and will wear you. I know now why Pallas Athené sent me
hither. She sent me to gain a prize worth all my toil, and
And he clasped her in his arms, and cried—"Where are these
sea-Gods, cruel and unjust, who doom fair maids to death? I
carry the weapons of Immortals. Let them measure their
strength against mine! But tell me, maiden, who you are, and
what dark fate brought you here."
And she answered, weeping—
"I am the daughter of Cepheus, King of Iopa, and my mother is
Cassiopœoeia of the beautiful tresses, and they called me
Andromeda, as long as life was mine. And I stand bound here,
hapless that I am, for the sea-monster's food, to atone for
my mother's sin. For she boasted of me once that I was
fairer than Atergatis, Queen of the Fishes; so she in her
wrath sent the sea-floods, and her brother the Fire King
the earthquakes, and wasted all the land, and after the
floods a monster bred of the slime, who devours all living
things. And now he must devour me, guiltless though I am—me
who never harmed a living thing, nor saw a fish upon the
shore but I gave it life, and threw it back into the sea; for
in our land we eat no fish, for fear of Atergatis their
Queen. Yet the priests say that nothing but my blood can
atone for a sin which I never committed."
But Perseus laughed, and said—"A sea-monster? I have fought
with worse than him; I would have faced Immortals for your
sake; how much more a beast of the sea?"
Then Andromeda looked up at him, and new hope was kindled in
her breast, so proud and fair did he stand, with one hand
round her, and in the other the glittering sword. But she
only sighed, and wept the more, and cried,—
"Why will you die, young as you are?
 Is there not death and
sorrow enough in the world already? It is noble for me to
die, that I may save the lives of a whole people; but you,
better than them all, why should I slay you too? Go you your
way; I must go mine."
But Perseus cried—"Not so; for the Lords of Olympus, whom I
serve, are the friends of the heroes, and help them on to
noble deeds. Led by them, I slew the Gorgon, the beautiful
horror; and not without them do I come hither, to slay this
monster with that same Gorgon's head. Yet hide your eyes
when I leave you, lest the sight of it freeze you too to
But the maiden answered nothing, for she could not believe
his words. And then, suddenly looking up, she pointed to the
sea, and shrieked,—
"There he comes, with the sunrise, as they promised. I must
die now. How shall I endure it? Oh, go! Is it not dreadful
enough to be torn piecemeal, without
 having you to look on?"
And she tried to thrust him away.
But he said—"I go; yet promise me one thing ere I go; that
if I slay this beast you will be my wife, and come back with
me to my kingdom in fruitful Argos, for I am a king's heir.
Promise me, and seal it with a kiss."
Then she lifted up her face, and kissed him; and Perseus
laughed for joy, and flew upward, while Andromeda crouched
trembling on the rock, waiting for what might befall.
On came the great sea-monster, coasting along like a huge
black galley, lazily breasting the ripple, and stopping at
times by creek or headland to watch for the laughter of girls
at their bleaching, or cattle pawing on the sand-hills, or
boys bathing on the beach. His great sides were fringed with
clustering shells and sea-weeds, and the water gurgled in and
out of his wide jaws, as he rolled along,
 dripping and
glistening in the beams of the morning sun.
At last he saw Andromeda, and shot forward to take his prey,
while the waves foamed white behind him, and before him the
fish fled leaping.
Then down from the height of the air fell Perseus like a
shooting star; down to the crests of the waves, while
Andromeda hid her face as he shouted; and then there was
silence for a while.
At last she looked up trembling, and saw Perseus springing
toward her; and instead of the monster a long black rock,
with the sea rippling quietly round it.
Who then so proud as Perseus, as he leapt back to the rock,
and lifted his fair Andromeda in his arms, and flew with her
to the cliff-top, as a falcon carries a dove?
Who so proud as Perseus, and who so joyful as all the Æthiop
people? For they had stood watching the monster from the
cliffs, wailing for the maiden's fate. And already a
messenger had gone to Cepheus and Cassiopœia, where they sat
in sackcloth and ashes on the ground, in the innermost palace
chambers, awaiting their daughter's end. And they came, and
all the city with them, to see the wonder, with songs and
with dances, with cymbals and harps, and received their
daughter back again, as one alive from the dead.
Then Cepheus said—"Hero of the Hellens, stay here with me
and be my son-in-law, and I will give you the half of my
"I will be your son-in-law," said Perseus, "but of your
kingdom I will have none; for I long after the pleasant land
of Greece, and my mother who waits for me at home."
Then Cepheus said—"You must not take my daughter away at
once, for she is to us like one alive from the dead. Stay
with us here a year, and after that you shall return with
honour." And Perseus
 consented; but before he went to the
palace he bade the people bring stones and wood, and built
three altars, one to Athené, and one to Hermes, and one to
Father Zeus, and offered bullocks and rams.
And some said—"This is a pious man:" yet the priests
said—"The Sea Queen will be yet more fierce against us, because
her monster is slain." But they were afraid to speak aloud,
for they feared the Gorgon's head. So they went up to the
palace: and when they came in, there stood in the hall
Phineus, the brother of Cepheus, chafing like a bear robbed
of her whelps, and with him his sons, and his servants, and
many an armed man; and he cried to Cepheus,—
"You shall not marry your daughter to this stranger, of whom
no one knows even the name. Was not Andromeda betrothed to
my son? And now she is safe again, has he not a right to
 But Perseus laughed, and answered—"If your son is in want of
a bride, let him save a maiden for himself. As yet he seems
but a helpless bridegroom. He left this one to die, and
dead she is to him. I saved her alive, and alive she is to
me, but to no one else. Ungrateful man! have I not saved
your land, and the lives of your sons and daughters, and will
you requite me thus? Go, or it will be worse for you." But
all the men-at-arms drew their swords, and rushed on him like
Then he unveiled the Gorgon's head, and said—"This has
delivered my bride from one wild beast; it shall deliver her
from many." And as he spoke, Phineus and all his men-at-arms
stopped short, and stiffened each man as he stood; and before
Perseus had drawn the goat-skin over the face again, they
were all turned into stone.
Then Perseus bade the people bring
 levers and roll them out;
and what was done with them after that, I cannot tell.
So they made a great wedding-feast, which lasted seven whole
days, and who so happy as Perseus and Andromeda?
But on the eighth night Perseus dreamed a dream; and he saw
standing beside him Pallas Athené, as he had seen her in
Seriphos, seven long years before; and she stood and called
him by name, and said,—
"Perseus, you have played the man, and see, you have your
reward. Know now that the Gods are just, and help him who
helps himself. Now give me here Herpé the sword, and the
sandals, and the hat of darkness, that I may give them back
to their owners; but the Gorgon's head you shall keep awhile,
for you will need it in your land of Greece. Then you
shall lay it up in my temple at Seriphos, that I may wear it
on my shield forever, a terror to the Titans and the
 monsters, and the foes of Gods and men. And as for this
land, I have appeased the sea and the fire, and there shall
be no more floods nor earthquakes. But let the people build
altars to Father Zeus, and to me, and worship the Immortals,
the Lords of heaven and earth."
And Perseus rose to give her the sword, and the cap, and the
sandals; but he woke, and his dream vanished away. And yet
it was not altogether a dream; for the goat-skin with the
head was in its place; but the sword, and the cap, and the
sandals were gone, and Perseus never saw them more.
Then a great awe fell on Perseus; and he went out in the
morning to the people, and told his dream, and bade them
build altars to Zeus, the Father of Gods and men, and to
Athené, who gives wisdom to heroes; and fear no more the
earthquakes and the floods, but sow and build in peace. And
they did so for a while, and prospered:
 but after Perseus was
gone they forgot Zeus and Athené, and worshipped again
Atergatis the queen, and the undying fish of the sacred lake,
where Deucalion's deluge was swallowed up, and they burnt
their children before the Fire King, till Zeus was angry with
that foolish people, and brought a strange nation against
them out of Egypt, who fought against them and wasted them
utterly, and dwelt in their cities for many a hundred years.
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