|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 THESEUS LIFTED THE STONE
 ONCE upon a time there was a princess in Trœzene, Aithra,
the daughter of Pittheus the king. She had one fair son,
named Theseus, the bravest lad in all the land; and Aithra
never smiled but when she looked at him, for her husband had
forgotten her, and lived far away. And she used to go up to
the mountain above Trœzene, to the temple of Poseidon and
sit there all day looking out across the bay, over Methana,
to the purple peaks of Ægina and the Attic shore beyond.
 And when Theseus was full fifteen years old she took him up
with her to the temple, and into the thickets of the grove
which grew in the temple-yard. And she led him to a tall
plane-tree, beneath whose shade grew arbutus, and lentisk,
and purple heather-bushes. And there she sighed, and said,
"Theseus, my son, go into that thicket, and you will find at
the plane-tree foot a great flat stone; lift it, and bring me
what lies underneath."
Then Theseus pushed his way in through the thick bushes, and
saw that they had not been moved for many a year. And
searching among their roots he found a great flat stone, all
overgrown with ivy, and acanthus, and moss. He tried to lift
it, but he could not. And he tried till the sweat ran down
his brow from heat, and the tears from his eyes for shame:
but all was of no avail. And at last he came back to his
mother, and said, "I have found the stone, but I cannot lift
 nor do I think that any man could in all Trœzene."
Then she sighed, and said, "The Gods wait long; but they are
just at last. Let it be for another year. The day may come
when you will be a stronger man than lives in all Trœzene."
Then she took him by the hand, and went into the temple and
prayed, and came down again with Theseus to her home.
And when a full year was past she led Theseus up again to the
temple, and bade him lift the stone: but he could not.
Then she sighed, and said the same words again, and went
down, and came again the next year; but Theseus could not
lift the stone then, nor the year after; and he longed to ask
his mother the meaning of that stone, and what might lie
underneath it; but her face was so sad that he had not the
heart to ask.
So he said to himself, "The day shall
 surely come when I will
lift that stone, though no man in Trœzene can." And in
order to grow strong he spent all his days in wrestling, and
boxing, and hurling, and taming horses, and hunting the boar
and the bull, and coursing goats and deer among the rocks;
till upon all the mountains there was no hunter so swift as
Theseus; and he killed Phaia, the wild sow of Crommuon, which
wasted all the land; till all the people said, "Surely the
Gods are with the lad."
And when his eighteenth year was past, Aithra led him up
again to the temple, and said, "Theseus, lift the stone this
day, or never know who you are." And Theseus went into the
thicket, and stood over the stone, and tugged at it; and it
moved. Then his spirit swelled within him, and he said, "If
I break my heart in my body, it shall up." And he tugged at
it once more, and lifted it, and rolled it over with a shout.
 And when he looked beneath it, on the ground lay a sword of
bronze, with a hilt of glittering gold, and by it a pair of
golden sandals; and he caught them up, and burst through the
bushes like a wild boar, and leapt to his mother, holding
them high above his head.
But when she saw them she wept long in silence, hiding her
fair face in her shawl; and Theseus stood by her wondering,
and wept also, he knew not why. And when she was tired of
weeping, she lifted up her head, and laid her finger on her
lips, and said, "Hide them in your bosom, Theseus my son, and
come with me where we can look down upon the sea."
Then they went outside the sacred wall, and looked down over
the bright blue sea; and Aithra said,—
"Do you see this land at our feet?"
And he said, "Yes; this is Trœzene, where I was born and
And she said, "It is but a little land,
 barren and rocky, and
looks towards the bleak northeast. Do you see that land
"Yes, that is Attica, where the Athenian people dwell."
"That is a fair land and large, Theseus my son; and it looks
toward the sunny south; a land of olive-oil and honey, the
joy of Gods and men. For the Gods have girdled it with
mountains, whose veins are of pure silver, and their bones of
marble white as snow; and there the hills are sweet with
thyme and basil, and the meadows with violet and asphodel,
and the nightingales sing all day in the thickets, by the
side of ever-flowing streams. There are twelve towns well
peopled, the homes of an ancient race, the children of
Kekrops the serpent king, the son of Mother Earth, who wear
gold cicalas among the tresses of their golden hair; for like
the cicalas they sprang from the earth, and like the cicalas
they sing all day, rejoicing in the
 genial sun. What would
you do, son Theseus, if you were king of such a land?"
Then Theseus stood astonished, as he looked across the broad
bright sea, and saw the fair Attic shore, from Sunium to
Hymettus and Pentelicus, and all the mountain peaks which
girdle Athens round. But Athens itself he could not see, for
purple Ægina stood before it, midway across the sea.
Then his heart grew great within him, and he said, "If I were
king of such a land, I would rule it wisely and well in wisdom
and in might, that when I died all men might weep over my
tomb, and cry, 'Alas for the shepherd of his people!' "
And Aithra smiled, and said, "Take, then, the sword and the
sandals, and go to Ægeus king of Athens, who lives on
Pallas's hill; and say to him, 'The stone is lifted, but whose
is the pledge beneath it?' Then show him the sword and the
 sandals, and take what the Gods shall send."
But Theseus wept—"Shall I leave you, O my mother?"
But she answered, "Weep not for me. That which is fated must
be; and grief is easy to those who do nought but grieve.
Full of sorrow was my youth, and full of sorrow my womanhood.
Full of sorrow was my youth for Bellerophon, the slayer of
the Chimæra, whom my father drove away by treason; and full
of sorrow my womanhood, for thy treacherous father and for
thee; and full of sorrow my old age will be (for I see my
fate in dreams,) when the sons of the Swan shall carry me
captive to the hollow vale of Eurotas, till I sail across the
seas a slave, the handmaid of the pest of Greece. Yet shall
I be avenged, when the golden-haired heroes sail against
Troy, and sack the palaces of Ilium; then my son shall set me
free from thraldom, and I shall hear the tale of
fame. Yet beyond that I see new sorrows; but I can bear them
as I have borne the past."
Then she kissed Theseus, and wept over him; and went into the
temple, and Theseus saw her no more.
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