|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 SLEW THE DEVOURERS OF MEN
 SO Theseus stood there alone, with his mind full of many
hopes. And first, he thought of going down to the harbour and
hiring a swift ship, and sailing across the bay to Athens;
but even that seemed too slow for him, and he longed for
wings to fly across the sea, and find his father. But after
a while his heart began to fail him; and he sighed, and said
"What if my father have other sons about him, whom he loves?
What if he will not receive me? And what have I done that he
should receive me? He has forgotten me ever since I was
born: why should he welcome me now?"
Then he thought a long while sadly; and at the last he cried
aloud, "Yes! I will make him love me; for I will prove
myself worthy of his love. I will win honour and renown, and
do such deeds that Ægeus shall be proud of me, though he had
fifty other sons! Did not Heracles win himself honour,
though he was opprest, and the slave of Eurystheus? Did he
not kill all robbers and evil beasts, and drain great lakes
and marshes, breaking the hills through with his club?
Therefore it was that all men honoured him, because he rid
them of their miseries, and made life pleasant to them and
their children after them. Where can I go, to do as Heracles
has done? Where can I find strange adventures, robbers, and
monsters, and the children of hell, the enemies of men? I
will go by land, and into the mountains, and round by the way
of the Isthmus.
 Perhaps there I may hear of brave
adventures, and do something which shall win my father's
So he went by land, and away into the mountains, with his
father's sword upon his thigh, till he came to the Spider
mountains, which hang over Epidaurus and the sea, where the
glens run downward from one peak in the midst, as the rays
spread in the spider's web.
And he went up into the gloomy glens, between the furrowed
marble walls, till the lowland grew blue beneath his feet, and
the clouds drove damp about his head.
But he went up and up forever, through the spider's web of
glens, till he could see the narrow gulfs spread below him,
north and south, and east and west; black cracks half-choked
with mists, and above all a dreary down.
But over that down he must go, for there was no road right or
left; so he toiled on through bog and brake, till he came to
a pile of stones.
 And on the stones a man was sitting, wrapt in a bear-skin
cloak. The head of the bear served him for a cap, and its
teeth grinned white around his brows; and the feet were tied
about his throat, and their claws shone white upon his chest.
And when he saw Theseus he rose, and laughed till the glens
"And who art thou, fair fly, who hast walked into the
spider's web?" But Theseus walked on steadily, and made no
answer: but he thought, "Is this some robber? and has an
adventure come already to me?" But the strange man laughed
louder than ever, and said,—
"Bold fly, know you not that these glens are the web from
which no fly ever finds his way out again, and this down the
spider's house, and I the spider who sucks the flies? Come
hither, and let me feast upon you; for it is of no use to run
away, so cunning a web has my father Hephaistos spread for me,
when he made
 these clefts in the mountains, through which no
man finds his way home."
But Theseus came on steadily, and asked,—
"And what is your name among men, bold spider? and where are
your spider's fangs?"
Then the strange man laughed again,—
"My name is Periphetes, the son of Hephaistos and Anticleia
the mountain nymph. But men call me Corynetes the club-bearer;
and here is my spider's fang."
And he lifted from off the stones at his side a mighty club
"This my father gave me, and forged it himself in the roots
of the mountain; and with it I pound all proud flies till
they give out their fatness and their sweetness. So give me
up that gay sword of yours, and your mantle, and your golden
sandals, lest I pound you, and by ill luck you die."
But Theseus wrapt his mantle round his
 left arm quickly, in
hard folds, from his shoulder to his hand, and drew his
sword, and rushed upon the club-bearer, and the club-bearer
rushed on him.
Thrice he struck at Theseus, and made him bend under the
blows like a sapling; but Theseus guarded his head with his
left arm, and the mantle which was wrapped around it.
And thrice Theseus sprang upright after the blow, like a
sapling when the storm is past; and he stabbed at the club-bearer
with his sword, but the loose folds of the bear-skin
Then Theseus grew mad, and closed with him, and caught him by
the throat, and they fell and rolled over together; but when
Theseus rose up from the ground the club-bearer lay still at
Then Theseus took his club and his bear-skin, and left him to
the kites and crows, and went upon his journey down the glens
on the farther slope, till he
 came to a broad green valley,
and saw flocks and herds sleeping beneath the trees.
And by the side of a pleasant fountain, under the shade of
rocks and trees, were nymphs and shepherds dancing; but no
one piped to them while they danced.
And when they saw Theseus they shrieked; and the shepherds
ran off, and drove away their flocks; while the nymphs dived
into the fountain like coots, and vanished.
Theseus wondered and laughed: "What strange fancies have
folks here who run away from strangers, and have no music
when they dance!" But he was tired, and dusty, and thirsty;
so he thought no more of them, but drank and bathed in the
clear pool, and then lay down in the shade under a plane-tree,
while the water sang him to sleep, as it tinkled down
from stone to stone.
And when he woke he heard a whispering,
 and saw the nymphs
peeping at him across the fountain from the dark mouth of a
cave, where they sat on green cushions of moss. And one
said, "Surely he is not Periphetes;" and another, "He looks
like no robber, but a fair and gentle youth."
Then Theseus smiled, and called them, "Fair nymphs, I am not
Periphetes. He sleeps among the kites and crows: but I have
brought away his bear-skin and his club."
Then they leapt across the pool, and came to him, and called
the shepherds back. And he told them how he had slain the
club-bearer: and the shepherds kissed his feet and sang,
"Now we shall feed our flocks in peace, and not be afraid to
have music when we dance; for the cruel club-bearer has met
his match, and he will listen for our pipes no more."
they brought him kid's flesh and wine, and the nymphs brought
him honey from the rocks; and he ate, and drank, and slept
again, while the nymphs and shepherds danced and sang. And
when he woke, they begged him to stay; but he would not. "I
have a great work to do," he said; "I must be away toward the
Isthmus, that I may go to Athens."
But the shepherds said, "Will you go alone toward Athens?
None travel that way now, except in armed troops."
"As for arms, I have enough, as you see. And as for troops,
an honest man is good enough company for himself. Why should
I not go alone toward Athens?"
"If you do, you must look warily about you on the Isthmus,
lest you meet Sinis the robber, whom men call Pituocamptes
the pine-bender; for he bends down two pine-trees, and binds
all travellers hand and foot between them; and when he lets
the trees go again their bodies are torn in sunder."
"And after that," said another, "you
 must go inland, and not
dare to pass over the cliffs of Sciron; for on the left hand
are the mountains, and on the right the sea, so that you have
no escape, but must needs meet Sciron the robber, who will
make you wash his feet; and while you are washing them he
will kick you over the cliff, to the tortoise who lives
below, and feeds upon the bodies of the dead."
And before Theseus could answer, another cried, "And after
that is a worse danger still, unless you go inland always,
and leave Eleusis far on your right. For in Eleusis rules
Kerkuon the cruel king, the terror of all mortals, who killed
his own daughter Alope in prison. But she was changed into a
fair fountain; and her child he cast out upon the mountains;
but the wild mares gave it milk. And now he challenges all
comers to wrestle with him; for he is the best wrestler in
all Attica, and overthrows all who come; and those whom he
overthrows he murders
 miserably, and his palace-court is full
of their bones."
Then Theseus frowned, and said, "This seems indeed an ill-
ruled land, and adventures enough in it to be tried. But if
I am the heir of it, I will rule it and right it, and here is
my royal sceptre."
And he shook his club of bronze, while the nymphs and
shepherds clung round him, and entreated him not to go.
But on he went, nevertheless, till he could see both the seas
and the citadel of Corinth towering high above all the land.
And he past swiftly along the Isthmus, for his heart burned
to meet that cruel Sinis; and in a pine-wood at last he met
him, where the Isthmus was narrowest and the road ran between
high rocks. There he sat upon a stone by the wayside, with a
young fir-tree for a club across his knees, and a cord laid
ready by his side; and over his head, upon the fir-tops, hung
the bones of murdered men.
 Then Theseus shouted to him, "Holla, thou valiant pine-bender,
hast thou two fir-trees left for me?"
And Sinis leapt to his feet, and answered, pointing to the
bones above his head, "My larder has grown empty lately, so I
have two fir-trees ready for thee." And he rushed on
Theseus, lifting his club, and Theseus rushed upon him.
Then they hammered together till the greenwoods rang: but the
metal was tougher than the pine, and Sinis's club broke right
across, as the bronze came down upon it. Then Theseus heaved
up another mighty stroke, and smote Sinis down upon his face;
and knelt upon his back, and bound him with his own cord, and
said, "As thou hast done to others, so shall it be done to
thee." Then he bent down two young fir-trees, and bound
Sinis between them, for all his struggling and his prayers;
and let them go, and ended Sinis, and went on, leaving him to
the hawks and crows.
 Then he went over the hills toward Megara, keeping close
along the Saronic Sea, till he came to the cliffs of Sciron,
and the narrow path between the mountain and the sea.
And there he saw Sciron sitting by a fountain, at the edge of
the cliff. On his knees was a mighty club; and he had barred
the path with stones, so that every one must stop who came
Then Theseus shouted to him, and said, "Holla, thou tortoise-feeder,
do thy feet need washing to-day?"
And Sciron leapt to his feet, and answered—"My tortoise is
empty and hungry, and my feet need washing to-day." And he
stood before his barrier, and lifted up his club in both
Then Theseus rushed upon him; and sore was the battle upon
the cliff; for when Sciron felt the weight of the bronze
club, he dropt his own, and closed with
 Theseus, and tried to
hurl him by main force over the cliff. But Theseus was a
wary wrestler, and dropt his own club, and caught him by the
throat and by the knee, and forced him back against the wall
of stones, and crushed him up against them, till his breath
was almost gone. And Sciron cried panting, "Loose me, and I
will let thee pass." But Theseus answered, "I must not pass
till I have made the rough way smooth;" and he forced him
back against the wall till it fell, and Sciron rolled head
Then Theseus lifted him up all bruised, and said, "Come
hither and wash my feet." And he drew his sword, and sat
down by the well, and said, "Wash my feet, or I cut you
And Sciron washed his feet trembling; and when it was done,
Theseus rose, and cried, "As thou hast done to others, so
shall it be done to thee. Go feed thy tortoise
 thyself;" and
he kicked him over the cliff into the sea.
And whether the tortoise ate him, I know not; for some say
that earth and sea both disdained to take his body, so foul
it was with sin. So the sea cast it out upon the shore, and
the shore cast it back into the sea, and at last the waves
hurled it high into the air in anger; and it hung there long
without a grave, till it was changed into a desolate rock,
which stands there in the surge until this day.
This at least is true, which Pausanias tells, that in the
royal porch at Athens he saw the figure of Theseus modelled
in clay, and by him Sciron the robber, falling headlong into
Then he went a long day's journey, past Megara, into the
Attic land, and high before him rose the snow-peaks of
Cithæron, all cold above the black pine-woods, where haunt
the Furies, and the raving Bacchæ, and the nymphs who drive
men wild, far
 aloft upon the dreary mountains, where the
storms howl all day long. And on his right hand was the sea
always, and Salamis, with its island cliffs, and the sacred
strait of the sea-fight, where afterwards the Persians fled
before the Greeks. So he went all day until the evening,
till he saw the Thriasian plain, and the sacred city of
Eleusis, where the Earth-mother's temple stands. For there
she met Triptolemus, when all the land lay waste, Demeter the
kind Earth-mother, and in her hands a sheaf of corn. And she
taught him to plough the fallows, and to yoke the lazy kine;
and she taught him to sow the seed-fields, and to reap the
golden grain; and sent him forth to teach all nations, and
give corn to labouring men. So at Eleusis all men honour
her, whosoever tills the land; her and Triptolemus her
beloved, who gave corn to labouring men.
And he went along the plain into
 Eleusis, and stood in the
market-place, and cried,—
"Where is Kerkuon, the king of the city? I must wrestle a
fall with him to-day."
Then all the people crowded round him, and cried, "Fair
youth, why will you die? Hasten out of the city, before the
cruel king hears that a stranger is here."
But Theseus went up through the town, while the people wept
and prayed, and through the gates of the palace yard, and
through the piles of bones and skulls, till he came to the
door of Kerkuon's hall, the terror of all mortal men.
And there he saw Kerkuon sitting at the table in the hall
alone; and before him was a whole sheep roasted, and beside
him a whole jar of wine. And Theseus stood and called him,
"Holla, thou valiant wrestler, wilt thou wrestle a fall to-day?"
And Kerkuon looked up and laughed, and answered, "I will
wrestle a fall to-day;
 but come in, for I am lonely and thou
weary, and eat and drink before thou die."
Then Theseus went up boldly, and sat down before Kerkuon at
the board; and he ate his fill of the sheep's flesh, and
drank his fill of the wine; and Theseus ate enough for three
men, but Kerkuon ate enough for seven.
But neither spoke a word to the other, though they looked
across the table by stealth; and each said in his heart, "He
has broad shoulders; but I trust mine are as broad as his."
At last, when the sheep was eaten and the jar of wine drained
dry, King Kerkuon rose, and cried, "Let us wrestle a fall
before we sleep."
So they tossed off all their garments, and went forth in the
palace-yard; and Kerkuon bade strew fresh sand in an open
space between the bones.
And there the heroes stood face to face, while their eyes
glared like wild bulls'; and
 all the people crowded at the
gates to see what would befall.
And there they stood and wrestled, till the stars shone out
above their heads; up and down and round, till the sand was
stamped hard beneath their feet. And their eyes flashed like
stars in the darkness, and their breath went up like smoke in
the night air; but neither took nor gave a footstep, and the
people watched silent at the gates.
But at last Kerkuon grew angry, and caught Theseus round the
neck, and shook him as a mastiff shakes a rat; but he could
not shake him off his feet.
But Theseus was quick and wary, and clasped Kerkuon round the
waist, and slipped his loin quickly underneath him, while he
caught him by the wrist; and then he hove a mighty heave, a
heave which would have stirred an oak, and lifted Kerkuon,
and pitched him, right over his shoulder on the ground.
 Then he leapt on him, and called, "Yield, or I kill thee!"
but Kerkuon said no word; for his heart was burst within him,
with the fall, and the meat, and the wine.
Then Theseus opened the gates, and called in all the people;
and they cried, "You have slain our evil king; be you now our
king, and rule us well."
"I will be your king in Eleusis, and I will rule you right
and well: for this cause I have slain all evil-doers—Sinis,
and Sciron, and this man last of all."
Then an aged man stepped forth, and said, "Young hero, hast
thou slain Sinis? Beware then of Ægeus, king of Athens, to
whom thou goest, for he is near of kin to Sinis."
"Then I have slain my own kinsman," said Theseus, "though
well he deserved to die. Who will purge me from his death,
for rightfully I slew him, unrighteous and accursed as he
 And the old man answered,—
"That will the heroes do, the sons of Phytalus, who dwell
beneath the elm-tree in Aphidnai, by the bank of silver
Cephisus; for they know the mysteries of the Gods. Thither
you shall go and be purified, and after you shall be our
So he took an oath of the people of Eleusis, that they would
serve him as their king, and went away next morning across
the Thriasian plain, and over the hills toward Aphidnai, that
he might find the sons of Phytalus.
And as he was skirting the Vale of Cephisus, along the foot
of lofty Parnes, a very tall and strong man came down to meet
him, dressed in rich garments. On his arms were golden
bracelets, and round his neck a collar of jewels; and he came
forward, bowing courteously, and held out both his hands, and
"Welcome, fair youth, to these mountains; happy am I to have
met you! For
 what greater pleasure to a good man, than to
entertain strangers? But I see that you are weary. Come up
to my castle, and rest yourself awhile."
"I give you thanks," said Theseus: "but I am in haste to go
up the valley, and to reach Aphidnai in the Vale of
"Alas! you have wandered far from the right way, and you
cannot reach Aphidnai to-night, for there are many miles of
mountain between you and it, and steep passes, and cliffs
dangerous after nightfall. It is well for you that I met
you; for my whole joy is to find strangers, and to feast them
at my castle, and hear tales from them of foreign lands.
Come up with me, and eat the best of venison, and drink the
rich red wine; and sleep upon my famous bed, of which all
travellers say that they never saw the like. For whatsoever
the stature of my guest, however tall or short, that bed fits
him to a
 hair, and he sleeps on it as he never slept before."
And he laid hold on Theseus's hands, and would not let him go.
Theseus wished to go forwards: but he was ashamed to seem
churlish to so hospitable a man; and he was curious to see
that wondrous bed; and beside, he was hungry and weary: yet
he shrank from the man, he knew not why: for, though his
voice was gentle and fawning, it was dry and husky like a
toad's; and though his eyes were gentle, they were dull and
cold like stones. But he consented, and went with the man up
a glen which led from the road toward the peaks of Parnes,
under the dark shadow of the cliffs.
And as they went up, the glen grew narrower, and the cliffs
higher and darker, and beneath them a torrent roared, half
seen between bare limestone crags. And around there was
neither tree nor bush, while from the white peaks of Parnes
the snow-blasts swept down the glen, cutting
 and chilling,
till a horror fell on Theseus, as he looked round at that
doleful place. And he asked at last, "Your castle stands, it
seems, in a dreary region."
"Yes, but once within it, hospitality makes all things
cheerful. But who are these?" and he looked back, and
Theseus also; and far below, along the road which they had
left, came a string of laden asses, and merchants walking by
them, watching their ware.
"Ah, poor souls!" said the stranger. "Well for them that I
looked back and saw them! And well for me too, for I shall
have the more guests at my feast. Wait awhile till I go down
and call them, and we will eat and drink together the
livelong night. Happy am I, to whom Heaven sends so many
guests at once!"
And he ran back down the hill, waving his hand and shouting
to the merchants, while Theseus went slowly up the steep
 But as he went up he met an aged man, who had been gathering
driftwood in the torrent-bed. He had laid down his faggot in
the road, and was trying to lift it again to his shoulder.
And when he saw Theseus, he called to him, and said,—
"O fair youth, help me up with my burden; for my limbs are
stiff and weak with years."
Then Theseus lifted the burden on his back. And the old man
blest him, and then looked earnestly upon him, and said,—
"Who are you, fair youth, and wherefore travel you this
"Who I am my parents know: but I travel this doleful road
because I have been invited by a hospitable man, who promises
to feast me, and to make me sleep upon I know not what
Then the old man clapped his hands together and cried,—
 "O house of Hades, man-devouring; will thy maw never be full?
Know, fair youth, that you are going to torment and to death;
for he who met you (I will requite your kindness by another)
is a robber and a murderer of men. Whatsoever stranger he
meets he entices him hither to death; and as for this bed of
which he speaks, truly it fits all comers, yet none ever rose
alive off it save me."
"Why?" asked Theseus, astonished.
"Because, if a man be too tall for it, he lops his limbs till
they be short enough, and if he be too short, he stretches
his limbs till they be long enough: but me only he spared,
seven weary years agone; for I alone of all fitted his bed
exactly, so he spared me, and made me his slave. And once I
was a wealthy merchant, and dwelt in brazen-gated Thebes; but
now I hew wood and draw water for him, the torment of all
Then Theseus said nothing; but he ground his teeth together.
 "Escape, then," said the old man, "for he will have no pity
on thy youth. But yesterday he brought up hither a young man
and a maiden, and fitted them upon his bed: and the young
man's hands and feet he cut off; but the maiden's limbs he
stretched until she died, and so both perished miserably—but
I am tired of weeping over the slain. And therefore he
is called Procrustes the stretcher, though his father called
him Damastes. Flee from him: yet whither will you flee?
The cliffs are steep, and who can climb them? and there is no
But Theseus laid his hand upon the old man's month, and said,
"There is no need to flee;" and he turned to go down the
"Do not tell him that I have warned you, or he will kill me
by some evil death;" and the old man screamed after him down
the glen: but Theseus strode on in his wrath.
 And he said to himself, "This is an ill-ruled land; when
shall I have done ridding it of monsters?" And as he spoke,
Procrustes came up the hill, and all the merchants with him,
smiling and talking gayly. And when he saw Theseus, he
cried, "Ah, fair young guest, have I kept you too long
But Theseus answered, "The man who stretches his guests upon
a bed and hews off their hands and feet, what shall be done
to him, when right is done throughout the land?"
Then Procrustes's countenance changed, and his cheeks grew as
green as a lizard, and he felt for his sword in haste; but
Theseus leapt on him, and cried,—
"Is this true, my host, or is it false?" and he clasped
Procrustes's round waist and elbow, so that he could not draw
"Is this true, my host, or is it false?" But Procrustes
answered never a word.
 Then Theseus flung him from him, and lifted up his dreadful
club; and before Procrustes could strike him he had struck,
and felled him to the ground.
And once again he struck him; and his evil soul fled forth,
and went down to Hades squeaking, like a bat into the
darkness of a cave.
Then Theseus stript him of his gold ornaments, and went up to
his house, and found there great wealth and treasure, which
he had stolen from the passers by. And he called the people
of the country, whom Procrustes had spoiled a long time, and
parted the spoil among them, and went down the mountains, and
And he went down the glens of Parnes, through mist, and
cloud, and rain, down the slopes of oak, and lentisk, and
arbutus, and fragrant bay, till he came to the Vale of
Cephisus, and the pleasant town of Aphidnai, and the home of
the Phytalid heroes, where they dwelt beneath a mighty elm.
 And there they built an altar, and bade him bathe in
Cephisus, and offer a yearling ram, and purified him from the
blood of Sinis, and sent him away in peace.
And he went down the valley by Acharnai, and by the silver-
swirling stream, while all the people blessed him, for the
fame of his prowess had spread wide, till he saw the plain of
Athens, and the hill where Athene dwells.
So Theseus went up through Athens, and all the people ran out
to see him; for his fame had gone before him and every one
knew of his mighty deeds. And all cried, "Here comes the
hero who slew Sinis, and Phaia the wild sow of Crommyon, and
conquered Cercyon in wrestling, and slew Procrustes the
pitiless." But Theseus went on sadly and steadfastly; for
his heart yearned after his father; and he said, "How shall I
deliver him from these leeches who suck his blood?"
So he went up the holy stairs, and
 into the Acropolis, where
Ægeus's palace stood; and he went straight into Ægeus's hall,
and stood upon the threshold, and looked round.
And there he saw his cousins sitting about the table, at the
wine; many a son of Pallas, but no Ægeus among them. There
they sat and feasted, and laughed, and passed the wine-cup
round; while harpers harped, and slave-girls sang, and the
tumblers showed their tricks.
Loud laughed the sons of Pallas, and fast went the wine-cup
round; but Theseus frowned, and said under his breath, "No
wonder that the land is full of robbers, while such as these
Then the Pallantids saw him, and called to him, half-drunk
with wine, "Holla, tall stranger at the door, what is your
"I come hither to ask for hospitality."
"Then take it, and welcome. You look like a hero and a bold
warrior; and we like such to drink with us."
 "I ask no hospitality of you; I ask it of Ægeus the king,
the master of this house."
At that some growled, and some laughed, and shouted, "Heyday,
we are all masters here."
"Then I am master as much as the rest of you," said Theseus,
and he strode past the table up the hall, and looked around
for Ægeus; but he was nowhere to be seen.
The Pallantids looked at him, and then at each other, and
each whispered to the man next him, "This is a forward
fellow; he ought to be thrust out at the door." But each
man's neighbour whispered in return, "His shoulders are
broad; will you rise and put him out?" So they all sat still
where they were.
Then Theseus called to the servants, and said, "Go tell King
Ægeus, your master, that Theseus of Trœzene is here, and
asks to be his guest awhile."
 A servant ran and told Ægeus, where he sat in his chamber
within, by Medeia the dark witch-woman, watching her eye and
hand. And when Ægeus heard of Trœzene he turned pale and
red again; and rose from his seat trembling, while Medeia
watched him like a snake.
"What is Trœzene to you?" she asked. But he said hastily,
"Do you not know who this Theseus is? The hero who has
cleared the country from all monsters; but that he came from
Trœzene, I never heard before. I must go out and welcome
So Ægeus came out into the hall; and when Theseus saw him,
his heart leapt into his mouth, and he longed to fall on his
neck and welcome him; but he controlled himself, and said,
"My father may not wish for me, after all. I will try him
before I discover myself;" and he bowed low before Ægeus,
and said, "I have delivered the king's realm from many
monsters; therefore I am come to ask a reward of the king."
 And old Ægeus looked on him, and loved him, as what fond
heart would not have done? But he only sighed, and said,—
"It is little that I can give you, noble lad, and nothing
that is worthy of you; for surely you are no mortal man, or
at least no mortal's son."
"All I ask," said Theseus, "is to eat and drink at your
"That I can give you," said Ægeus, "if at least I am master
in my own hall."
Then he bade them put a seat for Theseus, and set before him
the best of the feast; and Theseus sat and ate so much, that
all the company wondered at him: but always he kept his club
by his side.
But Medeia the dark witch-woman had been watching him all the
while. She saw how Ægeus turned red and pale, when the lad
said that he came from Trœzene. She saw, too, how his heart
 toward Theseus; and how Theseus bore himself
before all the sons of Pallas, like a lion among a pack of
curs. And she said to herself, "This youth will be master
here; perhaps he is nearer to Ægeus already than mere fancy.
At least the Pallantids will have no chance by the side of
such as he."
Then she went back into her chamber modestly, while Theseus
ate and drank; and all the servants whispered, "This, then,
is the man who killed the monsters! How noble are his looks,
and how huge his size! Ah, would that he were our master's
But presently Medeia came forth, decked in all her jewels,
and her rich Eastern robes, and looking more beautiful than
the day; so that all the guests could look at nothing else.
And in her right hand she held a golden cup, and in her left
a flask of gold; and she came up to Theseus, and spoke in a
sweet, soft, winning voice,—
 "Hail to the hero, the conqueror, the unconquered, the
destroyer of all evil things! Drink, hero, of my charmed
cup, which gives rest after every toil, which heals all
wounds, and pours new life into the veins. Drink of my cup,
for in it sparkles the wine of the East, and Nepenthe, the
comfort of the Immortals."
And as she spoke, she poured the flask into the cup; and the
fragrance of the wine spread through the hall, like the scent
of thyme and roses.
And Theseus looked up in her fair face, and into her deep dark
eyes. And as he looked, he shrank and shuddered; for they
were dry like the eyes of a snake. And he rose, and said,
"The wine is rich and fragrant, and the wine-bearer as fair
as the Immortals; but let her pledge me first herself in the
cup, that the wine may be the sweeter from her lips."
Then Medeia turned pale, and stammered, "Forgive me, fair
hero; but I am ill, and dare drink no wine."
 And Theseus looked again into her eyes, and cried, "Thou
shalt pledge me in that cup, or die." And he lifted up his
brazen club, while all the guests looked on aghast.
Medeia shrieked a fearful shriek, and dashed the cup to the
ground, and fled; and where the wine flowed over the marble
pavement, the stone bubbled, and crumbled, and hissed, under
the fierce venom of the draught.
But Medeia called her dragon chariot, and sprang into it and
fled aloft, away over land and sea, and no man saw her more.
And Ægeus cried, "What hast thou done?" But Theseus pointed
to the stone—"I have rid the land of an enchantment: now I
will rid it of one more."
And he came close to Ægeus, and drew from his bosom the
sword and the sandals, and said the words which his mother
And Ægeus stepped back a pace, and
 looked at the lad till
his eyes grew dim; and then he cast himself on his neck and
wept, and Theseus wept on his neck, till they had no strength
left to weep more.
Then Ægeus turned to all the people, and cried, "Behold my
son, children of Cecrops, a better man than his father was
Who, then, were mad but the Pallantids, though they had been
mad enough before? And one shouted, "Shall we make room for
an upstart, a pretender, who comes from we know not where?"
And another, "If he be one, we are more than one; and the
stronger can hold his own." And one shouted one thing, and
one another; for they were hot and wild with wine: but all
caught swords and lances off the wall, where the weapons hung
around, and sprang forward to Theseus, and Theseus sprang
forward to them.
And he cried, "Go in peace, if you will, my cousins; but if
not, your blood be on
 your own heads." But they rushed at
him; and then stopped short and railed him, as curs stop and
bark when they rouse a lion from his lair.
But one hurled a lance from the rear rank, which past close
by Theseus's head; and at that Theseus rushed forward, and the
fight began indeed. Twenty against one they fought, and yet
Theseus beat them all; and those who were left fled down into
the town, where the people set on them, and drove them out,
till Theseus was left alone in the palace, with Ægeus his
new-found father. But before nightfall all the town came up,
with victims, and dances, and songs; and they offered
sacrifices to Athene, and rejoiced all the night long,
because their king had found a noble son, and an heir to his
So Theseus stayed with his father all the winter; and when
the spring equinox drew near, all the Athenians grew sad and
silent, and Theseus saw it, and asked the
 reason; but no one
would answer him a word.
Then he went to his father, and asked him: but Ægeus turned
away his face and wept.
"Do not ask, my son, beforehand, about evils which must
happen: it is enough to have to face them when they come."
And when the spring equinox came, a herald came to Athens,
and stood in the market, and cried, "O people and King of
Athens, where is your yearly tribute?" Then a great
lamentation arose throughout the city. But Theseus stood up
to the herald, and cried,—
"And who are you, dog-faced, who dare demand tribute here?
If I did not reverence your herald's staff, I would brain you
with this club."
And the herald answered proudly, for he was a grave and
"Fair youth, I am not dog-faced or shameless; but I do my
 Minos, the King of hundred-citied Crete,
the wisest of all kings on earth. And you must be surely a
stranger here, or you would know why I come, and that I come
"I am a stranger here. Tell me, then, why you come."
"To fetch the tribute which King Ægeus promised to Minos,
and confirmed his promise with an oath. For Minos conquered
all this land, and Megara which lies to the east, when he
came hither with a great fleet of ships, enraged about the
murder of his son. For his son Androgeos came hither to the
Panathenaic games, and overcame all the Greeks in the sports,
so that the people honoured him as a hero. But when Ægeus
saw his valour, he envied him, and feared lest he should join
the sons of Pallas, and take away the sceptre from him. So
he plotted against his life, and slew him basely, no man
knows how or where. Some say that he waylaid him
 by Oinoe,
on the road which goes to Thebes; and some that he sent him
against the bull of Marathon, that the beast might kill him.
But Ægeus says that the young men killed him from envy,
because he had conquered them in the games. So Minos came
hither and avenged him, and would not depart till this land
had promised him tribute, seven youths and seven maidens
every year, who go with me in a black-sailed ship, till they
come to hundred-citied Crete."
And Theseus ground his teeth together, and said, "Wert thou
not a herald I would kill thee, for saying such things of my
father: but I will go to him, and know the truth." So he
went to his father, and asked him; but he turned away his
head and wept, and said, "Blood was shed in the land
unjustly, and by blood it is avenged. Break not my heart by
questions; it is enough to endure in silence."
 Then Theseus groaned inwardly, and said, "I will go myself
with these youths and maidens, and kill Minos upon his royal
And Ægeus shrieked, and cried, "You shall not go, my son,
the light of my old age, to whom alone I look to rule this
people after I am dead and gone. You shall not go, to die
horribly, as those youths and maidens die; for Minos thrusts
them into a labyrinth, which Daidalos made for him among the
rocks,—Daidalos the renegade, the accursed, the pest of
this his native land. From that labyrinth no one can escape,
entangled in its winding ways, before they meet the Minotaur,
the monster who feeds upon the flesh of men. There he
devours them horribly, and they never see this land again."
Then Theseus grew red, and his ears tingled, and his heart
beat loud in his bosom. And he stood awhile like a tall
stone pillar, on the cliffs above some hero's grave; and at
last he spoke,—
 "Therefore all the more I will go with them, and slay the
accursed beast. Have I not slain all evil-doers and
monsters, that I might free this land? Where are Periphetes,
and Sinis, and Kerkuon, and Phaia the wild sow? Where are
the fifty sons of Pallas? And this Minotaur shall go the
road which they have gone, and Minos himself, if he dare stay
"But how will you slay him, my son? For you must leave your
club and your armour behind, and be cast to the monster,
defenceless and naked like the rest."
And Theseus said, "Are there no stones in that labyrinth; and
have I not fists and teeth? Did I need my club to kill
Kerkuon, the terror of all mortal men?"
Then Ægeus clung to his knees; but he would not hear; and at
last he let him go, weeping bitterly, and said only this one
"Promise me but this, if you return in peace, though that may
hardly be: take
 down the black sail of the ship, (for I shall
watch for it all day upon the cliffs,) and hoist instead a
white sail, that I may know afar off that you are safe."
And Theseus promised, and went out, and to the market-place
where the herald stood, while they drew lots for the youths
and maidens, who were to sail in that doleful crew. And the
people stood wailing and weeping, as the lot fell on this one
and on that: but Theseus strode into the midst, and cried,—
"Here is a youth who needs no lot. I myself will be one of
And the herald asked in wonder, "Fair youth, know you whither
you are going?"
And Theseus said, "I know. Let us go down to the
So they went down to the black-sailed ship, seven maidens,
and seven youths, and Theseus before them all, and the people
following them lamenting. But Theseus whispered to his
 "Have hope, for the monster is not immortal.
Where are Periphetes, and Sinis, and Sciron, and all whom I
have slain?" Then their hearts were comforted a little: but
they wept as they went on board, and the cliffs of Sunium
rang, and all the isles of the Ægean Sea, with the voice of
their lamentation, as they sailed on toward their deaths in
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics