| Old Greek Folk Stories Told Anew|
|by Josephine Preston Peabody|
|A child's first book of Greek tales containing many of the shorter myths retold with exceptional literary skill. Relates the stories of Prometheus, who brought to earth the bright-eyed fire treasured by the gods; of Orpheus, best of harpers; of the cunning Daedalus; the ambitious Phaethon; Apollo and Diana, and other gods and heroes of the olden time. Designed to supplement the myths retold by Nathaniel Hawthorne in A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales. Ages 8-10 |
 IN the early days of the universe, there was a great struggle
for empire between Zeus and the Titans. The Titans, giant
powers of heaven and earth, were for seizing whatever they
wanted, with no more ado than a whirlwind. Prometheus, the
wisest of all their race, long tried to persuade them that
good counsel would avail more than violence; but they
refused to listen. Then, seeing that such rulers would soon
turn heaven and earth into chaos again, Prometheus left them
to their own devices, and went over to Zeus, whom he aided
so well that the Titans were utterly overthrown. Down
into Tartarus they went, to live among the hidden fires of
the earth; and there they spent a long term of bondage,
muttering like storm, and shaking the roots of mountains.
One of them was Enceladus, who lay bound under Ætna; and
one, Atlas, was made to stand and bear up the weight of the
sky on his giant shoulders.
Zeus was left King of gods and men. Like any young
ruler, he was eager to work great changes with his new
other plans, he proposed to destroy the race of men then
living, and to replace it with some new order of creatures.
Prometheus alone heard this scheme with indignation.
Not only did he plead for the life of man and save it, but
ever after he spent his giant efforts to civilise the race,
and to endow it with a wit near to that of gods.
In the Golden Age, men had lived free of care.
 They took no
heed of daily wants, since Zeus gave them all things
needful, and the earth brought forth fruitage and harvest
without asking the toil of husbandmen. If mortals were light
of heart, however, their minds were empty of great
enterprise. They did not know how to build or plant or
weave; their thoughts never flew far, and they had no wish
to cross the sea.
But Prometheus loved earthly folk, and thought that they had
been children long enough. He was a mighty workman, with
the whole world for a workshop; and little by little he
taught men knowledge that is wonderful to know, so that they
grew out of their childhood, and began to take thought for
themselves. Some people even say that he knew how to make
men,—as we make shapes out of clay,—and set their
going. However that may be, he was certainly a cunning
workman. He taught men
first to build huts out of clay, and to thatch roofs with
straw. He showed them how to make bricks and hew marble. He
taught them numbers and letters, the signs of the seasons,
and the coming and going of the stars. He showed them how to
use for their healing the simple herbs that once had no care
save to grow and be fragrant. He taught them how to till the
fields; how to tame the beasts, and set them also to work;
how to build ships that ride the water, and to put wings
upon them that they may go faster, like birds.
With every new gift, men desired more and more. They set out
to see unknown lands, and their ambitions grew with their
knowledge. They were like a race of poor gods gifted with
dreams of great glory and the power to fashion marvellous
things; and, though they had no endless youth to
spend, the gods were troubled.
 Last of all, Prometheus went
up secretly to heaven after the treasure of the immortals.
He lighted a reed at the flame of the sun, and brought down
the holy fire which is dearest to the gods. For with the
aid of fire all things are possible, all arts are perfected.
This was his greatest gift to man, but it was a theft from
the immortal gods, and Zeus would endure no more. He could
not take back the
secret of fire; but he had Prometheus chained to a lofty
crag in the Caucasus, where every day a vulture came to
prey upon his body, and at night the wound would heal, so
that it was ever to suffer again. It was a bitter penalty
for so noble-hearted a rebel, and as time went by, and Zeus
remembered his bygone services, he would have made peace
once more. He only waited till Prometheus should bow his
but this the son of Titans would not do. Haughty as
rock beneath his daily torment, believing that he suffered
for the good of mankind, he endured for years.
One secret hardened his spirit. He was sure that the empire
of Zeus must fall some day, since he knew of a danger that
threatened it. For there was a certain beautiful sea-nymph,
Thetis, whom Zeus desired for his wife. (This
was before his marriage to Queen Juno.) Prometheus alone
knew that Thetis was destined to have a son who should be
far greater than his
father. If she married some mortal, then, the prophecy was
not so wonderful; but if she were to marry the King of gods
and men, and her son should be greater than he, there could
be no safety for the kingdom. This knowledge Prometheus
kept securely hidden; but he ever defied Zeus, and vexed him
with dark sayings about a
danger that threatened his sovereignty. No
 torment could
wring the secret from him. Year after year, lashed by the
storms and scorched by the heat of the sun, he hung in
chains and the vulture tore his vitals, while the young
Oceanides wept at his feet, and men sorrowed over the doom
of their protector.
At last that earlier enmity between the gods and the Titans
came to an end. The banished rebels were set free from
Tartarus, and they themselves came and besought their
brother, Prometheus, to hear the terms of Zeus. For the King
of gods and men had promised to pardon his enemy, if he
would only reveal this one troublous secret.
In all heaven and earth there was but one thing that marred
the new harmony,—this long struggle between Zeus and
Prometheus; and the Titan relented. He spoke the prophecy,
warned Zeus not to marry Thetis, and the two were
reconciled. The hero Heracles (himself an earthly son of
Zeus) slew the vulture and set Prometheus free.
But it was still needful that a life should be given to
expiate that ancient sin,—the theft of fire. It happened
that Chiron, noblest of all the Centaurs (beings who are
half horses and half men), was wandering the world in agony
from a wound that he had received by strange mischance. For,
at a certain wedding-feast among the Lapithæ of Thessaly,
one of the turbulent Centaurs had attempted to steal away
the bride. A fierce struggle followed, and in the general
confusion, Chiron, blameless as he was, had been wounded by
a poisoned arrow. Ever tormented with the hurt and
never to be healed, the immortal Centaur longed for death,
and begged that he might be accepted as an atonement for
Prometheus. The gods heard his prayer and took away his pain and
im-  mortality. He died like any wearied man, and Zeus set
him as a shining archer among the stars.
So ended a long feud. From the day of Prometheus, men
spent their lives in ceaseless enterprise, forced to take
heed for food and raiment, since they knew how, and to ply
their tasks of art and handicraft. They had taken unresting
toil upon them, but they had a wondrous servant at their
beck and call,—the bright-eyed fire that is the treasure of
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