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Stories of the Ancient Greeks by  Charles D. Shaw


 

 

THE GOLDEN FLEECE

[63]

T
HE Argo was headed for Colchis, where the Golden Fleece was kept in a sacred grove. The danger her crew had to meet was at the opening of the Euxine or Black Sea, where two islands floated about, sometimes knocking against each other and crushing everything caught between them. When these clashing rocks were reached the sailors let go a dove they had on their ship. She flew between the islands and only lost one or two tail-feathers. Jason seized the favorable moment of the rebound. The crew rowed hard and pulled the ship through with very little damage.

At Colchis the king said they could have the Golden Fleece, but there were two or three little things that must be done first. He had two bulls whose feet were brass and whose breath were fire. Would Jason kingly yoke them to a plow?

Then there were the teeth of that dragon which Cadmus had killed. If they were sown, armed men would be the harvest. Would Jason like to do a little farming of that kind?

Jason said that he had no objection. He would do anything necessary to get the Fleece. A day was fixed for these trials, and Jason went away from the palace.

[64] In the garden he met the king's daughter, Medea. She was young and handsome, but she was a powerful witch. She liked the young stranger and promised to help him. She taught him some magic words to say and gave him a charm that would conquer everything.

On the day of the trial the king had a throne set up in the field, and crowds were standing around. The keeper of the bulls let them go, and they came rushing into the open space where Jason stood. When they drew near he spoke the magic words. The bulls stopped short. They did not paw the ground, and their breath was not quite so fiery. Jason walked up to them, spoke kindly to them, patted their sides, and slipped a yoke over their necks. He led them quietly to the plow, hitched them up, and plowed the field.


[Illustration]

THE FIERY BULLS

A servant handed him the dragon's teeth, and he sowed them in the furrows. Men sprung up with helmets on their heads, shields on their left arms, and swords in their right hands. They came at Jason, who fought them for a little while, but finding them too many picked up a stone and threw it among them. Immediately they left Jason and began to fight among themselves. When the battle was over, not one of them was living.

The king was not pleased, but told the heroes that they should have the Golden Fleece the next day. That night Medea came to them as they were sleeping at their ship, and told them that her father meant to bring an army in the morning and burn the Argo.

There was moonlight that night, and Jason and Medea went together to the grove where the Golden Fleece was [65] hanging. This was the skin of a ram which Hermes had given to a woman to help her save her two children from another woman who hated them. The children were placed on the back of the ram, which started off through the air. As they were crossing the Dardanelles, between Asia and Europe, the little girl, Helle, fell into the sea, which was afterwards called the Hellespont, or Helle's Sea. The boy held on, and the ram carried him to Colchis. The beast was sacrificed to Zeus, and its skin with the golden wool was hung up in a sacred grove. A dragon was set to watch it, and he never slept.

Medea began to walk around and around before him, singing and waving her hands, and throwing over him a great drug that would make him sleep. To his own great surprise the dragon began to nod. First one eye shut, then the other, then both. They opened again quickly, but only for a little while. There was that strange young woman who made him dizzy with her walk and sleepy with her song. A pleasant smell came from the cool liquid with which she sprinkled him. The dragon shut his eyes and opened his mouth. He did not speak, he snored. He laid his heavy head down on the grass. Jason stepped over him, took the Golden Fleece, threw it over his shoulders, and hurried with Medea to the ship. The rowers pushed off from the shore and rowed away from Thessaly. Jason took his kingdom and lived, a good ruler, for many years.

Jason's father was old and weak. The hero wanted him to be younger and stronger. He said to Medea, "My dear wife, you can do many things. Can you [66] take some years of mine and add them to my father's life?"

"I can do better than that," she answered. "I can make his life longer, but yours need not be shorter."

She went out at night and said wonderful words to the moon, the stars, and all the gods of woods and caves, of rivers and winds. A chariot drawn by flying serpents came through the air and landed at her feet. She stepped into it and rode far away to gather strange herbs. This she did for nine nights until she had enough for her use. She lit a fire and boiled the herbs with many other strange things. Where the liquid bubbled over and fell on the ground, a dry olive branch which it touched was covered with leaves and olives, and the grass grew greener and stronger.

Jason laid his father down on a bed of soft herbs, and Medea cut the old man's throat. When all his blood was gone, she poured in the magic liquid. As it filled his veins, his white hair and beard turned black, his pale and wrinkled face grew smooth and rosy, his limbs were round and strong. He stood up and said, "I am young again. I shall be twenty-one to-morrow."


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