Friday, November 9, 2007



A short time ago, I was favored with a flying visit from my
young friend Eustace Bright, whom I had not before met with
since quitting the breezy mountains of Berkshire. It being the
winter vacation at his college, Eustace was allowing himself a
little relaxation, in the hope, he told me, of repairing the
inroads which severe application to study had made upon his
health; and I was happy to conclude, from the excellent
physical condition in which I saw him, that the remedy had
already been attended with very desirable success. He had now
run up from Boston by the noon train, partly impelled by the
friendly regard with which he is pleased to honor me, and
partly, as I soon found, on a matter of literary business.
It delighted me to receive Mr. Bright, for the first time,
under a roof, though a very humble one, which I could really
call my own. Nor did I fail (as is the custom of landed
proprietors all about the world) to parade the poor fellow up
and down over my half a dozen acres; secretly rejoicing,
nevertheless, that the disarray of the inclement season, and
particularly the six inches of snow then upon the ground,
prevented him from observing the ragged neglect of soil and
shrubbery into which the place had lapsed. It was idle,
however, to imagine that an airy guest from Monument Mountain,
Bald Summit, and old Graylock, shaggy with primeval forests,
could see anything to admire in my poor little hillside, with
its growth of frail and insect-eaten locust trees. Eustace very
frankly called the view from my hill top tame; and so, no
doubt, it was, after rough, broken, rugged, headlong Berkshire,
and especially the northern parts of the county, with which his
college residence had made him familiar. But to me there is a
peculiar, quiet charm in these broad meadows and gentle
eminences. They are better than mountains, because they do not
stamp and stereotype themselves into the brain, and thus grow
wearisome with the same strong impression, repeated day after
day. A few summer weeks among mountains, a lifetime among green
meadows and placid slopes, with outlines forever new, because
continually fading out of the memory--such would be my sober
I doubt whether Eustace did not internally pronounce the whole
thing a bore, until I led him to my predecessor's little
ruined, rustic summer house, midway on the hillside. It is a
mere skeleton of slender, decaying tree trunks, with neither
walls nor a roof; nothing but a tracery of branches and twigs,
which the next wintry blast will be very likely to scatter in
fragments along the terrace. It looks, and is, as evanescent as
a dream; and yet, in its rustic network of boughs, it has
somehow enclosed a hint of spiritual beauty, and has become a
true emblem of the subtile and ethereal mind that planned it. I
made Eustace Bright sit down on a snow bank, which had heaped
itself over the mossy seat, and gazing through the arched
windows opposite, he acknowledged that the scene at once grew
"Simple as it looks," said he, "this little edifice seems to be
the work of magic. It is full of suggestiveness, and, in its
way, is as good as a cathedral. Ah, it would be just the spot
for one to sit in, of a summer afternoon, and tell the children
some more of those wild stories from the classic myths!"
"It would, indeed," answered I. "The summer house itself, so
airy and so broken, is like one of those old tales, imperfectly
remembered; and these living branches of the Baldwin apple
tree, thrusting so rudely in, are like your unwarrantable
interpolations. But, by the by, have you added any more legends
to the series, since the publication of the 'Wonder-Book'?"
"Many more," said Eustace; "Primrose, Periwinkle, and the rest
of them, allow me no comfort of my life unless I tell them a
story every day or two. I have run away from home partly to
escape the importunity of these little wretches! But I have
written out six of the new stories, and have brought them for
you to look over."
"Are they as good as the first?" I inquired.
"Better chosen, and better handled," replied Eustace Bright.
"You will say so when you read them."
"Possibly not," I remarked. "I know from my own experience,
that an author's last work is always his best one, in his own
estimate, until it quite loses the red heat of composition.
After that, it falls into its true place, quietly enough. But
let us adjourn to my study, and examine these new stories. It
would hardly be doing yourself justice, were you to bring me
acquainted with them, sitting here on this snow bank!"
So we descended the hill to my small, old cottage, and shut
ourselves up in the south-eastern room, where the sunshine
comes in, warmly and brightly, through the better half of a
winter's day. Eustace put his bundle of manuscript into my
hands; and I skimmed through it pretty rapidly, trying to find
out its merits and demerits by the touch of my fingers, as a
veteran story-teller ought to know how to do.
It will be remembered that Mr. Bright condescended to avail
himself of my literary experience by constituting me editor of
the "Wonder-Book." As he had no reason to complain of the
reception of that erudite work by the public, he was now
disposed to retain me in a similar position with respect to the
present volume, which he entitled TANGLEWOOD TALES. Not, as
Eustace hinted, that there was any real necessity for my
services as introducer, inasmuch as his own name had become
established in some good degree of favor with the literary
world. But the connection with myself, he was kind enough to
say, had been highly agreeable; nor was he by any means
desirous, as most people are, of kicking away the ladder that
had perhaps helped him to reach his present elevation. My young
friend was willing, in short, that the fresh verdure of his
growing reputation should spread over my straggling and
half-naked boughs; even as I have sometimes thought of training
a vine, with its broad leafiness, and purple fruitage, over the
worm-eaten posts and rafters of the rustic summer house. I was
not insensible to the advantages of his proposal, and gladly
assured him of my acceptance.
Merely from the title of the stories I saw at once that the
subjects were not less rich than those of the former volume;
nor did I at all doubt that Mr. Bright's audacity (so far as
that endowment might avail) had enabled him to take full
advantage of whatever capabilities they offered. Yet, in spite
of my experience of his free way of handling them, I did not
quite see, I confess, how he could have obviated all the
difficulties in the way of rendering them presentable to
children. These old legends, so brimming over with everything
that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense some of
them so hideous, others so melancholy and miserable, amid which
the Greek tragedians sought their themes, and moulded them into
the sternest forms of grief that ever the world saw; was such
material the stuff that children's playthings should be made
of! How were they to be purified? How was the blessed sunshine
to be thrown into them?
But Eustace told me that these myths were the most singular
things in the world, and that he was invariably astonished,
whenever he began to relate one, by the readiness with which it
adapted itself to the childish purity of his auditors. The
objectionable characteristics seem to be a parasitical growth,
having no essential connection with the original fable. They
fall away, and are thought of no more, the instant he puts his
imagination in sympathy with the innocent little circle, whose
wide-open eyes are fixed so eagerly upon him. Thus the stories
(not by any strained effort of the narrator's, but in harmony
with their inherent germ) transform themselves, and re-assume
the shapes which they might be supposed to possess in the pure
childhood of the world. When the first poet or romancer told
these marvellous legends (such is Eustace Bright's opinion), it
was still the Golden Age. Evil had never yet existed; and
sorrow, misfortune, crime, were mere shadows which the mind
fancifully created for itself, as a shelter against too sunny
realities; or, at most, but prophetic dreams to which the
dreamer himself did not yield a waking credence. Children are
now the only representatives of the men and women of that happy
era; and therefore it is that we must raise the intellect and
fancy to the level of childhood, in order to re-create the
original myths.
I let the youthful author talk as much and as extravagantly as
he pleased, and was glad to see him commencing life with such
confidence in himself and his performances. A few years will do
all that is necessary towards showing him the truth in both
respects. Meanwhile, it is but right to say, he does really
appear to have overcome the moral objections against these
fables, although at the expense of such liberties with their
structure as must be left to plead their own excuse, without
any help from me. Indeed, except that there was a necessity for
it--and that the inner life of the legends cannot be come at
save by making them entirely one's own property--there is no
defense to be made.
Eustace informed me that he had told his stories to the
children in various situations--in the woods, on the shore of
the lake, in the dell of Shadow Brook, in the playroom, at
Tanglewood fireside, and in a magnificent palace of snow, with
ice windows, which he helped his little friends to build. His
auditors were even more delighted with the contents of the
present volume than with the specimens which have already been
given to the world. The classically learned Mr. Pringle, too,
had listened to two or three of the tales, and censured them
even more bitterly than he did THE THREE GOLDEN APPLES; so
that, what with praise, and what with criticism, Eustace Bright
thinks that there is good hope of at least as much success with
the public as in the case of the "WonderBook."
I made all sorts of inquiries about the children, not doubting
that there would be great eagerness to hear of their welfare,
among some good little folks who have written to me, to ask for
another volume of myths. They are all, I am happy to say
(unless we except Clover), in excellent health and spirits.
Primrose is now almost a young lady, and, Eustace tells me, is
just as saucy as ever. She pretends to consider herself quite
beyond the age to be interested by such idle stories as these;
but, for all that, whenever a story is to be told, Primrose
never fails to be one of the listeners, and to make fun of it
when finished. Periwinkle is very much grown, and is expected
to shut up her baby house and throw away her doll in a month or
two more. Sweet Fern has learned to read and write, and has put
on a jacket and pair of pantaloons--all of which improvements I
am sorry for. Squash Blossom, Blue Eye, Plantain, and Buttercup
have had the scarlet fever, but came easily through it.
Huckleberry, Milkweed, and Dandelion were attacked with the
whooping cough, but bore it bravely, and kept out of doors
whenever the sun shone. Cowslip, during the autumn, had either
the measles, or some eruption that looked very much like it,
but was hardly sick a day. Poor Clover has been a good deal
troubled with her second teeth, which have made her meagre in
aspect and rather fractious in temper; nor, even when she
smiles, is the matter much mended, since it discloses a gap
just within her lips, almost as wide as the barn door. But all
this will pass over, and it is predicted that she will turn out
a very pretty girl.
As for Mr. Bright himself, he is now in his senior year at
Williams College, and has a prospect of graduating with some
degree of honorable distinction at the next Commencement. In
his oration for the bachelor's degree, he gives me to
understand, he will treat of the classical myths, viewed in the
aspect of baby stories, and has a great mind to discuss the
expediency of using up the whole of ancient history, for the
same purpose. I do not know what he means to do with himself
after leaving college, but trust that, by dabbling so early
with the dangerous and seductive business of authorship, he
will not bc tempted to become an author by profession. If so I
shall be very sorry for the little that I have had to do with
the matter, in encouraging these first beginnings.
I wish there were any likelihood of my soon seeing Primrose,
Periwinkle, Dandelion, Sweet Fern, Clover Plantain,
Huckleberry, Milkweed, Cowslip, Buttercup, Blue Eye, and Squash
Blossom again. But as I do not know when I shall re-visit
Tanglewood, and as Eustace Bright probably will not ask me to
edit a third "WonderBook," the public of little folks must not
expect to hear any more about those dear children from me.
Heaven bless them, and everybody else, whether grown people or
In the old city of Troezene, at the foot of a lofty mountain,
there lived, a very long time ago, a little boy named Theseus.
His grandfather, King Pittheus, was the sovereign of that
country, and was reckoned a very wise man; so that Theseus,
being brought up in the royal palace, and being naturally a
bright lad, could hardly fail of profiting by the old king's
instructions. His mother's name was Aethra. As for his father,
the boy had never seen him. But, from his earliest remembrance,
Aethra used to go with little Theseus into a wood, and sit down
upon a moss-grown rock, which was deeply sunken into the earth.
Here she often talked with her son about his father, and said
that he was called Aegeus, and that he was a great king, and
ruled over Attica, and dwelt at Athens, which was as famous a
city as any in the world. Theseus was very fond of hearing
about King Aegeus, and often asked his good mother Aethra why
he did not come and live with them at Troezene.
"Ah, my dear son," answered Aethra, with a sigh, "a monarch has
his people to take care of. The men and women over whom he
rules are in the place of children to him; and he can seldom
spare time to love his own children as other parents do. Your
father will never be able to leave his kingdom for the sake of
seeing his little boy."
"Well, but, dear mother," asked the boy, "why cannot I go to
this famous city of Athens, and tell King Aegeus that I am his
"That may happen by and by," said Aethra. "Be patient, and we
shall see. You are not yet big and strong enough to set out on
such an errand."
"And how soon shall I be strong enough?" Theseus persisted in
"You are but a tiny boy as yet," replied his mother. "See if
you can lift this rock on which we are sitting?"
The little fellow had a great opinion of his own strength. So,
grasping the rough protuberances of the rock, he tugged and
toiled amain, and got himself quite out of breath, without
being able to stir the heavy stone. It seemed to be rooted into
the ground. No wonder he could not move it; for it would have
taken all the force of a very strong man to lift it out of its
earthy bed.
His mother stood looking on, with a sad kind of a smile on her
lips and in her eyes, to see the zealous and yet puny efforts
of her little boy. She could not help being sorrowful at
finding him already so impatient to begin his adventures in the
"You see how it is, my dear Theseus," said she. "You must
possess far more strength than now before I can trust you to go
to Athens, and tell King Aegeus that you are his son. But when
you can lift this rock, and show me what is hidden beneath it,
I promise you my permission to depart."
Often and often, after this, did Theseus ask his mother whether
it was yet time for him to go to Athens; and still his mother
pointed to the rock, and told him that, for years to come, he
could not be strong enough to move it. And again and again the
rosy-checked and curly-headed boy would tug and strain at the
huge mass of stone, striving, child as he was, to do what a
giant could hardly have done without taking both of his great
hands to the task. Meanwhile the rock seemed to be sinking
farther and farther into the ground. The moss grew over it
thicker and thicker, until at last it looked almost like a soft
green seat, with only a few gray knobs of granite peeping out.
The overhanging trees, also, shed their brown leaves upon It,
as often as the autumn came; and at its base grew ferns and
wild flowers, some of which crept quite over its surface. To
all appearance, the rock was as firmly fastened as any other
portion of the earth's substance.
But, difficult as the matter looked, Theseus was now growing up
to be such a vigorous youth, that, in his own opinion, the time
would quickly come when he might hope to get the upper hand of
this ponderous lump of stone.
"Mother, I do believe it has started!" cried he, after one of
his attempts. "The earth around it is certainly a little
"No, no, child!" his mother hastily answered. "It is not
possible you can have moved it, such a boy as you still are!"
Nor would she be convinced, although Theseus showed her the
place where he fancied that the stem of a flower had been
partly uprooted by the movement of the rock. But Aethra sighed,
and looked disquieted; for, no doubt, she began to be conscious
that her son was no longer a child, and that, in a little while
hence, she must send him forth among the perils and troubles of
the world.
It was not more than a year afterwards when they were again
sitting on the moss-covered stone. Aethra had once more told
him the oft-repeated story of his father, and how gladly he
would receive Theseus at his stately palace, and how he would
present him to his courtiers and the people, and tell them that
here was the heir of his dominions. The eyes of Theseus glowed
with enthusiasm, and he would hardly sit still to hear his
mother speak.
"Dear mother Aethra," he exclaimed, "I never felt half so
strong as now! I am no longer a child, nor a boy, nor a mere
youth! I feel myself a man! It is now time to make one earnest
trial to remove the stone."
"Ah, my dearest Theseus," replied his mother "not yet! not
"Yes, mother," said he, resolutely, "the time has come!"
Then Theseus bent himself in good earnest to the task, and
strained every sinew, with manly strength and resolution. He
put his whole brave heart into the effort. He wrestled with the
big and sluggish stone, as if it had been a living enemy. He
heaved, he lifted, he resolved now to succeed, or else to
perish there, and let the rock be his monument forever! Aethra
stood gazing at him, and clasped her hands, partly with a
mother's pride, and partly with a mother's sorrow. The great
rock stirred! Yes, it was raised slowly from the bedded moss
and earth, uprooting the shrubs and flowers along with it, and
was turned upon its side. Theseus had conquered!
While taking breath, he looked joyfully at his mother, and she
smiled upon him through her tears.
"Yes, Theseus," she said, "the time has come, and you must stay
no longer at my side! See what King Aegeus, your royal father,
left for you beneath the stone, when he lifted it in his mighty
arms, and laid it on the spot whence you have now removed it."
Theseus looked, and saw that the rock had been placed over
another slab of stone, containing a cavity within it; so that
it somewhat resembled a roughly-made chest or coffer, of which
the upper mass had served as the lid. Within the cavity lay a
sword, with a golden hilt, and a pair of sandals.
"That was your father's sword," said Aethra, "and those were
his sandals. When he went to be king of Athens, he bade me
treat you as a child until you should prove yourself a man by
lifting this heavy stone. That task being accomplished, you are
to put on his sandals, in order to follow in your father's
footsteps, and to gird on his sword, so that you may fight
giants and dragons, as King Aegeus did in his youth."
"I will set out for Athens this very day!" cried Theseus.
But his mother persuaded him to stay a day or two longer, while
she got ready some necessary articles for his journey. When his
grandfather, the wise King Pittheus, heard that Theseus
intended to present himself at his father's palace, he
earnestly advised him to get on board of a vessel, and go by
sea; because he might thus arrive within fifteen miles of
Athens, without either fatigue or danger.
"The roads are very bad by land," quoth the venerable king;
"and they are terribly infested with robbers and monsters. A
mere lad, like Theseus, is not fit to be trusted on such a
perilous journey, all by himself. No, no; let him go by sea."
But when Theseus heard of robbers and monsters, he pricked up
his ears, and was so much the more eager to take the road along
which they were to be met with. On the third day, therefore, he
bade a respectful farewell to his grandfather, thanking him for
all his kindness; and, after affectionately embracing his
mother, he set forth with a good many of her tears glistening
on his cheeks, and some, if the truth must be told, that had
gushed out of his own eyes. But he let the sun and wind dry
them, and walked stoutly on, playing with the golden hilt of
his sword, and taking very manly strides in his father's
I cannot stop to tell you hardly any of the adventures that
befell Theseus on the road to Athens. It is enough to say, that
he quite cleared that part of the country of the robbers about
whom King Pittheus had been so much alarmed. One of these bad
people was named Procrustes; and he was indeed a terrible
fellow, and had an ugly way of making fun of the poor travelers
who happened to fall into his clutches. In his cavern he had a
bed, on which, with great pretense of hospitality, he invited
his guests to lie down; but, if they happened to be shorter
than the bed, this wicked villain stretched them out by main
force; or, if they were too tall, he lopped off their heads or
feet, and laughed at what he had done, as an excellent joke.
Thus, however weary a man might be, he never liked to lie in
the bed of Procrustes. Another of these robbers, named Scinis,
must likewise have been a very great scoundrel. He was in the
habit of flinging his victims off a high cliff into the sea;
and, in order to give him exactly his deserts, Theseus tossed
him off the very same place. But if you will believe me, the
sea would not pollute itself by receiving such a bad person
into its bosom; neither would the earth, having once got rid of
him, consent to take him back; so that, between the cliff and
the sea, Scinis stuck fast in the air, which was forced to bear
the burden of his naughtiness.
After these memorable deeds, Theseus heard of an enormous sow,
which ran wild, and was the terror of all the farmers round
about; and, as he did not consider himself above doing any good
thing that came in his way, he killed this monstrous creature,
and gave the carcass to the poor people for bacon. The great
sow had been an awful beast, while ramping about the woods and
fields, but was a pleasant object enough when cut up into
joints, and smoking on I know not how many dinner tables.
Thus, by the time he reached his journey's end, Theseus had
done many valiant feats with his father's golden-hilted sword,
and had gained the renown of being one of the bravest young men
of the day. His fame traveled faster than he did, and reached
Athens before him. As he entered the city, he heard the
inhabitants talking at the street corners, and saying that
Hercules was brave, and Jason too, and Castor and Pollux
likewise, but that Theseus, the son of their own king, would
turn out as great a hero as the best of them. Theseus took
longer strides on hearing this, and fancied himself sure of a
magnificent reception at his father's court, since he came
thither with Fame to blow her trumpet before him, and cry to
King Aegeus, "Behold your son!"
He little suspected, innocent youth that he was, that here, in
this very Athens, where his father reigned, a greater danger
awaited him than any which he had encountered on the road. Yet
this was the truth. You must understand that the father of
Theseus, though not very old in years, was almost worn out with
the cares of government, and had thus grown aged before his
time. His nephews, not expecting him to live a very great
while, intended to get all the power of the kingdom into their
own hands. But when they heard that Theseus had arrived in
Athens, and learned what a gallant young man he was, they saw
that he would not be at all the kind of a person to let them
steal away his father's crown and scepter, which ought to be
his own by right of inheritance. Thus these bad-hearted nephews
of King Aegeus, who were the own cousins of Theseus, at once
became his enemies. A still more dangerous enemy was Medea, the
wicked enchantress; for she was now the king's wife, and wanted
to give the kingdom to her son Medus, instead of letting it be
given to the son of Aethra, whom she hated.
It so happened that the king's nephews met Theseus, and found
out who he was, just as he reached the entrance of the royal
palace. With all their evil designs against him, they pretended
to be their cousin's best friends, and expressed great joy at
making his acquaintance. They proposed to him that he should
come into the king's presence as a stranger, in order to try
whether Aegeus would discover in the young man's features any
likeness either to himself or his mother Aethra, and thus
recognize him for a son. Theseus consented; for he fancied that
his father would know him in a moment, by the love that was in
his heart. But, while he waited at the door, the nephews ran
and told King Aegeus that a young man had arrived in Athens,
who, to their certain knowledge, intended to put him to death,
and get possession of his royal crown.
"And he is now waiting for admission to your majesty's
presence," added they.
"Aha!" cried the old king, on hearing this. "Why, he must be a
very wicked young fellow indeed! Pray, what would you advise me
to do with him? "
In reply to this question, the wicked Medea put in her word. As
I have already told you, she was a famous enchantress.
According to some stories, she was in the habit of boiling old
people in a large caldron, under pretense of making them young
again; but King Aegeus, I suppose, did not fancy such an
uncomfortable way of growing young, or perhaps was contented to
be old, and therefore would never let himself be popped into
the caldron. If there were time to spare from more important
matters, I should be glad to tell you of Medea's fiery chariot,
drawn by winged dragons, in which the enchantress used often to
take an airing among the clouds. This chariot, in fact, was the
vehicle that first brought her to Athens, where she had done
nothing but mischief ever since her arrival. But these and many
other wonders must be left untold; and it is enough to say,
that Medea, amongst a thousand other bad things, knew how to
prepare a poison, that was instantly fatal to whomsoever might
so much as touch it with his lips.
So, when the king asked what he should do with Theseus, this
naughty woman had an answer ready at her tongue's end.
"Leave that to me, please your majesty," she replied. "Only
admit this evil-minded young man to your presence, treat him
civilly, and invite him to drink a goblet of wine. Your majesty
is well aware that I sometimes amuse myself by distilling very
powerful medicines. Here is one of them in this small phial. As
to what it is made of, that is one of my secrets of state. Do
but let me put a single drop into the goblet, and let the young
man taste it; and I will answer for it, he shall quite lay
aside the bad designs with which he comes hither."
As she said this, Medea smiled; but, for all her smiling face,
she meant nothing less than to poison the poor innocent
Theseus, before his father's eyes. And King Aegeus, like most
other kings, thought any punishment mild enough for a person
who was accused of plotting against his life. He therefore made
little or no objection to Medea's scheme, and as soon as the
poisonous wine was ready, gave orders that the young stranger
should be admitted into his presence.
The goblet was set on a table beside the king's throne; and a
fly, meaning just to sip a little from the brim, immediately
tumbled into it, dead. Observing this, Medea looked round at
the nephews, and smiled again.
When Theseus was ushered into the royal apartment, the only
object that he seemed to behold was the white-bearded old king.
There he sat on his magnificent throne, a dazzling crown on his
head, and a scepter in his hand. His aspect was stately and
majestic, although his years and infirmities weighed heavily
upon him, as if each year were a lump of lead, and each
infirmity a ponderous stone, and all were bundled up together,
and laid upon his weary shoulders. The tears both of joy and
sorrow sprang into the young man's eyes; for he thought how sad
it was to see his dear father so infirm, and how sweet it would
be to support him with his own youthful strength, and to cheer
him up with the alacrity of his loving spirit. When a son takes
a father into his warm heart it renews the old man's youth in a
better way than by the heat of Medea's magic caldron. And this
was what Theseus resolved to do. He could scarcely wait to see
whether King Aegeus would recognize him, so eager was he to
throw himself into his arms.
Advancing to the foot of the throne, he attempted to make a
little speech, which he had been thinking about, as he came up
the stairs. But he was almost choked by a great many tender
feelings that gushed out of his heart and swelled into his
throat, all struggling to find utterance together. And
therefore, unless he could have laid his full, over- brimming
heart into the king's hand, poor Theseus knew not what to do or
say. The cunning Medea observed what was passing in the young
man's mind. She was more wicked at that moment than ever she
had been before; for (and it makes me tremble to tell you of
it) she did her worst to turn all this unspeakable love with
which Theseus was agitated to his own ruin and destruction.
"Does your majesty see his confusion?" she whispered in the
king's ear. "He is so conscious of guilt, that he trembles and
cannot speak. The wretch lives too long! Quick! offer him the
Now King Aegeus had been gazing earnestly at the young
stranger, as he drew near the throne. There was something, he
knew not what, either in his white brow, or in the fine
expression of his mouth, or in his beautiful and tender eyes,
that made him indistinctly feel as if he had seen this youth
before; as if, indeed, he had trotted him on his knee when a
baby, and had beheld him growing to be a stalwart man, while he
himself grew old. But Medea guessed how the king felt, and
would not suffer him to yield to these natural sensibilities;
although they were the voice of his deepest heart, telling him
as plainly as it could speak, that here was our dear son, and
Aethra's son, coming to claim him for a father. The enchantress
again whispered in the king's ear, and compelled him, by her
witchcraft, to see everything under a false aspect.
He made up his mind, therefore, to let Theseus drink off the
poisoned wine.
"Young man," said he, "you are welcome! I am proud to show
hospitality to so heroic a youth. Do me the favor to drink the
contents of this goblet. It is brimming over, as you see, with
delicious wine, such as I bestow only on those who are worthy
of it! None is more worthy to quaff it than yourself!"
So saying, King Aegeus took the golden goblet from the table,
and was about to offer it to Theseus. But, partly through his
infirmities, and partly because it seemed so sad a thing to
take away this young man's life. however wicked he might be,
and partly, no doubt, because his heart was wiser than his
head, and quaked within him at the thought of what he was going
to do--for all these reasons, the king's hand trembled so much
that a great deal of the wine slopped over. In order to
strengthen his purpose, and fearing lest the whole of the
precious poison should be wasted, one of his nephews now
whispered to him:
"Has your Majesty any doubt of this stranger's guilt? This is
the very sword with which he meant to slay you. How sharp, and
bright, and terrible it is! Quick!--let him taste the wine; or
perhaps he may do the deed even yet."
At these words, Aegeus drove every thought and feeling out of
his breast, except the one idea of how justly the young man
deserved to be put to death. He sat erect on his throne, and
held out the goblet of wine with a steady hand, and bent on
Theseus a frown of kingly severity; for, after all, he had too
noble a spirit to murder even a treacherous enemy with a
deceitful smile upon his face.
"Drink!" said he, in the stern tone with which he was wont to
condemn a criminal to be beheaded. "You have well deserved of
me such wine as this!"
Theseus held out his hand to take the wine. But, before he
touched it, King Aegeus trembled again. His eyes had fallen on
the gold-hilted sword that hung at the young man's side. He
drew back the goblet.
"That sword!" he exclaimed: "how came you by it?"
"It was my father's sword," replied Theseus, with a tremulous
voice. "These were his sandals. My dear mother (her name is
Aethra) told me his story while I was yet a little child. But
it is only a month since I grew strong enough to lift the heavy
stone, and take the sword and sandals from beneath it, and come
to Athens to seek my father."
"My son! my son!" cried King Aegeus, flinging away the fatal
goblet, and tottering down from the throne to fall into the
arms of Theseus. "Yes, these are Aethra's eyes. It is my son."
I have quite forgotten what became of the king's nephews. But
when the wicked Medea saw this new turn of affairs, she hurried
out of the room, and going to her private chamber, lost no time
to setting her enchantments to work. In a few moments, she
heard a great noise of hissing snakes outside of the chamber
window; and behold! there was her fiery chariot, and four huge
winged serpents, wriggling and twisting in the air, flourishing
their tails higher than the top of the palace, and all ready to
set off on an aerial journey. Medea staid only long enough to
take her son with her, and to steal the crown jewels, together
with the king's best robes, and whatever other valuable things
she could lay hands on; and getting into the chariot, she
whipped up the snakes, and ascended high over the city.
The king, hearing the hiss of the serpents, scrambled as fast
as he could to the window, and bawled out to the abominable
enchantress never to come back. The whole people of Athens,
too, who had run out of doors to see this wonderful spectacle,
set up a shout of joy at the prospect of getting rid of her.
Medea, almost bursting with rage, uttered precisely such a hiss
as one of her own snakes, only ten times more venomous and
spiteful; and glaring fiercely out of the blaze of the chariot,
she shook her hands over the multitude below, as if she were
scattering a million of curses among them. In so doing,
however, she unintentionally let fall about five hundred
diamonds of the first water, together with a thousand great
pearls, and two thousand emeralds, rubies, sapphires, opals,
and topazes, to which she had helped herself out of the king's
strong box. All these came pelting down, like a shower of manycolored
hailstones, upon the heads of grown people and
children, who forthwith gathered them up, and carried them back
to the palace. But King Aegeus told them that they were welcome
to the whole, and to twice as many more, if he had them, for
the sake of his delight at finding his son, and losing the
wicked Medea. And, indeed, if you had seen how hateful was her
last look, as the flaming chariot flew upward, you would not
have wondered that both king and people should think her
departure a good riddance.
And now Prince Theseus was taken into great favor by his royal
father. The old king was never weary of having him sit beside
him on his throne (which was quite wide enough for two), and of
hearing him tell about his dear mother, and his childhood, and
his many boyish efforts to lift the ponderous stone. Theseus,
however, was much too brave and active a young man to be
willing to spend all his time in relating things which had
already happened. His ambition was to perform other and more
heroic deeds, which should be better worth telling in prose and
verse. Nor had he been long in Athens before he caught and
chained a terrible mad bull, and made a public show of him,
greatly to the wonder and admiration of good King Aegeus and
his subjects. But pretty soon, he undertook an affair that made
all his foregone adventures seem like mere boy's play. The
occasion of it was as follows:
One morning, when Prince Theseus awoke, he fancied that he must
have had a very sorrowful dream, and that it was still running
in his mind, even now that his eyes were opened. For it
appeared as if the air was full of a melancholy wail; and when
he listened more attentively, he could hear sobs, and groans,
and screams of woe, mingled with deep, quiet sighs, which came
from the king's palace, and from the streets, and from the
temples, and from every habitation in the city. And all these
mournful noises, issuing out of thousands of separate hearts,
united themselves into one great sound of affliction, which had
startled Theseus from slumber. He put on his clothes as quickly
as he could (not forgetting his sandals and gold-hilted sword),
and, hastening to the king, inquired what it all meant.
"Alas! my son," quoth King Aegeus, heaving a long sigh, "here
is a very lamentable matter in hand! This is the wofulest
anniversary in the whole year. It is the day when we annually
draw lots to see which of the youths and maids of Athens shall
go to be devoured by the horrible Minotaur!"
"The Minotaur!" exclaimed Prince Theseus; and like a brave
young prince as he was, he put his hand to the hilt of his
sword. "What kind of a monster may that be? Is it not possible,
at the risk of one's life, to slay him?"
But King Aegeus shook his venerable head, and to convince
Theseus that it was quite a hopeless case, he gave him an
explanation of the whole affair. It seems that in the island of
Crete there lived a certain dreadful monster, called a
Minotaur, which was shaped partly like a man and partly like a
bull, and was altogether such a hideous sort of a creature that
it is really disagreeable to think of him. If he were suffered
to exist at all, it should have been on some desert island, or
in the duskiness of some deep cavern, where nobody would ever
be tormented by his abominable aspect. But King Minos, who
reigned over Crete, laid out a vast deal of money in building a
habitation for the Minotaur, and took great care of his health
and comfort, merely for mischief's sake. A few years before
this time, there had been a war between the city of Athens and
the island of Crete, in which the Athenians were beaten, and
compelled to beg for peace. No peace could they obtain,
however, except on condition that they should send seven young
men and seven maidens, every year, to be devoured by the pet
monster of the cruel King Minos. For three years past, this
grievous calamity had been borne. And the sobs, and groans, and
shrieks, with which the city was now filled, were caused by the
people's woe, because the fatal day had come again, when the
fourteen victims were to be chosen by lot; and the old people
feared lest their sons or daughters might be taken, and the
youths and damsels dreaded lest they themselves might be
destined to glut the ravenous maw of that detestable man-brute.
But when Theseus heard the story, he straightened himself up,
so that he seemed taller than ever before; and as for his face
it was indignant, despiteful, bold, tender, and compassionate,
all in one look.
"Let the people of Athens this year draw lots for only six
young men, instead of seven," said he, "I will myself be the
seventh; and let the Minotaur devour me if he can!"
"O my dear son," cried King Aegeus, "why should you expose
yourself to this horrible fate? You are a royal prince, and
have a right to hold yourself above the destinies of common
"It is because I am a prince, your son, and the rightful heir
of your kingdom, that I freely take upon me the calamity of
your subjects," answered Theseus, " And you, my father, being
king over these people, and answerable to Heaven for their
welfare, are bound to sacrifice what is dearest to you, rather
than that the son or daughter of the poorest citizen should
come to any harm."
The old king shed tears, and besought Theseus not to leave him
desolate in his old age, more especially as he had but just
begun to know the happiness of possessing a good and valiant
son. Theseus, however, felt that he was in the right, and
therefore would not give up his resolution. But he assured his
father that he did not intend to be eaten up, unresistingly,
like a sheep, and that, if the Minotaur devoured him, it should
not be without a battle for his dinner. And finally, since he
could not help it, King Aegeus consented to let him go. So a
vessel was got ready, and rigged with black sails; and Theseus,
with six other young men, and seven tender and beautiful
damsels, came down to the harbor to embark. A sorrowful
multitude accompanied them to the shore. There was the poor old
king, too, leaning on his son's arm, and looking as if his
single heart held all the grief of Athens.
Just as Prince Theseus was going on board, his father bethought
himself of one last word to say.
"My beloved son," said he, grasping the Prince's hand, "you
observe that the sails of this vessel are black; as indeed they
ought to be, since it goes upon a voyage of sorrow and despair.
Now, being weighed down with infirmities, I know not whether I
can survive till the vessel shall return. But, as long as I do
live, I shall creep daily to the top of yonder cliff, to watch
if there be a sail upon the sea. And, dearest Theseus, if by
some happy chance, you should escape the jaws of the Minotaur,
then tear down those dismal sails, and hoist others that shall
be bright as the sunshine. Beholding them on the horizon,
myself and all the people will know that you are coming back
victorious, and will welcome you with such a festal uproar as
Athens never heard before."
Theseus promised that he would do so. Then going on board, the
mariners trimmed the vessel's black sails to the wind, which
blew faintly off the shore, being pretty much made up of the
sighs that everybody kept pouring forth on this melancholy
occasion. But by and by, when they had got fairly out to sea,
there came a stiff breeze from the north-west, and drove them
along as merrily over the white-capped waves as if they had
been going on the most delightful errand imaginable. And though
it was a sad business enough, I rather question whether
fourteen young people, without any old persons to keep them in
order, could continue to spend the whole time of the voyage in
being miserable. There had been some few dances upon the
undulating deck, I suspect, and some hearty bursts of laughter,
and other such unseasonable merriment among the victims, before
the high blue mountains of Crete began to show themselves among
the far-off clouds. That sight, to be sure, made them all very
grave again.
Theseus stood among the sailors, gazing eagerly towards the
land; although, as yet, it seemed hardly more substantial than
the clouds, amidst which the mountains were looming up. Once or
twice, he fancied that he saw a glare of some bright object, a
long way off, flinging a gleam across the waves.
"Did you see that flash of light?" he inquired of the master of
the vessel.
"No, prince; but I have seen it before," answered the master.
"It came from Talus, I suppose."
As the breeze came fresher just then, the master was busy with
trimming his sails, and had no more time to answer questions.
But while the vessel flew faster and faster towards Crete,
Theseus was astonished to behold a human figure, gigantic in
size, which appeared to be striding, with a measured movement,
along the margin of the island. It stepped from cliff to cliff,
and sometimes from one headland to another, while the sea
foamed and thundered on the shore beneath, and dashed its jets
of spray over the giant's feet. What was still more remarkable,
whenever the sun shone on this huge figure, it flickered and
glimmered; its vast countenance, too, had a metallic lustre,
and threw great flashes of splendor through the air. The folds
of its garments, moreover, instead of waving in the wind, fell
heavily over its limbs, as if woven of some kind of metal.
The nigher the vessel came, the more Theseus wondered what this
immense giant could be, and whether it actually had life or no.
For, though it walked, and made other lifelike motions, there
yet was a kind of jerk in its gait, which, together with its
brazen aspect, caused the young prince to suspect that it was
no true giant, but only a wonderful piece of machinery. The
figure looked all the more terrible because it carried an
enormous brass club on its shoulder.
"What is this wonder?" Theseus asked of the master of the
vessel, who was now at leisure to answer him.
"It is Talus, the Man of Brass," said the master.
"And is he a live giant, or a brazen image?" asked Theseus.
"That, truly," replied the master, "is the point which has
always perplexed me. Some say, indeed, that this Talus was
hammered out for King Minos by Vulcan himself, the skilfullest
of all workers in metal. But who ever saw a brazen image that
had sense enough to walk round an island three times a day, as
this giant walks round the island of Crete, challenging every
vessel that comes nigh the shore? And, on the other hand, what
living thing, unless his sinews were made of brass, would not
be weary of marching eighteen hundred miles in the twenty-four
hours, as Talus does, without ever sitting down to rest? He is
a puzzler, take him how you will."
Still the vessel went bounding onward; and now Theseus could
hear the brazen clangor of the giant's footsteps, as he trod
heavily upon the sea-beaten rocks, some of which were seen to
crack and crumble into the foaming waves beneath his weight. As
they approached the entrance of the port, the giant straddled
clear across it, with a foot firmly planted on each headland,
and uplifting his club to such a height that its butt-end was
hidden in the cloud, he stood in that formidable posture, with
the sun gleaming all over his metallic surface. There seemed
nothing else to be expected but that, the next moment, he would
fetch his great club down, slam bang, and smash the vessel into
a thousand pieces, without heeding how many innocent people he
might destroy; for there is seldom any mercy in a giant, you
know, and quite as little in a piece of brass clockwork. But
just when Theseus and his companions thought the blow was
coming, the brazen lips unclosed themselves, and the figure
"Whence come you, strangers?"
And when the ringing voice ceased, there was just such a
reverberation as you may have heard within a great church bell,
for a moment or two after the stroke of the hammer.
"From Athens!" shouted the master in reply.
"On what errand?" thundered the Man of Brass.
And he whirled his club aloft more threateningly than ever, as
if he were about to smite them with a thunderstroke right
amidships, because Athens, so little while ago, had been at war
with Crete.
"We bring the seven youths and the seven maidens," answered the
master, "to be devoured by the Minotaur!"
"Pass!" cried the brazen giant.
That one loud word rolled all about the sky, while again there
was a booming reverberation within the figure's breast. The
vessel glided between the headlands of the port, and the giant
resumed his march. In a few moments, this wondrous sentinel was
far away, flashing in the distant sunshine, and revolving with
immense strides round the island of Crete, as it was his
never-ceasing task to do.
No sooner had they entered the harbor than a party of the
guards of King Minos came down to the water side, and took
charge of the fourteen young men and damsels. Surrounded by
these armed warriors, Prince Theseus and his companions were
led to the king's palace, and ushered into his presence. Now,
Minos was a stern and pitiless king. If the figure that guarded
Crete was made of brass, then the monarch, who ruled over it,
might be thought to have a still harder metal in his breast,
and might have been called a man of iron. He bent his shaggy
brows upon the poor Athenian victims. Any other mortal,
beholding their fresh and tender beauty, and their innocent
looks, would have felt himself sitting on thorns until he had
made every soul of them happy by bidding them go free as the
summer wind. But this immitigable Minos cared only to examine
whether they were plump enough to satisfy the Minotaur's
appetite. For my part, I wish he himself had been the only
victim; and the monster would have found him a pretty tough
One after another, King Minos called these pale, frightened
youths and sobbing maidens to his footstool, gave them each a
poke in the ribs with his sceptre (to try whether they were in
good flesh or no), and dismissed them with a nod to his guards.
But when his eyes rested on Theseus, the king looked at him
more attentively, because his face was calm and brave.
"Young man," asked he, with his stern voice, "are you not
appalled at the certainty of being devoured by this terrible
"I have offered my life in a good cause," answered Theseus,
"and therefore I give it freely and gladly. But thou, King
Minos, art thou not thyself appalled, who, year after year,
hast perpetrated this dreadful wrong, by giving seven innocent
youths and as many maidens to be devoured by a monster? Dost
thou not tremble, wicked king, to turn shine eyes inward on
shine own heart? Sitting there on thy golden throne, and in thy
robes of majesty, I tell thee to thy face, King Minos, thou art
a more hideous monster than the Minotaur himself!"
"Aha! do you think me so?" cried the king, laughing in his
cruel way. "To-morrow, at breakfast time, you shall have an
opportunity of judging which is the greater monster, the
Minotaur or the king! Take them away, guards; and let this
free-spoken youth be the Minotaur's first morsel."
Near the king's throne (though I had no time to tell you so
before) stood his daughter Ariadne. She was a beautiful and
tender-hearted maiden, and looked at these poor doomed captives
with very different feelings from those of the iron-breasted
King Minos. She really wept indeed, at the idea of how much
human happiness would be needlessly thrown away, by giving so
many young people, in the first bloom and rose blossom of their
lives, to be eaten up by a creature who, no doubt, would have
preferred a fat ox, or even a large pig, to the plumpest of
them. And when she beheld the brave, spirited figure of Prince
Theseus bearing himself so calmly in his terrible peril, she
grew a hundred times more pitiful than before. As the guards
were taking him away, she flung herself at the king's feet, and
besought him to set all the captives free, and especially this
one young man.
"Peace, foolish girl!" answered King Minos.
"What hast thou to do with an affair like this? It is a matter
of state policy, and therefore quite beyond thy weak
comprehension. Go water thy flowers, and think no more of these
Athenian caitiffs, whom the Minotaur shall as certainly eat up
for breakfast as I will eat a partridge for my supper."
So saying, the king looked cruel enough to devour Theseus and
all the rest of the captives himself, had there been no
Minotaur to save him the trouble. As he would hear not another
word in their favor, the prisoners were now led away, and
clapped into a dungeon, where the jailer advised them to go to
sleep as soon as possible, because the Minotaur was in the
habit of calling for breakfast early. The seven maiden s and
six of the young men soon sobbed themselves to slumber. But
Theseus was not like them. He felt conscious that he was wiser,
and braver, and stronger than his companions, and that
therefore he had the responsibility of all their lives upon
him, and must consider whether there was no way to save them,
even in this last extremity. So he kept himself awake, and
paced to and fro across the gloomy dungeon in which they were
shut up.
Just before midnight, the door was softly unbarred, and the
gentle Ariadne showed herself, with a torch in her hand.
"Are you awake, Prince Theseus?" she whispered.
"Yes," answered Theseus. "With so little time to live, I do not
choose to waste any of it in sleep."
"Then follow me," said Ariadne, "and tread softly."
What had become of the jailer and the guards, Theseus never
knew. But, however that might be, Ariadne opened all the doors,
and led him forth from the darksome prison into the pleasant
"Theseus," said the maiden, "you can now get on board your
vessel, and sail away for Athens."
"No," answered the young man; "I will never leave Crete unless
I can first slay the Minotaur, and save my poor companions, and
deliver Athens from this cruel tribute."
"I knew that this would be your resolution," said Ariadne.
"Come, then, with me, brave Theseus. Here is your own sword,
which the guards deprived you of. You will need it; and pray
Heaven you may use it well."
Then she led Theseus along by the hand until they came to a
dark, shadowy grove, where the moonlight wasted itself on the
tops of the trees, without shedding hardly so much as a
glimmering beam upon their pathway. After going a good way
through this obscurity, they reached a high marble wall, which
was overgrown with creeping plants, that made it shaggy with
their verdure. The wall seemed to have no door, nor any
windows, but rose up, lofty, and massive, and mysterious, and
was neither to be clambered over, nor, as far as Theseus could
perceive, to be passed through. Nevertheless, Ariadne did but
press one of her soft little fingers against a particular block
of marble and, though it looked as solid as any other part of
the wall, it yielded to her touch, disclosing an entrance just
wide enough to admit them They crept through, and the marble
stone swung back into its place.
"We are now," said Ariadne, "in the famous labyrinth which
Daedalus built before he made himself a pair of wings, and flew
away from our island like a bird. That Daedalus was a very
cunning workman; but of all his artful contrivances, this
labyrinth is the most wondrous. Were we to take but a few steps
from the doorway, we might wander about all our lifetime, and
never find it again. Yet in the very center of this labyrinth
is the Minotaur; and, Theseus, you must go thither to seek
"But how shall I ever find him," asked Theseus, "if the
labyrinth so bewilders me as you say it will?"
Just as he spoke, they heard a rough and very disagreeable
roar, which greatly resembled the lowing of a fierce bull, but
yet had some sort of sound like the human voice. Theseus even
fancied a rude articulation in it, as if the creature that
uttered it were trying to shape his hoarse breath into words.
It was at some distance, however, and he really could not tell
whether it sounded most like a bull's roar or a man's harsh
"That is the Minotaur's noise," whispered Ariadne, closely
grasping the hand of Theseus, and pressing one of her own hands
to her heart, which was all in a tremble. "You must follow that
sound through the windings of the labyrinth, and, by and by,
you will find him. Stay! take the end of this silken string; I
will hold the other end; and then, if you win the victory. it
will lead you again to this spot. Farewell, brave Theseus."
So the young man took the end of the silken string in his left
hand, and his gold-hilted sword, ready drawn from its scabbard,
in the other, and trod boldly into the inscrutable labyrinth.
How this labyrinth was built is more than I can tell you. But
so cunningly contrived a mizmaze was never seen in the world,
before nor since. There can be nothing else so intricate,
unless it were the brain of a man like Daedalus, who planned
it, or the heart of any ordinary man; which last, to be sure,
is ten times as great a mystery as the labyrinth of Crete.
Theseus had not taken five steps before he lost sight of
Ariadne; and in five more his head was growing dizzy. But still
he went on, now creeping through a low arch, now ascending a
flight of steps, now in one crooked passage and now in another,
with here a door opening before him, and there one banging
behind, until it really seemed as if the walls spun round, and
whirled him round along with them. And all the while, through
these hollow avenues, now nearer, now farther off again,
resounded the cry of the Minotaur; and the sound was so fierce,
so cruel, so ugly, so like a bull's roar, and withal so like a
human voice, and yet like neither of them, that the brave heart
of Theseus grew sterner and angrier at every step; for he felt
it an insult to the moon and sky, and to our affectionate and
simple Mother Earth, that such a monster should have the
audacity to exist.
As he passed onward, the clouds gathered over the moon, and the
labyrinth grew so dusky that Theseus could no longer discern
the bewilderment through which he was passing. He would have
left quite lost, and utterly hopeless of ever again walking in
a straight path, if, every little while, he had not been
conscious of a gentle twitch at the silken cord. Then he knew
that the tender-hearted Ariadne was still holding the other
end, and that she was fearing for him, and hoping for him, and
giving him just as much of her sympathy as if she were close by
his side. O, indeed, I can assure you, there was a vast deal of
human sympathy running along that slender thread of silk. But
still he followed the dreadful roar of the Minotaur, which now
grew louder and louder, and finally so very loud that Theseus
fully expected to come close upon him, at every new zizgag and
wriggle of the path. And at last, in an open space, at the very
center of the labyrinth, he did discern the hideous creature.
Sure enough, what an ugly monster it was! Only his horned head
belonged to a bull; and yet, somehow or other, he looked like a
bull all over, preposterously waddling on his hind legs; or, if
you happened to view him in another way, he seemed wholly a
man, and all the more monstrous for being so. And there he was,
the wretched thing, with no society, no companion, no kind of a
mate, living only to do mischief, and incapable of knowing what
affection means. Theseus hated him, and shuddered at him, and
yet could not but be sensible of some sort of pity; and all the
more, the uglier and more detestable the creature was. For he
kept striding to and fro, in a solitary frenzy of rage,
continually emitting a hoarse roar, which was oddly mixed up
with half-shaped words; and, after listening a while, Theseus
understood that the Minotaur was saying to himself how
miserable he was, and how hungry, and how he hated everybody,
and how he longed to eat up the human race alive.
Ah! the bull-headed villain! And O, my good little people, you
will perhaps see, one of these days, as I do now, that every
human being who suffers any thing evil to get into his nature,
or to remain there, is a kind of Minotaur, an enemy of his
fellow-creatures, and separated from all good companionship, as
this poor monster was.
Was Theseus afraid? By no means, my dear auditors. What! a hero
like Theseus afraid, Not had the Minotaur had twenty bull-heads
instead of one. Bold as he was, however, I rather fancy that it
strengthened his valiant heart, just at this crisis, to feel a
tremulous twitch at the silken cord, which he was still holding
in his left hand. It was as if Ariadne were giving him all her
might and courage; and much as he already had, and little as
she had to give, it made his own seem twice as much. And to
confess the honest truth, he needed the whole; for now the
Minotaur, turning suddenly about, caught sight of Theseus, and
instantly lowered his horribly sharp horns, exactly as a mad
bull does when he means to rush against an enemy. At the same
time, he belched forth a tremendous roar, in which there was
something like the words of human language, but all disjointed
and shaken to pieces by passing through the gullet of a
miserably enraged brute.
Theseus could only guess what the creature intended to say, and
that rather by his gestures than his words; for the Minotaur's
horns were sharper than his wits, and of a great deal more
service to him than his tongue. But probably this was the sense
of what he uttered:
"Ah, wretch of a human being! I'll stick my horns through you,
and toss you fifty feet high, and eat you up the moment you
come down."
"Come on, then, and try it!" was all that Theseus deigned to
reply; for he was far too magnanimous to assault his enemy with
insolent language.
Without more words on either side, there ensued the most awful
fight between Theseus and the Minotaur that ever happened
beneath the sun or moon. I really know not how it might have
turned out, if the monster, in his first headlong rush against
Theseus, had not missed him, by a hair's breadth, and broken
one of his horns short off against the stone wall. On this
mishap, he bellowed so intolerably that a part of the labyrinth
tumbled down, and all the inhabitants of Crete mistook the
noise for an uncommonly heavy thunder storm. Smarting with the
pain, he galloped around the open space in so ridiculous a way
that Theseus laughed at it, long afterwards, though not
precisely at the moment. After this, the two antagonists stood
valiantly up to one another, and fought, sword to horn, for a
long while. At last, the Minotaur made a run at Theseus, grazed
his left side with his horn, and flung him down; and thinking
that he had stabbed him to the heart, he cut a great caper in
the air, opened his bull mouth from ear to ear, and prepared to
snap his head off. But Theseus by this time had leaped up, and
caught the monster off his guard. Fetching a sword stroke at
him with all his force, he hit him fair upon the neck, and made
his bull head skip six yards from his human body, which fell
down flat upon the ground.
So now the battle was ended. Immediately the moon shone out as
brightly as if all the troubles of the world, and all the
wickedness and the ugliness that infest human life, were past
and gone forever. And Theseus, as he leaned on his sword,
taking breath, felt another twitch of the silken cord; for all
through the terrible encounter, he had held it fast in his left
hand. Eager to let Ariadne know of his success, he followed the
guidance of the thread, and soon found himself at the entrance
of the labyrinth.
"Thou hast slain the monster," cried Ariadne, clasping her
"Thanks to thee, dear Ariadne," answered Theseus, "I return
"Then," said Ariadne, "we must quickly summon thy friends, and
get them and thyself on board the vessel before dawn. If
morning finds thee here, my father will avenge the Minotaur."
To make my story short, the poor captives were awakened, and,
hardly knowing whether it was not a joyful dream, were told of
what Theseus had done, and that they must set sail for Athens
before daybreak. Hastening down to the vessel, they all
clambered on board, except Prince Theseus, who lingered behind
them on the strand, holding Ariadne's hand clasped in his own.
"Dear maiden," said he, "thou wilt surely go with us. Thou art
too gentle and sweet a child for such an iron-hearted father as
King Minos. He cares no more for thee than a granite rock cares
for the little flower that grows in one of its crevices. But my
father, King Aegeus, and my dear mother, Aethra, and all the
fathers and mothers in Athens, and all the sons and daughters
too, will love and honor thee as their benefactress. Come with
us, then; for King Minos will be very angry when he knows what
thou hast done."
Now, some low-minded people, who pretend to tell the story of
Theseus and Ariadne, have the face to say that this royal and
honorable maiden did really flee away, under cover of the
night, with the young stranger whose life she had preserved.
They say, too, that Prince Theseus (who would have died sooner
than wrong the meanest creature in the world) ungratefully
deserted Ariadne, on a solitary island, where the vessel
touched on its voyage to Athens. But, had the noble Theseus
heard these falsehoods, he would have served their slanderous
authors as he served the Minotaur! Here is what Ariadne
answered, when the brave prince of Athens besought her to
accompany him:
"No, Theseus," the maiden said, pressing his hand, and then
drawing back a step or two, "I cannot go with you. My father is
old, and has nobody but myself to love him. Hard as you think
his heart is, it would break to lose me. At first, King Minos
will be angry; but he will soon forgive his only child; and, by
and by, he will rejoice, I know, that no more youths and
maidens must come from Athens to be devoured by the Minotaur. I
have saved you, Theseus, as much for my father's sake as for
your own. Farewell! Heaven bless you!"
All this was so true, and so maiden-like, and was spoken with
so sweet a dignity, that Theseus would have blushed to urge her
any longer. Nothing remained for him, therefore, but to bid
Ariadne an affectionate farewell, and to go on board the
vessel, and set sail.
In a few moments the white foam was boiling up before their
prow, as Prince Theseus and his companions sailed out of the
harbor, with a whistling breeze behind them. Talus, the brazen
giant, on his never-ceasing sentinel's march, happened to be
approaching that part of the coast; and they saw him, by the
glimmering of the moonbeams on his polished surface, while he
was yet a great way off. As the figure moved like clockwork,
however, and could neither hasten his enormous strides nor
retard them, he arrived at the port when they were just beyond
the reach of his club. Nevertheless, straddling from headland
to headland, as his custom was, Talus attempted to strike a
blow at the vessel, and, overreaching himself, tumbled at full
length into the sea, which splashed high over his gigantic
shape, as when an iceberg turns a somerset. There he lies yet;
and whoever desires to enrich himself by means of brass had
better go thither with a diving bell, and fish up Talus.
On the homeward voyage, the fourteen youths and damsels were in
excellent spirits, as you will easily suppose. They spent most
of their time in dancing, unless when the sidelong breeze made
the deck slope too much. In due season, they came within sight
of the coast of Attica, which was their native country. But
here, I am grieved to tell you, happened a sad misfortune.
You will remember (what Theseus unfortunately forgot) that his
father, King Aegeus, had enjoined it upon him to hoist sunshiny
sails, instead of black ones, in case he should overcome the
Minotaur, and return victorious. In the joy of their success,
however, and amidst the sports, dancing, and other merriment,
with which these young folks wore away the time, they never
once thought whether their sails were black, white, or rainbow
colored, and, indeed, left it entirely to the mariners whether
they had any sails at all. Thus the vessel returned, like a
raven, with the same sable wings that had wafted her away. But
poor King Aegeus, day after day, infirm as he was, had
clambered to the summit of a cliff that overhung the sea, and
there sat watching for Prince Theseus, homeward bound; and no
sooner did he behold the fatal blackness of the sails, than he
concluded that his dear son, whom he loved so much, and felt so
proud of, had been eaten by the Minotaur. He could not bear the
thought of living any longer; so, first flinging his crown and
sceptre into the sea (useless baubles that they were to him
now), King Aegeus merely stooped forward, and fell headlong
over the cliff, and was drowned, poor soul, in the waves that
foamed at its base!
This was melancholy news for Prince Theseus, who, when he
stepped ashore, found himself king of all the country, whether
he would or no; and such a turn of fortune was enough to make
any young man feel very much out of spirits. However, he sent
for his dear mother to Athens, and, by taking her advice in
matters of state, became a very excellent monarch, and was
greatly beloved by his people.
A great while ago, when the world was full of wonders, there
lived an earth-born Giant, named Antaeus, and a million or more
of curious little earth-born people, who were called Pygmies.
This Giant and these Pygmies being children of the same mother
(that is to say, our good old Grandmother Earth), were all
brethren, and dwelt together in a very friendly and
affectionate manner, far, far off, in the middle of hot Africa.
The Pygmies were so small, and there were so many sandy deserts
and such high mountains between them and the rest of mankind,
that nobody could get a peep at them oftener than once in a
hundred years. As for the Giant, being of a very lofty stature,
it was easy enough to see him, but safest to keep out of his
Among the Pygmies, I suppose, if one of them grew to the height
of six or eight inches, he was reckoned a prodigiously tall
man. It must have been very pretty to behold their little
cities, with streets two or three feet wide, paved with the
smallest pebbles, and bordered by habitations about as big as a
squirrel's cage. The king's palace attained to the stupendous
magnitude of Periwinkle's baby house, and stood in the center
of a spacious square, which could hardly have been covered by
our hearth- rug. Their principal temple, or cathedral, was as
lofty as yonder bureau, and was looked upon as a wonderfully
sublime and magnificent edifice. All these structures were
built neither of stone nor wood. They were neatly plastered
together by the Pygmy workmen, pretty much like birds' nests,
out of straw, feathers, egg shells, and other small bits of
stuff, with stiff clay instead of mortar; and when the hot sun
had dried them, they were just as snug and comfortable as a
Pygmy could desire.
The country round about was conveniently laid out in fields,
the largest of which was nearly of the same extent as one of
Sweet Fern's flower beds. Here the Pygmies used to plant wheat
and other kinds of grain, which, when it grew up and ripened,
overshadowed these tiny people as the pines, and the oaks, and
the walnut and chestnut trees overshadow you and me, when we
walk in our own tracts of woodland. At harvest time, they were
forced to go with their little axes and cut down the grain,
exactly as a woodcutter makes a clearing in the forest; and
when a stalk of wheat, with its overburdened top, chanced to
come crashing down upon an unfortunate Pygmy, it was apt to be
a very sad affair. If it did not smash him all to pieces, at
least, I am sure, it must have made the poor little fellow's
head ache. And O, my stars! if the fathers and mothers were so
small, what must the children and babies have been? A whole
family of them might have been put to bed in a shoe, or have
crept into an old glove, and played at hide-and-seek in its
thumb and fingers. You might have hidden a year-old baby under
a thimble.
Now these funny Pygmies, as I told you before, had a Giant for
their neighbor and brother, who was bigger, if possible, than
they were little. He was so very tall that he carried a pine
tree, which was eight feet through the butt, for a walking
stick. It took a far-sighted Pygmy, I can assure you, to
discern his summit without the help of a telescope; and
sometimes, in misty weather, they could not see his upper half,
but only his long legs, which seemed to be striding about by
themselves. But at noonday in a clear atmosphere, when the sun
shone brightly over him, the Giant Antaeus presented a very
grand spectacle. There he used to stand, a perfect mountain of
a man, with his great countenance smiling down upon his little
brothers, and his one vast eye (which was as big as a cart
wheel, and placed right in the center of his forehead) giving a
friendly wink to the whole nation at once.
The Pygmies loved to talk with Antaeus; and fifty times a day,
one or another of them would turn up his head, and shout
through the hollow of his fists, "Halloo, brother Antaeus! How
are you, my good fellow?" And when the small distant squeak of
their voices reached his ear, the Giant would make answer,
"Pretty well, brother Pygmy, I thank you," in a thunderous roar
that would have shaken down the walls of their strongest
temple, only that it came from so far aloft.
It was a happy circumstance that Antaeus was the Pygmy people's
friend; for there was more strength in his little finger than
in ten million of such bodies as this. If he had been as
ill-natured to them as he was to everybody else, he might have
beaten down their biggest city at one kick, and hardly have
known that he did it. With the tornado of his breath, he could
have stripped the roofs from a hundred dwellings and sent
thousands of the inhabitants whirling through the air. He might
have set his immense foot upon a multitude; and when he took it
up again, there would have been a pitiful sight, to be sure.
But, being the son of Mother Earth, as they likewise were, the
Giant gave them his brotherly kindness, and loved them with as
big a love as it was possible to feel for creatures so very
small. And, on their parts, the Pygmies loved Antaeus with as
much affection as their tiny hearts could hold. He was always
ready to do them any good offices that lay in his power; as for
example, when they wanted a breeze to turn their windmills, the
Giant would set all the sails a-going with the mere natural
respiration of his lungs. When the sun was too hot, he often
sat himself down, and let his shadow fall over the kingdom,
from one frontier to the other; and as for matters in general,
he was wise enough to let them alone, and leave the Pygmies to
manage their own affairs--which, after all, is about the best
thing that great people can do for little ones.
In short, as I said before, Antaeus loved the Pygmies, and the
Pygmies loved Antaeus. The Giant's life being as long as his
body was large, while the lifetime of a Pygmy was but a span,
this friendly intercourse had been going on for innumerable
generations and ages. It was written about in the Pygmy
histories, and talked about in their ancient traditions. The
most venerable and white-bearded Pygmy had never heard of a
time, even in his greatest of grandfathers' days, when the
Giant was not their enormous friend. Once, to be sure (as was
recorded on an obelisk, three feet high, erected on the place
of the catastrophe), Antaeus sat down upon about five thousand
Pygmies, who were assembled at a military review. But this was
one of those unlucky accidents for which nobody is to blame; so
that the small folks never took it to heart, and only requested
the Giant to be careful forever afterwards to examine the acre
of ground where he intended to squat himself.
It is a very pleasant picture to imagine Antaeus standing among
the Pygmies, like the spire of the tallest cathedral that ever
was built, while they ran about like pismires at his feet; and
to think that, in spite of their difference in size, there were
affection and sympathy between them and him! Indeed, it has
always seemed to me that the Giant needed the little people
more than the Pygmies needed the Giant. For, unless they had
been his neighbors and well wishers, and, as we may say, his
playfellows, Antaeus would not have had a single friend in the
world. No other being like himself had ever been created. No
creature of his own size had ever talked with him, in thunderlike
accents, face to face. When he stood with his head among
the clouds, he was quite alone, and had been so for hundreds of
years, and would be so forever. Even if he had met another
Giant, Antaeus would have fancied the world not big enough for
two such vast personages, and, instead of being friends with
him, would have fought him till one of the two was killed. But
with the Pygmies he was the most sportive and humorous, and
merry-hearted, and sweet-tempered old Giant that ever washed
his face in a wet cloud.
His little friends, like all other small people, had a great
opinion of their own importance, and used to assume quite a
patronizing air towards the Giant.
"Poor creature!" they said one to another. "He has a very dull
time of it, all by himself; and we ought not to grudge wasting
a little of our precious time to amuse him. He is not half so
bright as we are, to be sure; and, for that reason, he needs us
to look after his comfort and happiness. Let us be kind to the
old fellow. Why, if Mother Earth had not been very kind to
ourselves, we might all have been Giants too."
On all their holidays, the Pygmies had excellent sport with
Antaeus. He often stretched himself out at full length on the
ground, where he looked like the long ridge of a hill; and it
was a good hour's walk, no doubt, for a short-legged Pygmy to
journey from head to foot of the Giant. He would lay down his
great hand flat on the grass, and challenge the tallest of them
to clamber upon it, and straddle from finger to finger. So
fearless were they, that they made nothing of creeping in among
the folds of his garments. When his head lay sidewise on the
earth, they would march boldly up, and peep into the great
cavern of his mouth, and take it all as a joke (as indeed it
was meant) when Antaeus gave a sudden snap of his jaws, as if
he were going to swallow fifty of them at once. You would have
laughed to see the children dodging in and out among his hair,
or swinging from his beard. It is impossible to tell half of
the funny tricks that they played with their huge comrade; but
I do not know that anything was more curious than when a party
of boys were seen running races on his forehead, to try which
of them could get first round the circle of his one great eye.
It was another favorite feat with them to march along the
bridge of his nose, and jump down upon his upper lip.
If the truth must be told, they were sometimes as troublesome
to the Giant as a swarm of ants or mosquitoes, especially as
they had a fondness for mischief, and liked to prick his skin
with their little swords and lances, to see how thick and tough
it was. But Antaeus took it all kindly enough; although, once
in a while, when he happened to be sleepy, he would grumble out
a peevish word or two, like the muttering of a tempest, and ask
them to have done with their nonsense. A great deal oftener,
however, he watched their merriment and gambols until his huge,
heavy, clumsy wits were completely stirred up by them; and then
would he roar out such a tremendous volume of immeasurable
laughter, that the whole nation of Pygmies had to put their
hands to their ears, else it would certainly have deafened
"Ho! ho! ho!" quoth the Giant, shaking his mountainous sides.
"What a funny thing it is to be little! If I were not Antaeus,
I should like to be a Pygmy, just for the joke's sake."
The Pygmies had but one thing to trouble them in the world.
They were constantly at war with the cranes, and had always
been so, ever since the long- lived Giant could remember. From
time to time, very terrible battles had been fought in which
sometimes the little men won the victory, and sometimes the
cranes. According to some historians, the Pygmies used to go to
the battle, mounted on the backs of goats and rams; but such
animals as these must have been far too big for Pygmies to ride
upon; so that, I rather suppose, they rode on squirrel-back, or
rabbit-back, or rat-back, or perhaps got upon hedgehogs, whose
prickly quills would be very terrible to the enemy. However
this might be, and whatever creatures the Pygmies rode upon, I
do not doubt that they made a formidable appearance, armed with
sword and spear, and bow and arrow, blowing their tiny trumpet,
and shouting their little war cry. They never failed to exhort
one another to fight bravely, and recollect that the world had
its eyes upon them; although, in simple truth, the only
spectator was the Giant Antaeus, with his one, great, stupid
eye in the middle of his forehead.
When the two armies joined battle, the cranes would rush
forward, flapping their wings and stretching out their necks,
and would perhaps snatch up some of the Pygmies crosswise in
their beaks. Whenever this happened, it was truly an awful
spectacle to see those little men of might kicking and
sprawling in the air, and at last disappearing down the crane's
long, crooked throat, swallowed up alive. A hero, you know,
must hold himself in readiness for any kind of fate; and
doubtless the glory of the thing was a consolation to him, even
in the crane's gizzard. If Antaeus observed that the battle was
going hard against his little allies, he generally stopped
laughing, and ran with mile-long strides to their assistance,
flourishing his club aloft and shouting at the cranes, who
quacked and croaked, and retreated as fast as they could. Then
the Pygmy army would march homeward in triumph, attributing the
victory entirely to their own valor, and to the warlike skill
and strategy of whomsoever happened to be captain general; and
for a tedious while afterwards, nothing would be heard of but
grand processions, and public banquets, and brilliant
illuminations, and shows of wax-work, with likenesses of the
distinguished officers, as small as life.
In the above-described warfare, if a Pygmy chanced to pluck out
a crane's tail feather, it proved a very great feather in his
cap. Once or twice, if you will believe me, a little man was
made chief ruler of the nation for no other merit in the world
than bringing home such a feather.
But I have now said enough to let you see what a gallant little
people these were, and how happily they and their forefathers,
for nobody knows how many generations, had lived with the
immeasurable Giant Antaeus. In the remaining part of the story,
I shall tell you of a far more astonishing battle than any that
was fought between the Pygmies and the cranes.
One day the mighty Antaeus was lolling at full length among his
little friends. His pine-tree walking stick lay on the ground,
close by his side. His head was in one part of the kingdom, and
his feet extended across the boundaries of another part; and he
was taking whatever comfort he could get, while the Pygmies
scrambled over him, and peeped into his cavernous mouth, and
played among his hair. Sometimes, for a minute or two, the
Giant dropped asleep, and snored like the rush of a whirlwind.
During one of these little bits of slumber, a Pygmy chanced to
climb upon his shoulder, and took a view around the horizon, as
from the summit of a hill; and he beheld something, a long way
off, which made him rub the bright specks of his eyes, and look
sharper than before. At first he mistook it for a mountain, and
wondered how it had grown up so suddenly out of the earth. But
soon he saw the mountain move. As it came nearer and nearer,
what should it turn out to be but a human shape, not so big as
Antaeus, it is true, although a very enormous figure, in
comparison with Pygmies, and a vast deal bigger than the men we
see nowadays.
When the Pygmy was quite satisfied that his eyes had not
deceived him, he scampered, as fast as his legs would carry
him, to the Giant's ear, and stooping over its cavity, shouted
lustily into it:
"Halloo, brother Antaeus! Get up this minute, and take your
pine-tree walking stick in your hand. Here comes another Giant
to have a tussle with you."
"Poh, poh!" grumbled Antaeus, only half awake. "None of your
nonsense, my little fellow! Don't you see I'm sleepy? There is
not a Giant on earth for whom I would take the trouble to get
But the Pygmy looked again, and now perceived that the stranger
was coming directly towards the prostrate form of Antaeus. With
every step, he looked less like a blue mountain, and more like
an immensely large man. He was soon so nigh, that there could
be no possible mistake about the matter. There he was, with the
sun flaming on his golden helmet, and flashing from his
polished breastplate; he had a sword by his side, and a lion's
skin over his back, and on his right shoulder he carried a
club, which looked bulkier and heavier than the pine-tree
walking stick of Antaeus.
By this time, the whole nation of the Pygmies had seen the new
wonder, and a million of them set up a shout all together; so
that it really made quite an audible squeak.
"Get up, Antaeus! Bestir yourself, you lazy old Giant! Here
comes another Giant, as strong as you are, to fight with you."
"Nonsense, nonsense!" growled the sleepy Giant. "I'll have my
nap out, come who may."
Still the stranger drew nearer; and now the Pygmies could
plainly discern that, if his stature were less lofty than the
Giant's, yet his shoulders were even broader. And, in truth,
what a pair of shoulders they must have been! As I told you, a
long while ago, they once upheld the sky. The Pygmies, being
ten times as vivacious as their great numskull of a brother,
could not abide the Giant's slow movements, and were determined
to have him on his feet. So they kept shouting to him, and even
went so far as to prick him with their swords.
"Get up, get up, get up," they cried. "Up with you, lazy bones!
The strange Giant's club is bigger than your own, his shoulders
are the broadest, and we think him the stronger of the two."
Antaeus could not endure to have it said that any mortal was
half so mighty as himself. This latter remark of the Pygmies
pricked him deeper than their swords; and, sitting up, in
rather a sulky humor, he gave a gape of several yards wide,
rubbed his eyes, and finally turned his stupid head in the
direction whither his little friends were eagerly pointing.
No sooner did he set eyes on the stranger, than, leaping on his
feet, and seizing his walking stick, he strode a mile or two to
meet him; all the while brandishing the sturdy pine tree, so
that it whistled through the air.
"Who are you?" thundered the Giant. "And what do you want in
my dominions?"
There was one strange thing about Antaeus, of which I have not
yet told you, lest, hearing of so many wonders all in a lump,
you might not believe much more than half of them. You are to
know, then, that whenever this redoubtable Giant touched the
ground, either with his hand, his foot, or any other part of
his body, he grew stronger than ever he had been before. The
Earth, you remember, was his mother, and was very fond of him,
as being almost the biggest of her children; and so she took
this method of keeping him always in full vigor. Some persons
affirm that he grew ten times stronger at every touch; others
say that it was only twice as strong. But only think of it!
Whenever Antaeus took a walk, supposing it were but ten miles,
and that he stepped a hundred yards at a stride, you may try to
cipher out how much mightier he was, on sitting down again,
than when he first started. And whenever he flung himself on
the earth to take a little repose, even if he got up the very
next instant, he would be as strong as exactly ten just such
giants as his former self. It was well for the world that
Antaeus happened to be of a sluggish disposition and liked ease
better than exercise; for, if he had frisked about like the
Pygmies, and touched the earth as often as they did, he would
long ago have been strong enough to pull down the sky about
people's ears. But these great lubberly fellows resemble
mountains, not only in bulk, but in their disinclination to
Any other mortal man, except the very one whom Antaeus had now
encountered, would have been half frightened to death by the
Giant's ferocious aspect and terrible voice. But the stranger
did not seem at all disturbed. He carelessly lifted his club,
and balanced it in his hand, measuring Antaeus with his eye,
from head to foot, not as if wonder-smitten at his stature, but
as if he had seen a great many Giants before, and this was by
no means the biggest of them. In fact, if the Giant had been no
bigger than the Pygmies (who stood pricking up their ears, and
looking and listening to what was going forward), the stranger
could not have been less afraid of him.
"Who are you, I say?" roared Antaeus again. "What's your name?
Why do you come hither? Speak, you vagabond, or I'll try the
thickness of your skull with my walking-stick!"
"You are a very discourteous Giant," answered the stranger
quietly, "and I shall probably have to teach you a little
civility, before we part. As for my name, it is Hercules. I
have come hither because this is my most convenient road to the
garden of the Hesperides, whither I am going to get three of
the golden apples for King Eurystheus."
"Caitiff, you shall go no farther!" bellowed Antaeus, putting
on a grimmer look than before; for he had heard of the mighty
Hercules, and hated him because he was said to be so strong."
Neither shall you go back whence you came!"
"How will you prevent me," asked Hercules, "from going whither
I please?"
"By hitting you a rap with this pine tree here," shouted
Antaeus, scowling so that he made himself the ugliest monster
in Africa. "I am fifty times stronger than you; and now that I
stamp my foot upon the ground, I am five hundred times
stronger! I am ashamed to kill such a puny little dwarf as you
seem to be. I will make a slave of you, and you shall likewise
be the slave of my brethren here, the Pygmies. So throw down
your club and your other weapons; and as for that lion's skin,
I intend to have a pair of gloves made of it."
"Come and take it off my shoulders, then," answered Hercules,
lifting his club.
Then the Giant, grinning with rage, strode tower-like towards
the stranger (ten times strengthened at every step), and
fetched a monstrous blow at him with his pine tree, which
Hercules caught upon his club; and being more skilful than
Antaeus, he paid him back such a rap upon the sconce, that down
tumbled the great lumbering man-mountain, flat upon the ground.
The poor little Pygmies (who really never dreamed that anybody
in the world was half so strong as their brother Antaeus) were
a good deal dismayed at this. But no sooner was the Giant down,
than up he bounced again, with tenfold might, and such a
furious visage as was horrible to behold. He aimed another blow
at Hercules, but struck awry, being blinded with wrath, and
only hit his poor innocent Mother Earth, who groaned and
trembled at the stroke. His pine tree went so deep into the
ground, and stuck there so fast, that, before Antaeus could get
it out, Hercules brought down his club across his shoulders
with a mighty thwack, which made the Giant roar as if all sorts
of intolerable noises had come screeching and rumbling out of
his immeasurable lungs in that one cry. Away it went, over
mountains and valleys, and, for aught I know, was heard on the
other side of the African deserts.
As for the Pygmies, their capital city was laid in ruins by the
concussion and vibration of the air; and, though there was
uproar enough without their help, they all set up a shriek out
of three millions of little throats, fancying, no doubt, that
they swelled the Giant's bellow by at least ten times as much.
Meanwhile, Antaeus had scrambled upon his feet again, and
pulled his pine tree out of the earth; and, all aflame with
fury, and more outrageously strong than ever, he ran at
Hercules, and brought down another blow.
"This time, rascal," shouted he, "you shall not escape me."
But once more Hercules warded off the stroke with his club, and
the Giant's pine tree was shattered into a thousand splinters,
most of which flew among the Pygmies, and did them more
mischief than I like to think about. Before Antaeus could get
out of the way, Hercules let drive again, and gave him another
knock- down blow, which sent him heels over head, but served
only to increase his already enormous and insufferable
strength. As for his rage, there is no telling what a fiery
furnace it had now got to be. His one eye was nothing but a
circle of red flame. Having now no weapons but his fists, he
doubled them up (each bigger than a hogshead), smote one
against the other, and danced up and down with absolute frenzy,
flourishing his immense arms about, as if he meant not merely
to kill Hercules, but to smash the whole world to pieces.
"Come on!" roared this thundering Giant. "Let me hit you but
one box on the ear, and you'll never have the headache again."
Now Hercules (though strong enough, as you already know, to
hold the sky up) began to be sensible that he should never win
the victory, if he kept on knocking Antaeus down; for, by and
by, if he hit him such hard blows, the Giant would inevitably,
by the help of his Mother Earth, become stronger than the
mighty Hercules himself. So, throwing down his club, with which
he had fought so many dreadful battles, the hero stood ready to
receive his antagonist with naked arms.
"Step forward," cried he. "Since I've broken your pine tree,
we'll try which is the better man at a wrestling match."
"Aha! then I'll soon satisfy you," shouted the Giant; for, if
there was one thing on which he prided himself more than
another, it was his skill in wrestling. "Villain, I'll fling
you where you can never pick yourself up again."
On came Antaeus, hopping and capering with the scorching heat
of his rage, and getting new vigor wherewith to wreak his
passion, every time he hopped.
But Hercules, you must understand, was wiser than this numskull
of a Giant, and had thought of a way to fight him--huge,
earth-born monster that he was--and to conquer him too, in
spite of all that his Mother Earth could do for him. Watching
his opportunity, as the mad Giant made a rush at him, Hercules
caught him round the middle with both hands, lifted him high
into the air, and held him aloft overhead.
Just imagine it, my dear little friends. What a spectacle it
must have been, to see this monstrous fellow sprawling in the
air, face downwards, kicking out his long legs and wriggling
his whole vast body, like a baby when its father holds it at
arm's length towards the ceiling.
But the most wonderful thing was, that, as soon as Antaeus was
fairly off the earth, he began to lose the vigor which he had
gained by touching it. Hercules very soon perceived that his
troublesome enemy was growing weaker, both because he struggled
and kicked with less violence, and because the thunder of his
big voice subsided into a grumble. The truth was that unless
the Giant touched Mother Earth as often as once in five
minutes, not only his overgrown strength, but the very breath
of his life, would depart from him. Hercules had guessed this
secret; and it may be well for us all to remember it, in case
we should ever have to fight a battle with a fellow like
Antaeus. For these earth-born creatures are only difficult to
conquer on their own ground, but may easily be managed if we
can contrive to lift them into a loftier and purer region. So
it proved with the poor Giant, whom I am really a little sorry
for, notwithstanding his uncivil way of treating strangers who
came to visit him.
When his strength and breath were quite gone, Hercules gave his
huge body a toss, and flung it about a mile off, where it fell
heavily, and lay with no more motion than a sand hill. It was
too late for the Giant's Mother Earth to help him now; and I
should not wonder if his ponderous bones were lying on the same
spot to this very day, and were mistaken for those of an
uncommonly large elephant.
But, alas me! What a wailing did the poor little Pygmies set up
when they saw their enormous brother treated in this terrible
manner! If Hercules heard their shrieks, however, he took no
notice, and perhaps fancied them only the shrill, plaintive
twittering of small birds that had been frightened from their
nests by the uproar of the battle between himself and Antaeus.
Indeed, his thoughts had been so much taken up with the Giant,
that he had never once looked at the Pygmies, nor even knew
that there was such a funny little nation in the world. And
now, as he had traveled a good way, and was also rather weary
with his exertions in the fight, he spread out his lion's skin
on the ground, and, reclining himself upon it, fell fast
As soon as the Pygmies saw Hercules preparing for a nap, they
nodded their little heads at one another, and winked with their
little eyes. And when his deep, regular breathing gave them
notice that he was asleep, they assembled together in an
immense crowd, spreading over a space of about twenty-seven
feet square. One of their most eloquent orators (and a valiant
warrior enough, besides, though hardly so good at any other
weapon as he was with his tongue) climbed upon a toadstool,
and, from that elevated position, addressed the multitude. His
sentiments were pretty much as follows; or, at all events,
something like this was probably the upshot of his speech:
"Tall Pygmies and mighty little men! You and all of us have
seen what a public calamity has been brought to pass, and what
an insult has here been offered to the majesty of our nation.
Yonder lies Antaeus, our great friend and brother, slain,
within our territory, by a miscreant who took him at
disadvantage, and fought him (if fighting it can be called) in
a way that neither man, nor Giant, nor Pygmy ever dreamed of
fighting, until this hour. And, adding a grievous contumely to
the wrong already done us, the miscreant has now fallen asleep
as quietly as if nothing were to be dreaded from our wrath! It
behooves you, fellow-countrymen, to consider in what aspect we
shall stand before the world, and what will be the verdict of
impartial history, should we suffer these accumulated outrages
to go unavenged.
"Antaeus was our brother, born of that same beloved parent to
whom we owe the thews and sinews, as well as the courageous
hearts, which made him proud of our relationship. He was our
faithful ally, and fell fighting as much for our national
rights and immunities as for his own personal ones. We and our
forefathers have dwelt in friendship with him, and held
affectionate intercourse as man to man, through immemorial
generations. You remember how often our entire people have
reposed in his great shadow, and how our little ones have
played at hide-and-seek in the tangles of his hair, and how his
mighty footsteps have familiarly gone to and fro among us, and
never trodden upon any of our toes. And there lies this dear
brother-- this sweet and amiable friend--this brave and
faithful ally---this virtuous Giant--this blameless and
excellent Antaeus--dead! Dead! Silent! Powerless! A mere
mountain of clay! Forgive my tears! Nay, I behold your own.
Were we to drown the world with them, could the world blame us?
"But to resume: Shall we, my countrymen, suffer this wicked
stranger to depart unharmed, and triumph in his treacherous
victory, among distant communities of the earth? Shall we not
rather compel him to leave his bones here on our soil, by the
side of our slain brother's bones? so that, while one skeleton
shall remain as the everlasting monument of our sorrow, the
other shall endure as long, exhibiting to the whole human race
a terrible example of Pygmy vengeance! Such is the question. I
put it to you in full confidence of a response that shall be
worthy of our national character, and calculated to increase,
rather than diminish, the glory which our ancestors have
transmitted to us, and which we ourselves have proudly
vindicated in our warfare with the cranes."
The orator was here interrupted by a burst of irrepressible
enthusiasm; every individual Pygmy crying out that the national
honor must be preserved at all hazards. He bowed, and, making a
gesture for silence, wound up his harangue in the following
admirable manner:
"It only remains for us, then, to decide whether we shall carry
on the war in our national capacity--one united people against
a common enemy--or whether some champion, famous in former
fights, shall be selected to defy the slayer of our brother
Antaeus to single combat. In the latter case, though not
unconscious that there may be taller men among you, I hereby
offer myself for that enviable duty. And believe me, dear
countrymen, whether I live or die, the honor of this great
country, and the fame bequeathed us by our heroic progenitors,
shall suffer no diminution in my hands. Never, while I can
wield this sword, of which I now fling away the
scabbard--never, never, never, even if the crimson hand that
slew the great Antaeus shall lay me prostrate, like him, on the
soil which I give my life to defend."
So saying, this valiant Pygmy drew out his weapon (which was
terrible to behold, being as long as the blade of a penknife),
and sent the scabbard whirling over the heads of the multitude.
His speech was followed by an uproar of applause, as its
patriotism and self-devotion unquestionably deserved; and the
shouts and clapping of hands would have been greatly prolonged,
had they not been rendered quite inaudible by a deep
respiration, vulgarly called a snore, from the sleeping
It was finally decided that the whole nation of Pygmies should
set to work to destroy Hercules; not, be it understood, from
any doubt that a single champion would be capable of putting
him to the sword, but because he was a public enemy, and all
were desirous of sharing in the glory of his defeat. There was
a debate whether the national honor did not demand that a
herald should be sent with a trumpet, to stand over the ear of
Hercules, and after blowing a blast right into it, to defy him
to the combat by formal proclamation. But two or three
venerable and sagacious Pygmies, well versed in state affairs,
gave it as their opinion that war already existed, and that it
was their rightful privilege to take the enemy by surprise.
Moreover, if awakened, and allowed to get upon his feet,
Hercules might happen to do them a mischief before he could be
beaten down again. For, as these sage counselors remarked, the
stranger's club was really very big, and had rattled like a
thunderbolt against the skull of Antaeus. So the Pygmies
resolved to set aside all foolish punctilios, and assail their
antagonist at once.
Accordingly, all the fighting men of the nation took their
weapons, and went boldly up to Hercules, who still lay fast
asleep, little dreaming of the harm which the Pygmies meant to
do him. A body of twenty thousand archers marched in front,
with their little bows all ready, and the arrows on the string.
The same number were ordered to clamber upon Hercules, some
with spades to dig his eyes out, and others with bundles of
hay, and all manner of rubbish with which they intended to plug
up his mouth and nostrils, so that he might perish for lack of
breath. These last, however, could by no means perform their
appointed duty; inasmuch as the enemy's breath rushed out of
his nose in an obstreperous hurricane and whirlwind, which blew
the Pygmies away as fast as they came nigh. It was found
necessary, therefore, to hit upon some other method of carrying
on the war.
After holding a council, the captains ordered their troops to
collect sticks, straws, dry weeds, and whatever combustible
stuff they could find, and make a pile of it, heaping it high
around the head of Hercules. As a great many thousand Pygmies
were employed in this task, they soon brought together several
bushels of inflammatory matter, and raised so tall a heap,
that, mounting on its summit, they were quite upon a level with
the sleeper's face. The archers, meanwhile, were stationed
within bow shot, with orders to let fly at Hercules the instant
that he stirred. Everything being in readiness, a torch was
applied to the pile, which immediately burst into flames, and
soon waxed hot enough to roast the enemy, had he but chosen to
lie still. A Pygmy, you know, though so very small, might set
the world on fire, just as easily as a Giant could; so that
this was certainly the very best way of dealing with their foe,
provided they could have kept him quiet while the conflagration
was going forward.
But no sooner did Hercules begin to be scorched, than up he
started, with his hair in a red blaze.
"What's all this?" he cried, bewildered with sleep, and staring
about him as if he expected to see another Giant.
At that moment the twenty thousand archers twanged their
bowstrings, and the arrows came whizzing, like so many winged
mosquitoes, right into the face of Hercules. But I doubt
whether more than half a dozen of them punctured the skin,
which was remarkably tough, as you know the skin of a hero has
good need to be.
"Villain!" shouted all the Pygmies at once. "You have killed
the Giant Antaeus, our great brother, and the ally of our
nation. We declare bloody war against you, and will slay you on
the spot."
Surprised at the shrill piping of so many little voices,
Hercules, after putting out the conflagration of his hair,
gazed all round about, but could see nothing. At last, however,
looking narrowly on the ground, he espied the innumerable
assemblage of Pygmies at his feet. He stooped down, and taking
up the nearest one between his thumb and finger, set him on the
palm of his left hand, and held him at a proper distance for
examination. It chanced to be the very identical Pygmy who had
spoken from the top of the toadstool, and had offered himself
as a champion to meet Hercules in single combat.
"What in the world, my little fellow," ejaculated Hercules,
"may you be?"
"I am your enemy," answered the valiant Pygmy, in his mightiest
squeak. "You have slain the enormous Antaeus, our brother by
the mother's side, and for ages the faithful ally of our
illustrious nation. We are determined to put you to death; and
for my own part, I challenge you to instant battle, on equal
Hercules was so tickled with the Pygmy's big words and warlike
gestures, that he burst into a great explosion of laughter, and
almost dropped the poor little mite of a creature off the palm
of his hand, through the ecstasy and convulsion of his
"Upon my word," cried he, "I thought I had seen wonders before
to-day--hydras with nine heads, stags with golden horns,
six-legged men, three-headed dogs, giants with furnaces in
their stomachs, and nobody knows what besides. But here, on the
palm of my hand, stands a wonder that outdoes them all! Your
body, my little friend, is about the size of an ordinary man's
finger. Pray, how big may your soul be?"
"As big as your own!" said the Pygmy.
Hercules was touched with the little man's dauntless courage,
and could not help acknowledging such a brotherhood with him as
one hero feels for another.
"My good little people," said he, making a low obeisance to the
grand nation, "not for all the world would I do an intentional
injury to such brave fellows as you! Your hearts seem to me so
exceedingly great, that, upon my honor, I marvel how your small
bodies can contain them. I sue for peace, and, as a condition
of it, will take five strides, and be out of your kingdom at
the sixth. Good-bye. I shall pick my steps carefully, for fear
of treading upon some fifty of you, without knowing it. Ha, ha,
ha! Ho, ho, ho! For once, Hercules acknowledges himself
Some writers say, that Hercules gathered up the whole race of
Pygmies in his lion's skin, and carried them home to Greece,
for the children of King Eurystheus to play with. But this is a
mistake. He left them, one and all, within their own territory,
where, for aught I can tell, their descendants are alive to the
present day, building their little houses, cultivating their
little fields, spanking their little children, waging their
little warfare with the cranes, doing their little business,
whatever it may be, and reading their little histories of
ancient times. In those histories, perhaps, it stands recorded,
that, a great many centuries ago, the valiant Pygmies avenged
the death of the Giant Antaeus by scaring away the mighty
Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, the three sons of King Agenor, and
their little sister Europa (who was a very beautiful child),
were at play together near the seashore in their father's
kingdom of Phoenicia. They had rambled to some distance from
the palace where their parents dwelt, and were now in a verdant
meadow, on one side of which lay the sea, all sparkling and
dimpling in the sunshine, and murmuring gently against the
beach. The three boys were very happy, gathering flowers, and
twining them into garlands, with which they adorned the little
Europa. Seated on the grass, the child was almost hidden under
an abundance of buds and blossoms, whence her rosy face peeped
merrily out, and, as Cadmus said, was the prettiest of all the
Just then, there came a splendid butterfly, fluttering along
the meadow; and Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix set off in pursuit
of it, crying out that it was a flower with wings. Europa, who
was a little wearied with playing all day long, did not chase
the butterfly with her brothers, but sat still where they had
left her, and closed her eyes. For a while, she listened to the
pleasant murmur of the sea, which was like a voice saying
"Hush!" and bidding her go to sleep. But the pretty child, if
she slept at all, could not have slept more than a moment, when
she heard something trample on the grass, not far from her,
and, peeping out from the heap of flowers, beheld a snow-white
And whence could this bull have com ? Europa and her brothers
had been a long time playing in the meadow, and had seen no
cattle, nor other living thing, either there or on the
neighboring hills.
"Brother Cadmus!" cried Europa, starting up out of the midst of
the roses and lilies. "Phoenix! Cilix! Where are you all? Help!
Help! Come and drive away this bull!"
But her brothers were too far off to hear; especially as the
fright took away Europa's voice, and hindered her from calling
very loudly. So there she stood, with her pretty mouth wide
open, as pale as the white lilies that were twisted among the
other flowers in her garlands.
Nevertheless, it was the suddenness with which she had
perceived the bull, rather than anything frightful in his
appearance, that caused Europa so much alarm. On looking at him
more attentively, she began to see that he was a beautiful
animal, and even fancied a particularly amiable expression in
his face. As for his breath--the breath of cattle, you know, is
always sweet--it was as fragrant as if he had been grazing on
no other food than rosebuds, or at least, the most delicate of
clover blossoms. Never before did a bull have such bright and
tender eyes, and such smooth horns of ivory, as this one. And
the bull ran little races, and capered sportively around the
child; so that she quite forgot how big and strong he was, and,
from the gentleness and playfulness of his actions, soon came
to consider him as innocent a creature as a pet lamb.
Thus, frightened as she at first was, you might by and by have
seen Europa stroking the bull's forehead with her small white
hand, and taking the garlands off her own head to hang them on
his neck and ivory horns. Then she pulled up some blades of
grass, and he ate them out of her hand, not as if he were
hungry, but because he wanted to be friends with the child, and
took pleasure in eating what she had touched. Well, my stars!
was there ever such a gentle, sweet, pretty, and amiable
creature as this bull, and ever such a nice playmate for a
little girl?
When the animal saw (for the bull had so much intelligence that
it is really wonderful to think of), when he saw that Europa
was no longer afraid of him, he grew overjoyed, and could
hardly contain himself for delight. He frisked about the
meadow, now here, now there, making sprightly leaps, with as
little effort as a bird expends in hopping from twig to twig.
Indeed, his motion was as light as if he were flying through
the air, and his hoofs seemed hardly to leave their print in
the grassy soil over which he trod. With his spotless hue, he
resembled a snow drift, wafted along by the wind. Once he
galloped so far away that Europa feared lest she might never
see him again; so, setting up her childish voice, called him
"Come back, pretty creature!" she cried. "Here is a nice clover
And then it was delightful to witness the gratitude of this
amiable bull, and how he was so full of joy and thankfulness
that he capered higher than ever. He came running, and bowed
his head before Europa, as if he knew her to be a king's
daughter, or else recognized the important truth that a little
girl is everybody's queen. And not only did the bull bend his
neck, he absolutely knelt down at her feet, and made such
intelligent nods, and other inviting gestures, that Europa
understood what he meant just as well as if he had put it in so
many words.
"Come, dear child," was what he wanted to say, "let me give you
a ride on my back."
At the first thought of such a thing, Europa drew back. But
then she considered in her wise little head that there could be
no possible harm in taking just one gallop on the back of this
docile and friendly animal, who would certainly set her down
the very instant she desired it. And how it would surprise her
brothers to see her riding across the green meadow! And what
merry times they might have, either taking turns for a gallop,
or clambering on the gentle creature, all four children
together, and careering round the field with shouts of laughter
that would be heard as far off as King Agenor's palace!
"I think I will do it," said the child to herself.
And, indeed, why not? She cast a glance around, and caught a
glimpse of Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, who were still in
pursuit of the butterfly, almost at the other end of the
meadow. It would be the quickest way of rejoining them, to get
upon the white bull's back. She came a step nearer to him
therefore; and--sociable creature that he was--he showed so
much joy at this mark of her confidence, that the child could
not find in her heart to hesitate any longer. Making one bound
(for this little princess was as active as a squirrel), there
sat Europa on the beautiful bull, holding an ivory horn in each
hand, lest she should fall off.
"Softly, pretty bull, softly!" she said, rather frightened at
what she had done. "Do not gallop too fast."
Having got the child on his back, the animal gave a leap into
the air, and came down so like a feather that Europa did not
know when his hoofs touched the ground. He then began a race to
that part of the flowery plain where her three brothers were,
and where they had just caught their splendid butterfly. Europa
screamed with delight; and Phoenix, Cilix, and Cadmus stood
gaping at the spectacle of their sister mounted on a white
bull, not knowing whether to be frightened or to wish the same
good luck for themselves. The gentle and innocent creature (for
who could possibly doubt that he was so?) pranced round among
the children as sportively as a kitten. Europa all the while
looked down upon her brothers, nodding and laughing, but yet
with a sort of stateliness in her rosy little face. As the bull
wheeled about to take another gallop across the meadow, the
child waved her hand, and said, "Good-bye," playfully
pretending that she was now bound on a distant journey, and
might not see her brothers again for nobody could tell how
"Good-bye," shouted Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, all in one
But, together with her enjoyment of the sport, there was still
a little remnant of fear in the child's heart; so that her last
look at the three boys was a troubled one, and made them feel
as if their dear sister were really leaving them forever. And
what do you think the snowy bull did next? Why, he set off, as
swift as the wind, straight down to the seashore, scampered
across the sand, took an airy leap, and plunged right in among
the foaming billows. The white spray rose in a shower over him
and little Europa, and fell spattering down upon the water.
Then what a scream of terror did the poor child send forth! The
three brothers screamed manfully, likewise, and ran to the
shore as fast as their legs would carry them, with Cadmus at
their head. But it was too late. When they reached the margin
of the sand, the treacherous animal was already far away in the
wide blue sea, with only his snowy head and tail emerging, and
poor little Europa between them, stretching out one hand
towards her dear brothers, while she grasped the bull's ivory
horn with the other. And there stood Cadmus, Phoenix, and
Cilix, gazing at this sad spectacle, through their tears, until
they could no longer distinguish the bull's snowy head from the
white-capped billows that seemed to boil up out of the sea's
depths around him. Nothing more was ever seen of the white
bull--nothing more of the beautiful child.
This was a mournful story, as you may well think, for the three
boys to carry home to their parents. King Agenor, their father,
was the ruler of the whole country; but he loved his little
daughter Europa better than his kingdom, or than all his other
children, or than anything else in the world. Therefore, when
Cadmus and his two brothers came crying home, and told him how
that a white bull had carried off their sister, and swam with
her over the sea, the king was quite beside himself with grief
and rage. Although it was now twilight, and fast growing dark,
he bade them set out instantly in search of her.
"Never shall you see my face again," he cried, "unless you
bring me back my little Europa, to gladden me with her smiles
and her pretty ways. Begone, and enter my presence no more,
till you come leading her by the hand."
As King Agenor said this, his eyes flashed fire (for he was a
very passionate king), and he looked so terribly angry that the
poor boys did not even venture to ask for their suppers, but
slunk away out of the palace, and only paused on the steps a
moment to consult whither they should go first. While they were
standing there, all in dismay, their mother, Queen Telephassa
(who happened not to be by when they told the story to the
king), came hurrying after them, and said that she too would go
in quest of her daughter.
"O, no, mother!" cried the boys. "The night is dark, and there
is no knowing what troubles and perils we may meet with."
"Alas! my dear children," answered poor Queen Telephassa;
weeping bitterly, "that is only another reason why I should go
with you. If I should lose you, too, as well as my little
Europa, what would become of me!"
"And let me go likewise!" said their playfellow Thasus, who
came running to join them.
Thasus was the son of a seafaring person in the neighborhood;
he had been brought up with the young princes, and was their
intimate friend, and loved Europa very much; so they consented
that he should accompany them. The whole party, therefore, set
forth together. Cadmus, Phoenix, Cilix, and Thasus clustered
round Queen Telephassa, grasping her skirts, and begging her to
lean upon their shoulders whenever she felt weary. In this
manner they went down the palace steps, and began a journey,
which turned out to be a great deal longer than they dreamed
of. The last that they saw of King Agenor, he came to the door,
with a servant holding a torch beside him, and called after
them into the gathering darkness:
"Remember! Never ascend these steps again without the child!"
"Never!" sobbed Queen Telephassa; and the three brothers and
Thasus answered, "Never! Never! Never! Never!"
And they kept their word. Year after year, King Agenor sat in
the solitude of his beautiful palace, listening in vain for
their returning footsteps, hoping to hear the familiar voice of
the queen, and the cheerful talk of his sons and their
playfellow Thasus, entering the door together, and the sweet,
childish accents of little Europa in the midst of them. But so
long a time went by, that, at last, if they had really come,
the king would not have known that this was the voice of
Telephassa, and these the younger voices that used to make such
joyful echoes, when the children were playing about the palace.
We must now leave King Agenor to sit on his throne, and must go
along with Queen Telephassa, and her four youthful companions.
They went on and on, and traveled a long way, and passed over
mountains and rivers, and sailed over seas. Here, and there,
and everywhere, they made continual inquiry if any person could
tell them what had become of Europa. The rustic people, of whom
they asked this question, paused a little while from their
labors in the field, and looked very much surprised. They
thought it strange to behold a woman in the garb of a queen
(for Telephassa in her haste had forgotten to take off her
crown and her royal robes), roaming about the country, with four
lads around her, on such an errand as this seemed to be. But
nobody could give them any tidings of Europa; nobody had seen a
little girl dressed like a princess, and mounted on a snowwhite
bull, which galloped as swiftly as the wind.
I cannot tell you how long Queen Telephassa, and Cadmus,
Phoenix, and Cilix, her three sons, and Thasus, their
playfellow, went wandering along the highways and bypaths, or
through the pathless wildernesses of the earth, in this manner.
But certain it is, that, before they reached any place of rest,
their splendid garments were quite worn out. They all looked
very much travel-stained, and would have had the dust of many
countries on their shoes, if the streams, through which they
waded, had not washed it all away. When they had been gone a
year, Telephassa threw away her crown, because it chafed her
"It has given me many a headache," said the poor queen, "and it
cannot cure my heartache."
As fast as their princely robes got torn and tattered, they
exchanged them for such mean attire as ordinary people wore. By
and by, they come to have a wild and homeless aspect; so that
you would much sooner have taken them for a gypsy family than a
queen and three princes, and a young nobleman, who had once a
palace for a home, and a train of servants to do their bidding.
The four boys grew up to be tall young men, with sunburnt
faces. Each of them girded on a sword, to defend themselves
against the perils of the way. When the husbandmen, at whose
farmhouses they sought hospitality, needed their assistance in
the harvest field, they gave it willingly; and Queen Telephassa
(who had done no work in her palace, save to braid silk threads
with golden ones) came behind them to bind the sheaves. If
payment was offered, they shook their heads, and only asked for
tidings of Europa.
"There are bulls enough in my pasture," the old farmers would
reply; "but I never heard of one like this you tell me of. A
snow-white bull with a little princess on his back! Ho! ho! I
ask your pardon, good folks; but there never such a sight seen
At last, when his upper lip began to have the down on it,
Phoenix grew weary of rambling hither and thither to no
purpose. So one day, when they happened to be passing through a
pleasant and solitary tract of country, he sat himself down on
a heap of moss.
"I can go no farther," said Phoenix. "It is a mere foolish
waste of life, to spend it as we do, always wandering up and
down, and never coming to any home at nightfall. Our sister is
lost, and never will be found. She probably perished in the
sea; or, to whatever shore the white bull may have carried her,
it is now so many years ago, that there would be neither love
nor acquaintance between us, should we meet again. My father
has forbidden us to return to his palace, so I shall build me a
hut of branches, and dwell here."
"Well, son Phoenix," said Telephassa, sorrowfully, "you have
grown to be a man, and must do as you judge best. But, for my
part, I will still go in quest of my poor child."
"And we three will go along with you!" cried Cadmus and Cilix,
and their faithful friend Thasus.
But, before setting out, they all helped Phoenix to build a
habitation. When completed, it was a sweet rural bower, roofed
overhead with an arch of living boughs. Inside there were two
pleasant rooms, one of which had a soft heap of moss for a bed,
while the other was furnished with a rustic seat or two,
curiously fashioned out of the crooked roots of trees. So
comfortable and home-like did it seem, that Telephassa and her
three companions could not help sighing, to think that they
must still roam about the world, instead of spending the
remainder of their lives in some such cheerful abode as they
had here built for Phoenix. But, when they bade him farewell,
Phoenix shed tears, and probably regretted that he was no
longer to keep them company.
However, he had fixed upon an admirable place to dwell in. And
by and by there came other people, who chanced to have no
homes; and, seeing how pleasant a spot it was, they built
themselves huts in the neighborhood of Phoenix's habitation.
Thus, before many years went by, a city had grown up there, in
the center of which was seen a stately palace of marble,
wherein dwelt Phoenix, clothed in a purple robe, and wearing a
golden crown upon his head. For the inhabitants of the new
city, finding that he had royal blood in his veins, had chosen
him to be their king. The very first decree of state which King
Phoenix issued was, that, if a maiden happened to arrive in the
kingdom, mounted on a snow-white bull, and calling herself
Europa, his subjects should treat her with the greatest
kindness and respect, and immediately bring her to the palace.
You may see, by this, that Phoenix's conscience never quite
ceased to trouble him, for giving up the quest of his dear
sister, and sitting himself down to be comfortable, while his
mother and her companions went onward.
But often and often, at the close of a weary day's journey, did
Telephassa and Cadmus, Cilix, and Thasus, remember the pleasant
spot in which they had left Phoenix. It was a sorrowful
prospect for these wanderers, that on the morrow they must
again set forth, and that, after many nightfalls, they would
perhaps be no nearer the close of their toilsome pilgrimage
than now. These thoughts made them all melancholy at times, but
appeared to torment Cilix more than the rest of the party. At
length, one morning, when they were taking their staffs in hand
to set out, he thus addressed them:
"My dear mother, and you, good brother Cadmus, and my friend
Thasus, methinks we are like people in a dream. There is no
substance in the life which we are leading. It is such a dreary
length of time since the white bull carried off my sister
Europa, that I have quite forgotten how she looked, and the
tones of her voice, and, indeed, almost doubt whether such a
little girl ever lived in the world. And whether she once lived
or no, I am convinced that she no longer survives, and that
therefore it is the merest folly to waste our own lives and
happiness in seeking her. Were we to find her, she would now be
a woman grown, and would look upon us all as strangers. So, to
tell you the truth, I have resolved to take up my abode here;
and I entreat you, mother, brother, and friend, to follow my
"Not I, for one," said Telephassa; although the poor queen,
firmly as she spoke, was so travel-worn that she could hardly
put her foot to the ground. "Not I, for one! In the depths of
my heart, little Europa is still the rosy child who ran to
gather flowers so many years ago. She has not grown to
womanhood, nor forgotten me. At noon, at night, journeying
onward, sitting down to rest, her childish voice is always in
my ears, calling, 'Mother! mother!' Stop here who may, there is
no repose for me."
"Nor for me," said Cadmus, "while my dear mother pleases to go
And the faithful Thasus, too, was resolved to bear them
company. They remained with Cilix a few days, however, and
helped him to build a rustic bower, resembling the one which
they had formerly built for Phoenix.
When they were bidding him farewell Cilix burst into tears, and
told his mother that it seemed just as melancholy a dream to
stay there, in solitude, as to go onward. If she really
believed that they would ever find Europa, he was willing to
continue the search with them, even now. But Telephassa bade
him remain there, and be happy, if his own heart would let him.
So the pilgrims took their leave of him, and departed, and were
hardly out of sight before some other wandering people came
along that way, and saw Cilix's habitation, and were greatly
delighted with the appearance of the place. There being
abundance of unoccupied ground in the neighborhood, these
strangers built huts for themselves, and were soon joined by a
multitude of new settlers, who quickly formed a city. In the
middle of it was seen a magnificent palace of colored marble,
on the balcony of which, every noontide, appeared Cilix, in a
long purple robe, and with a jeweled crown upon his head; for
the inhabitants, when they found out that he was a king's son,
had considered him the fittest of all men to be a king himself.
One of the first acts of King Cilix's government was to send
out an expedition, consisting of a grave ambassador, and an
escort of bold and hardy young men, with orders to visit the
principal kingdoms of the earth, and inquire whether a young
maiden had passed through those regions, galloping swiftly on a
white bull. It is, therefore, plain to my mind, that Cilix
secretly blamed himself for giving up the search for Europa, as
long as he was able to put one foot before the other.
As for Telephassa, and Cadmus, and the good Thasus, it grieves
me to think of them, still keeping up that weary pilgrimage.
The two young men did their best for the poor queen, helping
her over the rough places, often carrying her across rivulets
in their faithful arms and seeking to shelter her at nightfall,
even when they themselves lay on the ground. Sad, sad it was to
hear them asking of every passer-by if he had seen Europa, so
long after the white bull had carried her away. But, though the
gray years thrust themselves between, and made the child's
figure dim in their remembrance, neither of these true-hearted
three ever dreamed of giving up the search.
One morning, however, poor Thasus found that he had sprained
his ankle, and could not possibly go a step farther.
"After a few days, to be sure," said he, mournfully, "I might
make shift to hobble along with a stick. But that would only
delay you, and perhaps hinder you from finding dear little
Europa, after all your pains and trouble. Do you go forward,
therefore, my beloved companions, and leave me to follow as I
"Thou hast been a true friend, dear Thasus," said Queen
Telephassa, kissing his forehead. "Being neither my son, nor
the brother of our lost Europa, thou hast shown thyself truer
to me and her than Phoenix and Cilix did, whom we have left
behind us. Without thy loving help, and that of my son Cadmus,
my limbs could not have borne me half so far as this. Now, take
thy rest, and be at peace. For--and it is the first time I have
owned it to myself--I begin to question whether we shall ever
find my beloved daughter in this world."
Saying this, the poor queen shed tears, because it was a
grievous trial to the mother's heart to confess that her hopes
were growing faint. From that day forward, Cadmus noticed that
she never traveled with the same alacrity of spirit that had
heretofore supported her. Her weight was heavier upon his arm.
Before setting out, Cadmus helped Thasus build a bower; while
Telephassa, being too infirm to give any great assistance,
advised them how to fit it up and furnish it, so that it might
be as comfortable as a hut of branches could. Thasus, however,
did not spend all his days in this green bower. For it happened
to him, as to Phoenix and Cilix, that other homeless people
visited the spot, and liked it, and built themselves
habitations in the neighborhood. So here, in the course of a
few years, was another thriving city, with a red freestone
palace in the center of it, where Thasus sat upon a throne,
doing justice to the people, with a purple robe over his
shoulders, a sceptre in his hand, and a crown upon his head.
The inhabitants had made him king, not for the sake of any
royal blood (for none was in his veins), but because Thasus was
an upright, true-hearted, and courageous man, and therefore fit
to rule.
But when the affairs of his kingdom were all settled, King
Thasus laid aside his purple robe and crown, and sceptre, and
bade his worthiest subjects distribute justice to the people in
his stead. Then, grasping the pilgrim's staff that had
supported him so long, he set forth again, hoping still to
discover some hoof-mark of the snow-white bull, some trace of
the vanished child. He returned after a lengthened absence, and
sat down wearily upon his throne. To his latest hour,
nevertheless, King Thasus showed his true-hearted remembrance
of Europa, by ordering that a fire should always be kept
burning in his palace, and a bath steaming hot, and food ready
to be served up, and a bed with snow-white sheets, in case the
maiden should arrive, and require immediate refreshment. And,
though Europa never came, the good Thasus had the blessings of
many a poor traveler, who profited by the food and lodging
which were meant for the little playmate of the king's boyhood.
Telephassa and Cadmus were now pursuing their weary way, with
no companion but each other. The queen leaned heavily upon her
son's arm, and could walk only a few miles a day. But for all
her weakness and weariness, she would not be persuaded to give
up the search. It was enough to bring tears into the eyes of
bearded men to hear the melancholy tone with which she inquired
of every stranger whether he could not tell her any news of the
lost child.
"Have you seen a little girl--no, no, I mean a young maiden of
full growth--passing by this way, mounted on a snow-white bull,
which gallops as swiftly as the wind?"
"We have seen no such wondrous sight," the people would reply;
and very often, taking Cadmus aside, they whispered to him, "Is
this stately and sad-looking woman your mother? Surely she is
not in her right mind; and you ought to take her home, and make
her comfortable, and do your best to get this dream out of her
"It is no dream," said Cadmus. "Everything else is a dream,
save that."
But, one day, Telephassa seemed feebler than usual, and leaned
almost her whole weight on the arm of Cadmus, and walked more
slowly than ever before. At last they reached a solitary spot,
where she told her son that she must needs lie down, and take a
good long rest.
"A good long rest!" she repeated, looking Cadmus tenderly in
the face. "A good long rest, thou dearest one!"
"As long as you please, dear mother," answered Cadmus.
Telephassa bade him sit down on the turf beside her, and then
she took his hand.
"My son," said she, fixing her dim eyes most lovingly upon him,
"this rest that I speak of will be very long indeed! You must
not wait till it is finished. Dear Cadmus, you do not
comprehend me. You must make a grave here, and lay your
mother's weary frame into it. My pilgrimage is over."
Cadmus burst into tears, and, for a long time, refused to
believe that his dear mother was now to be taken from him. But
Telephassa reasoned with him, and kissed him, and at length
made him discern that it was better for her spirit to pass away
out of the toil, the weariness, and grief, and disappointment
which had burdened her on earth, ever since the child was lost.
He therefore repressed his sorrow, and listened to her last
"Dearest Cadmus," said she, "thou hast been the truest son that
ever mother had, and faithful to the very last. Who else would
have borne with my infirmities as thou hast! It is owing to thy
care, thou tenderest child, that my grave was not dug long
years ago, in some valley, or on some hillside, that lies far,
far behind us. It is enough. Thou shalt wander no more on this
hopeless search. But, when thou hast laid thy mother in the
earth, then go, my son, to Delphi, and inquire of the oracle
what thou shalt do next."
"O mother, mother," cried Cadmus, "couldst thou but have seen
my sister before this hour!"
"It matters little now," answered Telephassa, and there was a
smile upon her face. "I go now to the better world, and, sooner
or later, shall find my daughter there."
I will not sadden you, my little hearers, with telling how
Telephassa died and was buried, but will only say, that her
dying smile grew brighter, instead of vanishing from her dead
face; so that Cadmus left convinced that, at her very first
step into the better world, she had caught Europa in her arms.
He planted some flowers on his mother's grave, and left them to
grow there, and make the place beautiful, when he should be far
After performing this last sorrowful duty, he set forth alone,
and took the road towards the famous oracle of Delphi, as
Telephassa had advised him. On his way thither, he still
inquired of most people whom he met whether they had seen
Europa; for, to say the truth, Cadmus had grown so accustomed
to ask the question, that it came to his lips as readily as a
remark about the weather. He received various answers. Some
told him one thing, and some another. Among the rest, a mariner
affirmed, that, many years before, in a distant country, he had
heard a rumor about a white bull, which came swimming across
the sea with a child on his back, dressed up in flowers that
were blighted by the sea water. He did not know what had become
of the child or the bull; and Cadmus suspected, indeed, by a
queer twinkle in the mariner's eyes, that he was putting a joke
upon him, and had never really heard anything about the matter.
Poor Cadmus found it more wearisome to travel alone than to
bear all his dear mother's weight, while she had kept him
company. His heart, you will understand, was now so heavy that
it seemed impossible, sometimes, to carry it any farther. But
his limbs were strong and active, and well accustomed to
exercise. He walked swiftly along, thinking of King Agenor and
Queen Telephassa, and his brothers, and the friendly Thasus,
all of whom he had left behind him, at one point of his
pilgrimage or another, and never expected to see them any more.
Full of these remembrances, he came within sight of a lofty
mountain, which the people thereabouts told him was called
Parnassus. On the slope of Mount Parnassus was the famous
Delphi, whither Cadmus was going.
This Delphi was supposed to be the very midmost spot of the
whole world. The place of the oracle was a certain cavity in
the mountain side, over which, when Cadmus came thither, he
found a rude bower of branches. It reminded him of those which
he had helped to build for Phoenix and Cilix, and afterwards
for Thasus. In later times, when multitudes of people came from
great distances to put questions to the oracle, a spacious
temple of marble was erected over the spot. But in the days of
Cadmus, as I have told you, there was only this rustic bower,
with its abundance of green foliage, and a tuft of shrubbery,
that ran wild over the mysterious hole in the hillside.
When Cadmus had thrust a passage through the tangled boughs,
and made his way into the bower, he did not at first discern
the half-hidden cavity. But soon he felt a cold stream of air
rushing out of it, with so much force that it shook the
ringlets on his cheek. Pulling away the shrubbery which
clustered over the hole, he bent forward, and spoke in a
distinct but reverential tone, as if addressing some unseen
personage inside of the mountain.
"Sacred oracle of Delphi," said he, "whither shall I go next in
quest of my dear sister Europa?"
There was at first a deep silence, and then a rushing sound, or
a noise like a long sigh, proceeding out of the interior of the
earth. This cavity, you must know, was looked upon as a sort of
fountain of truth, which sometimes gushed out in audible words;
although, for the most part, these words were such a riddle
that they might just as well have staid at the bottom of the
hole. But Cadmus was more fortunate than many others who went
to Delphi in search of truth. By and by, the rushing noise
began to sound like articulate language. It repeated, over and
over again, the following sentence, which, after all, was so
like the vague whistle of a blast of air, that Cadmus really
did not quite know whether it meant anything or not:
"Seek her no more! Seek her no more! Seek her no more!"
"What, then, shall I do?" asked Cadmus.
For, ever since he was a child, you know, it had been the great
object of his life to find his sister. From the very hour that
he left following the butterfly in the meadow, near his
father's palace, he had done his best to follow Europa, over
land and sea. And now, if he must give up the search, he seemed
to have no more business in the world.
But again the sighing gust of air grew into something like a
hoarse voice.
"Follow the cow!" it said. "Follow the cow! Follow the cow!"
And when these words had been repeated until Cadmus was tired
of hearing them (especially as he could not imagine what cow it
was, or why he was to follow her), the gusty hole gave vent to
another sentence.
"Where the stray cow lies down, there is your home."
These words were pronounced but a single time, and died away
into a whisper before Cadmus was fully satisfied that he had
caught the meaning. He put other questions, but received no
answer; only the gust of wind sighed continually out of the
cavity, and blew the withered leaves rustling along the ground
before it.
"Did there really come any words out of the hole?" thought
Cadmus; "or have I been dreaming all this while?"
He turned away from the oracle, and thought himself no wiser
than when he came thither. Caring little what might happen to
him, he took the first path that offered itself, and went along
at a sluggish pace; for, having no object in view, nor any
reason to go one way more than another, it would certainly have
been foolish to make haste. Whenever he met anybody, the old
question was at his tongue's end.
"Have you seen a beautiful maiden, dressed like a king's
daughter, and mounted on a snow-white bull, that gallops as
swiftly as the wind?"
But, remembering what the oracle had said, he only half uttered
the words, and then mumbled the rest indistinctly; and from his
confusion, people must have imagined that this handsome young
man had lost his wits.
I know not how far Cadmus had gone, nor could he himself have
told you, when at no great distance before him, he beheld a
brindled cow. She was lying down by the wayside, and quietly
chewing her cud; nor did she take any notice of the young man
until he had approached pretty nigh. Then, getting leisurely
upon her feet, and giving her head a gentle toss, she began to
move along at a moderate pace, often pausing just long enough
to crop a mouthful of grass. Cadmus loitered behind, whistling
idly to himself, and scarcely noticing the cow; until the
thought occurred to him, whether this could possibly be the
animal which, according to the oracle's response, was to serve
him for a guide. But he smiled at himself for fancying such a
thing. He could not seriously think that this was the cow,
because she went along so quietly, behaving just like any other
cow. Evidently she neither knew nor cared so much as a wisp of
hay about Cadmus, and was only thinking how to get her living
along the wayside, where the herbage was green and fresh.
Perhaps she was going home to be milked.
"Cow, cow, cow!" cried Cadmus. "Hey, Brindle, hey! Stop, my
good cow!"
He wanted to come up with the cow, so as to examine her, and
see if she would appear to know him, or whether there were any
peculiarities to distinguish her from a thousand other cows,
whose only business is to fill the milk-pail, and sometimes
kick it over. But still the brindled cow trudged on, whisking
her tail to keep the flies away, and taking as little notice of
Cadmus as she well could. If he walked slowly, so did the cow,
and seized the opportunity to graze. If he quickened his pace,
the cow went just so much the faster; and once, when Cadmus
tried to catch her by running, she threw out her heels, stuck
her tail straight on end, and set off at a gallop, looking as
queerly as cows generally do, while putting themselves to their
When Cadmus saw that it was impossible to come up with her, he
walked on moderately, as before. The cow, too, went leisurely
on, without looking behind. Wherever the grass was greenest,
there she nibbled a mouthful or two. Where a brook glistened
brightly across the path, there the cow drank, and breathed a
comfortable sigh, and drank again. and trudged onward at the
pace that best suited herself and Cadmus.
"I do believe," thought Cadmus, "that this may be the cow that
was foretold me. If it be the one, I suppose she will lie down
somewhere hereabouts."
Whether it were the oracular cow or some other one, it did not
seem reasonable that she should travel a great way farther. So,
whenever they reached a particularly pleasant spot on a breezy
hillside, or in a sheltered vale, or flowery meadow, on the
shore of a calm lake, or along the bank of a clear stream,
Cadmus looked eagerly around to see if the situation would suit
him for a home. But still, whether he liked the place or no,
the brindled cow never offered to lie down. On she went at the
quiet pace of a cow going homeward to the barn yard; and, every
moment, Cadmus expected to see a milkmaid approaching with a
pail, or a herdsman running to head the stray animal, and turn
her back towards the pasture. But no milkmaid came; no herdsman
drove her back; and Cadmus followed the stray Brindle till he
was almost ready to drop down with fatigue.
"O brindled cow," cried he, in a tone of despair, "do you never
mean to stop?"
He had now grown too intent on following her to think of
lagging behind, however long the way, and whatever might be his
fatigue. Indeed, it seemed as if there were something about the
animal that bewitched people. Several persons who happened to
see the brindled cow, and Cadmus following behind, began to
trudge after her, precisely as he did. Cadmus was glad of
somebody to converse with, and therefore talked very freely to
these good people. He told them all his adventures, and how he
had left King Agenor in his palace, and Phoenix at one place,
and Cilix at another, and Thasus at a third, and his dear
mother, Queen Telephassa, under a flowery sod; so that now he
was quite alone, both friendless and homeless. He mentioned,
likewise, that the oracle had bidden him be guided by a cow,
and inquired of the strangers whether they supposed that this
brindled animal could be the one.
"Why, 'tis a very wonderful affair," answered one of his new
companions. "I am pretty well acquainted with the ways of
cattle, and I never knew a cow, of her own accord, to go so far
without stopping. If my legs will let me, I'll never leave
following the beast till she lies down."
"Nor I!" said a second.
"Nor I!" cried a third. "If she goes a hundred miles farther, I
am determined to see the end of it."
The secret of it was, you must know, that the cow was an
enchanted cow, and that, without their being conscious of it,
she threw some of her enchantment over everybody that took so
much as half a dozen steps behind her. They could not possibly
help following her, though all the time they fancied themselves
doing it of their own accord. The cow was by no means very nice
in choosing her path; so that sometimes they had to scramble
over rocks, or wade through mud and mire, and all in a terribly
bedraggled condition, and tired to death, and very hungry, into
the bargain. What a weary business it was!
But still they kept trudging stoutly forward, and talking as
they went. The strangers grew very fond of Cadmus, and resolved
never to leave him, but to help him build a city wherever the
cow might lie down. In the center of it there should be a noble
palace, in which Cadmus might dwell, and be their king, with a
throne, a crown, a sceptre, a purple robe, and everything else
that a king ought to have; for in him there was the royal
blood, and the royal heart, and the head that knew how to rule.
While they were talking of these schemes, and beguiling the
tediousness of the way with laying out the plan of the new
city, one of the company happened to look at the cow.
"Joy! joy!" cried he, clapping his hands. "Brindle is going to
lie down."
They all looked; and, sure enough, the cow had stopped, and was
staring leisurely about her, as other cows do when on the point
of lying down. And slowly, slowly did she recline herself on
the soft grass, first bending her forelegs, and then crouching
her hind ones. When Cadmus and his companions came up with her,
there was the brindled cow taking her ease, chewing her cud,
and looking them quietly in the face; as if this was just the
spot she had been seeking for, and as if it were all a matter
of course.
"This, then," said Cadmus, gazing around him, "this is to be my
It was a fertile and lovely plain, with great trees flinging
their sun-speckled shadows over it, and hills fencing it in
from the rough weather At no great distance, they beheld a
river gleaming in the sunshine. A home feeling stole into the
heart of poor Cadmus. He was very glad to know that here he
might awake in the morning without the necessity of putting on
his dusty sandals to travel farther and farther. The days and
the years would pass over him, and find him still in this
pleasant spot. If he could have had his brothers with him, and
his friend Thasus, and could have seen his dear mother under a
roof of his own, he might here have been happy after all their
disappointments. Some day or other, too, his sister Europa
might have come quietly to the door of his home, and smiled
round upon the familiar faces. But, indeed, since there was no
hope of regaining the friends of his boyhood, or ever seeing
his dear sister again, Cadmus resolved to make himself happy
with these new companions, who had grown so fond of him while
following the cow.
"Yes, my friends," said he to them, "this is to be our home.
Here we will build our habitations. The brindled cow, which has
led us hither, will supply us with milk. We will cultivate the
neighboring soil. and lead an innocent and happy life."
His companions joyfully assented to this plan; and, in the
first place, being very hungry and thirsty, they looked about
them for the means of providing a comfortable meal. Not far off
they saw a tuft of trees, which appeared as if there might be a
spring of water beneath them. They went thither to fetch some,
leaving Cadmus stretched on the ground along with the brindled
cow; for, now that he had found a place of rest, it seemed as
if all the weariness of his pilgrimage, ever since he left King
Agenor's palace, had fallen upon him at once. But his new
friends had not long been gone, when he was suddenly startled
by cries, shouts, and screams, and the noise of a terrible
struggle, and in the midst of it all, a most awful hissing,
which went right through his ears like a rough saw.
Running towards the tuft of trees, he beheld the head and fiery
eyes of an immense serpent or dragon, with the widest jaws that
ever a dragon had, and a vast many rows of horribly sharp
teeth. Before Cadmus could reach the spot, this pitiless
reptile had killed his poor companions, and was busily
devouring them, making but a mouthful of each man.
It appears that the fountain of water was enchanted, and that
the dragon had been set to guard it, so that no mortal might
ever quench his thirst there. As the neighboring inhabitants
carefully avoided the spot, it was now a long time (not less
than a hundred years or thereabouts) since the monster had
broken his fast; and, as was natural enough, his appetite had
grown to be enormous, and was not half satisfied by the poor
people whom he had just eaten up. When he caught sight of
Cadmus, therefore, he set up another abominable hiss, and flung
back his immense jaws, until his mouth looked like a great red
cavern, at the farther end of which were seen the legs of his
last victim, whom he had hardly had time to swallow.
But Cadmus was so enraged at the destruction of his friends
that he cared neither for the size of the dragon's jaws nor for
his hundreds of sharp teeth. Drawing his sword, he rushed at
the monster, and flung himself right into his cavernous mouth.
This bold method of attacking him took the dragon by surprise;
for, in fact, Cadmus had leaped so far down into his throat,
that the rows of terrible teeth could not close upon him, nor
do him the least harm in the world. Thus, though the struggle
was a tremendous one, and though the dragon shattered the tuft
of trees into small splinters by the lashing of his tail, yet,
as Cadmus was all the while slashing and stabbing at his very
vitals, it was not long before the scaly wretch bethought
himself of slipping away. He had not gone his length, however,
when the brave Cadmus gave him a sword thrust that finished the
battle; and creeping out of the gateway of the creature's jaws,
there he beheld him still wriggling his vast bulk, although
there was no longer life enough in him to harm a little child.
But do not you suppose that it made Cadmus sorrowful to think
of the melancholy fate which had befallen those poor, friendly
people, who had followed the cow along with him? It seemed as
if he were doomed to lose everybody whom he loved, or to see
them perish in one way or another. And here he was, after all
his toils and troubles, in a solitary place, with not a single
human being to help him build a hut.
"What shall I do?" cried he aloud. "It were better for me to
have been devoured by the dragon, as my poor companions were."
"Cadmus," said a voice but whether it came from above or below
him, or whether it spoke within his own breast, the young man
could not tell--"Cadmus, pluck out the dragon's teeth, and
plant them in the earth."
This was a strange thing to do; nor was it very easy, I should
imagine, to dig out all those deep-rooted fangs from the dead
dragon's jaws. But Cadmus toiled and tugged, and after pounding
the monstrous head almost to pieces with a great stone, he at
last collected as many teeth as might have filled a bushel or
two. The next thing was to plant them. This, likewise, was a
tedious piece of work, especially as Cadmus was already
exhausted with killing the dragon and knocking his head to
pieces, and had nothing to dig the earth with, that I know of,
unless it were his sword blade. Finally, however, a
sufficiently large tract oú ground was turned up, and sown with
this new kind of seed; although half of the dragon's teeth
still remained to be planted some other day.
Cadmus, quite out of breath, stood leaning upon his sword, and
wondering what was to happen next. He had waited but a few
moments, when he began to see a sight, which was as great a
marvel as the most marvelous thing I ever told you about.
The sun was shining slantwise over the field, and showed all
the moist, dark soil just like any other newly-planted piece of
ground. All at once, Cadmus fancied he saw something glisten
very brightly, first at one spot, then at another, and then at
a hundred and a thousand spots together. Soon he perceived them
to be the steel heads of spears, sprouting up everywhere like
so many stalks of grain, and continually growing taller and
taller. Next appeared a vast number of bright sword blades,
thrusting themselves up in the same way. A moment afterwards,
the whole surface of the ground was broken by a multitude of
polished brass helmets, coming up like a crop of enormous
beans. So rapidly did they grow, that Cadmus now discerned the
fierce countenance of a man beneath every one. In short, before
he had time to think what a wonderful affair it was, he beheld
an abundant harvest of what looked like human beings, armed
with helmets and breastplates, shields, swords, and spears; and
before they were well out of the earth, they brandished their
weapons, and clashed them one against another, seeming to
think, little while as they had yet lived, that they had wasted
too much of life without a battle. Every tooth of the dragon
had produced one of these sons of deadly mischief.
Up sprouted also a great many trumpeters; and with the first
breath that they drew, they put their brazen trumpets to their
lips, and sounded a tremendous and ear-shattering blast, so
that the whole space, just now so quiet and solitary,
reverberated with the clash and clang of arms, the bray of
warlike music, and the shouts of angry men. So enraged did they
all look, that Cadmus fully expected them to put the whole
world to the sword. How fortunate would it be for a great
conqueror, if he could get a bushel of the dragon's teeth to
"Cadmus," said the same voice which he had before heard, "throw
a stone into the midst of the armed men."
So Cadmus seized a large stone, and flinging it into the middle
of the earth army, saw it strike the breastplate of a gigantic
and fierce-looking warrior. Immediately on feeling the blow, he
seemed to take it for granted that somebody had struck him;
and, uplifting his weapon, he smote his next neighbor a blow
that cleft his helmet asunder, and stretched him on the ground.
In an instant, those nearest the fallen warrior began to strike
at one another with their swords, and stab with their spears.
The confusion spread wider and wider. Each man smote down his
brother, and was himself smitten down before he had time to
exult in his victory. The trumpeters, all the while, blew their
blasts shriller and shriller; each soldier shouted a battle
cry, and often fell with it on his lips. It was the strangest
spectacle of causeless wrath, and of mischief for no good end,
that had ever been witnessed; but, after all, it was neither
more foolish nor more wicked than a thousand battles that have
since been fought, in which men have slain their brothers with
just as little reason as these children of the dragon's teeth.
It ought to be considered, too, that the dragon people were
made for nothing else; whereas other mortals were born to love
and help one another.
Well, this memorable battle continued to rage until the ground
was strewn with helmeted heads that had been cut off. Of all
the thousands that began the fight, there were only five left
standing. These now rushed from different parts of the field,
and, meeting in the middle of it, clashed their swords, and
struck at each other's hearts as fiercely as ever.
"Cadmus," said the voice again, "bid those five warriors
sheathe their swords. They will help you to build the city."
Without hesitating an instant, Cadmus stepped forward, with the
aspect of a king and a leader, and extending his drawn sword
amongst them, spoke to the warriors in a stern and commanding
"Sheathe your weapons!" said he.
And forthwith, feeling themselves bound to obey him, the five
remaining sons of the dragon's teeth made him a military salute
with their swords, returned them to the scabbards, and stood
before Cadmus in a rank, eyeing him as soldiers eye their
captain, while awaiting the word of command.
These five men had probably sprung from the biggest of the
dragon's teeth, and were the boldest and strongest of the whole
army. They were almost giants indeed, and had good need to be
so, else they never could have lived through so terrible a
fight. They still had a very furious look, and, if Cadmus
happened to glance aside, would glare at one another, with fire
flashing out of their eyes. It was strange, too, to observe how
the earth, out of which they had so lately grown, was
incrusted, here and there, on their bright breastplates, and
even, begrimed their faces; just as you may have seen it
clinging to beets and carrots, when pulled out of their native
soil. Cadmus hardly knew whether to consider them as men, or
some odd kind of vegetable; although, on the whole, he
concluded that there was human nature in them, because they
were so fond of trumpets and weapons, and so ready to shed
They looked him earnestly in the face, waiting for his next
order, and evidently desiring no other employment than to
follow him from one battlefield to another, all over the wide
world. But Cadmus was wiser than these earth-born creatures,
with the dragon's fierceness in them, and knew better how to
use their strength and hardihood.
"Come!" said he. "You are sturdy fellows. Make yourselves
useful! Quarry some stones with those great swords of yours,
and help me to build a city."
The five soldiers grumbled a little, and muttered that it was
their business to overthrow cities, not to build them up. But
Cadmus looked at them with a stern eye, and spoke to them in a
tone of authority, so that they knew him for their master, and
never again thought of disobeying his commands. They set to
work in good earnest, and toiled so diligently, that, in a very
short time, a city began to make its appearance. At first, to
be sure, the workmen showed a quarrelsome disposition. Like
savage beasts, they would doubtless have done one another a
mischief, if Cadmus had not kept watch over them, and quelled
the fierce old serpent that lurked in their hearts, when he saw
it gleaming out of their wild eyes. But, in course of time,
they got accustomed to honest labor, and had sense enough to
feel that there was more true enjoyment in living at peace, and
doing good to one's neighbor, than in striking at him with a
two-edged sword. It may not be too much to hope that the rest
of mankind will by and by grow as wise and peaceable as these
five earth-begrimed warriors, who sprang from the dragon's
And now the city was built, and there was a home in it for each
of the workmen. But the palace of Cadmus was not yet erected,
because they had left it till the last, meaning to introduce
all the new improvements of architecture, and make it very
commodious, as well as stately and beautiful. After finishing
the rest of their labors, they all went to bed betimes, in
order to rise in the gray of the morning, and get at least the
foundation of the edifice laid before nightfall. But, when
Cadmus arose, and took his way towards the site where the
palace was to be built, followed by his five sturdy workmen
marching all in a row, what do you think he saw?
What should it be but the most magnificent palace that had ever
been seen in the world. It was built of marble and other
beautiful kinds of stone, and rose high into the air, with a
splendid dome and a portico along the front, and carved
pillars, and everything else that befitted the habitation of a
mighty king. It had grown up out of the earth in almost as
short a time as it had taken the armed host to spring from the
dragon's teeth; and what made the matter more strange, no seed
of this stately edifice ever had been planted.
When the five workmen beheld the dome, with the morning
sunshine making it look golden and glorious, they gave a great
"Long live King Cadmus," they cried, "in his beautiful palace."
And the new king, with his five faithful followers at his
heels, shouldering their pickaxes and marching in a rank (for
they still had a soldier-like sort of behavior, as their nature
was), ascended the palace steps. Halting at the entrance, they
gazed through a long vista of lofty pillars, that were ranged
from end to end of a great hall. At the farther extremity of
this hall, approaching slowly towards him, Cadmus beheld a
female figure, wonderfully beautiful, and adorned with a royal
robe, and a crown of diamonds over her golden ringlets, and the
richest necklace that ever a queen wore. His heart thrilled
with delight. He fancied it his long-lost sister Europa, now
grown to womanhood, coming to make him happy, and to repay him
with her sweet sisterly affection, for all those weary
wonderings in quest of her since he left King Agenor's
palace--for the tears that he had shed, on parting with
Phoenix, and Cilix, and Thasus--for the heart-breakings that
had made the whole world seem dismal to him over his dear
mother's grave.
But, as Cadmus advanced to meet the beautiful stranger, he saw
that her features were unknown to him, although, in the little
time that it required to tread along the hall, he had already
felt a sympathy betwixt himself and her.
"No, Cadmus," said the same voice that had spoken to him in the
field of the armed men, "this is not that dear sister Europa
whom you have sought so faithfully all over the wide world.
This is Harmonia, a daughter of the sky, who is given you
instead of sister, and brothers, and friend, and mother. You
will find all those dear ones in her alone."
So King Cadmus dwelt in the palace, with his new friend
Harmonia, and found a great deal of comfort in his magnificent
abode, but would doubtless have found as much, if not more, in
the humblest cottage by the wayside. Before many years went by,
there was a group of rosy little children (but how they came
thither has always been a mystery to me) sporting in the great
hall, and on the marble steps of the palace, and running
joyfully to meet King Cadmus when affairs of state left him at
leisure to play with them. They called him father, and Queen
Harmonia mother. The five old soldiers of the dragon's teeth
grew very fond of these small urchins, and were never weary of
showing them how to shoulder sticks, flourish wooden swords,
and march in military order, blowing a penny trumpet, or
beating an abominable rub-a-dub upon a little drum.
But King Cadmus, lest there should be too much of the dragon's
tooth in his children's disposition, used to find time from his
kingly duties to teach them their A B C--which he invented for
their benefit, and for which many little people, I am afraid,
are not half so grateful to him as they ought to be.
Some of you have heard, no doubt, of the wise King Ulysses, and
how he went to the siege of Troy, and how, after that famous
city was taken and burned, he spent ten long years in trying to
get back again to his own little kingdom of Ithaca. At one time
in the course of this weary voyage, he arrived at an island
that looked very green and pleasant, but the name of which was
unknown to him. For, only a little while before he came
thither, he had met with a terrible hurricane, or rather a
great many hurricanes at once, which drove his fleet of vessels
into a strange part of the sea, where neither himself nor any
of his mariners had ever sailed. This misfortune was entirely
owing to the foolish curiosity of his shipmates, who, while
Ulysses lay asleep, had untied some very bulky leathern bags,
in which they supposed a valuable treasure to be concealed. But
in each of these stout bags, King Aeolus, the ruler of the
winds, had tied up a tempest, and had given it to Ulysses to
keep in order that he might be sure of a favorable passage
homeward to Ithaca; and when the strings were loosened, forth
rushed the whistling blasts, like air out of a blown bladder,
whitening the sea with foam, and scattering the vessels nobody
could tell whither.
Immediately after escaping from this peril, a still greater one
had befallen him. Scudding before the hurricane, he reached a
place, which, as he afterwards found, was called Laestrygonia,
where some monstrous giants had eaten up many of his
companions, and had sunk every one of his vessels, except that
in which he himself sailed, by flinging great masses of rock at
them, from the cliffs along the shore. After going through such
troubles as these, you cannot wonder that King Ulysses was glad
to moor his tempest-beaten bark in a quiet cove of the green
island, which I began with telling you about. But he had
encountered so many dangers from giants, and one-eyed Cyclops,
and monsters of the sea and land, that he could not help
dreading some mischief, even in this pleasant and seemingly
solitary spot. For two days, therefore, the poor weather-worn
voyagers kept quiet, and either staid on board of their vessel,
or merely crept along under the cliffs that bordered the shore;
and to keep themselves alive, they dug shellfish out of the
sand, and sought for any little rill of fresh water that might
be running towards the sea.
Before the two days were spent, they grew very weary of this
kind of life; for the followers of King Ulysses, as you will
find it important to remember, were terrible gormandizers, and
pretty sure to grumble if they missed their regulars meals, and
their irregular ones besides. Their stock of provisions was
quite exhausted, and even the shellfish began to get scarce, so
that they had now to choose between starving to death or
venturing into the interior of the island, where perhaps some
huge three-headed dragon, or other horrible monster, had his
den. Such misshapen creatures were very numerous in those days;
and nobody ever expected to make a voyage, or take a journey,
without running more or less risk of being devoured by them.
But King Ulysses was a bold man as well as a prudent one; and
on the third morning he determined to discover what sort of a
place the island was, and whether it were possible to obtain a
supply of food for the hungry mouths of his companions. So,
taking a spear in his hand, he clambered to the summit of a
cliff, and gazed round about him. At a distance, towards the
center of the island, he beheld the stately towers of what
seemed to be a palace, built of snow-white marble, and rising
in the midst of a grove of lofty trees. The thick branches of
these trees stretched across the front of the edifice, and more
than half concealed it, although, from the portion which he
saw, Ulysses judged it to be spacious and exceedingly
beautiful, and probably the residence of some great nobleman or
prince. A blue smoke went curling up from the chimney, and was
almost the pleasantest part of the spectacle to Ulysses. For,
from the abundance of this smoke, it was reasonable to conclude
that there was a good fire in the kitchen, and that, at
dinner-time, a plentiful banquet would be served up to the
inhabitants of the palace, and to whatever guests might happen
to drop in.
With so agreeable a prospect before him, Ulysses fancied that
he could not do better than go straight to the palace gate, and
tell the master of it that there was a crew of poor shipwrecked
mariners, not far off, who had eaten nothing for a day or two,
save a few clams and oysters, and would therefore be thankful
for a little food. And the prince or nobleman must be a very
stingy curmudgeon, to be sure, if, at least, when his own
dinner was over, he would not bid them welcome to the broken
victuals from the table.
Pleasing himself with this idea, King Ulysses had made a few
steps in the direction of the palace, when there was a great
twittering and chirping from the branch of a neighboring tree.
A moment afterwards, a bird came flying towards him, and
hovered in the air, so as almost to brush his face with its
wings. It was a very pretty little bird, with purple wings and
body, and yellow legs, and a circle of golden feathers round
its neck, and on its head a golden tuft, which looked like a
king's crown in miniature. Ulysses tried to catch the bird. But
it fluttered nimbly out of his reach, still chirping in a
piteous tone, as if it could have told a lamentable story, had
it only been gifted with human language. And when he attempted
to drive it away, the bird flew no farther than the bough of
the next tree, and again came fluttering about his head, with
its doleful chirp, as soon as he showed a purpose of going
"Have you anything to tell me, little bird?" asked Ulysses.
And he was ready to listen attentively to whatever the bird
might communicate; for, at the siege of Troy, and elsewhere, he
had known such odd things to happen, that he would not have
considered it much out of the common run had this little
feathered creature talked as plainly as himself.
"Peep!" said the bird, "peep, peep, pe--weep!" And nothing else
would it say, but only, "Peep, peep, pe--weep!" in a melancholy
cadence, and over and over and over again. As often as Ulysses
moved forward, however, the bird showed the greatest alarm, and
did its best to drive him back, with the anxious flutter of its
purple wings. Its unaccountable behavior made him conclude, at
last, that the bird knew of some danger that awaited him, and
which must needs be very terrible, beyond all question, since
it moved even a little fowl to feel compassion for a human
being. So he resolved, for the present, to return to the
vessel, and tell his companions what he had seen.
This appeared to satisfy the bird. As soon as Ulysses turned
back, it ran up the trunk of a tree, and began to pick insects
out of the bark with its long, sharp bill; for it was a kind of
woodpecker, you must know, and had to get its living in the
same manner as other birds of that species. But every little
while, as it pecked at the bark of the tree, the purple bird
bethought itself of some secret sorrow, and repeated its
plaintive note of "Peep, peep, pe--weep!"
On his way to the shore, Ulysses had the good luck to kill a
large stag by thrusting his spear into his back. Taking it on
his shoulders (for he was a remarkably strong man), he lugged
it along with him, and flung it down before his hungry
companions. I have already hinted to you what gormandizers some
of the comrades of King Ulysses were. From what is related of
them, I reckon that their favorite diet was pork, and that they
had lived upon it until a good part of their physical substance
was swine's flesh, and their tempers and dispositions were very
much akin to the hog. A dish of venison, however, was no
unacceptable meal to them, especially after feeding so long on
oysters and clams. So, beholding the dead stag, they felt of
its ribs, in a knowing way, and lost no time in kindling a fire
of driftwood, to cook it. The rest of the day was spent in
feasting; and if these enormous eaters got up from table at
sunset, it was only because they could not scrape another
morsel off the poor animal's bones.
The next morning, their appetites were as sharp as ever. They
looked at Ulysses, as if they expected him to clamber up the
cliff again, and come back with another fat deer upon his
shoulders. Instead of setting out, however, he summoned the
whole crew together, and told them it was in vain to hope that
he could kill a stag every day for their dinner, and therefore
it was advisable to think of some other mode of satisfying
their hunger.
"Now," said he, "when I was on the cliff, yesterday, I
discovered that this island is inhabited. At a considerable
distance from the shore stood a marble palace, which appeared
to be very spacious, and had a great deal of smoke curling out
of one of its chimneys."
"Aha!" muttered some of his companions, smacking their lips.
"That smoke must have come from the kitchen fire. There was a
good dinner on the spit; and no doubt there will be as good a
one to-day."
"But," continued the wise Ulysses, "you must remember, my good
friends, our misadventure in the cavern of one-eyed Polyphemus,
the Cyclops! Instead of his ordinary milk diet, did he not eat
up two of our comrades for his supper, and a couple more for
breakfast, and two at his supper again? Methinks I see him yet,
the hideous monster, scanning us with that great red eye, in
the middle of his forehead, to single out the fattest. And
then, again, only a few days ago, did we not fall into the
hands of the king of the Laestrygons, and those other horrible
giants, his subjects, who devoured a great many more of us than
are now left? To tell you the truth, if we go to yonder palace,
there can be no question that we shall make our appearance at
the dinner table; but whether seated as guests, or served up as
food, is a point to be seriously considered."
"Either way," murmured some of the hungriest of the crew; "it
will be better than starvation; particularly if one could be
sure of being well fattened beforehand, and daintily cooked
"That is a matter of taste," said King Ulysses, "and, for my
own part, neither the most careful fattening nor the daintiest
of cookery would reconcile me to being dished at last. My
proposal is, therefore, that we divide ourselves into two equal
parties, and ascertain, by drawing lots, which of the two shall
go to the palace, and beg for food and assistance. If these can
be obtained, all is well. If not, and if the inhabitants prove
as inhospitable as Polyphemus, or the Laestrygons, then there
will but half of us perish, and the remainder may set sail and
As nobody objected to this scheme, Ulysses proceeded to count
the whole band, and found that there were forty-six men,
including himself. He then numbered off twenty-two of them, and
put Eurylochus (who was one of his chief officers, and second
only to himself in sagacity) at their head. Ulysses took
command of the remaining twenty-two men, in person. Then,
taking off his helmet, he put two shells into it, on one of
which was written, "Go," and on the other "Stay." Another
person now held the helmet, while Ulysses and Eurylochus drew
out each a shell; and the word "Go" was found written on that
which Eurylochus had drawn. In this manner, it was decided that
Ulysses and his twenty-two men were to remain at the seaside
until the other party should have found out what sort of
treatment they might expect at the mysterious palace. As there
was no help for it, Eurylochus immediately set forth at the
head of his twenty-two followers, who went off in a very
melancholy state of mind, leaving their friends in hardly
better spirits than themselves.
No sooner had they clambered up the cliff, than they discerned
the tall marble towers of the palace, ascending, as white as
snow, out of the lovely green shadow of the trees which
surrounded it. A gush of smoke came from a chimney in the rear
of the edifice. This vapor rose high in the air, and, meeting
with a breeze, was wafted seaward, and made to pass over the
heads of the hungry mariners. When people's appetites are keen,
they have a very quick scent for anything savory in the wind.
"That smoke comes from the kitchen!" cried one of them, turning
up his nose as high as he could, and snuffing eagerly. "And, as
sure as I'm a half-starved vagabond, I smell roast meat in it."
"Pig, roast pig!" said another. "Ah, the dainty little porker.
My mouth waters for him."
"Let us make haste," cried the others, "or we shall be too late
for the good cheer! "
But scarcely had they made half a dozen steps from the edge of
the cliff, when a bird came fluttering to meet them. It was the
same pretty little bird, with the purple wings and body, the
yellow legs, the golden collar round its neck, and the
crown-like tuft upon its head, whose behavior had so much
surprised Ulysses. It hovered about Eurylochus, and almost
brushed his face with its wings.
"Peep, peep, pe--weep!" chirped the bird.
So plaintively intelligent was the sound, that it seemed as if
the little creature were going to break its heart with some
mighty secret that it had to tell, and only this one poor note
to tell it with.
"My pretty bird," said Eurylochus--for he was a wary person,
and let no token of harm escape his notice--"my pretty bird,
who sent you hither? And what is the message which you bring?"
"Peep, peep, pe--weep! " replied the bird, very sorrowfully.
Then it flew towards the edge of the cliff, and looked around
at them, as if exceedingly anxious that they should return
whence they came. Eurylochus and a few of the others were
inclined to turn back. They could not help suspecting that the
purple bird must be aware of something mischievous that would
befall them at the palace, and the knowledge of which affected
its airy spirit with a human sympathy and sorrow. But the rest
of the voyagers, snuffing up the smoke from the palace kitchen,
ridiculed the idea of returning to the vessel. One of them
(more brutal than his fellows, and the most notorious
gormandizer in the crew) said such a cruel and wicked thing,
that I wonder the mere thought did not turn him into a wild
beast, in shape, as he already was in his nature.
"This troublesome and impertinent little fowl," said he, "would
make a delicate titbit to begin dinner with. Just one plump
morsel, melting away between the teeth. If he comes within my
reach, I'll catch him, and give him to the palace cook to be
roasted on a skewer."
The words were hardly out of his mouth, before the purple bird
flew away, crying, "Peep, peep, pe--weep," more dolorously than
"That bird," remarked Eurylochus, "knows more than we do about
what awaits us at the palace."
"Come on, then," cried his comrades, "and we'll soon know as
much as he does."
The party, accordingly, went onward through the green and
pleasant wood. Every little while they caught new glimpses of
the marble palace, which looked more and more beautiful the
nearer they approached it. They soon entered a broad pathway,
which seemed to be very neatly kept, and which went winding
along, with streaks of sunshine falling across it and specks of
light quivering among the deepest shadows that fell from the
lofty trees. It was bordered, too, with a great many
sweet-smelling flowers, such as the mariners had never seen
before. So rich and beautiful they were, that, if the shrubs
grew wild here, and were native in the soil, then this island
was surely the flower garden of the whole earth; or, if
transplanted from some other clime, it must have been from the
Happy Islands that lay towards the golden sunset.
"There has been a great deal of pains foolishly wasted on these
flowers," observed one of the company; and I tell you what he
said, that you may keep in mind what gormandizers they were.
"For my part, if I were the owner of the palace, I would bid my
gardener cultivate nothing but savory pot herbs to make a
stuffing for roast meat, or to flavor a stew with."
" Well said!" cried the others. "But I'll warrant you there's a
kitchen garden in the rear of the palace."
At one place they came to a crystal spring, and paused to drink
at it for want of liquor which they liked better. Looking into
its bosom, they beheld their own faces dimly reflected, but so
extravagantly distorted by the gush and motion of the water,
that each one of them appeared to be laughing at himself and
all his companions. So ridiculous were these images of
themselves, indeed, that they did really laugh aloud, and could
hardly be grave again as soon as they wished. And after they
had drank, they grew still merrier than before.
"It has a twang of the wine cask in it," said one, smacking his
"Make haste!" cried his fellows: "we'll find the wine cask
itself at the palace, and that will be better than a hundred
crystal fountains."
Then they quickened their pace, and capered for joy at the
thought of the savory banquet at which they hoped to be guests.
But Eurylochus told them that he felt as if he were walking in
a dream.
"If I am really awake," continued he, "then, in my opinion, we
are on the point of meeting with some stranger adventure than
any that befell us in the cave of Polyphemus, or among the
gigantic man-eating Laestrygons, or in the windy palace of King
Aeolus, which stands on a brazen-walled island. This kind of
dreamy feeling always comes over me before any wonderful
occurrence. If you take my advice, you will turn back."
"No, no," answered his comrades, snuffing the air, in which the
scent from the palace kitchen was now very perceptible. "We
would not turn back, though we were certain that the king of
the Laestrygons, as big as a mountain, would sit at the head of
the table, and huge Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops, at its
At length they came within full sight of the palace, which
proved to be very large and lofty, with a great number of airy
pinnacles upon its roof. Though it was midday, and the sun
shone brightly over the marble front, yet its snowy whiteness,
and its fantastic style of architecture, made it look unreal,
like the frost work on a window pane, or like the shapes of
castles which one sees among the clouds by moonlight. But, just
then, a puff of wind brought down the smoke of the kitchen
chimney among them, and caused each man to smell the odor of
the dish that he liked best; and, after scenting it, they
thought everything else moonshine, and nothing real save this
palace, and save the banquet that was evidently ready to be
served up in it.
So they hastened their steps towards the portal, but had not
got half way across the wide lawn, when a pack of lions,
tigers, and wolves came bounding to meet them. The terrified
mariners started back, expecting no better fate than to be torn
to pieces and devoured. To their surprise and joy, however,
these wild beasts merely capered around them, wagging their
tails, offering their heads to be stroked and patted, and
behaving just like so many well-bred house dogs, when they wish
to express their delight at meeting their master, or their
master's friends. The biggest lion licked the feet of
Eurylochus; and every other lion, and every wolf and tiger,
singled out one of his two and twenty followers, whom the beast
fondled as if he loved him better than a beef bone.
But, for all that, Eurylochus imagined that he saw something
fierce and savage in their eyes; nor would he have been
surprised, at any moment, to feel the big lion's terrible
claws, or to see each of the tigers make a deadly spring,
or each wolf leap at the throat of the man whom he had fondled.
Their mildness seemed unreal, and a mere freak; but their
savage nature was as true as their teeth and claws.
Nevertheless, the men went safely across the lawn with the wild
beasts frisking about them, and doing no manner of harm;
although, as they mounted the steps of the palace, you might
possibly have heard a low growl, particularly from the wolves;
as if they thought it a pity, after all, to let the strangers
pass without so much as tasting what they were made of.
Eurylochus and his followers now passed under a lofty portal,
and looked through the open doorway into the interior of the
palace. The first thing that they saw was a spacious hall, and
a fountain in the middle of it, gushing up towards the ceiling
out of a marble basin, and falling back into it with a
continual plash. The water of this fountain, as it spouted
upward, was constantly taking new shapes, not very distinctly,
but plainly enough for a nimble fancy to recognize what they
were. Now it was the shape of a man in a long robe, the fleecy
whiteness of which was made out of the fountain's spray; now it
was a lion, or a tiger, or a wolf, or an ass, or, as often as
anything else, a hog, wallowing in the marble basin as if it
were his sty. It was either magic or some very curious
machinery that caused the gushing waterspout to assume all
these forms. But, before the strangers had time to look closely
at this wonderful sight, their attention was drawn off by a
very sweet and agreeable sound. A woman's voice was singing
melodiously in another room of the palace, and with her voice
was mingled the noise of a loom, at which she was probably
seated, weaving a rich texture of cloth, and intertwining the
high and low sweetness of her voice into a rich tissue of
By and by, the song came to an end; and then, all at once,
there were several feminine voices, talking airily and
cheerfully, with now and then a merry burst of laughter, such
as you may always hear when three or four young women sit at
work together.
"What a sweet song that was!" exclaimed one of the voyagers.
"Too sweet, indeed," answered Eurylochus, shaking his head.
"Yet it was not so sweet as the song of the Sirens, those
bird-like damsels who wanted to tempt us on the rocks, so that
our vessel might be wrecked, and our bones left whitening along
the shore."
"But just listen to the pleasant voices of those maidens, and
that buzz of the loom, as the shuttle passes to and fro," said
another comrade. "What a domestic, household, home-like sound
it is! Ah, before that weary siege of Troy, I used to hear the
buzzing loom and the women's voices under my own roof. Shall I
never hear them again? nor taste those nice little savory
dishes which my dearest wife knew how to serve up?"
"Tush! we shall fare better here," said another. "But how
innocently those women are babbling together, without guessing
that we overhear them! And mark that richest voice of all, so
pleasant and so familiar, but which yet seems to have the
authority of a mistress among them. Let us show ourselves at
once. What harm can the lady of the palace and her maidens do
to mariners and warriors like us?"
"Remember," said Eurylochus, "that it was a young maiden who
beguiled three of our friends into the palace of the king of
the Laestrygons, who ate up one of them in the twinkling of an
No warning or persuasion, however, had any effect on his
companions. They went up to a pair of folding doors at the
farther end of the hall, and throwing them wide open, passed
into the next room. Eurylochus, meanwhile, had stepped behind a
pillar. In the short moment while the folding doors opened and
closed again, he caught a glimpse of a very beautiful woman
rising from the loom, and coming to meet the poor
weather-beaten wanderers, with a hospitable smile, and her hand
stretched out in welcome. There were four other young women,
who joined their hands and danced merrily forward, making
gestures of obeisance to the strangers. They were only less
beautiful than the lady who seemed to be their mistress. Yet
Eurylochus fancied that one of them had sea-green hair, and
that the close-fitting bodice of a second looked like the bark
of a tree, and that both the others had something odd in their
aspect, although he could not quite determine what it was, in
the little while that he had to examine them.
The folding doors swung quickly back, and left him standing
behind the pillar, in the solitude of the outer hall. There
Eurylochus waited until he was quite weary, and listened
eagerly to every sound, but without hearing anything that could
help him to guess what had become of his friends. Footsteps, it
is true, seemed to be passing and repassing, in other parts of
the palace. Then there was a clatter of silver dishes, or
golden ones, which made him imagine a rich feast in a splendid
banqueting hall. But by and by he heard a tremendous grunting
and squealing, and then a sudden scampering, like that of
small, hard hoofs over a marble floor, while the voices of the
mistress and her four handmaidens were screaming all together,
in tones of anger and derision. Eurylochus could not conceive
what had happened, unless a drove of swine had broken into the
palace, attracted by the smell of the feast. Chancing to cast
his eyes at the fountain, he saw that it did not shift its
shape, as formerly, nor looked either like a long-robed man, or
a lion, a tiger, a wolf, or an ass. It looked like nothing but
a hog, which lay wallowing in the marble basin, and filled it
from brim to brim.
But we must leave the prudent Eurylochus waiting in the outer
hall, and follow his friends into the inner secrecy of the
palace. As soon as the beautiful woman saw them, she arose from
the loom, as I have told you, and came forward, smiling, and
stretching out her hand. She took the hand of the foremost
among them, and bade him and the whole party welcome.
"You have been long expected, my good friends," said she. "I
and my maidens are well acquainted with you, although you do
not appear to recognize us. Look at this piece of tapestry, and
judge if your faces must not have been familiar to us."
So the voyagers examined the web of cloth which the beautiful
woman had been weaving in her loom; and, to their vast
astonishment, they saw their own figures perfectly represented
in different colored threads. It was a life-like picture of
their recent adventures, showing them in the cave of
Polyphemus, and how they had put out his one great moony eye;
while in another part of the tapestry they were untying the
leathern bags, puffed out with contrary winds; and farther on,
they beheld themselves scampering away from the gigantic king
of the Laestrygons, who had caught one of them by the leg.
Lastly, there they were, sitting on the desolate shore of this
very island, hungry and downcast, and looking ruefully at the
bare bones of the stag which they devoured yesterday. This was
as far as the work had yet proceeded; but when the beautiful
woman should again sit down at her loom, she would probably
make a picture of what had since happened to the strangers, and
of what was now going to happen.
"You see," she said, "that I know all about your troubles; and
you cannot doubt that I desire to make you happy for as long a
time as you may remain with me. For this purpose, my honored
guests, I have ordered a banquet to be prepared. Fish, fowl,
and flesh, roasted, and in luscious stews, and seasoned, I
trust, to all your tastes, are ready to be served up. If your
appetites tell you it is dinner time, then come with me to the
festal saloon."
At this kind invitation, the hungry mariners were quite
overjoyed; and one of them, taking upon himself to be
spokesman, assured their hospitable hostess that any hour of
the day was dinner time with them, whenever they could get
flesh to put in the pot, and fire to boil it with. So the
beautiful woman led the way; and the four maidens (one of them
had sea-green hair, another a bodice of oak bark, a third
sprinkled a shower of water drops from her fingers' ends, and
the fourth had some other oddity, which I have forgotten), all
these followed behind, and hurried the guests along, until they
entered a magnificent saloon. It was built in a perfect oval,
and lighted from a crystal dome above. Around the walls were
ranged two and twenty thrones, overhung by canopies of crimson
and gold, and provided with the softest of cushions, which were
tasselled and fringed with gold cord. Each of the strangers was
invited to sit down; and there they were, two and twenty stormbeaten
mariners, in worn and tattered garb, sitting on two and
twenty cushioned and canopied thrones, so rich and gorgeous
that the proudest monarch had nothing more splendid in his
stateliest hall.
Then you might have seen the guests nodding, winking with one
eye, and leaning from one throne to another, to communicate
their satisfaction in hoarse whispers.
"Our good hostess has made kings of us all," said one. "Ha! do
you smell the feast? I'll engage it will be fit to set before
two and twenty kings."
"I hope," said another, "it will be, mainly, good substantial
joints, sirloins, spareribs, and hinder quarters, without too
many kickshaws. If I thought the good lady would not take it
amiss, I should call for a fat slice of fried bacon to begin
Ah, the gluttons and gormandizers! You see how it was with
them. In the loftiest seats of dignity, on royal thrones, they
could think of nothing but their greedy appetite, which was the
portion of their nature that they shared with wolves and swine;
so that they resembled those vilest of animals far more than
they did kings--if, indeed, kings were what they ought to be.
But the beautiful woman now clapped her hands; and immediately
there entered a train of two and twenty serving man, bringing
dishes of the richest food, all hot from the kitchen fire, and
sending up such a steam that it hung like a cloud below the
crystal dome of the saloon. An equal number of attendants
brought great flagons of wine, of various kinds, some of which
sparkled as it was poured out, and went bubbling down the
throat; while, of other sorts, the purple liquor was so clear
that you could see the wrought figures at the bottom of the
goblet. While the servants supplied the two and twenty guests
with food and drink, the hostess and her four maidens went from
one throne to another, exhorting them to eat their fill, and to
quaff wine abundantly, and thus to recompense them- selves, at
this one banquet, for the many days when they had gone without
a dinner. But whenever the mariners were not looking at them
(which was pretty often, as they looked chiefly into the basins
and platters), the beautiful woman and her damsels turned
aside, and laughed. Even the servants, as they knelt down to
present the dishes, might be seen to grin and sneer, while the
guests were helping themselves to the offered dainties.
And, once in a while, the strangers seemed to taste something
that they did not like.
"Here is an odd kind of spice in this dish," said one. "I can't
say it quite suits my palate. Down it goes, however."
"Send a good draught of wine down your throat," said his
comrade on the next throne. "That is the stuff to make this
sort of cookery relish well. Though I must needs say, the wine
has a queer taste too. But the more I drink of it, the better I
like the flavor."
Whatever little fault they might find with the dishes, they sat
at dinner a prodigiously long while; and it would really have
made you ashamed to see how they swilled down the liquor and
gobbled up the food. They sat on golden thrones, to be sure;
but they behaved like pigs in a sty; and, if they had had their
wits about them, they might have guessed that this was the
opinion of their beautiful hostess and her maidens. It brings a
blush into my face to reckon up, in my own mind, what mountains
of meat and pudding, and what gallons of wine, these two and
twenty guzzlers and gormandizers ate and drank. They forgot all
about their homes, and their wives and children, and all about
Ulysses, and everything else, except this banquet, at which
they wanted to keep feasting forever. But at length they began
to give over, from mere incapacity to hold any more.
"That last bit of fat is too much for me," said one.
"And I have not room for another morsel," said his next
neighbor, heaving a sigh. "What a pity! My appetite is as sharp
as ever."
In short, they all left off eating, and leaned back on their
thrones, with such a stupid and helpless aspect as made them
ridiculous to behold. When their hostess saw this, she laughed
aloud; so did her four damsels; so did the two and twenty
serving men that bore the dishes, and their two and twenty
fellows that poured out the wine. And the louder they all
laughed, the more stupid and helpless did the two and twenty
gormandizers look. Then the beautiful woman took her stand in
the middle of the saloon, and stretching out a slender rod (it
had been all the while in her hand, although they never noticed
it till this moment), she turned it from one guest to another,
until each had felt it pointed at himself. Beautiful as her
face was, and though there was a smile on it, it looked just as
wicked and mischievous as the ugliest serpent that ever was
seen; and fat-witted as the voyagers had made themselves, they
began to suspect that they had fallen into the power of an
evil-minded enchantress.
"Wretches," cried she, "you have abused a lady's hospitality;
and in this princely saloon your behavior has been suited to a
hog-pen. You are already swine in everything but the human
form, which you disgrace, and which I myself should be ashamed
to keep a moment longer, were you to share it with me. But it
will require only the slightest exercise of magic to make the
exterior conform to the hoggish disposition. Assume your proper
shapes, gormandizers, and begone to the sty!"
Uttering these last words, she waved her wand; and stamping her
foot imperiously, each of the guests was struck aghast at
beholding, instead of his comrades in human shape, one and
twenty hogs sitting on the same number of golden thrones. Each
man (as he still supposed himself to be) essayed to give a cry
of surprise, but found that he could merely grunt, and that, in
a word, he was just such another beast as his companions. It
looked so intolerably absurd to see hogs on cushioned thrones,
that they made haste to wallow down upon all fours, like other
swine. They tried to groan and beg for mercy, but forthwith
emitted the most awful grunting and squealing that ever came
out of swinish throats. They would have wrung their hands in
despair, but, attempting to do so, grew all the more desperate
for seeing themselves squatted on their hams, and pawing the
air with their fore trotters. Dear me! what pendulous ears they
had! what little red eyes, half buried in fat! and what long
snouts, instead of Grecian noses!
But brutes as they certainly were, they yet had enough of human
nature in them to be shocked at their own hideousness; and
still intending to groan, they uttered a viler grunt and squeal
than before. So harsh and ear-piercing it was, that you would
have fancied a butcher was sticking his knife into each of
their throats, or, at the very least, that somebody was pulling
every hog by his funny little twist of a tail.
"Begone to your sty!" cried the enchantress, giving them some
smart strokes with her wand; and then she turned to the serving
men--"Drive out these swine, and throw down some acorns for
them to eat."
The door of the saloon being flung open, the drove of hogs ran
in all directions save the right one, in accordance with their
hoggish perversity, but were finally driven into the back yard
of the palace. It was a sight to bring tears into one's eyes
(and I hope none of you will be cruel enough to laugh at it),
to see the poor creatures go snuffing along, picking up here a
cabbage leaf and there a turnip top, and rooting their noses in
the earth for whatever they could find. In their sty, moreover,
they behaved more piggishly than the pigs that had been born
so; for they bit and snorted at one another, put their feet in
the trough, and gobbled up their victuals in a ridiculous
hurry; and, when there was nothing more to be had, they made a
great pile of themselves among some unclean straw, and fell
fast asleep. If they had any human reason left, it was just
enough to keep them wondering when they should be slaughtered,
and what quality of bacon they should make.
Meantime, as I told you before, Eurylochus had waited, and
waited, and waited, in the entrance hall of the palace, without
being able to comprehend what had befallen his friends. At
last, when the swinish uproar resounded through the palace, and
when he saw the image of a hog in the marble basin, he thought
it best to hasten back to the vessel, and inform the wise
Ulysses of these marvelous occurrences. So he ran as fast as he
could down the steps, and never stopped to draw breath till he
reached the shore.
"Why do you come alone?" asked King Ulysses, as soon as he saw
him. "Where are your two and twenty comrades?"
At these questions, Eurylochus burst into tears.
"Alas!" he cried, "I greatly fear that we shall never see one
of their faces again."
Then he told Ulysses all that had happened, as far as he knew
it, and added that he suspected the beautiful woman to be a
vile enchantress, and the marble palace, magnificent as it
looked, to be only a dismal cavern in reality. As for his
companions, he could not imagine what had become of them,
unless they had been given to the swine to be devoured alive.
At this intelligence, all the voyagers were greatly affrighted.
But Ulysses lost no time in girding on his sword, and hanging
his bow and quiver over his shoulders, and. taking a spear in
his right hand. When his followers saw their wise leader making
these preparations, they inquired whither he was going, and
earnestly besought him not to leave them.
"You are our king," cried they; "and what is more, you are the
wisest man in the whole world, and nothing but your wisdom and
courage can get us out of this danger. If you desert us, and go
to the enchanted palace, you will suffer the same fate as our
poor companions, and not a soul of us will ever see our dear
Ithaca again."
"As I am your king," answered Ulysses, "and wiser than any of
you, it is therefore the more my duty to see what has befallen
our comrades, and whether anything can yet be done to rescue
them. Wait for me here until tomorrow. If I do not then return,
you must hoist sail, and endeavor to find your way to our
native land. For my part, I am answerable for the fate of these
poor mariners, who have stood by my side in battle, and been so
often drenched to the skin, along with me, by the same
tempestuous surges. I will either bring them back with me, or
Had his followers dared, they would have detained him by force.
But King Ulysses frowned sternly on them, and shook his spear,
and bade them stop him at their peril. Seeing him so
determined, they let him go, and sat down on the sand, as
disconsolate a set of people as could be, waiting and praying
for his return.
It happened to Ulysses, just as before, that, when he had gone
a few steps from the edge of the cliff, the purple bird came
fluttering towards him, crying, "Peep, peep, pe--weep!" and
using all the art it could to persuade him to go no farther.
"What mean you, little bird?" cried Ulysses. "You are arrayed
like a king in purple and gold, and wear a golden crown upon
your head. Is it because I too am a king, that you desire so
earnestly to speak with me? If you can talk in human language,
say what you would have me do."
"Peep!" answered the purple bird, very dolorously. "Peep, peep,
Certainly there lay some heavy anguish at the little bird's
heart; and it was a sorrowful predicament that he could not, at
least, have the consolation of telling what it was. But Ulysses
had no time to waste in trying to get at the mystery. He
therefore quickened his pace, and had gone a good way along the
pleasant wood path, when there met him a young man of very
brisk and intelligent aspect, and clad in a rather singular
garb. He wore a short cloak and a sort of cap that seemed to be
furnished with a pair of wings; and from the lightness of his
step, you would have supposed that there might likewise be
wings on his feet. To enable him to walk still better (for he
was always on one journey or another) he carried a winged
staff, around which two serpents were wriggling and twisting.
In short, I have said enough to make you guess that it was
Quicksilver; and Ulysses (who knew him of old, and had learned
a great deal of his wisdom from him) recognized him in a
"Whither are you going in such a hurry, wise Ulysses?" asked
Quicksilver. "Do you not know that this island is enchanted?
The wicked enchantress (whose name is Circe, the sister of King
Aetes) dwells in the marble palace which you see yonder among
the trees. By her magic arts she changes every human being into
the brute, beast, or fowl whom he happens most to resemble."
"That little bird, which met me at the edge of the cliff,"
exclaimed Ulysses; "was he a human being once?"
"Yes," answered Quicksilver. "He was once a king, named Picus,
and a pretty good sort of a king, too, only rather too proud of
his purple robe, and his crown, and the golden chain about his
neck; so he was forced to take the shape of a gaudy-feathered
bird. The lions, and wolves, and tigers, who will come running
to meet you, in front of the palace, were formerly fierce and
cruel men, resembling in their disposition the wild beasts
whose forms they now rightfully wear."
"And my poor companions," said Ulysses. "Have they undergone a
similar change, through the arts of this wicked Circe?"
"You well know what gormandizers they were," replied
Quicksilver; and rogue that he was, he could not help laughing
at the joke. "So you will not be surprised to hear that they
have all taken the shapes of swine! If Circe had never done
anything worse, I really should not think her so very much to
"But can I do nothing to help them?" inquired Ulysses.
"It will require all your wisdom," said Quicksilver, "and a
little of my own into the bargain, to keep your royal and
sagacious self from being transformed into a fox. But do as I
bid you; and the matter may end better than it has begun."
While he was speaking, Quicksilver seemed to be in search of
something; he went stooping along the ground, and soon laid his
hand on a little plant with a snow-white flower, which he
plucked and smelt of. Ulysses had been looking at that very
spot only just before; and it appeared to him that the plant
had burst into full flower the instant when Quicksilver touched
it with his fingers.
"Take this flower, King Ulysses," said he. "Guard it as you do
your eyesight; for I can assure you it is exceedingly rare and
precious, and you might seek the whole earth over without ever
finding another like it. Keep it in your hand, and smell of it
frequently after you enter the palace, and while you are
talking with the enchantress. Especially when she offers you
food, or a draught of wine out of her goblet, be careful to
fill your nostrils with the flower's fragrance. Follow these
directions, and you may defy her magic arts to change you into
a fox."
Quicksilver then gave him some further advice how to behave,
and bidding him be bold and prudent, again assured him that,
powerful as Circe was, he would have a fair prospect of coming
safely out of her enchanted palace. After listening
attentively, Ulysses thanked his good friend, and resumed his
way. But he had taken only a few steps, when, recollecting some
other questions which he wished to ask, he turned round again,
and beheld nobody on the spot where Quicksilver had stood; for
that winged cap of his, and those winged shoes, with the help
of the winged staff, had carried him quickly out of sight.
When Ulysses reached the lawn, in front of the palace, the
lions and other savage animals came bounding to meet him, and
would have fawned upon him and licked his feet. But the wise
king struck at them with his long spear, and sternly bade them
begone out of his path; for he knew that they had once been
bloodthirsty men, and would now tear him limb from limb,
instead of fawning upon him, could they do the mischief that
was in their hearts. The wild beasts yelped and glared at him,
and stood at a distance, while he ascended the palace steps.
On entering the hall, Ulysses saw the magic fountain in the
center of it. The up-gushing water had now again taken the
shape of a man in a long, white, fleecy robe, who appeared to
be making gestures of welcome. The king likewise heard the
noise of the shuttle in the loom and the sweet melody of the
beautiful woman's song, and then the pleasant voices of herself
and the four maidens talking together, with peals of merry
laughter intermixed. But Ulysses did not waste much time in
listening to the laughter or the song. He leaned his spear
against one of the pillars of the hall, and then, after
loosening his sword in the scabbard, stepped boldly forward,
and threw the folding doors wide open. The moment she beheld
his stately figure standing in the doorway, the beautiful woman
rose from the loom, and ran to meet him with a glad smile
throwing its sunshine over her face, and both her hands
"Welcome, brave stranger!" cried she. "We were expecting you."
And the nymph with the sea-green hair made a courtesy down to
the ground, and likewise bade him welcome; so did her sister
with the bodice of oaken bark, and she that sprinkled dew-drops
from her fingers' ends, and the fourth one with some oddity
which I cannot remember. And Circe, as the beautiful
enchantress was called (who had deluded so many persons that
she did not doubt of being able to delude Ulysses, not
imagining how wise he was), again addressed him:
"Your companions," said she, "have already been received into
my palace, and have enjoyed the hospitable treatment to which
the propriety of their behavior so well entitles them. If such
be your pleasure, you shall first take some refreshment, and
then join them in the elegant apartment which they now occupy.
See, I and my maidens have been weaving their figures into this
piece of tapestry."
She pointed to the web of beautifully-woven cloth in the loom.
Circe and the four nymphs must have been very diligently at
work since the arrival of the mariners; for a great many yards
of tapestry had now been wrought, in addition to what I before
described. In this new part, Ulysses saw his two and twenty
friends represented as sitting on cushions and canopied
thrones, greedily devouring dainties, and quaffing deep
draughts of wine. The work had not yet gone any further. O, no,
indeed. The enchantress was far too cunning to let Ulysses see
the mischief which her magic arts had since brought upon the
"As for yourself, valiant sir," said Circe, "judging by the
dignity of your aspect, I take you to be nothing less than a
king. Deign to follow me, and you shall be treated as befits
your rank."
So Ulysses followed her into the oval saloon, where his two and
twenty comrades had devoured the banquet, which ended so
disastrously for themselves. But, all this while, he had held
the snow-white flower in his hand, and had constantly smelt of
it while Circe was speaking; and as he crossed the threshold of
the saloon, he took good care to inhale several long and deep
snuffs of its fragrance. Instead of two and twenty thrones,
which had before been ranged around the wall, there was now
only a single throne, in the center of the apartment. But this
was surely the most magnificent seat that ever a king or an
emperor reposed himself upon, all made of chased gold, studded
with precious stones, with a cushion that looked like a soft
heap of living roses, and overhung by a canopy of sunlight
which Circe knew how to weave into drapery. The enchantress
took Ulysses by the hand, and made him sit down upon this
dazzling throne. Then, clapping her hands, she summoned the
chief butler.
"Bring hither," said she, "the goblet that is set apart for
kings to drink out of. And fill it with the same delicious wine
which my royal brother, King Aetes, praised so highly, when he
last visited me with my fair daughter Medea. That good and
amiable child! Were she now here, it would delight her to see
me offering this wine to my honored guest."
But Ulysses, while the butler was gone for the wine, held the
snow-white flower to his nose.
"Is it a wholesome wine?" he asked.
At this the four maidens tittered; whereupon the enchantress
looked round at them, with an aspect of severity.
"It is the wholesomest juice that ever was squeezed out of the
grape," said she; "for, instead of disguising a man, as other
liquor is apt to do, it brings him to his true self, and shows
him as he ought to be."
The chief butler liked nothing better than to see people turned
into swine, or making any kind of a beast of themselves; so he
made haste to bring the royal goblet, filled with a liquid as
bright as gold, and which kept sparkling upward, and throwing a
sunny spray over the brim. But, delightfully as the wine
looked, it was mingled with the most potent enchantments that
Circe knew how to concoct. For every drop of the pure grape
juice there were two drops of the pure mischief; and the danger
of the thing was, that the mischief made it taste all the
better. The mere smell of the bubbles, which effervesced at the
brim, was enough to turn a man's beard into pig's bristles, or
make a lion's claws grow out of his fingers, or a fox's brush
behind him.
"Drink, my noble guest," said Circe, smiling, as she presented
him with the goblet. "You will find in this draught a solace
for all your troubles."
King Ulysses took the goblet with his right hand, while with
his left he held the snow-white flower to his nostrils, and
drew in so long a breath that his lungs were quite filled with
its pure and simple fragrance. Then, drinking off all the wine,
he looked the enchantress calmly in the face.
"Wretch," cried Circe, giving him a smart stroke with her wand,
"how dare you keep your human shape a moment longer! Take the
form of the brute whom you most resemble. If a hog, go join
your fellow-swine in the sty; if a lion, a wolf, a tiger, go
howl with the wild beasts on the lawn; if a fox, go exercise
your craft in stealing poultry. Thou hast quaffed off my wine,
and canst be man no longer."
But, such was the virtue of the snow-white flower, instead of
wallowing down from his throne in swinish shape, or taking any
other brutal form, Ulysses looked even more manly and king-like
than before. He gave the magic goblet a toss, and sent it
clashing over the marble floor to the farthest end of the
saloon. Then, drawing his sword, he seized the enchantress by
her beautiful ringlets, and made a gesture as if he meant to
strike off her head at one blow.
"Wicked Circe," cried he, in a terrible voice, "this sword
shall put an end to thy enchant meets. Thou shalt die, vile
wretch, and do no more mischief in the world, by tempting human
beings into the vices which make beasts of them."
The tone and countenance of Ulysses were so awful, and his
sword gleamed so brightly, and seemed to have so intolerably
keen an edge, that Circe was almost killed by the mere fright,
without waiting for a blow. The chief butler scrambled out of
the saloon, picking up the golden goblet as he went; and the
enchantress and the four maidens fell on their knees, wringing
their hands, and screaming for mercy.
"Spare me!" cried Circe. "Spare me, royal and wise Ulysses. For
now I know that thou art he of whom Quicksilver forewarned me,
the most prudent of mortals, against whom no enchantments can
prevail. Thou only couldst have conquered Circe. Spare me,
wisest of men. I will show thee true hospitality, and even give
myself to be thy slave, and this magnificent palace to be
henceforth thy home."
The four nymphs, meanwhile, were making a most piteous ado; and
especially the ocean nymph, with the sea-green hair, wept a
great deal of salt water, and the fountain nymph, besides
scattering dewdrops from her fingers' ends, nearly melted away
into tears. But Ulysses would not be pacified until Circe had
taken a solemn oath to change back his companions, and as many
others as he should direct, from their present forms of beast
or bird into their former shapes of men.
"On these conditions," said he, "I consent to spare your life.
Otherwise you must die upon the spot."
With a drawn sword hanging over her, the enchantress would
readily have consented to do as much good as she had hitherto
done mischief, however little she might like such employment.
She therefore led Ulysses out of the back entrance of the
palace, and showed him the swine in their sty. There were about
fifty of these unclean beasts in the whole herd; and though the
greater part were hogs by birth and education, there was
wonderfully little difference to be seen betwixt them and their
new brethren, who had so recently worn the human shape. To
speak critically, indeed, the latter rather carried the thing
to excess, and seemed to make it a point to wallow in the
miriest part of the sty, and otherwise to outdo the original
swine in their own natural vocation. When men once turn to
brutes, the trifle of man's wit that remains in them adds
tenfold to their brutality.
The comrades of Ulysses, however, had not quite lost the
remembrance of having formerly stood erect. When he approached
the sty, two and twenty enormous swine separated themselves
from the herd, and scampered towards him, with such a chorus of
horrible squealing as made him clap both hands to his ears. And
yet they did not seem to know what they wanted, nor whether
they were merely hungry, or miserable from some other cause. It
was curious, in the midst of their distress, to observe them
thrusting their noses into the mire, in quest of something to
eat. The nymph with the bodice of oaken bark (she was the
hamadryad of an oak) threw a handful of acorns among them; and
the two and twenty hogs scrambled and fought for the prize, as
if they had tasted not so much as a noggin of sour milk for a
"These must certainly be my comrades," said Ulysses. "I
recognize their dispositions. They are hardly worth the trouble
of changing them into the human form again. Nevertheless, we
will have it done, lest their bad example should corrupt the
other hogs. Let them take their original shapes, therefore,
Dame Circe, if your skill is equal to the task. It will require
greater magic, I trow, than it did to make swine of them."
So Circe waved her wand again, and repeated a few magic words,
at the sound of which the two and twenty hogs pricked up their
pendulous ears. It was a wonder to behold how their snouts grew
shorter and shorter, and their mouths (which they seemed to be
sorry for, because they could not gobble so expeditiously)
smaller and smaller, and how one and another began to stand
upon his hind legs, and scratch his nose with his fore
trotters. At first the spectators hardly knew whether to call
them hogs or men, but by and by came to the conclusion that
they rather resembled the latter. Finally, there stood the
twenty-two comrades of Ulysses, looking pretty much the same as
when they left the vessel.
You must not imagine, however, that the swinish quality had
entirely gone out of them. When once it fastens itself into a
person's character, it is very difficult getting rid of it.
This was proved by the hamadryad, who, being exceedingly fond
of mischief, threw another handful of acorns before the twentytwo
newly-restored people; whereupon down they wallowed in a
moment, and gobbled them up in a very shameful way. Then,
recollecting themselves, they scrambled to their feet, and
looked more than commonly foolish.
"Thanks, noble Ulysses!" they cried. "From brute beasts you
have restored us to the condition of men again."
"Do not put yourselves to the trouble of thanking me," said the
wise king. "I fear I have done but little for you."
To say the truth, there was a suspicious kind of a grunt in
their voices, and, for a long time afterwards, they spoke
gruffly, and were apt to set up a squeal.
"It must depend on your own future behavior," added Ulysses,
"whether you do not find your way back to the sty."
At this moment, the note of a bird sounded from the branch of a
neighboring tree.
"Peep, peep, pe--wee--e!"
It was the purple bird, who, all this while, had been sitting
over their heads, watching what was going forward, and hoping
that Ulysses would remember how he had done his utmost to keep
him and his followers out of harm's way. Ulysses ordered Circe
instantly to make a king of this good little fowl, and leave
him exactly as she found him. Hardly were the words spoken, and
before the bird had time to utter another "pe--weep," King
Picus leaped down from the bough of a tree, as majestic a
sovereign as any in the world, dressed in a long purple robe
and gorgeous yellow stockings, with a splendidly wrought collar
about his neck, and a golden crown upon his head. He and King
Ulysses exchanged with one another the courtesies which belong
to their elevated rank. But from that time forth, King Picus
was no longer proud of his crown and his trappings of royalty,
nor of the fact of his being a king; he felt himself merely the
upper servant of his people, and that it must be his life-long
labor to make them better and happier.
As for the lions, tigers, and wolves (though Circe would have
restored them to their former shapes at his slightest word),
Ulysses thought it advisable that they should remain as they
now were, and thus give warning of their cruel dispositions,
instead of going about under the guise of men, and pretending
to human sympathies, while their hearts had the bloodthirstiness
of wild beasts. So he let them howl as much as they
liked, but never troubled his head about them. And, when
everything was settled according to his pleasure, he sent to
summon the remainder of his comrades, whom he had left at the
sea-shore. These being arrived, with the prudent Eurylochus at
their head, they all made themselves comfortable in Circe's
enchanted palace, until quite rested and refreshed from the
toils and hardships of their voyage.
Mother Ceres was exceedingly fond of her daughter Proserpina,
and seldom let her go alone into the fields. But, just at the
time when my story begins, the good lady was very busy, because
she had the care of the wheat, and the Indian corn, and the rye
and barley and, in short, of the crops of every kind, all over
the earth; and as the season had thus far been uncommonly
backward, it was necessary to make the harvest ripen more
speedily than usual. So she put on her turban, made of poppies
(a kind of flower which she was always noted for wearing), and
got into her car drawn by a pair of winged dragons, and was
just ready to set off.
"Dear mother," said Proserpina, "I shall be very lonely while
you are away. May I not run down to the shore, and ask some of
the sea nymphs to come up out of the waves and play with me?"
"Yes, child," answered Mother Ceres. "The sea nymphs are good
creatures, and will never lead you into any harm. But you must
take care not to stray away from them, nor go wandering about
the fields by yourself. Young girls, without their mothers to
take care of them, are very apt to get into mischief."
The child promised to be as prudent as if she were a grown-up
woman; and, by the time the winged dragons had whirled the car
out of sight, she was already on the shore, calling to the sea
nymphs to come and play with her. They knew Proserpina's voice,
and were not long in showing their glistening faces and
sea-green hair above the water, at the bottom of which was
their home. They brought along with them a great many beautiful
shells; and sitting down on the moist sand, where the surf wave
broke over them, they busied themselves in making a necklace,
which they hung round Proserpina's neck. By way of showing her
gratitude, the child besought them to go with her a little way
into the fields, so that they might gather abundance of
flowers, with which she would make each of her kind playmates a
"O no, dear Proserpina," cried the sea nymphs; "we dare not go
with you upon the dry land. We are apt to grow faint, unless at
every breath we can snuff up the salt breeze of the ocean. And
don't you see how careful we are to let the surf wave break
over us every moment or two, so as to keep ourselves
comfortably moist? If it were not for that, we should look like
bunches of uprooted seaweed dried in the sun.
"It is a great pity," said Proserpina. "But do you wait for me
here, and I will run and gather my apron full of flowers, and
be back again before the surf wave has broken ten times over
you. I long to make you some wreaths that shall be as lovely as
this necklace of many colored shells."
"We will wait, then," answered the sea nymphs. "But while you
are gone, we may as well lie down on a bank of soft sponge
under the water. The air to-day is a little too dry for our
comfort. But we will pop up our heads every few minutes to see
if you are coming."
The young Proserpina ran quickly to a spot where, only the day
before, she had seen a great many flowers. These, however, were
now a little past their bloom; and wishing to give her friends
the freshest and loveliest blossoms, she strayed farther into
the fields, and found some that made her scream with delight.
Never had she met with such exquisite flowers before--violets
so large and fragrant--roses with so rich and delicate a
blush--such superb hyacinths and such aromatic pinks--and many
others, some of which seemed to be of new shapes and colors.
Two or three times, moreover, she could not help thinking that
a tuft of most splendid flowers had suddenly sprouted out of
the earth before her very eyes, as if on purpose to tempt her a
few steps farther. Proserpina's apron was soon filled, and
brimming over with delightful blossoms. She was on the point of
turning back in order to rejoin the sea nymphs, and sit with
them on the moist sands, all twining wreaths together. But, a
little farther on, what should she behold? It was a large
shrub, completely covered with the most magnificent flowers in
the world.
"The darlings!" cried Proserpina; and then she thought to
herself, "I was looking at that spot only a moment ago. How
strange it is that I did not see the flowers!"
The nearer she approached the shrub, the more attractive it
looked, until she came quite close to it; and then, although
its beauty was richer than words can tell, she hardly knew
whether to like it or not. It bore above a hundred flowers of
the most brilliant hues, and each different from the others,
but all having a kind of resemblance among themselves, which
showed them to be sister blossoms. But there was a deep, glossy
luster on the leaves of the shrub, and on the petals of the
flowers, that made Proserpina doubt whether they might not be
poisonous. To tell you the truth, foolish as it may seem, she
was half inclined to turn round and run away.
"What a silly child I am!" thought she, taking courage. "It is
really the most beautiful shrub that ever sprang out of the
earth. I will pull it up by the roots, and carry it home, and
plant it in my mother's garden."
Holding up her apron full of flowers with her left hand,
Proserpina seized the large shrub with the other, and pulled,
and pulled, but was hardly able to loosen the soil about its
roots. What a deep-rooted plant it was! Again the girl pulled
with all her might, and observed that the earth began to stir
and crack to some distance around the stem. She gave another
pull, but relaxed her hold, fancying that there was a rumbling
sound right beneath her feet. Did the roots extend down into
some enchanted cavern? Then laughing at herself for so childish
a notion, she made another effort: up came the shrub, and
Proserpina staggered back, holding the stem triumphantly in her
hand, and gazing at the deep hole which its roots had left in
the soil.
Much to her astonishment, this hole kept spreading wider and
wider, and growing deeper and deeper, until it really seemed to
have no bottom; and all the while, there came a rumbling noise
out of its depths, louder and louder, and nearer and nearer,
and sounding like the tramp of horses' hoofs and the rattling
of wheels. Too much frightened to run away, she stood straining
her eyes into this wonderful cavity, and soon saw a team of
four sable horses, snorting smoke out of their nostrils, and
tearing their way out of the earth with a splendid golden
chariot whirling at their heels. They leaped out of the
bottomless hole, chariot and all; and there they were, tossing
their black manes, flourishing their black tails, and
curvetting with every one of their hoofs off the ground at
once, close by the spot where Proserpina stood. In the chariot
sat the figure of a man, richly dressed, with a crown on his
head, all flaming with diamonds. He was of a noble aspect, and
rather handsome, but looked sullen and discontented; and he
kept rubbing his eyes and shading them with his hand, as if he
did not live enough in the sunshine to be very fond of its
As soon as this personage saw the affrighted Proserpina, he
beckoned her to come a little nearer.
"Do not be afraid," said he, with as cheerful a smile as he
knew how to put on. "Come! Will you not like to ride a little
way with me, in my beautiful chariot?"
But Proserpina was so alarmed, that she wished for nothing but
to get out of his reach. And no wonder. The stranger did not
look remarkably good-natured, in spite of his smile; and as for
his voice, its tones were deep and stern, and sounded as much
like the rumbling of an earthquake underground than anything
else. As is always the case with children in trouble,
Proserpina's first thought was to call for her mother.
"Mother, Mother Ceres!" cried she, all in a tremble. "Come
quickly and save me."
But her voice was too faint for her mother to hear. Indeed, it
is most probable that Ceres was then a thousand miles off,
making the corn grow in some far distant country. Nor could it
have availed her poor daughter, even had she been within
hearing; for no sooner did Proserpina begin to cry out, than
the stranger leaped to the ground, caught the child in his
arms, and again mounted the chariot, shook the reins, and
shouted to the four black horses to set off. They immediately
broke into so swift a gallop, that it seemed rather like flying
through the air than running along the earth. In a moment,
Proserpina lost sight of the pleasant vale of Enna, in which
she had always dwelt. Another instant, and even the summit of
Mount Aetna had become so blue in the distance, that she could
scarcely distinguish it from the smoke that gushed out of its
crater. But still the poor child screamed, and scattered her
apron full of flowers along the way, and left a long cry
trailing behind the chariot; and many mothers, to whose ears it
came, ran quickly to see if any mischief had befallen their
children. But Mother Ceres was a great way off, and could not
hear the cry.
As they rode on, the stranger did his best to soothe her.
"Why should you be so frightened, my pretty child?" said he,
trying to soften his rough voice. "I promise not to do you any
harm. What! you have been gathering flowers? Wait till we come
to my palace, and I will give you a garden full of prettier
flowers than those, all made of pearls, and diamonds, and
rubies. Can you guess who I am? They call my name Pluto; and I
am the king of diamonds and all other precious stones. Every
atom of the gold and silver that lies under the earth belongs
to me, to say nothing of the copper and iron, and of the coal
mines, which supply me with abundance of fuel. Do you see this
splendid crown upon my head? You may have it for a plaything.
O, we shall be very good friends, and you will find me more
agreeable than you expect, when once we get out of this
troublesome sunshine."
"Let me go home!" cried Proserpina. "Let me go home!"
"My home is better than your mother's," answered King Pluto.
"It is a palace, all made of gold, with crystal windows; and
because there is little or no sunshine thereabouts, the
apartments are illuminated with diamond lamps. You never saw
anything half so magnificent as my throne. If you like, you may
sit down on it, and be my little queen, and I will sit on the
"I don't care for golden palaces and thrones," sobbed
Proserpina. "Oh, my mother, my mother! Carry me back to my
But King Pluto, as he called himself, only shouted to his
steeds to go faster.
"Pray do not be foolish, Proserpina," said he, in rather a
sullen tone. "I offer you my palace and my crown, and all the
riches that are under the earth; and you treat me as if I were
doing you an injury. The one thing which my palace needs is a
merry little maid, to run upstairs and down, and cheer up the
rooms with her smile. And this is what you must do for King
"Never!" answered Proserpina, looking as miserable as she
could. "I shall never smile again till you set me down at my
mother's door."
But she might just as well have talked to the wind that
whistled past them, for Pluto urged on his horses, and went
faster than ever. Proserpina continued to cry out, and screamed
so long and so loudly that her poor little voice was almost
screamed away; and when it was nothing but a whisper, she
happened to cast her eyes over a great broad field of waving
grain--and whom do you think she saw? Who, but Mother Ceres,
making the corn grow, and too busy to notice the golden chariot
as it went rattling along. The child mustered all her strength,
and gave one more scream, but was out of sight before Ceres had
time to turn her head.
King Pluto had taken a road which now began to grow excessively
gloomy. It was bordered on each side with rocks and precipices,
between which the rumbling of the chariot wheels was
reverberated with a noise like rolling thunder. The trees and
bushes that grew in the crevices of the rocks had very dismal
foliage; and by and by, although it was hardly noon, the air
became obscured with a gray twilight. The black horses had
rushed along so swiftly, that they were already beyond the
limits of the sunshine. But the duskier it grew, the more did
Pluto's visage assume an air of satisfaction. After all, he was
not an ill-looking person, especially when he left off twisting
his features into a smile that did not belong to them.
Proserpina peeped at his face through the gathering dusk, and
hoped that he might not be so very wicked as she at first
thought him.
"Ah, this twilight is truly refreshing," said King Pluto,
"after being so tormented with that ugly and impertinent glare
of the sun. How much more agreeable is lamplight or torchlight,
more particularly when reflected from diamonds! It will be a
magnificent sight, when we get to my palace."
"Is it much farther?" asked Proserpina. "And will you carry me
back when I have seen it?"
"We will talk of that by and by," answered Pluto. "We are just
entering my dominions. Do you see that tall gateway before us?
When we pass those gates, we are at home. And there lies my
faithful mastiff at the threshold. Cerberus! Cerberus! Come
hither, my good dog!"
So saying, Pluto pulled at the reins, and stopped the chariot
right between the tall, massive pillars of the gateway. The
mastiff of which he had spoken got up from the threshold, and
stood on his hinder legs, so as to put his fore paws on the
chariot wheel. But, my stars, what a strange dog it was! Why,
he was a big, rough, ugly-looking monster, with three separate
heads, and each of them fiercer than the two others; but fierce
as they were, King Pluto patted them all. He seemed as fond of
his three-headed dog as if it had been a sweet little spaniel,
with silken ears and curly hair. Cerberus, on the other hand,
was evidently rejoiced to see his master, and expressed his
attachment, as other dogs do, by wagging his tail at a great
rate. Proserpina's eyes being drawn to it by its brisk motion,
she saw that this tail was neither more nor less than a live
dragon, with fiery eyes, and fangs that had a very poisonous
aspect. And while the three-headed Cerberus was fawning so
lovingly on King Pluto, there was the dragon tail wagging
against its will, and looking as cross and ill-natured as you
can imagine, on its own separate account.
"Will the dog bite me?" asked Proserpina, shrinking closer to
Pluto. "What an ugly creature he is!"
"O, never fear," answered her companion. "He never harms
people, unless they try to enter my dominions without being
sent for, or to get away when I wish to keep them here. Down,
Cerberus! Now, my pretty Proserpina, we will drive on."
On went the chariot, and King Pluto seemed greatly pleased to
find himself once more in his own kingdom. He drew Proserpina's
attention to the rich veins of gold that were to be seen among
the rocks, and pointed to several places where one stroke of a
pickaxe would loosen a bushel of diamonds. All along the road,
indeed, there were sparkling gems, which would have been of
inestimable value above ground, but which here were reckoned of
the meaner sort and hardly worth a beggar's stooping for.
Not far from the gateway, they came to a bridge, which seemed
to be built of iron. Pluto stopped the chariot, and bade
Proserpina look at the stream which was gliding so lazily
beneath it. Never in her life had she beheld so torpid, so
black, so muddy-looking a stream; its waters reflected no
images of anything that was on the banks, and it moved as
sluggishly as if it had quite forgotten which way it ought to
flow, and had rather stagnate than flow either one way or the
"This is the River Lethe," observed King Pluto. "Is it not a
very pleasant stream?"
"I think it a very dismal one," answered Proserpina.
"It suits my taste, however," answered Pluto, who was apt to be
sullen when anybody disagreed with him. "At all events, its
water has one excellent quality; for a single draught of it
makes people forget every care and sorrow that has hitherto
tormented them. Only sip a little of it, my dear Proserpina,
and you will instantly cease to grieve for your mother, and
will have nothing in your memory that can prevent your being
perfectly happy in my palace. I will send for some, in a golden
goblet, the moment we arrive."
"O, no, no, no!" cried Proserpina, weeping afresh. "I had a
thousand times rather be miserable with remembering my mother,
than be happy in forgetting her. That dear, dear mother! I
never, never will forget her."
"We shall see," said King Pluto. "You do not know what fine
times we will have in my palace. Here we are just at the
portal. These pillars are solid gold, I assure you."
He alighted from the chariot, and taking Proserpina in his
arms, carried her up a lofty flight of steps into the great
hall of the palace. It was splendidly illuminated by means of
large precious stones, of various hues, which seemed to burn
like so many lamps, and glowed with a hundred-fold radiance all
through the vast apartment. And yet there was a kind of gloom
in the midst of this enchanted light; nor was there a single
object in the hall that was really agreeable to behold, except
the little Proserpina herself, a lovely child, with one earthly
flower which she had not let fall from her hand. It is my
opinion that even King Pluto had never been happy in his
palace, and that this was the true reason why he had stolen
away Proserpina, in order that he might have something to love,
instead of cheating his heart any longer with this tiresome
magnificence. And, though he pretended to dislike the sunshine
of the upper world, yet the effect of the child's presence,
bedimmed as she was by her tears, was as if a faint and watery
sunbeam had somehow or other found its way into the enchanted
Pluto now summoned his domestics, and bade them lose no time in
preparing a most sumptuous banquet, and above all things, not
to fail of setting a golden beaker of the water of Lethe by
Proserpina's plate.
"I will neither drink that nor anything else," said Proserpina.
"Nor will I taste a morsel of food, even if you keep me forever
in your palace."
"I should be sorry for that," replied King Pluto, patting her
cheek; for he really wished to be kind, if he had only known
how. "You are a spoiled child, I perceive, my little
Proserpina; but when you see the nice things which my cook will
make for you, your appetite will quickly come again."
Then, sending for the head cook, he gave strict orders that all
sorts of delicacies, such as young people are usually fond of,
should be set before Proserpina. He had a secret motive in
this; for, you are to understand, it is a fixed law, that when
persons are carried off to the land of magic, if they once
taste any food there, they can never get back to their friends.
Now, if King Pluto had been cunning enough to offer Proserpina
some fruit, or bread and milk (which was the simple fare to
which the child had always been accustomed), it is very
probable that she would soon have been tempted to eat it. But
he left the matter entirely to his cook, who, like all other
cooks, considered nothing fit to eat unless it were rich
pastry, or highly-seasoned meat, or spiced sweet cakes--things
which Proserpina's mother had never given her, and the smell of
which quite took away her appetite, instead of sharpening it.
But my story must now clamber out of King Pluto's dominions,
and see what Mother Ceres had been about, since she was bereft
of her daughter. We had a glimpse of her, as you remember, half
hidden among the waving grain, while the four black steeds were
swiftly whirling along the chariot, in which her beloved
Proserpina was so unwillingly borne away. You recollect, too,
the loud scream which Proserpina gave, just when the chariot
was out of sight.
Of all the child's outcries, this last shriek was the only one
that reached the ears of Mother Ceres. She had mistaken the
rumbling of the chariot wheels for a peal of thunder, and
imagined that a shower was coming up, and that it would assist
her in making the corn grow. But, at the sound of Proserpina's
shriek, she started, and looked about in every direction, not
knowing whence it came, but feeling almost certain that it was
her daughter's voice. It seemed so unaccountable, however, that
the girl should have strayed over so many lands and seas (which
she herself could not have traversed without the aid of her
winged dragons), that the good Ceres tried to believe that it
must be the child of some other parent, and not her own darling
Proserpina, who had uttered this lamentable cry. Nevertheless,
it troubled her with a vast many tender fears, such as are
ready to bestir themselves in every mother's heart, when she
finds it necessary to go away from her dear children without
leaving them under the care of some maiden aunt, or other such
faithful guardian. So she quickly left the field in which she
had been so busy; and, as her work was not half done, the grain
looked, next day, as if it needed both sun and rain, and as if
it were blighted in the ear, and had something the matter with
its roots.
The pair of dragons must have had very nimble wings; for, in
less than an hour, Mother Ceres had alighted at the door of her
home, and found it empty. Knowing, however, that the child was
fond of sporting on the sea-shore, she hastened thither as fast
as she could, and there beheld the wet faces of the poor sea
nymphs peeping over a wave. All this while, the good creatures
had been waiting on the bank of sponge, and once, every half
minute or so, had popped up their four heads above water, to
see if their playmate were yet coming back. When they saw
Mother Ceres, they sat down on the crest of the surf wave, and
let it toss them ashore at her feet.
"Where is Proserpina?" cried Ceres. "Where is my child? Tell
me, you naughty sea nymphs, have you enticed her under the
"O, no, good Mother Ceres," said the innocent sea nymphs,
tossing back their green ringlets, and looking her in the face.
"We never should dream of such a thing. Proserpina has been at
play with us, it is true; but she left us a long while ago,
meaning only to run a little way upon the dry land, and gather
some flowers for a wreath. This was early in the day, and we
have seen nothing of her since."
Ceres scarcely waited to hear what the nymphs had to say,
before she hurried off to make inquiries all through the
neighborhood. But nobody told her anything that would enable
the poor mother to guess what had become of Proserpina. A
fisherman, it is true, had noticed her little footprints in the
sand, as he went homeward along the beach with a basket of
fish; a rustic had seen the child stooping to gather flowers;
several persons had heard either the rattling of chariot
wheels, or the rumbling of distant thunder; and one old woman,
while plucking vervain and catnip, had heard a scream, but
supposed it to be some childish nonsense, and therefore did not
take the trouble to look up. The stupid people! It took them
such a tedious while to tell the nothing that they knew, that
it was dark night before Mother Ceres found out that she must
seek her daughter elsewhere. So she lighted a torch, and set
forth, resolving never to come back until Proserpina was
In her haste and trouble of mind, she quite forgot her car and
the winged dragons; or, it may be, she thought that she could
follow up the search more thoroughly on foot. At all events,
this was the way in which she began her sorrowful journey,
holding her torch before her, and looking carefully at every
object along the path. And as it happened, she had not gone far
before she found one of the magnificent flowers which grew on
the shrub that Proserpina had pulled up.
"Ha!" thought Mother Ceres, examining it by torchlight. "Here
is mischief in this flower! The earth did not produce it by any
help of mine, nor of its own accord. It is the work of
enchantment, and is therefore poisonous; and perhaps it has
poisoned my poor child."
But she put the poisonous flower in her bosom, not knowing
whether she might ever find any other memorial of Proserpina.
All night long, at the door of every cottage and farm-house,
Ceres knocked, and called up the weary laborers to inquire if
they had seen her child; and they stood, gaping and halfasleep,
at the threshold, and answered her pityingly, and
besought her to come in and rest. At the portal of every
palace, too, she made so loud a summons that the menials
hurried to throw open the gate, thinking that it must be some
great king or queen, who would demand a banquet for supper and
a stately chamber to repose in. And when they saw only a sad
and anxious woman, with a torch in her hand and a wreath of
withered poppies on her head, they spoke rudely, and sometimes
threatened to set the dogs upon her. But nobody had seen
Proserpina, nor could give Mother Ceres the least hint which
way to seek her. Thus passed the night; and still she continued
her search without sitting down to rest, or stopping to take
food, or even remembering to put out the torch although first
the rosy dawn, and then the glad light of the morning sun, made
its red flame look thin and pale. But I wonder what sort of
stuff this torch was made of; for it burned dimly through the
day, and, at night, was as bright as ever, and never was
extinguished by the rain or wind, in all the weary days and
nights while Ceres was seeking for Proserpina.
It was not merely of human beings that she asked tidings of her
daughter. In the woods and by the streams, she met creatures of
another nature, who used, in those old times, to haunt the
pleasant and solitary places, and were very sociable with
persons who understood their language and customs, as Mother
Ceres did. Sometimes, for instance, she tapped with her finger
against the knotted trunk of a majestic oak; and immediately
its rude bark would cleave asunder, and forth would step a
beautiful maiden, who was the hamadryad of the oak, dwelling
inside of it, and sharing its long life, and rejoicing when its
green leaves sported with the breeze. But not one of these
leafy damsels had seen Proserpina. Then, going a little
farther, Ceres would, perhaps, come to a fountain, gushing out
of a pebbly hollow in the earth, and would dabble with her hand
in the water. Behold, up through its sandy and pebbly bed,
along with the fountain's gush, a young woman with dripping
hair would arise, and stand gazing at Mother Ceres, half out of
the water, and undulating up and down with its ever- restless
motion. But when the mother asked whether her poor lost child
had stopped to drink out of the fountain, the naiad, with
weeping eyes (for these water-nymphs had tears to spare for
everybody's grief, would answer "No!" in a murmuring voice,
which was just like the murmur of the stream.
Often, likewise, she encountered fauns, who looked like
sunburnt country people, except that they had hairy ears, and
little horns upon their foreheads, and the hinder legs of
goats, on which they gamboled merrily about the woods and
fields. They were a frolicsome kind of creature but grew as sad
as their cheerful dispositions would allow, when Ceres inquired
for her daughter, and they had no good news to tell. But
sometimes she same suddenly upon a rude gang of satyrs, who had
faces like monkeys, and horses' tails behind them, and who were
generally dancing in a very boisterous manner, with shouts of
noisy laughter. When she stopped to question them, they would
only laugh the louder, and make new merriment out of the lone
woman's distress. How unkind of those ugly satyrs! And once,
while crossing a solitary sheep pasture, she saw a personage
named Pan, seated at the foot of a tall rock, and making music
on a shepherd's flute. He, too, had horns, and hairy ears, and
goats' feet; but, being acquainted with Mother Ceres, he
answered her question as civilly as he knew how, and invited
her to taste some milk and honey out of a wooden bowl. But
neither could Pan tell her what had become of Proserpina, any
better than the rest of these wild people.
And thus Mother Ceres went wandering about for nine long days
and nights, finding no trace of Proserpina, unless it were now
and then a withered flower; and these she picked up and put in
her bosom, because she fancied that they might have fallen from
her poor child's hand. All day she traveled onward through the
hot sun; and, at night again, the flame of the torch would
redden and gleam along the pathway, and she continued her
search by its light, without ever sitting down to rest.
On the tenth day, she chanced to espy the mouth of a cavern
within which (though it was bright noon everywhere else) there
would have been only a dusky twilight; but it so happened that
a torch was burning there. It flickered, and struggled with the
duskiness, but could not half light up the gloomy cavern with
all its melancholy glimmer. Ceres was resolved to leave no spot
without a search; so she peeped into the entrance of the cave,
and lighted it up a little more, by holding her own torch
before her. In so doing, she caught a glimpse of what seemed to
be a woman, sitting on the brown leaves of the last autumn, a
great heap of which had been swept into the cave by the wind.
This woman (if woman it were) was by no means so beautiful as
many of her sex; for her head, they tell me, was shaped very
much like a dog's, and, by way of ornament, she wore a wreath
of snakes around it. But Mother Ceres, the moment she saw her,
knew that this was an odd kind of a person, who put all her
enjoyment in being miserable, and never would have a word to
say to other people, unless they were as melancholy and
wretched as she herself delighted to be.
"I am wretched enough now," thought poor Ceres, "to talk with
this melancholy Hecate, were she ten times sadder than ever she
was yet." So she stepped into the cave, and sat down on the
withered leaves by the dog-headed woman's side. In all the
world, since her daughter's loss, she had found no other
"O Hecate," said she, "if ever you lose a daughter, you will
know what sorrow is. Tell me, for pity's sake, have you seen my
poor child Proserpina pass by the mouth of your cavern?"
"No," answered Hecate, in a cracked voice, and sighing betwixt
every word or two; "no, Mother Ceres, I have seen nothing of
your daughter. But my ears, you must know, are made in such a
way, that all cries of distress and affright all over the world
are pretty sure to find their way to them; and nine days ago,
as I sat in my cave, making myself very miserable, I heard the
voice of a young girl, shrieking as if in great distress.
Something terrible has happened to the child, you may rest
assured. As well as I could judge, a dragon, or some other
cruel monster, was carrying her away."
"You kill me by saying so," cried Ceres, almost ready to faint.
"Where was the sound, and which way did it seem to go?"
"It passed very swiftly along," said Hecate, "and, at the same
time, there was a heavy rumbling of wheels towards the
eastward. I can tell you nothing more, except that, in my
honest opinion, you will never see your daughter again. The
best advice I can give you is, to take up your abode in this
cavern, where we will be the two most wretched women in the
"Not yet, dark Hecate," replied Ceres. "But do you first come
with your torch, and help me to seek for my lost child. And
when there shall be no more hope of finding her (if that black
day is ordained to come), then, if you will give me room to
fling myself down, either on these withered leaves or on the
naked rock, I will show what it is to be miserable. But, until
I know that she has perished from the face of the earth, I will
not allow myself space even to grieve."
The dismal Hecate did not much like the idea of going abroad
into the sunny world. But then she reflected that the sorrow of
the disconsolate Ceres would be like a gloomy twilight round
about them both, let the sun shine ever so brightly, and that
therefore she might enjoy her bad spirits quite as well as if
she were to stay in the cave. So she finally consented to go,
and they set out together, both carrying torches, although it
was broad daylight and clear sunshine. The torchlight seemed to
make a gloom; so that the people whom they met, along the road,
could not very distinctly see their figures; and, indeed, if
they once caught a glimpse of Hecate, with the wreath of snakes
round her forehead, they generally thought it prudent to run
away, without waiting for a second glance.
As the pair traveled along in this woe-begone manner, a thought
struck Ceres.
"There is one person," she exclaimed, "who must have seen my
poor child, and can doubtless tell what has become of her. Why
did not I think of him before? It is Phoebus."
"What," said Hecate, "the young man that always sits in the
sunshine? O, pray do not think of going near him. He is a gay,
light, frivolous young fellow, and will only smile in your
face. And besides, there is such a glare of the sun about him,
that he will quite blind my poor eyes, which I have almost wept
away already."
"You have promised to be my companion," answered Ceres. "Come,
let us make haste, or the sunshine will be gone, and Phoebus
along with it."
Accordingly, they went along in quest of Phoebus, both of them
sighing grievously, and Hecate, to say the truth, making a
great deal worse lamentation than Ceres; for all the pleasure
she had, you know, lay in being miserable, and therefore she
made the most of it. By and by, after a pretty long journey,
they arrived at the sunniest spot in the whole world. There
they beheld a beautiful young man, with long, curling ringlets,
which seemed to be made of golden sunbeams; his garments were
like light summer clouds; and the expression of his face was so
exceedingly vivid, that Hecate held her hands before her eyes,
muttering that he ought to wear a black veil. Phoebus (for this
was the very person whom they were seeking) had a lyre in his
hands, and was making its chords tremble with sweet music; at
the same time singing a most exquisite song, which he had
recently composed. For, beside a great many other
accomplishments, this young man was renowned for his admirable
As Ceres and her dismal companion approached him, Phoebus
smiled on them so cheerfully that Hecate's wreath of snakes
gave a spiteful hiss, and Hecate heartily wished herself back
in her cave. But as for Ceres, she was too earnest in her grief
either to know or care whether Phoebus smiled or frowned.
"Phoebus!" exclaimed she, "I am in great trouble, and have come
to you for assistance. Can you tell me what has become of my
dear child Proserpina?"
"Proserpina! Proserpina, did you call her name?" answered
Phoebus, endeavoring to recollect; for there was such a
continual flow of pleasant ideas in his mind, that he was apt
to forget what had happened no longer ago than yesterday. "Ah,
yes, I remember her now. A very lovely child, indeed. I am
happy to tell you, my dear madam, that I did see the little
Proserpina not many days ago. You may make yourself perfectly
easy about her. She is safe, and in excellent hands."
"O, where is my dear child?" cried Ceres, clasping her hands,
and flinging herself at his feet.
"Why," said Phoebus--and as he spoke he kept touching his lyre
so as to make a thread of music run in and out among his
words--"as the little damsel was gathering flowers (and she has
really a very exquisite taste for flowers), she was suddenly
snatched up by King Pluto, and carried off to his dominions. I
have never been in that part of the universe; but the royal
palace, I am told, is built in a very noble style of
architecture, and of the most splendid and costly materials.
Gold, diamonds, pearls, and all manner of precious stones will
be your daughter's ordinary playthings. I recommend to you, my
dear lady, to give yourself no uneasiness. Proserpina's sense
of beauty will be duly gratified, and even in spite of the lack
of sunshine, she will lead a very enviable life."
"Hush! Say not such a word!" answered Ceres, indignantly. "What
is there to gratify her heart? What are all the splendors you
speak of without affection? I must have her back again. Will
you go with me you go with me, Phoebus, to demand my daughter
of this wicked Pluto?"
"Pray excuse me," replied Phoebus, with an elegant obeisance.
"I certainly wish you success, and regret that my own affairs
are so immediately pressing that I cannot have the pleasure of
attending you. Besides, I am not upon the best of terms with
King Pluto. To tell you the truth, his three-headed mastiff
would never let me pass the gateway; for I should be compelled
to take a sheaf of sunbeams along with me, and those, you know,
are forbidden things in Pluto's kingdom."
"Ah, Phoebus," said Ceres, with bitter meaning in her words,
"you have a harp instead of a heart. Farewell."
"Will not you stay a moment," asked Phoebus, "and hear me turn
the pretty and touching story of Proserpina into extemporary verses?"
But Ceres shook her head, and hastened away, along with Hecate.
Phoebus (who, as I have told you, was an exquisite poet)
forthwith began to make an ode about the poor mother's grief;
and, if we were to judge of his sensibility by this beautiful
production, he must have been endowed with a very tender heart.
But when a poet gets into the habit of using his heartstrings
to make chords for his lyre, he may thrum upon them as much as
he will, without any great pain to himself. Accordingly, though
Phoebus sang a very sad song, he was as merry all the while as
were the sunbeams amid which he dwelt.
Poor Mother Ceres had now found out what had become of her
daughter, but was not a whit happier than before. Her case, on
the contrary, looked more desperate than ever. As long as
Proserpina was above ground, there might have been hopes of
regaining her. But now that the poor child was shut up within
the iron gates of the king of the mines, at the threshold of
which lay the three-headed Cerberus, there seemed no
possibility of her ever making her escape. The dismal Hecate,
who loved to take the darkest view of things, told Ceres that
she had better come with her to the cavern, and spend the rest
of her life in being miserable. Ceres answered, that Hecate was
welcome to go back thither herself, but that, for her part, she
would wander about the earth in quest of the entrance to King
Pluto's dominions. And Hecate took her at her word, and hurried
back to her beloved cave, frightening a great many little
children with a glimpse of her dog's face as she went.
Poor Mother Ceres! It is melancholy to think of her, pursuing
her toilsome way, all alone, and holding up that never-dying
torch, the flame of which seemed an emblem of the grief and
hope that burned together in her heart.
So much did she suffer, that, though her aspect had been quite
youthful when her troubles began, she grew to look like an
elderly person in a very brief time. She cared not how she was
dressed, nor had she ever thought of flinging away the wreath
of withered poppies, which she put on the very morning of
Proserpina's disappearance. She roamed about in so wild a way,
and with her hair so disheveled, that people took her for some
distracted creature, and never dreamed that this was Mother
Ceres, who had the oversight of every seed which the husbandman
planted. Nowadays, however, she gave herself no trouble about
seed time nor harvest, but left the farmers to take care of
their own affairs, and the crops to fade or flourish, as the
case might be. There was nothing, now, in which Ceres seemed to
feel an interest, unless when she saw children at play, or
gathering flowers along the wayside. Then, indeed, she would
stand and gaze at them with tears in her eyes. The children,
too, appeared to have a sympathy with her grief, and would
cluster themselves in a little group about her knees, and look
up wistfully in her face; and Ceres, after giving them a kiss
all round, would lead them to their homes, and advise their
mothers never to let them stray out of sight.
"For if they do," said she, "it may happen to you, as it has to
me, that the iron-hearted King Pluto will take a liking to your
darlings, and snatch them up in his chariot, and carry them
One day, during her pilgrimage in quest of the entrance to
Pluto's kingdom, she came to the palace of King Cereus, who
reigned at Eleusis. Ascending a lofty flight of steps, she
entered the portal, and found the royal household in very great
alarm about the queen's baby. The infant, it seems, was sickly
(being troubled with its teeth, I suppose), and would take no
food, and was all the time moaning with pain. The queen--her
name was Metanira--was desirous of funding a nurse; and when
she beheld a woman of matronly aspect coming up the palace
steps, she thought, in her own mind, that here was the very
person whom she needed. So Queen Metanira ran to the door, with
the poor wailing baby in her arms, and besought Ceres to take
charge of it, or, at least, to tell her what would do it good.
"Will you trust the child entirely to me?" asked Ceres.
"Yes, and gladly, too," answered the queen, "if you will devote
all your time to him. For I can see that you have been a
"You are right," said Ceres. "I once had a child of my own.
Well; I will be the nurse of this poor, sickly boy. But beware,
I warn you, that you do not interfere with any kind of
treatment which I may judge proper for him. If you do so, the
poor infant must suffer for his mother's folly."
Then she kissed the child, and it seemed to do him good; for he
smiled and nestled closely into her bosom.
So Mother Ceres set her torch in a corner (where it kept
burning all the while), and took up her abode in the palace of
King Cereus, as nurse to the little Prince Demophoon. She
treated him as if he were her own child, and allowed neither
the king nor the queen to say whether he should be bathed in
warm or cold water, or what he should eat, or how often he
should take the air, or when he should be put to bed. You would
hardly believe me, if I were to tell how quickly the baby
prince got rid of his ailments, and grew fat, and rosy, and
strong, and how he had two rows of ivory teeth in less time
than any other little fellow, before or since. Instead of the
palest, and wretchedest, and puniest imp in the world (as his
own mother confessed him to be, when Ceres first took him in
charge), he was now a strapping baby, crowing, laughing,
kicking up his heels, and rolling from one end of the room to
the other. All the good women of the neighborhood crowded to
the palace, and held up their hands, in unutterable amazement,
at the beauty and wholesomeness of this darling little prince.
Their wonder was the greater, because he was never seen to
taste any food; not even so much as a cup of milk.
"Pray, nurse," the queen kept saying, "how is it that you make
the child thrive so?"
"I was a mother once," Ceres always replied; "and having nursed
my own child, I know what other children need."
But Queen Metanira, as was very natural, had a great curiosity
to know precisely what the nurse did to her child. One night,
therefore, she hid herself in the chamber where Ceres and the
little prince were accustomed to sleep. There was a fire in the
chimney, and it had now crumbled into great coals and embers,
which lay glowing on the hearth, with a blaze flickering up now
and then, and flinging a warm and ruddy light upon the walls.
Ceres sat before the hearth with the child in her lap, and the
firelight making her shadow dance upon the ceiling overhead.
She undressed the little prince, and bathed him all over with
some fragrant liquid out of a vase. The next thing she did was
to rake back the red embers, and make a hollow place among
them, just where the backlog had been. At last, while the baby
was crowing, and clapping its fat little hands, and laughing in
the nurse's face (just as you may have seen your little brother
or sister do before going into its warm bath), Ceres suddenly
laid him, all naked as he was, in the hollow among the red-hot
embers. She then raked the ashes over him, and turned quietly
You may imagine, if you can, how Queen Metanira shrieked,
thinking nothing less than that her dear child would be burned
to a cinder. She burst forth from her hiding-place, and running
to the hearth, raked open the fire, and snatched up poor little
Prince Demophoon out of his bed of live coals, one of which he
was gripping in each of his fists. He immediately set up a
grievous cry, as babies are apt to do, when rudely startled out
of a sound sleep. To the queen's astonishment and joy, she
could perceive no token of the child's being injured by the hot
fire in which he had lain. She now turned to Mother Ceres, and
asked her to explain the mystery.
"Foolish woman," answered Ceres, "did you not promise to
intrust this poor infant entirely to me? You little know the
mischief you have done him. Had you left him to my care, he
would have grown up like a child of celestial birth, endowed
with superhuman strength and intelligence, and would have lived
forever. Do you imagine that earthly children are to become
immortal without being tempered to it in the fiercest heat of
the fire? But you have ruined your own son. For though he will
be a strong man and a hero in his day, yet, on account of your
folly, he will grow old, and finally die, like the sons of
other women. The weak tenderness of his mother has cost the
poor boy an immortality. Farewell."
Saying these words, she kissed the little Prince Demophoon, and
sighed to think what he had lost, and took her departure
without heeding Queen Metanira, who entreated her to remain,
and cover up the child among the hot embers as often as she
pleased. Poor baby! He never slept so warmly again.
While she dwelt in the king's palace, Mother Ceres had been so
continually occupied with taking care of the young prince, that
her heart was a little lightened of its grief for Proserpina.
But now, having nothing else to busy herself about, she became
just as wretched as before. At length, in her despair, she came
to the dreadful resolution that not a stalk of grain, nor a
blade of grass, not a potato, nor a turnip, nor any other
vegetable that was good for man or beast to eat, should be
suffered to grow until her daughter were restored. She even
forbade the flowers to bloom, lest somebody's heart should be
cheered by their beauty.
Now, as not so much as a head of asparagus ever presumed to
poke itself out of the ground, without the especial permission
of Ceres, you may conceive what a terrible calamity had here
fallen upon the earth. The husbandmen plowed and planted as
usual; but there lay the rich black furrows, all as barren as a
desert of sand. The pastures looked as brown in the sweet month
of June as ever they did in chill November. The rich man's
broad acres and the cottager's small garden patch were equally
blighted. Every little girl's flower bed showed nothing but dry
stalks. The old people shook their white heads, and said that
the earth had grown aged like themselves, and was no longer
capable of wearing the warm smile of summer on its face. It was
really piteous to see the poor, starving cattle and sheep, how
they followed behind Ceres, lowing and bleating, as if their
instinct taught them to expect help from her; and everybody
that was acquainted with her power besought her to have mercy
on the human race, and, at all events, to let the grass grow.
But Mother Ceres, though naturally of an affectionate
disposition, was now inexorable.
"Never," said she. "If the earth is ever again to see any
verdure, it must first grow along the path which my daughter
will tread in coming back to me."
Finally, as there seemed to be no other remedy, our old friend
Quicksilver was sent post-haste to King Pluto, in hopes that he
might be persuaded to undo the mischief he had done, and to set
everything right again, by giving up Proserpina. Quicksilver
accordingly made the best of his way to the great gate, took a
flying leap right over the three-headed mastiff, and stood at
the door of the palace in an inconceivably short time. The
servants knew him both by his face and garb; for his short
cloak, and his winged cap and shoes, and his snaky staff had
often been seen thereabouts in times gone by. He requested to
be shown immediately into the king's presence; and Pluto, who
heard his voice from the top of the stairs, and who loved to
recreate himself with Quicksilver's merry talk, called out to
him to come up. And while they settle their business together,
we must inquire what Proserpina had been doing ever since we
saw her last.
The child had declared, as you may remember, that she would not
taste a mouthful of food as long as she should be compelled to
remain in King Pluto's palace. How she contrived to maintain
her resolution, and at the same time to keep herself tolerably
plump and rosy, is more than I can explain; but some young
ladies, I am given to understand, possess the faculty of living
on air, and Proserpina seems to have possessed it too. At any
rate, it was now six months since she left the outside of the
earth; and not a morsel, so far as the attendants were able to
testify, had yet passed between her teeth. This was the more
creditable to Proserpina, inasmuch as King Pluto had caused her
to be tempted day by day, with all manner of sweetmeats, and
richly-preserved fruits, and delicacies of every sort, such as
young people are generally most fond of. But her good mother
had often told her of the hurtfulness of these things; and for
that reason alone, if there had been no other, she would have
resolutely refused to taste them.
All this time, being of a cheerful and active disposition, the
little damsel was not quite so unhappy as you may have
supposed. The immense palace had a thousand rooms, and was full
of beautiful and wonderful objects. There was a never-ceasing
gloom, it is true, which half hid itself among the innumerable
pillars, gliding before the child as she wandered among them,
and treading stealthily behind her in the echo of her
footsteps. Neither was all the dazzle of the precious stones,
which flamed with their own light, worth one gleam of natural
sunshine; nor could the most brilliant of the many-colored
gems, which Proserpina had for playthings, vie with the simple
beauty of the flowers she used to gather. But still, whenever
the girl went among those gilded halls and chambers, it seemed
as if she carried nature and sunshine along with her, and as if
she scattered dewy blossoms on her right hand and on her left.
After Proserpina came, the palace was no longer the same abode
of stately artifice and dismal magnificence that it had before
been. The inhabitants all felt this, and King Pluto more than
any of them.
"My own little Proserpina," he used to say. "I wish you could
like me a little better. We gloomy and cloudy-natured persons
have often as warm hearts, at bottom, as those of a more
cheerful character. If you would only stay with me of your own
accord, it would make me happier than the possession of a
hundred such palaces as this."
"Ah," said Proserpina, "you should have tried to make me like
you before carrying me off. And the best thing you can now do
is, to let me go again. Then I might remember you sometimes,
and think that you were as kind as you knew how to be. Perhaps,
too, one day or other, I might come back, and pay you a visit."
"No, no," answered Pluto, with his gloomy smile, "I will not
trust you for that. You are too fond of living in the broad
daylight, and gathering flowers. What an idle and childish
taste that is! Are not these gems, which I have ordered to be
dug for you, and which are richer than any in my crown--are
they not prettier than a violet?"
"Not half so pretty," said Proserpina, snatching the gems from
Pluto's hand, and flinging them to the other end of the hall.
"O my sweet violets, shall I never see you again?"
And then she burst into tears. But young people's tears have
very little saltness or acidity in them, and do not inflame the
eyes so much as those of grown persons; so that it is not to be
wondered at, if, a few moments afterwards, Proserpina was
sporting through the hall almost as merrily as she and the four
sea nymphs had sported along the edge of the surf wave. King
Pluto gazed after her, and wished that he, too, was a child.
And little Proserpina, when she turned about, and beheld this
great king standing in his splendid hall, and looking so grand,
and so melancholy, and so lonesome, was smitten with a kind of
pity. She ran back to him, and, for the first time in all her
life, put her small, soft hand in his.
"I love you a little," whispered she, looking up in his face.
"Do you, indeed, my dear child?" cried Pluto, bending his dark
face down to kiss her; but Proserpina shrank away from the
kiss, for, though his features were noble, they were very dusky
and grim. "Well, I have not deserved it of you, after keeping
you a prisoner for so many months, and starving you besides.
Are you not terribly hungry? Is there nothing which I can get
you to eat?"
In asking this question, the king of the mines had a very
cunning purpose; for, you will recollect, if Proserpina tasted
a morsel of food in his dominions, she would never afterwards
be at liberty to quit them.
"No indeed," said Proserpina. "Your head cook is always baking,
and stewing, and roasting, and rolling out paste, and
contriving one dish or another, which he imagines may be to my
liking. But he might just as well save himself the trouble,
poor, fat little man that he is. I have no appetite for
anything in the world, unless it were a slice of bread, of my
mother's own baking, or a little fruit out of her garden."
When Pluto heard this, he began to see that he had mistaken the
best method of tempting Proserpina to eat. The cook's made
dishes and artificial dainties were not half so delicious, in
the good child's opinion, as the simple fare to which Mother
Ceres had accustomed her. Wondering that he had never thought
of it before, the king now sent one of his trusty attendants
with a large basket, to get some of the finest and juiciest
pears, peaches, and plums which could anywhere be found in the
upper world. Unfortunately, however, this was during the time
when Ceres had forbidden any fruits or vegetables to grow; and,
after seeking all over the earth, King Pluto's servant found
only a single pomegranate, and that so dried up as not to be
worth eating. Nevertheless, since there was no better to be
had, he brought this dry, old withered pomegranate home to the
put it on a magnificent golden salver, and carried it up to
Proserpina. Now, it happened, curiously enough, that, just as
the servant was bringing the pomegranate into the back door of
the palace, our friend Quicksilver had gone up the front steps,
on his errand to get Proserpina away from King Pluto.
As soon as Proserpina saw the pomegranate on the golden salver,
she told the servant he had better take it away again.
"I shall not touch it, I assure you," said she. "If I were ever
so hungry, I should never think of eating such a miserable, dry
pomegranate as that."
"It is the only one in the world," said the servant.
He set down the golden salver, with the wizened pomegranate
upon it, and left the room. When he was gone, Proserpina could
not help coming close to the table, and looking at this poor
specimen of dried fruit with a great deal of eagerness; for, to
say the truth, on seeing something that suited her taste, she
felt all the six months' appetite taking possession of her at
once. To be sure, it was a very wretched-looking pomegranate,
and seemed to have no more juice in it than an oyster shell.
But there was no choice of such things in King Pluto's palace.
This was the first fruit she had seen there, and the last she
was ever likely to see; and unless she ate it up immediately,
it would grow drier than it already was, and be wholly unfit to
"At least, I may smell it," thought Proserpina.
So she took up the pomegranate, and applied it to her nose;
and, somehow or other, being in such close neighborhood to her
mouth, the fruit found its way into that little red cave. Dear
me! what an everlasting pity! Before Proserpina knew what she
was about, her teeth had actually bitten it, of their own
accord. Just as this fatal deed was done, the door of the
apartment opened, and in came King Pluto, followed by
Quicksilver, who had been urging him to let his little prisoner
go. At the first noise of their entrance, Proserpina withdrew
the pomegranate from her mouth. But Quicksilver (whose eyes
were very keen, and his wits the sharpest that ever anybody
had) perceived that the child was a little confused; and seeing
the empty salver, he suspected that she had been taking a sly
nibble of something or other. As for honest Pluto, he never
guessed at the secret.
"My little Proserpina," said the king, sitting down, and
affectionately drawing her between his knees, "here is
Quicksilver, who tells me that a great many misfortunes have
befallen innocent people on account of my detaining you in my
dominions. To confess the truth, I myself had already reflected
that it was an unjustifiable act to take you away from your
good mother. But, then, you must consider, my dear child, that
this vast palace is apt to be gloomy (although the precious
stones certainly shine very bright), and that I am not of the
most cheerful disposition, and that therefore it was a natural
thing enough to seek for the society of some merrier creature
than myself. I hoped you would take my crown for a plaything,
and me--ah, you laugh, naughty Proserpina--me, grim as I am,
for a playmate. It was a silly expectation."
"Not so extremely silly," whispered Proserpina. "You have
really amused me very much, sometimes."
"Thank you," said King Pluto, rather dryly. "But I can see
plainly enough, that you think my palace a dusky prison, and me
the iron-hearted keeper of it. And an iron heart I should
surely have, if I could detain you here any longer, my poor
child, when it is now six months since you tasted food. I give
you your liberty. Go with Quicksilver. Hasten home to your dear
Now, although you may not have supposed it, Proserpina found it
impossible to take leave of poor King Pluto without some
regrets, and a good deal of compunction for not telling him
about the pomegranate. She even shed a tear or two, thinking
how lonely and cheerless the great palace would seem to him,
with all its ugly glare of artificial light, after she
herself--his one little ray of natural sunshine, whom he had
stolen, to be sure, but only because he valued her so
much--after she should have departed. I know not how many kind
things she might have said to the disconsolate king of the
mines, had not Quicksilver hurried her way.
"Come along quickly," whispered he in her ear, "or his majesty
may change his royal mind. And take care, above all things,
that you say nothing of what was brought you on the golden
In a very short time, they had passed the great gateway
(leaving the three-headed Cerberus, barking, and yelping, and
growling, with threefold din, behind them), and emerged upon
the surface of the earth. It was delightful to behold, as
Proserpina hastened along, how the path grew verdant behind and
on either side of her. Wherever she set her blessed foot, there
was at once a dewy flower. The violets gushed up along the
wayside. The grass and the grain began to sprout with tenfold
vigor and luxuriance, to make up for the dreary months that had
been wasted in barrenness. The starved cattle immediately set
to work grazing, after their long fast, and ate enormously, all
day, and got up at midnight to eat more.
But I can assure you it was a busy time of year with the
farmers, when they found the summer coming upon them with such
a rush. Nor must I forget to say, that all the birds in the
whole world hopped about upon the newly-blossoming trees, and
sang together, in a prodigious ecstasy of joy.
Mother Ceres had returned to her deserted home, and was sitting
disconsolately on the doorstep, with her torch burning in her
hand. She had been idly watching the flame for some moments
past, when, all at once, it flickered and went out.
"What does this mean?" thought she. "It was an enchanted torch,
and should have kept burning till my child came back."
Lifting her eyes, she was surprised to see a sudden verdure
flashing over the brown and barren fields, exactly as you may
have observed a golden hue gleaming far and wide across the
landscape, from the just risen sun.
"Does the earth disobey me?" exclaimed Mother Ceres,
indignantly. "Does it presume to be green, when I have bidden
it be barren, until my daughter shall be restored to my arms?"
"Then open your arms, dear mother," cried a well-known voice,
"and take your little daughter into them."
And Proserpina came running, and flung herself upon her
mother's bosom. Their mutual transport is not to be described.
The grief of their separation had caused both of them to shed a
great many tears; and now they shed a great many more, because
their joy could not so well express itself in any other way.
When their hearts had grown a little more quiet, Mother Ceres
looked anxiously at Proserpina.
"My child," said she, "did you taste any food while you were in
King Pluto's palace?"
"Dearest mother," exclaimed Proserpina, "I will tell you the
whole truth. Until this very morning, not a morsel of food had
passed my lips. But to-day, they brought me a pomegranate (a
very dry one it was, and all shriveled up, till there was
little left of it but seeds and skin), and having seen no fruit
for so long a time, and being faint with hunger, I was tempted
just to bite it. The instant I tasted it, King Pluto and
Quicksilver came into the room. I had not swallowed a morsel;
but--dear mother, I hope it was no harm--but six of the
pomegranate seeds, I am afraid, remained in my mouth."
"Ah, unfortunate child, and miserable me!" exclaimed Ceres.
"For each of those six pomegranate seeds you must spend one
month of every year in King Pluto's palace. You are but half
restored to your mother. Only six months with me, and six with
that good-for-nothing King of Darkness!"
"Do not speak so harshly of poor King Pluto," said Prosperina,
kissing her mother. "He has some very good qualities; and I
really think I can bear to spend six months in his palace, if
he will only let me spend the other six with you. He certainly
did very wrong to carry me off; but then, as he says, it was
but a dismal sort of life for him, to live in that great gloomy
place, all alone; and it has made a wonderful change in his
spirits to have a little girl to run up stairs and down. There
is some comfort in making him so happy; and so, upon the whole,
dearest mother, let us be thankful that he is not to keep me
the whole year round."
When Jason, the son of the dethroned King of Iolchos, was a
little boy, he was sent away from his parents, and placed under
the queerest schoolmaster that ever you heard of. This learned
person was one of the people, or quadrupeds, called Centaurs.
He lived in a cavern, and had the body and legs of a white
horse, with the head and shoulders of a man. His name was
Chiron; and, in spite of his odd appearance, he was a very
excellent teacher, and had several scholars, who afterwards did
him credit by making a great figure in the world. The famous
Hercules was one, and so was Achilles, and Philoctetes
likewise, and Aesculapius, who acquired immense repute as a
doctor. The good Chiron taught his pupils how to play upon the
harp, and how to cure diseases, and how to use the sword and
shield, together with various other branches of education, in
which the lads of those days used to be instructed, instead of
writing and arithmetic.
I have sometimes suspected that Master Chiron was not really
very different from other people, but that, being a
kind-hearted and merry old fellow, he was in the habit of
making believe that he was a horse, and scrambling about the
schoolroom on all fours, and letting the little boys ride upon
his back. And so, when his scholars had grown up, and grown
old, and were trotting their grandchildren on their knees, they
told them about the sports of their school days; and these
young folks took the idea that their grandfathers had been
taught their letters by a Centaur, half man and half horse.
Little children, not quite understanding what is said to them,
often get such absurd notions into their heads, you know.
Be that as it may, it has always been told for a fact (and
always will be told, as long as the world lasts), that Chiron,
with the head of a schoolmaster, had the body and legs of a
horse. Just imagine the grave old gentleman clattering and
stamping into the schoolroom on his four hoofs, perhaps
treading on some little fellow's toes, flourishing his switch
tail instead of a rod, and, now and then, trotting out of doors
to eat a mouthful of grass! I wonder what the blacksmith
charged him for a set of iron shoes?
So Jason dwelt in the cave, with this four-footed Chiron, from
the time that he was an infant, only a few months old, until he
had grown to the full height of a man. He became a very good
harper, I suppose, and skilful in the use of weapons, and
tolerably acquainted with herbs and other doctor's stuff, and,
above all, an admirable horseman; for, in teaching young people
to ride, the good Chiron must have been without a rival among
schoolmasters. At length, being now a tall and athletic youth,
Jason resolved to seek his fortune in the world, without asking
Chiron's advice, or telling him anything about the matter. This
was very unwise, to be sure; and I hope none of you, my little
hearers, will ever follow Jason's example.
But, you are to understand, he had heard how that he himself
was a prince royal, and how his father, King Jason, had been
deprived of the kingdom of Iolchos by a certain Pelias, who
would also have killed Jason, had he not been hidden in the
Centaur's cave. And, being come to the strength of a man, Jason
determined to set all this business to rights, and to punish
the wicked Pelias for wronging his dear father, and to cast him
down from the throne, and seat himself there instead.
With this intention, he took a spear in each hand, and threw a
leopard's skin over his shoulders, to keep off the rain, and
set forth on his travels, with his long yellow ringlets waving
in the wind. The part of his dress on which he most prided
himself was a pair of sandals, that had been his father's. They
were handsomely embroidered, and were tied upon his feet with
strings of gold. But his whole attire was such as people did
not very often see; and as he passed along, the women and
children ran to the doors and windows, wondering whither this
beautiful youth was journeying, with his leopard's skin and his
golden-tied sandals, and what heroic deeds he meant to perform,
with a spear in his right hand and another in his left.
I know not how far Jason had traveled, when he came to a
turbulent river, which rushed right across his pathway, with
specks of white foam among its black eddies, hurrying
tumultuously onward, and roaring angrily as it went. Though not
a very broad river in the dry seasons of the year, it was now
swollen by heavy rains and by the melting of the snow on the
sides of Mount Olympus; and it thundered so loudly, and looked
so wild and dangerous, that Jason, bold as he was, thought it
prudent to pause upon the brink. The bed of the stream seemed
to be strewn with sharp and rugged rocks, some of which thrust
themselves above the water. By and by, an uprooted tree, with
shattered branches, came drifting along the current, and got
entangled among the rocks. Now and then, a drowned sheep, and
once the carcass of a cow, floated past.
In short, the swollen river had already done a great deal of
mischief. It was evidently too deep for Jason to wade, and too
boisterous for him to swim; he could see no bridge; and as for
a boat, had there been any, the rocks would have broken it to
pieces in an instant.
"See the poor lad," said a cracked voice close to his side. "He
must have had but a poor education, since he does not know how
to cross a little stream like this. Or is he afraid of wetting
his fine golden-stringed sandals? It is a pity his four-footed
schoolmaster is not here to carry him safely across on his
Jason looked round greatly surprised, for he did not know that
anybody was near. But beside him stood an old woman, with a
ragged mantle over her head, leaning on a staff, the top of
which was carved into the shape of a cuckoo. She looked very
aged, and wrinkled, and infirm; and yet her eyes, which were as
brown as those of an ox, were so extremely large and beautiful,
that, when they were fixed on Jason's eyes, he could see
nothing else but them. The old woman had a pomegranate in her
hand, although the fruit was then quite out of season.
"Whither are you going, Jason?" she now asked.
She seemed to know his name, you will observe; and, indeed,
those great brown eyes looked as if they had a knowledge of
everything, whether past or to come. While Jason was gazing at
her, a peacock strutted forward, and took his stand at the old
woman's side.
"I am going to Iolchos," answered the young man, "to bid the
wicked King Pelias come down from my father's throne, and let
me reign in his stead."
"Ah, well, then," said the old woman, still with the same
cracked voice, "if that is all your business, you need not be
in a very great hurry. Just take me on your back, there's a
good youth, and carry me across the river. I and my peacock
have something to do on the other side, as well as yourself."
"Good mother," replied Jason, "your business can hardly be so
important as the pulling down a king from his throne. Besides,
as you may see for yourself, the river is very boisterous; and
if I should chance to stumble, it would sweep both of us away
more easily than it has carried off yonder uprooted tree. I
would gladly help you if I could; but I doubt whether I am
strong enough to carry you across."
"Then," said she, very scornfully, "neither are you strong
enough to pull King Pelias off his throne. And, Jason, unless
you will help an old woman at her need, you ought not to be a
king. What are kings made for, save to succor the feeble and
distressed? But do as you please. Either take me on your back,
or with my poor old limbs I shall try my best to struggle
across the stream."
Saying this, the old woman poked with her staff in the river,
as if to find the safest place in its rocky bed where she might
make the first step. But Jason, by this time, had grown ashamed
of his reluctance to help her. He felt that he could never
forgive himself, if this poor feeble creature should come to
any harm in attempting to wrestle against the headlong current.
The good Chiron, whether half horse or no, had taught him that
the noblest use of his strength was to assist the weak; and
also that he must treat every young woman as if she were his
sister, and every old one like a mother. Remembering these
maxims, the vigorous and beautiful young man knelt down, and
requested the good dame to mount upon his back.
"The passage seems to me not very safe," he remarked. "But as
your business is so urgent, I will try to carry you across. If
the river sweeps you away, it shall take me too."
"That, no doubt, will be a great comfort to both of us," quoth
the old woman. "But never fear. We shall get safely across."
So she threw her arms around Jason's neck; and lifting her from
the ground, he stepped boldly into the raging and foaming
current, and began to stagger away from the shore. As for the
peacock, it alighted on the old dame's shoulder. Jason's two
spears, one in each hand, kept him from stumbling, and enabled
him to feel his way among the hidden rocks; although every
instant, he expected that his companion and himself would go
down the stream, together with the driftwood of shattered
trees, and the carcasses of the sheep and cow. Down came the
cold, snowy torrent from the steep side of Olympus, raging and
thundering as if it had a real spite against Jason, or, at all
events, were determined to snatch off his living burden from
his shoulders. When he was half way across, the uprooted tree
(which I have already told you about) broke loose from among
the rocks, and bore down upon him, with all its splintered
branches sticking out like the hundred arms of the giant
Briareus. It rushed past, however, without touching him. But
the next moment his foot was caught in a crevice between two
rocks, and stuck there so fast, that, in the effort to get
free, he lost one of his golden-stringed sandals.
At this accident Jason could not help uttering a cry of
"What is the matter, Jason?" asked the old woman.
"Matter enough," said the young man. "I have lost a sandal here
among the rocks. And what sort of a figure shall I cut, at the
court of King Pelias, with a golden-stringed sandal on one
foot, and the other foot bare!"
"Do not take it to heart," answered his companion cheerily.
"You never met with better fortune than in losing that sandal.
It satisfies me that you are the very person whom the Speaking
Oak has been talking about."
There was no time, just then, to inquire what the Speaking Oak
had said. But the briskness of her tone encouraged the young
man; and, besides, he had never in his life felt so vigorous
and mighty as since taking this old woman on his back. Instead
of being exhausted, he gathered strength as he went on; and,
struggling up against the torrent, he at last gained the
opposite shore, clambered up the bank, and set down the old
dame and her peacock safely on the grass. As soon as this was
done, however, he could not help looking rather despondently at
his bare foot, with only a remnant of the golden string of the
sandal clinging round his ankle.
"You will get a handsomer pair of sandals by and by," said the
old woman, with a kindly look out of her beautiful brown eyes.
"Only let King Pelias get a glimpse of that bare foot, and you
shall see him turn as pale as ashes, I promise you. There is
your path. Go along, my good Jason, and my blessing go with
you. And when you sit on your throne remember the old woman
whom you helped over the river."
With these words, she hobbled away, giving him a smile over her
shoulder as she departed.
Whether the light of her beautiful brown eyes threw a glory
round about her, or whatever the cause might be, Jason fancied
that there was something very noble and majestic in her figure,
after all, and that, though her gait seemed to be a rheumatic
hobble, yet she moved with as much grace and dignity as any
queen on earth. Her peacock, which had now fluttered down from
her shoulder, strutted behind her in a prodigious pomp, and
spread out its magnificent tail on purpose for Jason to admire
When the old dame and her peacock were out of sight, Jason set
forward on his journey. After traveling a pretty long distance,
he came to a town situated at the foot of a mountain, and not a
great way from the shore of the sea. On the outside of the town
there was an immense crowd of people, not only men and women,
but children too, all in their best clothes, and evidently
enjoying a holiday. The crowd was thickest towards the
sea-shore; and in that direction, over the people's heads,
Jason saw a wreath of smoke curling upward to the blue sky. He
inquired of one of the multitude what town it was near by, and
why so many persons were here assembled together.
"This is the kingdom of Iolchos," answered the man, "and we are
the subjects of King Pelias. Our monarch has summoned us
together, that we may see him sacrifice a black bull to
Neptune, who, they say, is his majesty's father. Yonder is the
king, where you see the smoke going up from the altar."
While the man spoke he eyed Jason with great curiosity; for his
garb was quite unlike that of the Iolchians, and it looked very
odd to see a youth with a leopard's skin over his shoulders,
and each hand grasping a spear. Jason perceived, too, that the
man stared particularly at his feet, one of which, you
remember, was bare, while the other was decorated with his
father's golden-stringed sandal.
"Look at him! only look at him!" said the man to his next
neighbor. "Do you see? He wears but one sandal!"
Upon this, first one person, and then another, began to stare
at Jason, and everybody seemed to be greatly struck with
something in his aspect; though they turned their eyes much
oftener towards his feet than to any other part of his figure.
Besides, he could hear them whispering to one another.
"One sandal! One sandal!" they kept saying. "The man with one
sandal! Here he is at last! Whence has he come? What does he
mean to do? What will the king say to the one-sandaled man?"
Poor Jason was greatly abashed, and made up his mind that the
people of Iolchos were exceedingly ill-bred, to take such
public notice of an accidental deficiency in his dress.
Meanwhile, whether it were that they hustled him forward, or
that Jason, of his own accord, thrust a passage through the
crowd, it so happened that he soon found himself close to the
smoking altar, where King Pelias was sacrificing the black
bull. The murmur and hum of the multitude, in their surprise at
the spectacle of Jason with his one bare foot, grew so loud
that it disturbed the ceremonies; and the king, holding the
great knife with which he was just going to cut the bull's
throat, turned angrily about, and fixed his eyes on Jason. The
people had now withdrawn from around him, so that the youth
stood in an open space, near the smoking altar, front to front
with the angry King Pelias.
"Who are you?" cried the king, with a terrible frown. "And how
dare you make this disturbance, while I am sacrificing a black
bull to my father Neptune?"
"It is no fault of mine," answered Jason. "Your majesty must
blame the rudeness of your subjects, who have raised all this
tumult because one of my feet happens to be bare."
When Jason said this, the king gave a quick startled glance
down at his feet.
"Ha!" muttered he, "here is the one-sandaled fellow, sure
enough! What can I do with him?"
And he clutched more closely the great knife in his hand, as if
he were half a mind to slay Jason, instead of the black bull.
The people round about caught up the king's words, indistinctly
as they were uttered; and first there was a murmur amongst
them, and then a loud shout.
"The one-sandaled man has come! The prophecy must be
For you are to know, that, many years before, King Pelias had
been told by the Speaking Oak of Dodona, that a man with one
sandal should cast him down from his throne. On this account,
he had given strict orders that nobody should ever come into
his presence, unless both sandals were securely tied upon his
feet; and he kept an officer in his palace, whose sole business
it was to examine people's sandals, and to supply them with a
new pair, at the expense of the royal treasury, as soon as the
old ones began to wear out. In the whole course of the king's
reign, he had never been thrown into such a fright and
agitation as by the spectacle of poor Jason's bare foot. But,
as he was naturally a bold and hard-hearted man, he soon took
courage, and began to consider in what way he might rid himself
of this terrible one-sandaled stranger.
"My good young man," said King Pelias, taking the softest tone
imaginable, in order to throw Jason off his guard, "you are
excessively welcome to my kingdom. Judging by your dress, you
must have traveled a long distance, for it is not the fashion
to wear leopard skins in this part of the world. Pray what may
I call your name? and where did you receive your education?"
"My name is Jason," answered the young stranger. "Ever since my
infancy, I have dwelt in the cave of Chiron the Centaur. He was
my instructor, and taught me music, and horsemanship, and how
to cure wounds, and likewise how to inflict wounds with my
"I have heard of Chiron the schoolmaster," replied King Pelias,
"and how that there is an immense deal of learning and wisdom
in his head, although it happens to be set on a horse's body.
It gives me great delight to see one of his scholars at my
court. But to test how much you have profited under so
excellent a teacher, will you allow me to ask you a single
"I do not pretend to be very wise," said Jason. "But ask me
what you please, and I will answer to the best of my ability."
Now King Pelias meant cunningly to entrap the young man, and to
make him say something that should be the cause of mischief and
distraction to himself. So, with a crafty and evil smile upon
his face, he spoke as follows:
"What would you do, brave Jason," asked he, "if there were a
man in the world, by whom, as you had reason to believe, you
were doomed to be ruined and slain--what would you do, I say,
if that man stood before you, and in your power?"
When Jason saw the malice and wickedness which King Pelias
could not prevent from gleaming out of his eyes, he probably
guessed that the king had discovered what he came for, and that
he intended to turn his own words against himself. Still he
scorned to tell a falsehood. Like an upright and honorable
prince as he was, he determined to speak out the real truth.
Since the king had chosen to ask him the question, and since
Jason had promised him an answer, there was no right way save
to tell him precisely what would be the most prudent thing to
do, if he had his worst enemy in his power.
Therefore, after a moment's consideration, he spoke up, with a
firm and manly voice.
"I would send such a man," said he, "in quest of the Golden
This enterprise, you will understand, was, of all others, the
most difficult and dangerous in the world. In the first place
it would be necessary to make a long voyage through unknown
seas. There was hardly a hope, or a possibility, that any young
man who should undertake this voyage would either succeed in
obtaining the Golden Fleece, or would survive to return home,
and tell of the perils he had run. The eyes of King Pelias
sparkled with joy, therefore, when he heard Jason's reply.
"Well said, wise man with the one sandal!" cried he. "Go, then,
and at the peril of your life, bring me back the Golden
"I go," answered Jason, composedly. "If I fail, you need not
fear that I will ever come back to trouble you again. But if I
return to Iolchos with the prize, then, King Pelias, you must
hasten down from your lofty throne, and give me your crown and
"That I will," said the king, with a sneer. "Meantime, I will
keep them very safely for you."
The first thing that Jason thought of doing, after he left the
king's presence, was to go to Dodona, and inquire of the
Talking Oak what course it was best to pursue. This wonderful
tree stood in the center of an ancient wood. Its stately trunk
rose up a hundred feet into the air, and threw a broad and
dense shadow over more than an acre of ground. Standing beneath
it, Jason looked up among the knotted branches and green
leaves, and into the mysterious heart of the old tree, and
spoke aloud, as if he were addressing some person who was
hidden in the depths of the foliage.
"What shall I do," said he, "in order to win the Golden
At first there was a deep silence, not only within the shadow
of the Talking Oak, but all through the solitary wood. In a
moment or two, however, the leaves of the oak began to stir and
rustle, as if a gentle breeze were wandering amongst them,
although the other trees of the wood were perfectly still. The
sound grew louder, and became like the roar of a high wind. By
and by, Jason imagined that he could distinguish words, but
very confusedly, because each separate leaf of the tree seemed
to be a tongue, and the whole myriad of tongues were babbling
at once. But the noise waxed broader and deeper, until it
resembled a tornado sweeping through the oak, and making one
great utterance out of the thousand and thousand of little
murmurs which each leafy tongue had caused by its rustling. And
now, though it still had the tone of a mighty wind roaring
among the branches, it was also like a deep bass voice,
speaking as distinctly as a tree could be expected to speak,
the following words:
"Go to Argus, the shipbuilder, and bid him build a galley with
fifty oars."
Then the voice melted again into the indistinct murmur of the
rustling leaves, and died gradually away. When it was quite
gone, Jason felt inclined to doubt whether he had actually
heard the words, or whether his fancy had not shaped them out
of the ordinary sound made by a breeze, while passing through
the thick foliage of the tree.
But on inquiry among the people of Iolchos, he found that there
was really a man in the city, by the name of Argus, who was a
very skilful builder of vessels. This showed some intelligence
in the oak; else how should it have known that any such person
existed? At Jason's request, Argus readily consented to build
him a galley so big that it should require fifty strong men to
row it; although no vessel of such a size and burden had
heretofore been seen in the world. So the head carpenter and
all his journeymen and apprentices began their work; and for a
good while afterwards, there they were, busily employed, hewing
out the timbers, and making a great clatter with their hammers;
until the new ship, which was called the Argo, seemed to be
quite ready for sea. And, as the Talking Oak had already given
him such good advice, Jason thought that it would not be amiss
to ask for a little more. He visited it again, therefore, and
standing beside its huge, rough trunk, inquired what he should
do next.
This time, there was no such universal quivering of the leaves,
throughout the whole tree, as there had been before. But after
a while, Jason observed that the foliage of a great branch
which stretched above his head had begun to rustle, as if the
wind were stirring that one bough, while all the other boughs
of the oak were at rest.
"Cut me off!" said the branch, as soon as it could speak
distinctly; "cut me off! cut me off! and carve me into a
figure-head for your galley."
Accordingly, Jason took the branch at its word, and lopped it
off the tree. A carver in the neighborhood engaged to make the
figurehead. He was a tolerably good workman, and had already
carved several figure-heads, in what he intended for feminine
shapes, and looking pretty much like those which we see
nowadays stuck up under a vessel's bowsprit, with great staring
eyes, that never wink at the dash of the spray. But (what was
very strange) the carver found that his hand was guided by some
unseen power, and by a skill beyond his own, and that his tools
shaped out an image which he had never dreamed of. When the
work was finished, it turned out to be the figure of a
beautiful woman, with a helmet on her head, from beneath which
the long ringlets fell down upon her shoulders. On the left arm
was a shield, and in its center appeared a lifelike
representation of the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. The
right arm was extended, as if pointing onward. The face of this
wonderful statue, though not angry or forbidding, was so grave
and majestic, that perhaps you might call it severe; and as for
the mouth, it seemed just ready to unclose its lips, and utter
words of the deepest wisdom.
Jason was delighted with the oaken image, and gave the carver
no rest until it was completed, and set up where a figure-head
has always stood, from that time to this, in the vessel's prow.
"And now," cried he, as he stood gazing at the calm, majestic
face of the statue, "I must go to the Talking Oak and inquire
what next to do."
"There is no need of that, Jason," said a voice which, though
it was far lower, reminded him of the mighty tones of the great
oak. "When you desire good advice, you can seek it of me."
Jason had been looking straight into the face of the image when
these words were spoken. But he could hardly believe either his
ears or his eyes. The truth was, however, that the oaken lips
had moved, and, to all appearance, the voice had proceeded from
the statue's mouth. Recovering a little from his surprise,
Jason bethought himself that the image had been carved out of
the wood of the Talking Oak, and that, therefore, it was really
no great wonder, but on the contrary, the most natural thing in
the world, that it should possess the faculty of speech. It
would have been very odd, indeed, if it had not. But certainly
it was a great piece of good fortune that he should be able to
carry so wise a block of wood along with him in his perilous
"Tell me, wondrous image," exclaimed Jason, --"since you
inherit the wisdom of the Speaking Oak of Dodona, whose
daughter you are,--tell me, where shall I find fifty bold
youths, who will take each of them an oar of my galley? They
must have sturdy arms to row, and brave hearts to encounter
perils, or we shall never win the Golden Fleece."
"Go," replied the oaken image, "go, summon all the heroes of
And, in fact, considering what a great deed was to be done,
could any advice be wiser than this which Jason received from
the figure-head of his vessel? He lost no time in sending
messengers to all the cities, and making known to the whole
people of Greece, that Prince Jason, the son of King Jason, was
going in quest of the Fleece of Gold, and that he desired the
help of forty-nine of the bravest and strongest young men
alive, to row his vessel and share his dangers. And Jason
himself would be the fiftieth.
At this news, the adventurous youths, all over the country,
began to bestir themselves. Some of them had already fought
with giants, and slain dragons; and the younger ones, who had
not yet met with such good fortune, thought it a shame to have
lived so long without getting astride of a flying serpent, or
sticking their spears into a Chimaera, or, at least, thrusting
their right arms down a monstrous lion's throat. There was a
fair prospect that they would meet with plenty of such
adventures before finding the Golden Fleece. As soon as they
could furbish up their helmets and shields, therefore, and gird
on their trusty swords, they came thronging to Iolchos, and
clambered on board the new galley. Shaking hands with Jason,
they assured him that they did not care a pin for their lives,
but would help row the vessel to the remotest edge of the
world, and as much farther as he might think it best to go.
Many of these brave fellows had been educated by Chiron, the
four-footed pedagogue, and were therefore old schoolmates of
Jason, and knew him to be a lad of spirit. The mighty Hercules,
whose shoulders afterwards upheld the sky, was one of them. And
there were Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers, who were never
accused of being chicken-hearted, although they had been
hatched out of an egg; and Theseus, who was so renowned for
killing the Minotaur, and Lynceus, with his wonderfully sharp
eyes, which could see through a millstone, or look right down
into the depths of the earth, and discover the treasures that
were there; and Orpheus, the very best of harpers, who sang and
played upon his lyre so sweetly, that the brute beasts stood
upon their hind legs, and capered merrily to the music. Yes,
and at some of his more moving tunes, the rocks bestirred their
moss-grown bulk out of the ground, and a grove of forest trees
uprooted themselves, and, nodding their tops to one another,
performed a country dance.
One of the rowers was a beautiful young woman, named Atalanta.
who had been nursed among the mountains by a bear. So light of
foot was this fair damsel, that she could step from one foamy
crest of a wave to the foamy crest of another, without wetting
more than the sole of her sandal. She had grown up in a very
wild way, and talked much about the rights of women, and loved
hunting and war far better than her needle. But in my opinion,
the most remarkable of this famous company were two sons of the
North Wind (airy youngsters, and of rather a blustering
disposition) who had wings on their shoulders, and, in case of
a calm, could puff out their cheeks, and blow almost as fresh a
breeze as their father. I ought not to forget the prophets and
conjurors, of whom there were several in the crew, and who
could foretell what would happen to-morrow or the next day, or
a hundred years hence, but were generally quite unconscious of
what was passing at the moment.
Jason appointed Tiphys to be helmsman because he was a
star-gazer, and knew the points of the compass. Lynceus, on
account of his sharp sight, was stationed as a look-out in the
prow, where he saw a whole day's sail ahead, but was rather apt
to overlook things that lay directly under his nose. If the sea
only happened to be deep enough, however, Lynceus could tell
you exactly what kind of rocks or sands were at the bottom of
it; and he often cried out to his companions, that they were
sailing over heaps of sunken treasure, which yet he was none
the richer for beholding. To confess the truth, few people
believed him when he said it.
Well! But when the Argonauts, as these fifty brave adventurers
were called, had prepared everything for the voyage, an
unforeseen difficulty threatened to end it before it was begun.
The vessel, you must understand, was so long, and broad, and
ponderous, that the united force of all the fifty was
insufficient to shove her into the water. Hercules, I suppose,
had not grown to his full strength, else he might have set her
afloat as easily as a little boy launches his boat upon a
puddle. But here were these fifty heroes, pushing, and
straining, and growing red in the face, without making the Argo
start an inch. At last, quite wearied out, they sat themselves
down on the shore exceedingly disconsolate, and thinking that
the vessel must be left to rot and fall in pieces, and that
they must either swim across the sea or lose the Golden Fleece.
All at once, Jason bethought himself of the galley's miraculous
"O, daughter of the Talking Oak," cried he, "how shall we set
to work to get our vessel into the water?"
"Seat yourselves," answered the image (for it had known what
had ought to be done from the very first, and was only waiting
for the question to be put),--" seat yourselves, and handle
your oars, and let Orpheus play upon his harp."
Immediately the fifty heroes got on board, and seizing their
oars, held them perpendicularly in the air, while Orpheus (who
liked such a task far better than rowing) swept his fingers
across the harp. At the first ringing note of the music, they
felt the vessel stir. Orpheus thrummed away briskly, and the
galley slid at once into the sea, dipping her prow so deeply
that the figure-head drank the wave with its marvelous lips,
and rising again as buoyant as a swan. The rowers plied their
fifty oars; the white foam boiled up before the prow; the water
gurgled and bubbled in their wake; while Orpheus continued to
play so lively a strain of music, that the vessel seemed to
dance over the billows by way of keeping time to it. Thus
triumphantly did the Argo sail out of the harbor, amidst the
huzzas and good wishes of everybody except the wicked old
Pelias, who stood on a promontory, scowling at her, and wishing
that he could blow out of his lungs the tempest of wrath that
was in his heart, and so sink the galley with all on board.
When they had sailed above fifty miles over the sea, Lynceus
happened to cast his sharp eyes behind, and said that there was
this bad-hearted king, still perched upon the promontory, and
scowling so gloomily that it looked like a black thunder-cloud
in that quarter of the horizon.
In order to make the time pass away more pleasantly during the
voyage, the heroes talked about the Golden Fleece. It
originally belonged, it appears, to a Boeotian ram, who had
taken on his back two children, when in danger of their lives,
and fled with them over land and sea as far as Colchis. One of
the children, whose name was Helle, fell into the sea and was
drowned. But the other (a little boy, named Phrixus) was
brought safe ashore by the faithful ram, who, however, was so
exhausted that he immediately lay down and died. In memory of
this good deed, and as a token of his true heart, the fleece of
the poor dead ram was miraculously changed to gold, and became
one of the most beautiful objects ever seen on earth. It was
hung upon a tree in a sacred grove, where it had now been kept
I know not how many years, and was the envy of mighty kings,
who had nothing so magnificent in any of their palaces.
If I were to tell you all the adventures of the Argonauts, it
would take me till nightfall, and perhaps a great deal longer.
There was no lack of wonderful events, as you may judge from
what you have already heard. At a certain island, they were
hospitably received by King Cyzicus, its sovereign, who made a
feast for them, and treated them like brothers. But the
Argonauts saw that this good king looked downcast and very much
troubled, and they therefore inquired of him what was the
matter. King Cyzicus hereupon informed them that he and his
subjects were greatly abused and incommoded by the inhabitants
of a neighboring mountain, who made war upon them, and killed
many people, and ravaged the country. And while they were
talking about it, Cyzicus pointed to the mountain, and asked
Jason and his companions what they saw there.
"I see some very tall objects," answered Jason; "but they are
at such a distance that I cannot distinctly make out what they
are. To tell your majesty the truth, they look so very
strangely that I am inclined to think them clouds, which have
chanced to take something like human shapes."
"I see them very plainly," remarked Lynceus, whose eyes, you
know, were as far-sighted as a telescope. "They are a band of
enormous giants, all of whom have six arms apiece, and a club,
a sword, or some other weapon in each of their hands."
"You have excellent eyes," said King Cyzicus. "Yes; they are
six-armed giants, as you say, and these are the enemies whom I
and my subjects have to contend with."
The next day, when the Argonauts were about setting sail, down
came these terrible giants, stepping a hundred yards at a
stride, brandishing their six arms apiece, and looking
formidable, so far aloft in the air. Each of these monsters was
able to carry on a whole war by himself, for with one arm he
could fling immense stones, and wield a club with another, and
a sword with a third, while the fourth was poking a long spear
at the enemy, and the fifth and sixth were shooting him with a
bow and arrow. But, luckily, though the giants were so huge,
and had so many arms, they had each but one heart, and that no
bigger nor braver than the heart of an ordinary man. Besides,
if they had been like the hundred-armed Briareus, the brave
Argonauts would have given them their hands full of fight.
Jason and his friends went boldly to meet them, slew a great
many, and made the rest take to their heels, so that if the
giants had had six legs apiece instead of six arms, it would
have served them better to run away with.
Another strange adventure happened when the voyagers came to
Thrace, where they found a poor blind king, named Phineus,
deserted by his subjects, and living in a very sorrowful way,
all by himself: On Jason's inquiring whether they could do him
any service, the king answered that he was terribly tormented
by three great winged creatures, called Harpies, which had the
faces of women, and the wings, bodies, and claws of vultures.
These ugly wretches were in the habit of snatching away his
dinner, and allowed him no peace of his life. Upon hearing
this, the Argonauts spread a plentiful feast on the sea-shore,
well knowing, from what the blind king said of their
greediness, that the Harpies would snuff up the scent of the
victuals, and quickly come to steal them away. And so it turned
out; for, hardly was the table set, before the three hideous
vulture women came flapping their wings, seized the food in
their talons, and flew off as fast as they could. But the two
sons of the North Wind drew their swords, spread their pinions,
and set off through the air in pursuit of the thieves, whom
they at last overtook among some islands, after a chase of
hundreds of miles. The two winged youths blustered terribly at
the Harpies (for they had the rough temper of their father),
and so frightened them with their drawn swords, that they
solemnly promised never to trouble King Phineus again.
Then the Argonauts sailed onward and met with many other
marvelous incidents, any one of which would make a story by
itself. At one time they landed on an island, and were reposing
on the grass, when they suddenly found themselves assailed by
what seemed a shower of steel-headed arrows. Some of them stuck
in the ground, while others hit against their shields, and
several penetrated their flesh. The fifty heroes started up,
and looked about them for the hidden enemy, but could find
none, nor see any spot, on the whole island, where even a
single archer could lie concealed. Still, however, the
steel-headed arrows came whizzing among them; and, at last,
happening to look upward, they beheld a large flock of birds,
hovering and wheeling aloft, and shooting their feathers down
upon the Argonauts. These feathers were the steel-headed arrows
that had so tormented them. There was no possibility of making
any resistance; and the fifty heroic Argonauts might all have
been killed or wounded by a flock of troublesome birds, without
ever setting eyes on the Golden Fleece, if Jason had not
thought of asking the advice of the oaken image.
So he ran to the galley as fast as his legs would carry him.
"O, daughter of the Speaking Oak," cried he, all out of breath,
"we need your wisdom more than ever before! We are in great
peril from a flock of birds, who are shooting us with their
steel-pointed feathers. What can we do to drive them away?"
"Make a clatter on your shields," said the image.
On receiving this excellent counsel, Jason hurried back to his
companions (who were far more dismayed than when they fought
with the six-armed giants), and bade them strike with their
swords upon their brazen shields. Forthwith the fifty heroes
set heartily to work, banging with might and main, and raised
such a terrible clatter, that the birds made what haste they
could to get away; and though they had shot half the feathers
out of their wings, they were soon seen skimming among the
clouds, a long distance off, and looking like a flock of wild
geese. Orpheus celebrated this victory by playing a triumphant
anthem on his harp, and sang so melodiously that Jason begged
him to desist, lest, as the steel-feathered birds had been
driven away by an ugly sound, they might be enticed back again
by a sweet one.
While the Argonauts remained on this island, they saw a small
vessel approaching the shore, in which were two young men of
princely demeanor, and exceedingly handsome, as young princes
generally were, in those days. Now, who do you imagine these
two voyagers turned out to be? Why, if you will believe me,
they were the sons of that very Phrixus, who, in his childhood,
had been carried to Colchis on the back of the golden-fleeced
ram. Since that time, Phrixus had married the king's daughter;
and the two young princes had been born and brought up at
Colchis, and had spent their play-days in the outskirts of the
grove, in the center of which the Golden Fleece was hanging
upon a tree. They were now on their way to Greece, in hopes of
getting back a kingdom that had been wrongfully taken from
their father.
When the princes understood whither the Argonauts were going,
they offered to turn back, and guide them to Colchis. At the
same time, however, they spoke as if it were very doubtful
whether Jason would succeed in getting the Golden Fleece.
According to their account, the tree on which it hung was
guarded by a terrible dragon, who never failed to devour, at
one mouthful, every person who might venture within his reach.
"There are other difficulties in the way," continued the young
princes. "But is not this enough? Ah, brave Jason, turn back
before it is too late. It would grieve us to the heart, if you
and your nine and forty brave companions should be eaten up, at
fifty mouthfuls, by this execrable dragon."
"My young friends," quietly replied Jason, "I do not wonder
that you think the dragon very terrible. You have grown up from
infancy in the fear of this monster, and therefore still regard
him with the awe that children feel for the bugbears and
hobgoblins which their nurses have talked to them about. But,
in my view of the matter, the dragon is merely a pretty large
serpent, who is not half so likely to snap me up at one
mouthful as I am to cut off his ugly head, and strip the skin
from his body. At all events, turn back who may, I will never
see Greece again, unless I carry with me the Golden Fleece."
"We will none of us turn back!" cried his nine and forty brave
comrades. "Let us get on board the galley this instant; and if
the dragon is to make a breakfast of us, much good may it do
And Orpheus (whose custom it was to set everything to music)
began to harp and sing most gloriously, and made every mother's
son of them feel as if nothing in this world were so delectable
as to fight dragons, and nothing so truly honorable as to be
eaten up at one mouthful, in case of the worst.
After this (being now under the guidance of the two princes,
who were well acquainted with the way), they quickly sailed to
Colchis. When the king of the country, whose name was Aetes,
heard of their arrival, he instantly summoned Jason to court.
The king was a stern and cruel looking potentate; and though he
put on as polite and hospitable an expression as he could,
Jason did not like his face a whit better than that of the
wicked King Pelias, who dethroned his father. "You are welcome,
brave Jason," said King Aetes. "Pray, are you on a pleasure
voyage?--Or do you meditate the discovery of unknown
islands?--or what other cause has procured me the happiness of
seeing you at my court?"
"Great sir," replied Jason, with an obeisance--for Chiron had
taught him how to behave with propriety, whether to kings or
beggars--"I have come hither with a purpose which I now beg
your majesty's permission to execute. King Pelias, who sits on
my father's throne (to which he has no more right than to the
one on which your excellent majesty is now seated), has engaged
to come down from it, and to give me his crown and sceptre,
provided I bring him the Golden Fleece. This, as your majesty
is aware, is now hanging on a tree here at Colchis; and I
humbly solicit your gracious leave to take it away." In spite
of himself, the king's face twisted itself into an angry frown;
for, above all things else in the world, he prized the Golden
Fleece, and was even suspected of having done a very wicked
act, in order to get it into his own possession. It put him
into the worst possible humor, therefore, to hear that the
gallant Prince Jason, and forty-nine of the bravest young
warriors of Greece, had come to Colchis with the sole purpose
of taking away his chief treasure.
"Do you know," asked King Aetes, eyeing Jason very sternly,
"what are the conditions which you must fulfill before getting
possession of the Golden Fleece?"
"I have heard," rejoined the youth, "that a dragon lies beneath
the tree on which the prize hangs, and that whoever approaches
him runs the risk of being devoured at a mouthful."
"True," said the king, with a smile that did not look
particularly good-natured. "Very true, young man. But there are
other things as hard, or perhaps a little harder, to be done
before you can even have the privilege of being devoured by the
dragon. For example, you must first tame my two brazen-footed
and brazen-lunged bulls, which Vulcan, the wonderful
blacksmith, made for me. There is a furnace in each of their
stomachs; and they breathe such hot fire out of their mouths
and nostrils, that nobody has hitherto gone nigh them without
being instantly burned to a small, black cinder. What do you
think of this, my brave Jason?"
"I must encounter the peril," answered Jason, composedly,
"since it stands in the way of my purpose."
"After taming the fiery bulls," continued King Aetes, who was
determined to scare Jason if possible, "you must yoke them to a
plow, and must plow the sacred earth in the Grove of Mars, and
sow some of the same dragon's teeth from which Cadmus raised a
crop of armed men. They are an unruly set of reprobates, those
sons of the dragon's teeth; and unless you treat them suitably,
they will fall upon you sword in hand. You and your nine and
forty Argonauts, my bold Jason, are hardly numerous or strong
enough to fight with such a host as will spring up."
"My master Chiron," replied Jason, "taught me, long ago, the
story of Cadmus. Perhaps I can manage the quarrelsome sons of
the dragon's teeth as well as Cadmus did."
"I wish the dragon had him," muttered King Aetes to himself,
"and the four-footed pedant, his schoolmaster, into the
bargain. Why, what a foolhardy, self-conceited coxcomb he is!
We'll see what my fire-breathing bulls will do for him. Well,
Prince Jason," he continued, aloud, and as complaisantly as he
could, "make yourself comfortable for to-day, and to-morrow
morning, since you insist upon it, you shall try your skill at
the plow."
While the king talked with Jason, a beautiful young woman was
standing behind the throne. She fixed her eyes earnestly upon
the youthful stranger, and listened attentively to every word
that was spoken; and when Jason withdrew from the king's
presence, this young woman followed him out of the room.
"I am the king's daughter," she said to him, "and my name is
Medea. I know a great deal of which other young princesses are
ignorant, and can do many things which they would be afraid so
much as to dream of. If you will trust to me, I can instruct
you how to tame the fiery bulls, and sow the dragon's teeth,
and get the Golden Fleece."
"Indeed, beautiful princess," answered Jason, "if you will do
me this service, I promise to be grateful to you my whole life
long."' Gazing at Medea, he beheld a wonderful intelligence in
her face. She was one of those persons whose eyes are full of
mystery; so that, while looking into them, you seem to see a
very great way, as into a deep well, yet can never be certain
whether you see into the farthest depths, or whether there be
not something else hidden at the bottom. If Jason had been
capable of fearing anything, he would have been afraid of
making this young princess his enemy; for, beautiful as she now
looked, she might, the very next instant, become as terrible as
the dragon that kept watch over the Golden Fleece.
"Princess," he exclaimed, "you seem indeed very wise and very
powerful. But how can you help me to do the things of which you
speak? Are you an enchantress?"
"Yes, Prince Jason," answered Medea, with a smile, "you have
hit upon the truth. I am an enchantress. Circe, my father's
sister, taught me to be one, and I could tell you, if I
pleased, who was the old woman with the peacock, the
pomegranate, and the cuckoo staff, whom you carried over the
river; and, likewise, who it is that speaks through the lips of
the oaken image, that stands in the prow of your galley. I am
acquainted with some of your secrets, you perceive. It is well
for you that I am favorably inclined; for, otherwise, you would
hardly escape being snapped up by the dragon."
"I should not so much care for the dragon," replied Jason, "if
I only knew how to manage the brazen-footed and fiery-lunged
"If you are as brave as I think you, and as you have need to
be," said Medea, "your own bold heart will teach you that there
is but one way of dealing with a mad bull. What it is I leave
you to find out in the moment of peril. As for the fiery breath
of these animals, I have a charmed ointment here, which will
prevent you from being burned up, and cure you if you chance to
be a little scorched."
So she put a golden box into his hand, and directed him how to
apply the perfumed unguent which it contained, and where to
meet her at midnight.
"Only be brave," added she, "and before daybreak the brazen
bulls shall be tamed."
The young man assured her that his heart would not fail him. He
then rejoined his comrades, and told them what had passed
between the princess and himself, and warned them to be in
readiness in case there might be need of their help. At the
appointed hour he met the beautiful Medea on the marble steps
of the king's palace. She gave him a basket, in which were the
dragon's teeth, just as they had been pulled out of the
monster's jaws by Cadmus, long ago. Medea then led Jason down
the palace steps, and through the silent streets of the city,
and into the royal pasture ground, where the two brazen-footed
bulls were kept. It was a starry night, with a bright gleam
along the eastern edge of the sky, where the moon was soon
going to show herself. After entering the pasture, the princess
paused and looked around.
"There they are," said she, "reposing them. selves and chewing
their fiery cuds in that farthest corner of the field. It will
be excellent sport, I assure you, when they catch a glimpse of
your figure. My father and all his court delight in nothing so
much as to see a stranger trying to yoke them, in order to come
at the Golden Fleece. It makes a holiday in Colchis whenever
such a thing happens. For my part, I enjoy it immensely. You
cannot imagine in what a mere twinkling of an eye their hot
breath shrivels a young man into a black cinder."
"Are you sure, beautiful Medea," asked Jason, "quite sure, that
the unguent in the gold box will prove a remedy against those
terrible burns?"
"If you doubt, if you are in the least afraid," said the
princess, looking him in the face by the dim starlight, "you
had better never have been born than to go a step nigher to the
But Jason had set his heart steadfastly on getting the Golden
Fleece; and I positively doubt whether he would have gone back
without it, even had he been certain of finding himself turned
into a red-hot cinder, or a handful of white ashes, the instant
he made a step farther. He therefore let go Medea's hand, and
walked boldly forward in the direction whither she had pointed.
At some distance before him he perceived four streams of fiery
vapor, regularly appearing and again vanishing, after dimly
lighting up the surrounding obscurity. These, you will
understand, were caused by the breath of the brazen bulls,
which was quietly stealing out of their four nostrils, as they
lay chewing their cuds.
At the first two or three steps which Jason made, the four
fiery streams appeared to gush out somewhat more plentifully;
for the two brazen bulls had heard his foot tramp, and were
lifting up their hot noses to snuff the air. He went a little
farther, and by the way in which the red vapor now spouted
forth, he judged that the creatures had got upon their feet.
Now he could see glowing sparks, and vivid jets of flame. At
the next step, each of the bulls made the pasture echo with a
terrible roar, while the burning breath, which they thus
belched forth, lit up the whole field with a momentary flash.
One other stride did bold Jason make; and, suddenly as a streak
of lightning, on came these fiery animals, roaring like
thunder, and sending out sheets of white flame, which so
kindled up the scene that the young man could discern every
object more distinctly than by daylight. Most distinctly of all
he saw the two horrible creatures galloping right down upon
him, their brazen hoofs rattling and ringing over the ground,
and their tails sticking up stiffly into the air, as has always
been the fashion with angry bulls. Their breath scorched the
herbage before them. So intensely hot it was, indeed, that it
caught a dry tree under which Jason was now standing, and set
it all in a light blaze. But as for Jason himself (thanks to
Medea's enchanted ointment), the white flame curled around his
body, without injuring him a jot more than if he had been made
of asbestos.
Greatly encouraged at finding himself not yet turned into a
cinder, the young man awaited the attack of the bulls. Just as
the brazen brutes fancied themselves sure of tossing him into
the air, he caught one of them by the horn, and the other by
his screwed-up tail, and held them in a gripe like that of an
iron vice, one with his right hand, the other with his left.
Well, he must have been wonderfully strong in his arms, to be
sure. But the secret of the matter was, that the brazen bulls
were enchanted creatures, and that Jason had broken the spell
of their fiery fierceness by his bold way of handling them.
And, ever since that time, it has been the favorite method of
brave men, when danger assails them, to do what they call "
taking the bull by the horns"; and to gripe him by the tail is
pretty much the same thing--that is, to throw aside fear, and
overcome the peril by despising it. It was now easy to yoke the
bulls, and to harness them to the plow, which had lain rusting
on the ground for a great many years gone by; so long was it
before anybody could be found capable of plowing that piece of
land. Jason, I suppose, had been taught how to draw a furrow by
the good old Chiron, who, perhaps, used to allow himself to be
harnessed to the plow. At any rate, our hero succeeded
perfectly well in breaking up the greensward; and, by the time
that the moon was a quarter of her journey up the sky, the
plowed field lay before him, a large tract of black earth,
ready to be sown with the dragon's teeth. So Jason scattered
them broadcast, and harrowed them into the soil with a
brush-harrow, and took his stand on the edge of the field,
anxious to see what would happen next.
"Must we wait long for harvest time?" he inquired of Medea, who
was now standing by his side.
"Whether sooner or later, it will be sure to come," answered
the princess. "A crop of armed men never fails to spring up,
when the dragon's teeth have been sown."
The moon was now high aloft in the heavens, and threw its
bright beams over the plowed field, where as yet there was
nothing to be seen. Any farmer, on viewing it, would have said
that Jason must wait weeks before the green blades would peep
from among the clods, and whole months before the yellow grain
would be ripened for the sickle. But by and by, all over the
field, there was something that glistened in the moonbeams,
like sparkling drops of dew. These bright objects sprouted
higher, and proved to be the steel heads of spears. Then there
was a dazzling gleam from a vast number of polished brass
helmets, beneath which, as they grew farther out of the soil,
appeared the dark and bearded visages of warriors, struggling
to free themselves from the imprisoning earth. The first look
that they gave at the upper world was a glare of wrath and
defiance. Next were seen their bright breastplates; in every
right hand there was a sword or a spear, and on each left arm a
shield; and when this strange crop of warriors had but half
grown out of the earth, they struggled--such was their
impatience of restraint--and, as it were, tore themselves up by
the roots. Wherever a dragon's tooth had fallen, there stood a
man armed for battle. They made a clangor with their swords
against their shields, and eyed one another fiercely; for they
had come into this beautiful world, and into the peaceful
moonlight, full of rage and stormy passions, and ready to take
the life of every human brother, in recompense of the boon of
their own existence.
There have been many other armies in the world that seemed to
possess the same fierce nature with the one which had now
sprouted from the dragon's teeth; but these, in the moonlit
field, were the more excusable, because they never had women
for their mothers. And how it would have rejoiced any great
captain, who was bent on conquering the world, like Alexander
or Napoleon, to raise a crop of armed soldiers as easily as
Jason did! For a while, the warriors stood flourishing their
weapons, clashing their swords against their shields, and
boiling over with the red-hot thirst for battle. Then they
began to shout--"Show us the enemy! Lead us to the charge!
Death or victory!" "Come on, brave comrades! Conquer or die!"
and a hundred other outcries, such as men always bellow forth
on a battle field, and which these dragon people seemed to have
at their tongues' ends. At last, the front rank caught sight of
Jason, who, beholding the flash of so many weapons in the
moonlight, had thought it best to draw his sword. In a moment
all the sons of the dragon's teeth appeared to take Jason for
an enemy; and crying with one voice, "Guard the Golden Fleece!"
they ran at him with uplifted swords and protruded spears.
Jason knew that it would be impossible to withstand this
blood-thirsty battalion with his single arm, but determined,
since there was nothing better to be done, to die as valiantly
as if he himself had sprung from a dragon's tooth.
Medea, however, bade him snatch up a stone from the ground.
"Throw it among them quickly!" cried she. "It is the only way
to save yourself."
The armed men were now so nigh that Jason could discern the
fire flashing out of their enraged eyes, when he let fly the
stone, and saw it strike the helmet of a tall warrior, who was
rushing upon him with his blade aloft. The stone glanced from
this man's helmet to the shield of his nearest comrade, and
thence flew right into the angry face of another, hitting him
smartly between the eyes. Each of the three who had been struck
by the stone took it for granted that his next neighbor had
given him a blow; and instead of running any farther towards
Jason, they began to fight among themselves. The confusion
spread through the host, so that it seemed scarcely a moment
before they were all hacking, hewing, and stabbing at one
another, lopping off arms, heads, and legs and doing such
memorable deeds that Jason was filled with immense admiration;
although, at the same time, he could not help laughing to
behold these mighty men punishing each other for an offense
which he himself had committed. In an incredibly short space of
time (almost as short, indeed, as it had taken them to grow
up), all but one of the heroes of the dragon's teeth were
stretched lifeless on the field. The last survivor, the bravest
and strongest of the whole, had just force enough to wave his
crimson sword over his head and give a shout of exultation,
crying, "Victory! Victory! Immortal fame!" when he himself fell
down, and lay quietly among his slain brethren.
And there was the end of the army that had sprouted from the
dragon's teeth. That fierce and feverish fight was the only
enjoyment which they had tasted on this beautiful earth.
"Let them sleep in the bed of honor," said the Princess Medea,
with a sly smile at Jason. "The world will always have
simpletons enough, just like them, fighting and dying for they
know not what, and fancying that posterity will take the
trouble to put laurel wreaths on their rusty and battered
helmets. Could you help smiling, Prince Jason, to see the
self-conceit of that last fellow, just as he tumbled down?"
"It made me very sad," answered Jason, gravely. "And, to tell
you the truth, princess, the Golden Fleece does not appear so
well worth the winning, after what I have here beheld!"
"You will think differently in the morning," said Medea. "True,
the Golden Fleece may not be so valuable as you have thought
it; but then there is nothing better in the world; and one must
needs have an object, you know. Come! Your night's work has
been well performed; and to-morrow you can inform King Aetes
that the first part of your allotted task is fulfilled."
Agreeably to Medea's advice, Jason went betimes in the morning
to the palace of King Aetes. Entering the presence chamber, he
stood at the foot of the throne, and made a low obeisance.
"Your eyes look heavy, Prince Jason," observed the king; "you
appear to have spent a sleepless night. I hope you have been
considering the matter a little more wisely, and have concluded
not to get yourself scorched to a cinder, in attempting to tame
my brazen-lunged bulls."
"That is already accomplished, may it please your majesty,"
replied Jason. "The bulls have been tamed and yoked; the field
has been plowed; the dragon's teeth have been sown broadcast,
and harrowed into the soil; the crop of armed warriors have
sprung up, and they have slain one another, to the last man.
And now I solicit your majesty's permission to encounter the
dragon, that I may take down the Golden Fleece from the tree,
and depart, with my nine and forty comrades."
King Aetes scowled, and looked very angry and excessively
disturbed; for he knew that, in accordance with his kingly
promise, he ought now to permit Jason to win the Fleece, if his
courage and skill should enable him to do so. But, since the
young man had met with such good luck in the matter of the
brazen bulls and the dragon's teeth, the king feared that he
would be equally successful in slaying the dragon. And
therefore, though he would gladly have seen Jason snapped up at
a mouthful, he was resolved (and it was a very wrong thing of
this wicked potentate) not to run any further risk of losing
his beloved Fleece.
"You never would have succeeded in this business, young man,"
said he, "if my undutiful daughter Medea had not helped you
with her enchantments. Had you acted fairly, you would have
been, at this instant, a black cinder, or a handful of white
ashes. I forbid you, on pain of death, to make any more
attempts to get the Golden Fleece. To speak my mind plainly,
you shall never set eyes on so much as one of its glistening
Jason left the king's presence in great sorrow and anger. He
could think of nothing better to be done than to summon
together his forty-nine brave Argonauts, march at once to the
Grove of Mars, slay the dragon, take possession of the Golden
Fleece, get on board the Argo, and spread all sail for Iolchos.
The success of this scheme depended, it is true, on the
doubtful point whether all the fifty heroes might not be
snapped up, at so many mouthfuls, by the dragon. But, as Jason
was hastening down the palace steps, the Princess Medea called
after him, and beckoned him to return. Her black eyes shone
upon him with such a keen intelligence, that he felt as if
there were a serpent peeping out of them; and, although she had
done him so much service only the night before, he was by no
means very certain that she would not do him an equally great
mischief before sunset. These enchantresses, you must know, are
never to be depended upon.
"What says King Aetes, my royal and upright father?" inquired
Medea, slightly smiling. "Will he give you the Golden Fleece,
without any further risk or trouble?"
"On the contrary," answered Jason, "he is very angry with me
for taming the brazen bulls and sowing the dragon's teeth. And
he forbids me to make any more attempts, and positively refuses
to give up the Golden Fleece, whether I slay the dragon or no."
"Yes, Jason," said the princess, "and I can tell you more.
Unless you set sail from Colchis before to-morrow's sunrise,
the king means to burn your fifty-oared galley, and put
yourself and your forty-nine brave comrades to the sword. But
be of good courage. The Golden Fleece you shall have, if it
lies within the power of my enchantments to get it for you.
Wait for me here an hour before midnight."
At the appointed hour you might again have seen Prince Jason
and the Princess Medea, side by side, stealing through the
streets of Colchis, on their way to the sacred grove, in the
center of which the Golden Fleece was suspended to a tree.
While they were crossing the pasture ground, the brazen bulls
came towards Jason, lowing, nodding their heads, and thrusting
forth their snouts, which, as other cattle do, they loved to
have rubbed and caressed by a friendly hand. Their fierce
nature was thoroughly tamed; and, with their fierceness, the
two furnaces in their stomachs had likewise been extinguished,
insomuch that they probably enjoyed far more comfort in grazing
and chewing their cuds than ever before. Indeed, it had
heretofore been a great inconvenience to these poor animals,
that, whenever they wished to eat a mouthful of grass, the fire
out of their nostrils had shriveled it up, before they could
manage to crop it. How they contrived to keep themselves alive
is more than I can imagine. But now, instead of emitting jets
of flame and streams of sulphurous vapor, they breathed the
very sweetest of cow breath.
After kindly patting the bulls, Jason followed Medea's guidance
into the Grove of Mars, where the great oak trees, that had
been growing for centuries, threw so thick a shade that the
moonbeams struggled vainly to find their way through it. Only
here and there a glimmer fell upon the leaf-strewn earth, or
now and then a breeze stirred the boughs aside, and gave Jason
a glimpse of the sky, lest, in that deep obscurity, he might
forget that there was one, overhead. At length, when they had
gone farther and farther into the heart of the duskiness, Medea
squeezed Jason's hand.
"Look yonder," she whispered. "Do you see it?"
Gleaming among the venerable oaks, there was a radiance, not
like the moonbeams, but rather resembling the golden glory of
the setting sun. It proceeded from an object, which appeared to
be suspended at about a man's height from the ground, a little
farther within the wood.
"What is it?" asked Jason.
"Have you come so far to seek it," exclaimed Medea, "and do you
not recognize the meed of all your toils and perils, when it
glitters before your eyes? It is the Golden Fleece."
Jason went onward a few steps farther, and then stopped to
gaze. O, how beautiful it looked, shining with a marvelous
light of its own, that inestimable prize which so many heroes
had longed to behold, but had perished in the quest of it,
either by the perils of their voyage, or by the fiery breath of
the brazen- lunged bulls.
"How gloriously it shines!" cried Jason, in a rapture. "It has
surely been dipped in the richest gold of sunset. Let me hasten
onward, and take it to my bosom."
"Stay," said Medea, holding him back. "Have you forgotten what
guards it?"
To say the truth, in the joy of beholding the object of his
desires, the terrible dragon had quite slipped out of Jason's
memory. Soon, however, something came to pass, that reminded
him what perils were still to be encountered. An antelope, that
probably mistook the yellow radiance for sunrise, came bounding
fleetly through the grove. He was rushing straight towards the
Golden Fleece, when suddenly there was a frightful hiss, and
the immense head and half the scaly body of the dragon was
thrust forth (for he was twisted round the trunk of the tree on
which the Fleece hung), and seizing the poor antelope,
swallowed him with one snap of his jaws.
After this feat, the dragon seemed sensible that some other
living creature was within reach, on which he felt inclined to
finish his meal. In various directions he kept poking his ugly
snout among the trees, stretching out his neck a terrible long
way, now here, now there, and now close to the spot where Jason
and the princess were hiding behind an oak. Upon my word, as
the head came waving and undulating through the air, and
reaching almost within arm's length of Prince Jason, it was a
very hideous and uncomfortable sight. The gape of his enormous
jaws was nearly as wide as the gateway of the king's palace.
"Well, Jason," whispered Medea (for she was ill natured, as all
enchantresses are, and wanted to make the bold youth tremble),
"what do you think now of your prospect of winning the Golden
Jason answered only by drawing his sword, and making a step
"Stay, foolish youth," said Medea, grasping his arm. "Do not
you see you are lost, without me as your good angel? In this
gold box I have a magic potion, which will do the dragon's
business far more effectually than your sword."
The dragon had probably heard the voices; for swift as
lightning, his black head and forked tongue came hissing among
the trees again, darting full forty feet at a stretch. As it
approached, Medea tossed the contents of the gold box right
down the monster's wide-open throat. Immediately, with an
outrageous hiss and a tremendous wriggle--flinging his tail up
to the tip-top of the tallest tree, and shattering all its
branches as it crashed heavily down again--the dragon fell at
full length upon the ground, and lay quite motionless.
"It is only a sleeping potion," said the enchantress to Prince
Jason. "One always finds a use for these mischievous creatures,
sooner or later; so I did not wish to kill him outright. Quick!
Snatch the prize, and let us begone. You have won the Golden
Jason caught the fleece from the tree, and hurried through the
grove, the deep shadows of which were illuminated as he passed
by the golden glory of the precious object that he bore along.
A little way before him, he beheld the old woman whom he had
helped over the stream, with her peacock beside her. She
clapped her hands for joy, and beckoning him to make haste,
disappeared among the duskiness of the trees. Espying the two
winged sons of the North Wind (who were disporting themselves
in the moonlight, a few hundred feet aloft), Jason bade them
tell the rest of the Argonauts to embark as speedily as
possible. But Lynceus, with his sharp eyes, had already caught
a glimpse of him, bringing the Golden Fleece, although several
stone walls, a hill, and the black shadows of the Grove of
Mars, intervened between. By his advice, the heroes had seated
themselves on the benches of the galley, with their oars held
perpendicularly, ready to let fall into the water.
As Jason drew near, he heard the Talking Image calling to him
with more than ordinary eagerness, in its grave, sweet voice:
"Make haste, Prince Jason! For your life, make haste!"
With one bound, he leaped aboard. At sight of the glorious
radiance of the Golden Fleece, the nine and forty heroes gave a
mighty shout, and Orpheus, striking his harp, sang a song of
triumph, to the cadence of which the galley flew over the
water, homeward bound, as if careering along with wings!

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