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HOW THE ARGONAUTS WERE DRIVEN INTO THE UNKNOWN SEA

from The Heroes - The Argonauts





So they fled away in haste to the westward; but Aietes manned his
fleet and followed them. And Lynceus the quick-eyed saw him
coming, while he was still many a mile away, and cried, 'I see a
hundred ships, like a flock of white swans, far in the east.' And
at that they rowed hard, like heroes; but the ships came nearer
every hour.

Then Medeia, the dark witch-maiden, laid a cruel and a cunning
plot; for she killed Absyrtus her young brother, and cast him into
the sea, and said, 'Ere my father can take up his corpse and bury
it, he must wait long, and be left far behind.'

And all the heroes shuddered, and looked one at the other for
shame; yet they did not punish that dark witch-woman, because she
had won for them the golden fleece.

And when Aietes came to the place he saw the floating corpse; and
he stopped a long while, and bewailed his son, and took him up, and
went home. But he sent on his sailors toward the westward, and
bound them by a mighty curse--'Bring back to me that dark witch-
woman, that she may die a dreadful death. But if you return
without her, you shall die by the same death yourselves.'

So the Argonauts escaped for that time: but Father Zeus saw that
foul crime; and out of the heavens he sent a storm, and swept the
ship far from her course. Day after day the storm drove her, amid
foam and blinding mist, till they knew no longer where they were,
for the sun was blotted from the skies. And at last the ship
struck on a shoal, amid low isles of mud and sand, and the waves
rolled over her and through her, and the heroes lost all hope of
life.

Then Jason cried to Hera, 'Fair queen, who hast befriended us till
now, why hast thou left us in our misery, to die here among unknown
seas? It is hard to lose the honour which we have won with such
toil and danger, and hard never to see Hellas again, and the
pleasant bay of Pagasai.'

Then out and spoke the magic bough which stood upon the Argo's
beak, 'Because Father Zeus is angry, all this has fallen on you;
for a cruel crime has been done on board, and the sacred ship is
foul with blood.'

At that some of the heroes cried, 'Medeia is the murderess. Let
the witch-woman bear her sin, and die!' And they seized Medeia, to
hurl her into the sea, and atone for the young boy's death; but the
magic bough spoke again, 'Let her live till her crimes are full.
Vengeance waits for her, slow and sure; but she must live, for you
need her still. She must show you the way to her sister Circe, who
lives among the islands of the West. To her you must sail, a weary
way, and she shall cleanse you from your guilt.'

Then all the heroes wept aloud when they heard the sentence of the
oak; for they knew that a dark journey lay before them, and years
of bitter toil. And some upbraided the dark witch-woman, and some
said, 'Nay, we are her debtors still; without her we should never
have won the fleece.' But most of them bit their lips in silence,
for they feared the witch's spells.

And now the sea grew calmer, and the sun shone out once more, and
the heroes thrust the ship off the sand-bank, and rowed forward on
their weary course under the guiding of the dark witch-maiden, into
the wastes of the unknown sea.

Whither they went I cannot tell, nor how they came to Circe's isle.
Some say that they went to the westward, and up the Ister {2}
stream, and so came into the Adriatic, dragging their ship over the
snowy Alps. And others say that they went southward, into the Red
Indian Sea, and past the sunny lands where spices grow, round
AEthiopia toward the West; and that at last they came to Libya, and
dragged their ship across the burning sands, and over the hills
into the Syrtes, where the flats and quicksands spread for many a
mile, between rich Cyrene and the Lotus-eaters' shore. But all
these are but dreams and fables, and dim hints of unknown lands.

But all say that they came to a place where they had to drag their
ship across the land nine days with ropes and rollers, till they
came into an unknown sea. And the best of all the old songs tells
us how they went away toward the North, till they came to the slope
of Caucasus, where it sinks into the sea; and to the narrow
Cimmerian Bosphorus, {3} where the Titan swam across upon the bull;
and thence into the lazy waters of the still Maeotid lake. {4} And
thence they went northward ever, up the Tanais, which we call Don,
past the Geloni and Sauromatai, and many a wandering shepherd-
tribe, and the one-eyed Arimaspi, of whom old Greek poets tell, who
steal the gold from the Griffins, in the cold Riphaian hills. {5}

And they passed the Scythian archers, and the Tauri who eat men,
and the wandering Hyperboreai, who feed their flocks beneath the
pole-star, until they came into the northern ocean, the dull dead
Cronian Sea. {6} And there Argo would move on no longer; and each
man clasped his elbow, and leaned his head upon his hand, heart-
broken with toil and hunger, and gave himself up to death. But
brave Ancaios the helmsman cheered up their hearts once more, and
bade them leap on land, and haul the ship with ropes and rollers
for many a weary day, whether over land, or mud, or ice, I know
not, for the song is mixed and broken like a dream. And it says
next, how they came to the rich nation of the famous long-lived
men; and to the coast of the Cimmerians, who never saw the sun,
buried deep in the glens of the snow mountains; and to the fair
land of Hermione, where dwelt the most righteous of all nations;
and to the gates of the world below, and to the dwelling-place of
dreams.

And at last Ancaios shouted, 'Endure a little while, brave friends,
the worst is surely past; for I can see the pure west wind ruffle
the water, and hear the roar of ocean on the sands. So raise up
the mast, and set the sail, and face what comes like men.'

Then out spoke the magic bough, 'Ah, would that I had perished long
ago, and been whelmed by the dread blue rocks, beneath the fierce
swell of the Euxine! Better so, than to wander for ever, disgraced
by the guilt of my princes; for the blood of Absyrtus still tracks
me, and woe follows hard upon woe. And now some dark horror will
clutch me, if I come near the Isle of Ierne. {7} Unless you will
cling to the land, and sail southward and southward for ever, I
shall wander beyond the Atlantic, to the ocean which has no shore.'

Then they blest the magic bough, and sailed southward along the
land. But ere they could pass Ierne, the land of mists and storms,
the wild wind came down, dark and roaring, and caught the sail, and
strained the ropes. And away they drove twelve nights, on the wide
wild western sea, through the foam, and over the rollers, while
they saw neither sun nor stars. And they cried again, 'We shall
perish, for we know not where we are. We are lost in the dreary
damp darkness, and cannot tell north from south.'

But Lynceus the long-sighted called gaily from the bows, 'Take
heart again, brave sailors; for I see a pine-clad isle, and the
halls of the kind Earth-mother, with a crown of clouds around
them.'

But Orpheus said, 'Turn from them, for no living man can land
there: there is no harbour on the coast, but steep-walled cliffs
all round.'

So Ancaios turned the ship away; and for three days more they
sailed on, till they came to Aiaia, Circe's home, and the fairy
island of the West. {8}

And there Jason bid them land, and seek about for any sign of
living man. And as they went inland Circe met them, coming down
toward the ship; and they trembled when they saw her, for her hair,
and face, and robes shone like flame.

And she came and looked at Medeia; and Medeia hid her face beneath
her veil.

And Circe cried, 'Ah, wretched girl, have you forgotten all your
sins, that you come hither to my island, where the flowers bloom
all the year round? Where is your aged father, and the brother
whom you killed? Little do I expect you to return in safety with
these strangers whom you love. I will send you food and wine: but
your ship must not stay here, for it is foul with sin, and foul
with sin its crew.'

And the heroes prayed her, but in vain, and cried, 'Cleanse us from
our guilt!' But she sent them away, and said, 'Go on to Malea, and
there you may be cleansed, and return home.'

Then a fair wind rose, and they sailed eastward by Tartessus on the
Iberian shore, till they came to the Pillars of Hercules, and the
Mediterranean Sea. And thence they sailed on through the deeps of
Sardinia, and past the Ausonian islands, and the capes of the
Tyrrhenian shore, till they came to a flowery island, upon a still
bright summer's eve. And as they neared it, slowly and wearily,
they heard sweet songs upon the shore. But when Medeia heard it,
she started, and cried, 'Beware, all heroes, for these are the
rocks of the Sirens. You must pass close by them, for there is no
other channel; but those who listen to that song are lost.'

Then Orpheus spoke, the king of all minstrels, 'Let them match
their song against mine. I have charmed stones, and trees, and
dragons, how much more the hearts of men!' So he caught up his
lyre, and stood upon the poop, and began his magic song.

And now they could see the Sirens on Anthemousa, the flowery isle;
three fair maidens sitting on the beach, beneath a red rock in the
setting sun, among beds of crimson poppies and golden asphodel.
Slowly they sung and sleepily, with silver voices, mild and clear,
which stole over the golden waters, and into the hearts of all the
heroes, in spite of Orpheus' song.

And all things stayed around and listened; the gulls sat in white
lines along the rocks; on the beach great seals lay basking, and
kept time with lazy heads; while silver shoals of fish came up to
hearken, and whispered as they broke the shining calm. The Wind
overhead hushed his whistling, as he shepherded his clouds toward
the west; and the clouds stood in mid blue, and listened dreaming,
like a flock of golden sheep.

And as the heroes listened, the oars fell from their hands, and
their heads drooped on their breasts, and they closed their heavy
eyes; and they dreamed of bright still gardens, and of slumbers
under murmuring pines, till all their toil seemed foolishness, and
they thought of their renown no more.

Then one lifted his head suddenly, and cried, 'What use in
wandering for ever? Let us stay here and rest awhile.' And
another, 'Let us row to the shore, and hear the words they sing.'
And another, 'I care not for the words, but for the music. They
shall sing me to sleep, that I may rest.'

And Butes, the son of Pandion, the fairest of all mortal men, leapt
out and swam toward the shore, crying, 'I come, I come, fair
maidens, to live and die here, listening to your song.'

Then Medeia clapped her hands together, and cried, 'Sing louder,
Orpheus, sing a bolder strain; wake up these hapless sluggards, or
none of them will see the land of Hellas more.'

Then Orpheus lifted his harp, and crashed his cunning hand across
the strings; and his music and his voice rose like a trumpet
through the still evening air; into the air it rushed like thunder,
till the rocks rang and the sea; and into their souls it rushed
like wine, till all hearts beat fast within their breasts.

And he sung the song of Perseus, how the Gods led him over land and
sea, and how he slew the loathly Gorgon, and won himself a peerless
bride; and how he sits now with the Gods upon Olympus, a shining
star in the sky, immortal with his immortal bride, and honoured by
all men below.

So Orpheus sang, and the Sirens, answering each other across the
golden sea, till Orpheus' voice drowned the Sirens', and the heroes
caught their oars again.

And they cried, 'We will be men like Perseus, and we will dare and
suffer to the last. Sing us his song again, brave Orpheus, that we
may forget the Sirens and their spell.'

And as Orpheus sang, they dashed their oars into the sea, and kept
time to his music, as they fled fast away; and the Sirens' voices
died behind them, in the hissing of the foam along their wake.

But Butes swam to the shore, and knelt down before the Sirens, and
cried, 'Sing on! sing on!' But he could say no more, for a charmed
sleep came over him, and a pleasant humming in his ears; and he
sank all along upon the pebbles, and forgot all heaven and earth,
and never looked at that sad beach around him, all strewn with the
bones of men.

Then slowly rose up those three fair sisters, with a cruel smile
upon their lips; and slowly they crept down towards him, like
leopards who creep upon their prey; and their hands were like the
talons of eagles as they stept across the bones of their victims to
enjoy their cruel feast.

But fairest Aphrodite saw him from the highest Idalian peak, and
she pitied his youth and his beauty, and leapt up from her golden
throne; and like a falling star she cleft the sky, and left a trail
of glittering light, till she stooped to the Isle of the Sirens,
and snatched their prey from their claws. And she lifted Butes as
he lay sleeping, and wrapt him in golden mist; and she bore him to
the peak of Lilybaeum, and he slept there many a pleasant year.

But when the Sirens saw that they were conquered, they shrieked for
envy and rage, and leapt from the beach into the sea, and were
changed into rocks until this day.

Then they came to the straits by Lilybaeum, and saw Sicily, the
three-cornered island, under which Enceladus the giant lies
groaning day and night, and when he turns the earth quakes, and his
breath bursts out in roaring flames from the highest cone of AEtna,
above the chestnut woods. And there Charybdis caught them in its
fearful coils of wave, and rolled mast-high about them, and spun
them round and round; and they could go neither back nor forward,
while the whirlpool sucked them in.

And while they struggled they saw near them, on the other side the
strait, a rock stand in the water, with its peak wrapt round in
clouds--a rock which no man could climb, though he had twenty hands
and feet, for the stone was smooth and slippery, as if polished by
man's hand; and halfway up a misty cave looked out toward the west.

And when Orpheus saw it he groaned, and struck his hands together.
And 'Little will it help us,' he cried, 'to escape the jaws of the
whirlpool; for in that cave lives Scylla, the sea-hag with a young
whelp's voice; my mother warned me of her ere we sailed away from
Hellas; she has six heads, and six long necks, and hides in that
dark cleft. And from her cave she fishes for all things which pass
by--for sharks, and seals, and dolphins, and all the herds of
Amphitrite. And never ship's crew boasted that they came safe by
her rock, for she bends her long necks down to them, and every
mouth takes up a man. And who will help us now? For Hera and Zeus
hate us, and our ship is foul with guilt; so we must die, whatever
befalls.'

Then out of the depths came Thetis, Peleus' silver-footed bride,
for love of her gallant husband, and all her nymphs around her; and
they played like snow-white dolphins, diving on from wave to wave,
before the ship, and in her wake, and beside her, as dolphins play.
And they caught the ship, and guided her, and passed her on from
hand to hand, and tossed her through the billows, as maidens toss
the ball. And when Scylla stooped to seize her, they struck back
her ravening heads, and foul Scylla whined, as a whelp whines, at
the touch of their gentle hands. But she shrank into her cave
affrighted--for all bad things shrink from good--and Argo leapt
safe past her, while a fair breeze rose behind. Then Thetis and
her nymphs sank down to their coral caves beneath the sea, and
their gardens of green and purple, where live flowers bloom all the
year round; while the heroes went on rejoicing, yet dreading what
might come next.

After that they rowed on steadily for many a weary day, till they
saw a long high island, and beyond it a mountain land. And they
searched till they found a harbour, and there rowed boldly in. But
after awhile they stopped, and wondered, for there stood a great
city on the shore, and temples and walls and gardens, and castles
high in air upon the cliffs. And on either side they saw a
harbour, with a narrow mouth, but wide within; and black ships
without number, high and dry upon the shore.

Then Ancaios, the wise helmsman, spoke, 'What new wonder is this?
I know all isles, and harbours, and the windings of all seas; and
this should be Corcyra, where a few wild goat-herds dwell. But
whence come these new harbours and vast works of polished stone?'

But Jason said, 'They can be no savage people. We will go in and
take our chance.'

So they rowed into the harbour, among a thousand black-beaked
ships, each larger far than Argo, toward a quay of polished stone.
And they wondered at that mighty city, with its roofs of burnished
brass, and long and lofty walls of marble, with strong palisades
above. And the quays were full of people, merchants, and mariners,
and slaves, going to and fro with merchandise among the crowd of
ships. And the heroes' hearts were humbled, and they looked at
each other and said, 'We thought ourselves a gallant crew when we
sailed from Iolcos by the sea; but how small we look before this
city, like an ant before a hive of bees.'

Then the sailors hailed them roughly from the quay, 'What men are
you?--we want no strangers here, nor pirates. We keep our business
to ourselves.'

But Jason answered gently, with many a flattering word, and praised
their city and their harbour, and their fleet of gallant ships.
'Surely you are the children of Poseidon, and the masters of the
sea; and we are but poor wandering mariners, worn out with thirst
and toil. Give us but food and water, and we will go on our voyage
in peace.'

Then the sailors laughed, and answered, 'Stranger, you are no fool;
you talk like an honest man, and you shall find us honest too. We
are the children of Poseidon, and the masters of the sea; but come
ashore to us, and you shall have the best that we can give.'

So they limped ashore, all stiff and weary, with long ragged beards
and sunburnt cheeks, and garments torn and weather-stained, and
weapons rusted with the spray, while the sailors laughed at them
(for they were rough-tongued, though their hearts were frank and
kind). And one said, 'These fellows are but raw sailors; they look
as if they had been sea-sick all the day.' And another, 'Their
legs have grown crooked with much rowing, till they waddle in their
walk like ducks.'

At that Idas the rash would have struck them; but Jason held him
back, till one of the merchant kings spoke to them, a tall and
stately man.

'Do not be angry, strangers; the sailor boys must have their jest.
But we will treat you justly and kindly, for strangers and poor men
come from God; and you seem no common sailors by your strength, and
height, and weapons. Come up with me to the palace of Alcinous,
the rich sea-going king, and we will feast you well and heartily;
and after that you shall tell us your name.'

But Medeia hung back, and trembled, and whispered in Jason's ear,
'We are betrayed, and are going to our ruin, for I see my
countrymen among the crowd; dark-eyed Colchi in steel mail-shirts,
such as they wear in my father's land.'

'It is too late to turn,' said Jason. And he spoke to the merchant
king, 'What country is this, good sir; and what is this new-built
town?'

'This is the land of the Phaeaces, beloved by all the Immortals;
for they come hither and feast like friends with us, and sit by our
side in the hall. Hither we came from Liburnia to escape the
unrighteous Cyclopes; for they robbed us, peaceful merchants, of
our hard-earned wares and wealth. So Nausithous, the son of
Poseidon, brought us hither, and died in peace; and now his son
Alcinous rules us, and Arete the wisest of queens.'

So they went up across the square, and wondered still more as they
went; for along the quays lay in order great cables, and yards, and
masts, before the fair temple of Poseidon, the blue-haired king of
the seas. And round the square worked the ship-wrights, as many in
number as ants, twining ropes, and hewing timber, and smoothing
long yards and oars. And the Minuai went on in silence through
clean white marble streets, till they came to the hall of Alcinous,
and they wondered then still more. For the lofty palace shone
aloft in the sun, with walls of plated brass, from the threshold to
the innermost chamber, and the doors were of silver and gold. And
on each side of the doorway sat living dogs of gold, who never grew
old or died, so well Hephaistos had made them in his forges in
smoking Lemnos, and gave them to Alcinous to guard his gates by
night. And within, against the walls, stood thrones on either
side, down the whole length of the hall, strewn with rich glossy
shawls; and on them the merchant kings of those crafty sea-roving
Phaeaces sat eating and drinking in pride, and feasting there all
the year round. And boys of molten gold stood each on a polished
altar, and held torches in their hands, to give light all night to
the guests. And round the house sat fifty maid-servants, some
grinding the meal in the mill, some turning the spindle, some
weaving at the loom, while their hands twinkled as they passed the
shuttle, like quivering aspen leaves.

And outside before the palace a great garden was walled round,
filled full of stately fruit-trees, gray olives and sweet figs, and
pomegranates, pears, and apples, which bore the whole year round.
For the rich south-west wind fed them, till pear grew ripe on pear,
fig on fig, and grape on grape, all the winter and the spring. And
at the farther end gay flower-beds bloomed through all seasons of
the year; and two fair fountains rose, and ran, one through the
garden grounds, and one beneath the palace gate, to water all the
town. Such noble gifts the heavens had given to Alcinous the wise.

So they went in, and saw him sitting, like Poseidon, on his throne,
with his golden sceptre by him, in garments stiff with gold, and in
his hand a sculptured goblet, as he pledged the merchant kings; and
beside him stood Arete, his wise and lovely queen, and leaned
against a pillar as she spun her golden threads.

Then Alcinous rose, and welcomed them, and bade them sit and eat;
and the servants brought them tables, and bread, and meat, and
wine.

But Medeia went on trembling toward Arete the fair queen, and fell
at her knees, and clasped them, and cried, weeping, as she knelt -

'I am your guest, fair queen, and I entreat you by Zeus, from whom
prayers come. Do not send me back to my father to die some
dreadful death; but let me go my way, and bear my burden. Have I
not had enough of punishment and shame?'

'Who are you, strange maiden? and what is the meaning of your
prayer?'

'I am Medeia, daughter of Aietes, and I saw my countrymen here to-
day; and I know that they are come to find me, and take me home to
die some dreadful death.'

Then Arete frowned, and said, 'Lead this girl in, my maidens; and
let the kings decide, not I.'

And Alcinous leapt up from his throne, and cried, 'Speak,
strangers, who are you? And who is this maiden?'

'We are the heroes of the Minuai,' said Jason; 'and this maiden has
spoken truth. We are the men who took the golden fleece, the men
whose fame has run round every shore. We came hither out of the
ocean, after sorrows such as man never saw before. We went out
many, and come back few, for many a noble comrade have we lost. So
let us go, as you should let your guests go, in peace; that the
world may say, "Alcinous is a just king."'

But Alcinous frowned, and stood deep in thought; and at last he
spoke -

'Had not the deed been done which is done, I should have said this
day to myself, "It is an honour to Alcinous, and to his children
after him, that the far-famed Argonauts are his guests." But these
Colchi are my guests, as you are; and for this month they have
waited here with all their fleet, for they have hunted all the seas
of Hellas, and could not find you, and dared neither go farther,
nor go home.'

'Let them choose out their champions, and we will fight them, man
for man.'

'No guests of ours shall fight upon our island, and if you go
outside they will outnumber you. I will do justice between you,

for I know and do what is right.'

Then he turned to his kings, and said, 'This may stand over till
to-morrow. To-night we will feast our guests, and hear the story
of all their wanderings, and how they came hither out of the
ocean.'

So Alcinous bade the servants take the heroes in, and bathe them,
and give them clothes. And they were glad when they saw the warm
water, for it was long since they had bathed. And they washed off
the sea-salt from their limbs, and anointed themselves from head to
foot with oil, and combed out their golden hair. Then they came
back again into the hall, while the merchant kings rose up to do
them honour. And each man said to his neighbour, 'No wonder that
these men won fame. How they stand now like Giants, or Titans, or
Immortals come down from Olympus, though many a winter has worn
them, and many a fearful storm. What must they have been when they
sailed from Iolcos, in the bloom of their youth, long ago?'

Then they went out to the garden; and the merchant princes said,
'Heroes, run races with us. Let us see whose feet are nimblest.'

'We cannot race against you, for our limbs are stiff from sea; and
we have lost our two swift comrades, the sons of the north wind.
But do not think us cowards: if you wish to try our strength, we
will shoot, and box, and wrestle, against any men on earth.'

And Alcinous smiled, and answered, 'I believe you, gallant guests;
with your long limbs and broad shoulders, we could never match you
here. For we care nothing here for boxing, or for shooting with
the bow; but for feasts, and songs, and harping, and dancing, and
running races, to stretch our limbs on shore.'

So they danced there and ran races, the jolly merchant kings, till
the night fell, and all went in.

And then they ate and drank, and comforted their weary souls, till
Alcinous called a herald, and bade him go and fetch the harper.

The herald went out, and fetched the harper, and led him in by the
hand; and Alcinous cut him a piece of meat, from the fattest of the
haunch, and sent it to him, and said, 'Sing to us, noble harper,
and rejoice the heroes' hearts.'

So the harper played and sang, while the dancers danced strange
figures; and after that the tumblers showed their tricks, till the
heroes laughed again.

Then, 'Tell me, heroes,' asked Alcinous, 'you who have sailed the
ocean round, and seen the manners of all nations, have you seen
such dancers as ours here, or heard such music and such singing?
We hold ours to be the best on earth.'

'Such dancing we have never seen,' said Orpheus; 'and your singer
is a happy man, for Phoebus himself must have taught him, or else
he is the son of a Muse, as I am also, and have sung once or twice,
though not so well as he.'

'Sing to us, then, noble stranger,' said Alcinous; 'and we will
give you precious gifts.'

So Orpheus took his magic harp, and sang to them a stirring song of
their voyage from Iolcos, and their dangers, and how they won the
golden fleece; and of Medeia's love, and how she helped them, and
went with them over land and sea; and of all their fearful dangers,
from monsters, and rocks, and storms, till the heart of Arete was
softened, and all the women wept. And the merchant kings rose up,
each man from off his golden throne, and clapped their hands, and
shouted, 'Hail to the noble Argonauts, who sailed the unknown sea!'

Then he went on, and told their journey over the sluggish northern
main, and through the shoreless outer ocean, to the fairy island of
the west; and of the Sirens, and Scylla, and Charybdis, and all the
wonders they had seen, till midnight passed and the day dawned; but
the kings never thought of sleep. Each man sat still and listened,
with his chin upon his hand.

And at last, when Orpheus had ended, they all went thoughtful out,
and the heroes lay down to sleep, beneath the sounding porch
outside, where Arete had strewn them rugs and carpets, in the sweet
still summer night.

But Arete pleaded hard with her husband for Medeia, for her heart
was softened. And she said, 'The Gods will punish her, not we.
After all, she is our guest and my suppliant, and prayers are the
daughters of Zeus. And who, too, dare part man and wife, after all
they have endured together?'

And Alcinous smiled. 'The minstrel's song has charmed you: but I
must remember what is right, for songs cannot alter justice; and I
must be faithful to my name. Alcinous I am called, the man of
sturdy sense; and Alcinous I will be.' But for all that Arete
besought him, until she won him round.

So next morning he sent a herald, and called the kings into the
square, and said, 'This is a puzzling matter: remember but one
thing. These Minuai live close by us, and we may meet them often
on the seas; but Aietes lives afar off, and we have only heard his
name. Which, then, of the two is it safer to offend--the men near
us, or the men far off?'

The princes laughed, and praised his wisdom; and Alcinous called
the heroes to the square, and the Colchi also; and they came and
stood opposite each other, but Medeia stayed in the palace. Then
Alcinous spoke, 'Heroes of the Colchi, what is your errand about
this lady?'

'To carry her home with us, that she may die a shameful death; but
if we return without her, we must die the death she should have
died.'

'What say you to this, Jason the AEolid?' said Alcinous, turning to
the Minuai.

'I say,' said the cunning Jason, 'that they are come here on a
bootless errand. Do you think that you can make her follow you,
heroes of the Colchi--her, who knows all spells and charms? She
will cast away your ships on quicksands, or call down on you Brimo
the wild huntress; or the chains will fall from off her wrists, and
she will escape in her dragon-car; or if not thus, some other way,
for she has a thousand plans and wiles. And why return home at
all, brave heroes, and face the long seas again, and the Bosphorus,
and the stormy Euxine, and double all your toil? There is many a
fair land round these coasts, which waits for gallant men like you.
Better to settle there, and build a city, and let Aietes and
Colchis help themselves.'

Then a murmur rose among the Colchi, and some cried 'He has spoken
well;' and some, 'We have had enough of roving, we will sail the
seas no more!' And the chief said at last, 'Be it so, then; a
plague she has been to us, and a plague to the house of her father,
and a plague she will be to you. Take her, since you are no wiser;
and we will sail away toward the north.'

Then Alcinous gave them food, and water, and garments, and rich
presents of all sorts; and he gave the same to the Minuai, and sent
them all away in peace.

So Jason kept the dark witch-maiden to breed him woe and shame; and
the Colchi went northward into the Adriatic, and settled, and built
towns along the shore.

Then the heroes rowed away to the eastward, to reach Hellas, their
beloved land; but a storm came down upon them, and swept them far
away toward the south. And they rowed till they were spent with
struggling, through the darkness and the blinding rain; but where
they were they could not tell, and they gave up all hope of life.
And at last touched the ground, and when daylight came waded to the
shore; and saw nothing round but sand and desolate salt pools, for
they had come to the quicksands of the Syrtis, and the dreary
treeless flats which lie between Numidia and Cyrene, on the burning
shore of Africa. And there they wandered starving for many a weary
day, ere they could launch their ship again, and gain the open sea.
And there Canthus was killed, while he was trying to drive off
sheep, by a stone which a herdsman threw.

And there too Mopsus died, the seer who knew the voices of all
birds; but he could not foretell his own end, for he was bitten in
the foot by a snake, one of those which sprang from the Gorgon's
head when Perseus carried it across the sands.

At last they rowed away toward the northward, for many a weary day,
till their water was spent, and their food eaten; and they were
worn out with hunger and thirst. But at last they saw a long steep
island, and a blue peak high among the clouds; and they knew it for
the peak of Ida, and the famous land of Crete. And they said, 'We
will land in Crete, and see Minos the just king, and all his glory
and his wealth; at least he will treat us hospitably, and let us
fill our water-casks upon the shore.'

But when they came nearer to the island they saw a wondrous sight
upon the cliffs. For on a cape to the westward stood a giant,
taller than any mountain pine, who glittered aloft against the sky
like a tower of burnished brass. He turned and looked on all sides
round him, till he saw the Argo and her crew; and when he saw them
he came toward them, more swiftly than the swiftest horse, leaping
across the glens at a bound, and striding at one step from down to
down. And when he came abreast of them he brandished his arms up
and down, as a ship hoists and lowers her yards, and shouted with
his brazen throat like a trumpet from off the hills, 'You are
pirates, you are robbers! If you dare land here, you die.'

Then the heroes cried, 'We are no pirates. We are all good men and
true, and all we ask is food and water;' but the giant cried the
more -

'You are robbers, you are pirates all; I know you; and if you land,
you shall die the death.'

Then he waved his arms again as a signal, and they saw the people
flying inland, driving their flocks before them, while a great
flame arose among the hills. Then the giant ran up a valley and
vanished, and the heroes lay on their oars in fear.

But Medeia stood watching all from under her steep black brows,
with a cunning smile upon her lips, and a cunning plot within her
heart. At last she spoke, 'I know this giant. I heard of him in
the East. Hephaistos the Fire King made him in his forge in AEtna
beneath the earth, and called him Talus, and gave him to Minos for
a servant, to guard the coast of Crete. Thrice a day he walks
round the island, and never stops to sleep; and if strangers land
he leaps into his furnace, which flames there among the hills; and
when he is red-hot he rushes on them, and burns them in his brazen
hands.'

Then all the heroes cried, 'What shall we do, wise Medeia? We must
have water, or we die of thirst. Flesh and blood we can face
fairly; but who can face this red-hot brass?'

'I can face red-hot brass, if the tale I hear be true. For they
say that he has but one vein in all his body, filled with liquid
fire; and that this vein is closed with a nail: but I know not
where that nail is placed. But if I can get it once into these
hands, you shall water your ship here in peace.'

Then she bade them put her on shore, and row off again, and wait
what would befall.

And the heroes obeyed her unwillingly, for they were ashamed to
leave her so alone; but Jason said, 'She is dearer to me than to
any of you, yet I will trust her freely on shore; she has more
plots than we can dream of in the windings of that fair and cunning
head.'

So they left the witch-maiden on the shore; and she stood there in
her beauty all alone, till the giant strode back red-hot from head
to heel, while the grass hissed and smoked beneath his tread.

And when he saw the maiden alone, he stopped; and she looked boldly
up into his face without moving, and began her magic song:-

'Life is short, though life is sweet; and even men of brass and
fire must die. The brass must rust, the fire must cool, for time
gnaws all things in their turn. Life is short, though life is
sweet: but sweeter to live for ever; sweeter to live ever youthful
like the Gods, who have ichor in their veins--ichor which gives
life, and youth, and joy, and a bounding heart.'

Then Talus said, 'Who are you, strange maiden, and where is this
ichor of youth?'

Then Medeia held up a flask of crystal, and said, 'Here is the
ichor of youth. I am Medeia the enchantress; my sister Circe gave
me this, and said, "Go and reward Talus, the faithful servant, for
his fame is gone out into all lands." So come, and I will pour
this into your veins, that you may live for ever young.'

And he listened to her false words, that simple Talus, and came
near; and Medeia said, 'Dip yourself in the sea first, and cool
yourself, lest you burn my tender hands; then show me where the
nail in your vein is, that I may pour the ichor in.'

Then that simple Talus dipped himself in the sea, till it hissed,
and roared, and smoked; and came and knelt before Medeia, and
showed her the secret nail.

And she drew the nail out gently, but she poured no ichor in; and
instead the liquid fire spouted forth, like a stream of red-hot
iron. And Talus tried to leap up, crying, 'You have betrayed me,
false witch-maiden!' But she lifted up her hands before him, and
sang, till he sank beneath her spell. And as he sank, his brazen
limbs clanked heavily, and the earth groaned beneath his weight;
and the liquid fire ran from his heel, like a stream of lava, to
the sea; and Medeia laughed, and called to the heroes, 'Come
ashore, and water your ship in peace.'

So they came, and found the giant lying dead; and they fell down,
and kissed Medeia's feet; and watered their ship, and took sheep
and oxen, and so left that inhospitable shore.

At last, after many more adventures, they came to the Cape of
Malea, at the south-west point of the Peloponnese. And there they
offered sacrifices, and Orpheus purged them from their guilt. Then
they rode away again to the northward, past the Laconian shore, and
came all worn and tired by Sunium, and up the long Euboean Strait,
until they saw once more Pelion, and Aphetai, and Iolcos by the
sea.

And they ran the ship ashore; but they had no strength left to haul
her up the beach; and they crawled out on the pebbles, and sat
down, and wept till they could weep no more. For the houses and
the trees were all altered; and all the faces which they saw were
strange; and their joy was swallowed up in sorrow, while they
thought of their youth, and all their labour, and the gallant
comrades they had lost.

And the people crowded round, and asked them 'Who are you, that you
sit weeping here?'

'We are the sons of your princes, who sailed out many a year ago.
We went to fetch the golden fleece, and we have brought it, and
grief therewith. Give us news of our fathers and our mothers, if
any of them be left alive on earth.'

Then there was shouting, and laughing, and weeping; and all the
kings came to the shore, and they led away the heroes to their
homes, and bewailed the valiant dead.

Then Jason went up with Medeia to the palace of his uncle Pelias.
And when he came in Pelias sat by the hearth, crippled and blind
with age; while opposite him sat AEson, Jason's father, crippled
and blind likewise; and the two old men's heads shook together as
they tried to warm themselves before the fire.

And Jason fell down at his father's knees, and wept, and called him
by his name. And the old man stretched his hands out, and felt
him, and said, 'Do not mock me, young hero. My son Jason is dead
long ago at sea.'

'I am your own son Jason, whom you trusted to the Centaur upon
Pelion; and I have brought home the golden fleece, and a princess
of the Sun's race for my bride. So now give me up the kingdom,
Pelias my uncle, and fulfil your promise as I have fulfilled mine.'

Then his father clung to him like a child, and wept, and would not
let him go; and cried, 'Now I shall not go down lonely to my grave.
Promise me never to leave me till I die.'





Next: WHAT WAS THE END OF THE HEROES

Previous: HOW THE ARGONAUTS SAILED TO COLCHIS



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