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HOW THE CENTAUR TRAINED THE HEROES ON PELION

from The Heroes - The Argonauts





I have told you of a hero who fought with wild beasts and with wild
men; but now I have a tale of heroes who sailed away into a distant
land, to win themselves renown for ever, in the adventure of the
Golden Fleece.

Whither they sailed, my children, I cannot clearly tell. It all
happened long ago; so long that it has all grown dim, like a dream
which you dreamt last year. And why they went I cannot tell: some
say that it was to win gold. It may be so; but the noblest deeds
which have been done on earth have not been done for gold. It was
not for the sake of gold that the Lord came down and died, and the
Apostles went out to preach the good news in all lands. The
Spartans looked for no reward in money when they fought and died at
Thermopylae; and Socrates the wise asked no pay from his
countrymen, but lived poor and barefoot all his days, only caring
to make men good. And there are heroes in our days also, who do
noble deeds, but not for gold. Our discoverers did not go to make
themselves rich when they sailed out one after another into the
dreary frozen seas; nor did the ladies who went out last year to
drudge in the hospitals of the East, making themselves poor, that
they might be rich in noble works. And young men, too, whom you
know, children, and some of them of your own kin, did they say to
themselves, 'How much money shall I earn?' when they went out to
the war, leaving wealth, and comfort, and a pleasant home, and all
that money can give, to face hunger and thirst, and wounds and
death, that they might fight for their country and their Queen?
No, children, there is a better thing on earth than wealth, a
better thing than life itself; and that is, to have done something
before you die, for which good men may honour you, and God your
Father smile upon your work.

Therefore we will believe--why should we not?--of these same
Argonauts of old, that they too were noble men, who planned and did
a noble deed; and that therefore their fame has lived, and been
told in story and in song, mixed up, no doubt, with dreams and
fables, and yet true and right at heart. So we will honour these
old Argonauts, and listen to their story as it stands; and we will
try to be like them, each of us in our place; for each of us has a
Golden Fleece to seek, and a wild sea to sail over ere we reach it,
and dragons to fight ere it be ours.


And what was that first Golden Fleece? I do not know, nor care.
The old Hellens said that it hung in Colchis, which we call the
Circassian coast, nailed to a beech-tree in the war-God's wood; and
that it was the fleece of the wondrous ram who bore Phrixus and
Helle across the Euxine sea. For Phrixus and Helle were the
children of the cloud-nymph, and of Athamas the Minuan king. And
when a famine came upon the land, their cruel step-mother Ino
wished to kill them, that her own children might reign, and said
that they must be sacrificed on an altar, to turn away the anger of
the Gods. So the poor children were brought to the altar, and the
priest stood ready with his knife, when out of the clouds came the
Golden Ram, and took them on his back, and vanished. Then madness
came upon that foolish king, Athamas, and ruin upon Ino and her
children. For Athamas killed one of them in his fury, and Ino fled
from him with the other in her arms, and leaped from a cliff into
the sea, and was changed into a dolphin, such as you have seen,
which wanders over the waves for ever sighing, with its little one
clasped to its breast.

But the people drove out King Athamas, because he had killed his
child; and he roamed about in his misery, till he came to the
Oracle in Delphi. And the Oracle told him that he must wander for
his sin, till the wild beasts should feast him as their guest. So
he went on in hunger and sorrow for many a weary day, till he saw a
pack of wolves. The wolves were tearing a sheep; but when they saw
Athamas they fled, and left the sheep for him, and he ate of it;
and then he knew that the oracle was fulfilled at last. So he
wandered no more; but settled, and built a town, and became a king
again.

But the ram carried the two children far away over land and sea,
till he came to the Thracian Chersonese, and there Helle fell into
the sea. So those narrow straits are called 'Hellespont,' after
her; and they bear that name until this day.

Then the ram flew on with Phrixus to the north-east across the sea
which we call the Black Sea now; but the Hellens call it Euxine.
And at last, they say, he stopped at Colchis, on the steep
Circassian coast; and there Phrixus married Chalciope, the daughter
of Aietes the king; and offered the ram in sacrifice; and Aietes
nailed the ram's fleece to a beech, in the grove of Ares the war-
God.

And after awhile Phrixus died, and was buried, but his spirit had
no rest; for he was buried far from his native land, and the
pleasant hills of Hellas. So he came in dreams to the heroes of
the Minuai, and called sadly by their beds, 'Come and set my spirit
free, that I may go home to my fathers and to my kinsfolk, and the
pleasant Minuan land.'

And they asked, 'How shall we set your spirit free?'

'You must sail over the sea to Colchis, and bring home the golden
fleece; and then my spirit will come back with it, and I shall
sleep with my fathers and have rest.'

He came thus, and called to them often; but when they woke they
looked at each other, and said, 'Who dare sail to Colchis, or bring
home the golden fleece?' And in all the country none was brave
enough to try it; for the man and the time were not come.

Phrixus had a cousin called AEson, who was king in Iolcos by the
sea. There he ruled over the rich Minuan heroes, as Athamas his
uncle ruled in Boeotia; and, like Athamas, he was an unhappy man.
For he had a step-brother named Pelias, of whom some said that he
was a nymph's son, and there were dark and sad tales about his
birth. When he was a babe he was cast out on the mountains, and a
wild mare came by and kicked him. But a shepherd passing found the
baby, with its face all blackened by the blow; and took him home,
and called him Pelias, because his face was bruised and black. And
he grew up fierce and lawless, and did many a fearful deed; and at
last he drove out AEson his step-brother, and then his own brother
Neleus, and took the kingdom to himself, and ruled over the rich
Minuan heroes, in Iolcos by the sea.

And AEson, when he was driven out, went sadly away out of the town,
leading his little son by the hand; and he said to himself, 'I must
hide the child in the mountains; or Pelias will surely kill him,
because he is the heir.'

So he went up from the sea across the valley, through the vineyards
and the olive groves, and across the torrent of Anauros, toward
Pelion the ancient mountain, whose brows are white with snow.

He went up and up into the mountain, over marsh, and crag, and
down, till the boy was tired and footsore, and AEson had to bear
him in his arms, till he came to the mouth of a lonely cave, at the
foot of a mighty cliff.

Above the cliff the snow-wreaths hung, dripping and cracking in the
sun; but at its foot around the cave's mouth grew all fair flowers
and herbs, as if in a garden, ranged in order, each sort by itself.
There they grew gaily in the sunshine, and the spray of the torrent
from above; while from the cave came the sound of music, and a
man's voice singing to the harp.

Then AEson put down the lad, and whispered -

'Fear not, but go in, and whomsoever you shall find, lay your hands
upon his knees, and say, "In the name of Zeus, the father of Gods
and men, I am your guest from this day forth."'

Then the lad went in without trembling, for he too was a hero's
son; but when he was within, he stopped in wonder to listen to that
magic song.

And there he saw the singer lying upon bear-skins and fragrant
boughs: Cheiron, the ancient centaur, the wisest of all things
beneath the sky. Down to the waist he was a man, but below he was
a noble horse; his white hair rolled down over his broad shoulders,
and his white beard over his broad brown chest; and his eyes were
wise and mild, and his forehead like a mountain-wall.

And in his hands he held a harp of gold, and struck it with a
golden key; and as he struck, he sang till his eyes glittered, and
filled all the cave with light.

And he sang of the birth of Time, and of the heavens and the
dancing stars; and of the ocean, and the ether, and the fire, and
the shaping of the wondrous earth. And he sang of the treasures of
the hills, and the hidden jewels of the mine, and the veins of fire
and metal, and the virtues of all healing herbs, and of the speech
of birds, and of prophecy, and of hidden things to come.

Then he sang of health, and strength, and manhood, and a valiant
heart; and of music, and hunting, and wrestling, and all the games
which heroes love: and of travel, and wars, and sieges, and a
noble death in fight; and then he sang of peace and plenty, and of
equal justice in the land; and as he sang the boy listened wide-
eyed, and forgot his errand in the song.

And at the last old Cheiron was silent, and called the lad with a
soft voice.

And the lad ran trembling to him, and would have laid his hands
upon his knees; but Cheiron smiled, and said, 'Call hither your
father AEson, for I know you, and all that has befallen, and saw
you both afar in the valley, even before you left the town.'

Then AEson came in sadly, and Cheiron asked him, 'Why camest you
not yourself to me, AEson the AEolid?'

And AEson said -

'I thought, Cheiron will pity the lad if he sees him come alone;
and I wished to try whether he was fearless, and dare venture like
a hero's son. But now I entreat you by Father Zeus, let the boy be
your guest till better times, and train him among the sons of the
heroes, that he may avenge his father's house.'

Then Cheiron smiled, and drew the lad to him, and laid his hand
upon his golden locks, and said, 'Are you afraid of my horse's
hoofs, fair boy, or will you be my pupil from this day?'

'I would gladly have horse's hoofs like you, if I could sing such
songs as yours.'

And Cheiron laughed, and said, 'Sit here by me till sundown, when
your playfellows will come home, and you shall learn like them to
be a king, worthy to rule over gallant men.'

Then he turned to AEson, and said, 'Go back in peace, and bend
before the storm like a prudent man. This boy shall not cross the
Anauros again, till he has become a glory to you and to the house
of AEolus.'

And AEson wept over his son and went away; but the boy did not
weep, so full was his fancy of that strange cave, and the centaur,
and his song, and the playfellows whom he was to see.

Then Cheiron put the lyre into his hands, and taught him how to
play it, till the sun sank low behind the cliff, and a shout was
heard outside.

And then in came the sons of the heroes, AEneas, and Heracles, and
Peleus, and many another mighty name.

And great Cheiron leapt up joyfully, and his hoofs made the cave
resound, as they shouted, 'Come out, Father Cheiron; come out and
see our game.' And one cried, 'I have killed two deer;' and
another, 'I took a wild cat among the crags;' and Heracles dragged
a wild goat after him by its horns, for he was as huge as a
mountain crag; and Coeneus carried a bear-cub under each arm, and
laughed when they scratched and bit, for neither tooth nor steel
could wound him.

And Cheiron praised them all, each according to his deserts.

Only one walked apart and silent, Asclepius, the too-wise child,
with his bosom full of herbs and flowers, and round his wrist a
spotted snake; he came with downcast eyes to Cheiron, and whispered
how he had watched the snake cast its old skin, and grow young
again before his eyes, and how he had gone down into a village in
the vale, and cured a dying man with a herb which he had seen a
sick goat eat.

And Cheiron smiled, and said, 'To each Athene and Apollo give some
gift, and each is worthy in his place; but to this child they have
given an honour beyond all honours, to cure while others kill.'

Then the lads brought in wood, and split it, and lighted a blazing
fire; and others skinned the deer and quartered them, and set them
to roast before the fire; and while the venison was cooking they
bathed in the snow-torrent, and washed away the dust and sweat.

And then all ate till they could eat no more (for they had tasted
nothing since the dawn), and drank of the clear spring water, for
wine is not fit for growing lads. And when the remnants were put
away, they all lay down upon the skins and leaves about the fire,
and each took the lyre in turn, and sang and played with all his
heart.

And after a while they all went out to a plot of grass at the
cave's mouth, and there they boxed, and ran, and wrestled, and
laughed till the stones fell from the cliffs.

Then Cheiron took his lyre, and all the lads joined hands; and as
be played, they danced to his measure, in and out, and round and
round. There they danced hand in hand, till the night fell over
land and sea, while the black glen shone with their broad white
limbs and the gleam of their golden hair.

And the lad danced with them, delighted, and then slept a wholesome
sleep, upon fragrant leaves of bay, and myrtle, and marjoram, and
flowers of thyme; and rose at the dawn, and bathed in the torrent,
and became a schoolfellow to the heroes' sons, and forgot Iolcos,
and his father, and all his former life. But he grew strong, and
brave and cunning, upon the pleasant downs of Pelion, in the keen
hungry mountain air. And he learnt to wrestle, and to box, and to
hunt, and to play upon the harp; and next he learnt to ride, for
old Cheiron used to mount him on his back; and he learnt the
virtues of all herbs and how to cure all wounds; and Cheiron called
him Jason the healer, and that is his name until this day.





Next: HOW JASON LOST HIS SANDAL IN ANAUROS

Previous: HOW PERSEUS CAME HOME AGAIN



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