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WHAT WAS THE END OF THE HEROES

from The Heroes - Theseus





And now I wish that I could end my story pleasantly; but it is no
fault of mine that I cannot. The old songs end it sadly, and I
believe that they are right and wise; for though the heroes were
purified at Malea, yet sacrifices cannot make bad hearts good, and
Jason had taken a wicked wife, and he had to bear his burden to the
last.

And first she laid a cunning plot to punish that poor old Pelias,
instead of letting him die in peace.

For she told his daughters, 'I can make old things young again; I
will show you how easy it is to do.' So she took an old ram and
killed him, and put him in a cauldron with magic herbs; and
whispered her spells over him, and he leapt out again a young lamb.
So that 'Medeia's cauldron' is a proverb still, by which we mean
times of war and change, when the world has become old and feeble,
and grows young again through bitter pains.

Then she said to Pelias' daughters, 'Do to your father as I did to
this ram, and he will grow young and strong again.' But she only
told them half the spell; so they failed, while Medeia mocked them;
and poor old Pelias died, and his daughters came to misery. But
the songs say she cured AEson, Jason's father, and he became young,
and strong again.

But Jason could not love her, after all her cruel deeds. So he was
ungrateful to her, and wronged her; and she revenged herself on
him. And a terrible revenge she took--too terrible to speak of
here. But you will hear of it yourselves when you grow up, for it
has been sung in noble poetry and music; and whether it be true or
not, it stands for ever as a warning to us not to seek for help
from evil persons, or to gain good ends by evil means. For if we
use an adder even against our enemies, it will turn again and sting
us.

But of all the other heroes there is many a brave tale left, which
I have no space to tell you, so you must read them for yourselves;-
-of the hunting of the boar in Calydon, which Meleager killed; and
of Heracles' twelve famous labours; and of the seven who fought at
Thebes; and of the noble love of Castor and Polydeuces, the twin
Dioscouroi--how when one died the other would not live without him,
so they shared their immortality between them; and Zeus changed
them into the two twin stars which never rise both at once.

And what became of Cheiron, the good immortal beast? That, too, is
a sad story; for the heroes never saw him more. He was wounded by
a poisoned arrow, at Pholoe among the hills, when Heracles opened
the fatal wine-jar, which Cheiron had warned him not to touch. And
the Centaurs smelt the wine, and flocked to it, and fought for it
with Heracles; but he killed them all with his poisoned arrows, and
Cheiron was left alone. Then Cheiron took up one of the arrows,
and dropped it by chance upon his foot; and the poison ran like
fire along his veins, and he lay down and longed to die; and cried,
'Through wine I perish, the bane of all my race. Why should I live
for ever in this agony? Who will take my immortality, that I may
die?'

Then Prometheus answered, the good Titan, whom Heracles had set
free from Caucasus, 'I will take your immortality and live for
ever, that I may help poor mortal men.' So Cheiron gave him his
immortality, and died, and had rest from pain. And Heracles and
Prometheus wept over him, and went to bury him on Pelion; but Zeus
took him up among the stars, to live for ever, grand and mild, low
down in the far southern sky.

And in time the heroes died, all but Nestor, the silver-tongued old
man; and left behind them valiant sons, but not so great as they
had been. Yet their fame, too, lives till this day, for they
fought at the ten years' siege of Troy: and their story is in the
book which we call Homer, in two of the noblest songs on earth--the
'Iliad,' which tells us of the siege of Troy, and Achilles' quarrel
with the kings; and the 'Odyssey,' which tells the wanderings of
Odysseus, through many lands for many years, and how Alcinous sent
him home at last, safe to Ithaca his beloved island, and to
Penelope his faithful wife, and Telemachus his son, and Euphorbus
the noble swineherd, and the old dog who licked his hand and died.
We will read that sweet story, children, by the fire some winter
night. And now I will end my tale, and begin another and a more
cheerful one, of a hero who became a worthy king, and won his
people's love.





Next: HOW THESEUS LIFTED THE STONE

Previous: HOW THE ARGONAUTS WERE DRIVEN INTO THE UNKNOWN SEA



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