HOW PERSEUS SLEW THE GORGON





So Perseus started on his journey, going dry-shod over land and

sea; and his heart was high and joyful, for the winged sandals bore

him each day a seven days' journey.



And he went by Cythnus, and by Ceos, and the pleasant Cyclades to

Attica; and past Athens and Thebes, and the Copaic lake, and up the

vale of Cephissus, and past the peaks of OEta and Pindus, and over

the rich Thessalian plains, till the sunny hills of Greece were

behind him, and before him were the wilds of the north. Then he

passed the Thracian mountains, and many a barbarous tribe, Paeons

and Dardans and Triballi, till he came to the Ister stream, and the

dreary Scythian plains. And he walked across the Ister dry-shod,

and away through the moors and fens, day and night toward the bleak

north-west, turning neither to the right hand nor the left, till he

came to the Unshapen Land, and the place which has no name.



And seven days he walked through it, on a path which few can tell;

for those who have trodden it like least to speak of it, and those

who go there again in dreams are glad enough when they awake; till

he came to the edge of the everlasting night, where the air was

full of feathers, and the soil was hard with ice; and there at last

he found the three Gray Sisters, by the shore of the freezing sea,

nodding upon a white log of drift-wood, beneath the cold white

winter moon; and they chaunted a low song together, 'Why the old

times were better than the new.'



There was no living thing around them, not a fly, not a moss upon

the rocks. Neither seal nor sea-gull dare come near, lest the ice

should clutch them in its claws. The surge broke up in foam, but

it fell again in flakes of snow; and it frosted the hair of the

three Gray Sisters, and the bones in the ice-cliff above their

heads. They passed the eye from one to the other, but for all that

they could not see; and they passed the tooth from one to the

other, but for all that they could not eat; and they sat in the

full glare of the moon, but they were none the warmer for her

beams. And Perseus pitied the three Gray Sisters; but they did not

pity themselves.



So he said, 'Oh, venerable mothers, wisdom is the daughter of old

age. You therefore should know many things. Tell me, if you can,

the path to the Gorgon.'



Then one cried, 'Who is this who reproaches us with old age?' And

another, 'This is the voice of one of the children of men.'



And he, 'I do not reproach, but honour your old age, and I am one

of the sons of men and of the heroes. The rulers of Olympus have

sent me to you to ask the way to the Gorgon.'



Then one, 'There are new rulers in Olympus, and all new things are

bad.' And another, 'We hate your rulers, and the heroes, and all

the children of men. We are the kindred of the Titans, and the

Giants, and the Gorgons, and the ancient monsters of the deep.'

And another, 'Who is this rash and insolent man who pushes unbidden

into our world?' And the first, 'There never was such a world as

ours, nor will be; if we let him see it, he will spoil it all.'



Then one cried, 'Give me the eye, that I may see him;' and another,

'Give me the tooth, that I may bite him.' But Perseus, when he saw

that they were foolish and proud, and did not love the children of

men, left off pitying them, and said to himself, 'Hungry men must

needs be hasty; if I stay making many words here, I shall be

starved.' Then he stepped close to them, and watched till they

passed the eye from hand to hand. And as they groped about between

themselves, he held out his own hand gently, till one of them put

the eye into it, fancying that it was the hand of her sister. Then

he sprang back, and laughed, and cried -



'Cruel and proud old women, I have your eye; and I will throw it

into the sea, unless you tell me the path to the Gorgon, and swear

to me that you tell me right.'



Then they wept, and chattered, and scolded; but in vain. They were

forced to tell the truth, though, when they told it, Perseus could

hardly make out the road.



'You must go,' they said, 'foolish boy, to the southward, into the

ugly glare of the sun, till you come to Atlas the Giant, who holds

the heaven and the earth apart. And you must ask his daughters,

the Hesperides, who are young and foolish like yourself. And now

give us back our eye, for we have forgotten all the rest.'



So Perseus gave them back their eye; but instead of using it, they

nodded and fell fast asleep, and were turned into blocks of ice,

till the tide came up and washed them all away. And now they float

up and down like icebergs for ever, weeping whenever they meet the

sunshine, and the fruitful summer and the warm south wind, which

fill young hearts with joy.



But Perseus leaped away to the southward, leaving the snow and the

ice behind: past the isle of the Hyperboreans, and the tin isles,

and the long Iberian shore, while the sun rose higher day by day

upon a bright blue summer sea. And the terns and the sea-gulls

swept laughing round his head, and called to him to stop and play,

and the dolphins gambolled up as he passed, and offered to carry

him on their backs. And all night long the sea-nymphs sang

sweetly, and the Tritons blew upon their conchs, as they played

round Galataea their queen, in her car of pearled shells. Day by

day the sun rose higher, and leaped more swiftly into the sea at

night, and more swiftly out of the sea at dawn; while Perseus

skimmed over the billows like a sea-gull, and his feet were never

wetted; and leapt on from wave to wave, and his limbs were never

weary, till he saw far away a mighty mountain, all rose-red in the

setting sun. Its feet were wrapped in forests, and its head in

wreaths of cloud; and Perseus knew that it was Atlas, who holds the

heavens and the earth apart.



He came to the mountain, and leapt on shore, and wandered upward,

among pleasant valleys and waterfalls, and tall trees and strange

ferns and flowers; but there was no smoke rising from any glen, nor

house, nor sign of man.



At last he heard sweet voices singing; and he guessed that he was

come to the garden of the Nymphs, the daughters of the Evening

Star.



They sang like nightingales among the thickets, and Perseus stopped

to hear their song; but the words which they spoke he could not

understand; no, nor no man after him for many a hundred years. So

he stepped forward and saw them dancing, hand in hand around the

charmed tree, which bent under its golden fruit; and round the

tree-foot was coiled the dragon, old Ladon the sleepless snake, who

lies there for ever, listening to the song of the maidens, blinking

and watching with dry bright eyes.



Then Perseus stopped, not because he feared the dragon, but because

he was bashful before those fair maids; but when they saw him, they

too stopped, and called to him with trembling voices -



'Who are you? Are you Heracles the mighty, who will come to rob

our garden, and carry off our golden fruit?' And he answered -



'I am not Heracles the mighty, and I want none of your golden

fruit. Tell me, fair Nymphs, the way which leads to the Gorgon,

that I may go on my way and slay her.'



'Not yet, not yet, fair boy; come dance with us around the tree in

the garden which knows no winter, the home of the south wind and

the sun. Come hither and play with us awhile; we have danced alone

here for a thousand years, and our hearts are weary with longing

for a playfellow. So come, come, come!'



'I cannot dance with you, fair maidens; for I must do the errand of

the Immortals. So tell me the way to the Gorgon, lest I wander and

perish in the waves.'



Then they sighed and wept; and answered--'The Gorgon! she will

freeze you into stone.'



'It is better to die like a hero than to live like an ox in a

stall. The Immortals have lent me weapons, and they will give me

wit to use them.'



Then they sighed again and answered, 'Fair boy, if you are bent on

your own ruin, be it so. We know not the way to the Gorgon; but we

will ask the giant Atlas, above upon the mountain peak, the brother

of our father, the silver Evening Star. He sits aloft and sees

across the ocean, and far away into the Unshapen Land.'



So they went up the mountain to Atlas their uncle, and Perseus went

up with them. And they found the giant kneeling, as he held the

heavens and the earth apart.



They asked him, and he answered mildly, pointing to the sea-board

with his mighty hand, 'I can see the Gorgons lying on an island far

away, but this youth can never come near them, unless he has the

hat of darkness, which whosoever wears cannot be seen.'



Then cried Perseus, 'Where is that hat, that I may find it?'



But the giant smiled. 'No living mortal can find that hat, for it

lies in the depths of Hades, in the regions of the dead. But my

nieces are immortal, and they shall fetch it for you, if you will

promise me one thing and keep your faith.'



Then Perseus promised; and the giant said, 'When you come back with

the head of Medusa, you shall show me the beautiful horror, that I

may lose my feeling and my breathing, and become a stone for ever;

for it is weary labour for me to hold the heavens and the earth

apart.'



Then Perseus promised, and the eldest of the Nymphs went down, and

into a dark cavern among the cliffs, out of which came smoke and

thunder, for it was one of the mouths of Hell.



And Perseus and the Nymphs sat down seven days, and waited

trembling, till the Nymph came up again; and her face was pale, and

her eyes dazzled with the light, for she had been long in the

dreary darkness; but in her hand was the magic hat.



Then all the Nymphs kissed Perseus, and wept over him a long while;

but he was only impatient to be gone. And at last they put the hat

upon his head, and he vanished out of their sight.



But Perseus went on boldly, past many an ugly sight, far away into

the heart of the Unshapen Land, beyond the streams of Ocean, to the

isles where no ship cruises, where is neither night nor day, where

nothing is in its right place, and nothing has a name; till he

heard the rustle of the Gorgons' wings and saw the glitter of their

brazen talons; and then he knew that it was time to halt, lest

Medusa should freeze him into stone.



He thought awhile with himself, and remembered Athene's words. He

rose aloft into the air, and held the mirror of the shield above

his head, and looked up into it that he might see all that was

below him.



And he saw the three Gorgons sleeping as huge as elephants. He

knew that they could not see him, because the hat of darkness hid

him; and yet he trembled as he sank down near them, so terrible

were those brazen claws.



Two of the Gorgons were foul as swine, and lay sleeping heavily, as

swine sleep, with their mighty wings outspread; but Medusa tossed

to and fro restlessly, and as she tossed Perseus pitied her, she

looked so fair and sad. Her plumage was like the rainbow, and her

face was like the face of a nymph, only her eyebrows were knit, and

her lips clenched, with everlasting care and pain; and her long

neck gleamed so white in the mirror that Perseus had not the heart

to strike, and said, 'Ah, that it had been either of her sisters!'



But as he looked, from among her tresses the vipers' heads awoke,

and peeped up with their bright dry eyes, and showed their fangs,

and hissed; and Medusa, as she tossed, threw back her wings and

showed her brazen claws; and Perseus saw that, for all her beauty,

she was as foul and venomous as the rest.



Then he came down and stepped to her boldly, and looked steadfastly

on his mirror, and struck with Herpe stoutly once; and he did not

need to strike again.



Then he wrapped the head in the goat-skin, turning away his eyes,

and sprang into the air aloft, faster than he ever sprang before.



For Medusa's wings and talons rattled as she sank dead upon the

rocks; and her two foul sisters woke, and saw her lying dead.



Into the air they sprang yelling and looked for him who had done

the deed. Thrice they swung round and round, like hawks who beat

for a partridge; and thrice they snuffed round and round, like

hounds who draw upon a deer. At last they struck upon the scent of

the blood, and they checked for a moment to make sure; and then on

they rushed with a fearful howl, while the wind rattled hoarse in

their wings.



On they rushed, sweeping and flapping, like eagles after a hare;

and Perseus' blood ran cold, for all his courage, as he saw them

come howling on his track; and he cried, 'Bear me well now, brave

sandals, for the hounds of Death are at my heels!'



And well the brave sandals bore him, aloft through cloud and

sunshine, across the shoreless sea; and fast followed the hounds of

Death, as the roar of their wings came down the wind. But the roar

came down fainter and fainter, and the howl of their voices died

away; for the sandals were too swift, even for Gorgons, and by

nightfall they were far behind, two black specks in the southern

sky, till the sun sank and he saw them no more.



Then he came again to Atlas, and the garden of the Nymphs; and when

the giant heard him coming he groaned, and said, 'Fulfil thy

promise to me.' Then Perseus held up to him the Gorgon's head, and

he had rest from all his toil; for he became a crag of stone, which

sleeps for ever far above the clouds.



Then he thanked the Nymphs, and asked them, 'By what road shall I

go homeward again, for I wandered far round in coming hither?'



And they wept and cried, 'Go home no more, but stay and play with

us, the lonely maidens, who dwell for ever far away from Gods and

men.'



But he refused, and they told him his road, and said, 'Take with

you this magic fruit, which, if you eat once, you will not hunger

for seven days. For you must go eastward and eastward ever, over

the doleful Lybian shore, which Poseidon gave to Father Zeus, when

he burst open the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, and drowned the

fair Lectonian land. And Zeus took that land in exchange, a fair

bargain, much bad ground for a little good, and to this day it lies

waste and desert with shingle, and rock, and sand.'



Then they kissed Perseus, and wept over him, and he leapt down the

mountain, and went on, lessening and lessening like a sea-gull,

away and out to sea.





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