The Choice Of Hercules
: LABOR DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
BY XENOPHON (ADAPTED)
Long, long ago, when the world was young, there were many deeds waiting
to be wrought by daring heroes. It was then that the mighty Hercules,
who was yet a lad, felt an exceeding great and strong desire to go out
into the wide world to seek his fortune.
One day, while wandering alone and thoughtful, he came to a place where
two paths met. And sitting down he gravely con
idered which he should
One path led over flowery meadows toward the darkening distance; the
other, passing over rough stones and rugged, brown furrows, lost itself
in the glowing sunset.
And as Hercules gazed into the distance, he saw two stately maidens
coming toward him.
The first was tall and graceful, and wrapped round in a snow-white
mantle. Her countenance was calm and beautiful. With gracious mien and
modest glance she drew near the lad.
The other maiden made haste to outrun the first. She, too, was tall,
but seemed taller than she really was. She, too, was beautiful, but her
glance was bold. As she ran, a rosy garment like a cloud floated about
her form, and she kept looking at her own round arms and shapely hands,
and ever and anon she seemed to gaze admiringly at her shadow as it
moved along the ground. And this fair one did outstrip the first maiden,
and rushing forward held out her white hands to the lad, exclaiming:--
"I see thou art hesitating, O Hercules, by what path to seek thy
fortune. Follow me along this flowery way, and I will make it a
delightful and easy road. Thou shalt taste to the full of every kind of
pleasure. No shadow of annoyance shall ever touch thee, nor strain nor
stress of war and state disturb thy peace. Instead thou shalt tread upon
carpets soft as velvet, and sit at golden tables, or recline upon silken
couches. The fairest of maidens shall attend thee, music and perfume
shall lull thy senses, and all that is delightful to eat and drink shall
be placed before thee. Never shalt thou labor, but always live in joy
and ease. Oh, come! I give my followers liberty and delight!"
And as she spoke the maiden stretched forth her arms, and the tones of
her voice were sweet and caressing.
"What, O maiden," asked Hercules, "is thy name?"
"My friends," said she, "call me Happiness, but mine enemies name me
Even as she spoke, the white-robed maiden, who had drawn near, glided
forward, and addressed the lad in gracious tones and with words stately
"O beloved youth, who wouldst wander forth in search of Life, I too,
would plead with thee! I, Virtue, have watched and tended thee from a
child. I know the fond care thy parents have bestowed to train thee for
a hero's part. Direct now thy steps along yon rugged path that leads
to my dwelling. Honorable and noble mayest thou become through thy
"I will not seduce thee by promises of vain delights; instead will
I recount to thee the things that really are. Lasting fame and true
nobility come not to mortals save through pain and labor. If thou,
O Hercules, seekest the gracious gifts of Heaven, thou must remain
constant in prayer; if thou wouldst be beloved of thy friends, thou must
serve thy friends; if thou desirest to be honored of the people thou
must benefit the people; if thou art anxious to reap the fruits of the
earth, thou must till the earth with labor; and if thou wishest to be
strong in body and accomplish heroic deeds, thou must teach thy body to
obey thy mind. Yea, all this and more also must thou do."
"Seest thou not, O Hercules," cried Vice, "over how difficult and
tedious a road this Virtue would drive thee? I, instead, will conduct
thy steps by a short and easy path to perfect Happiness."
"Wretched being!" answered Virtue, "wouldst thou deceive this lad! What
lasting Happiness hast thou to offer! Thou pamperest thy followers with
riches, thou deludest them with idleness; thou surfeitest them with
luxury; thou enfeeblest them with softness. In youth they grow slothful
in body and weak in mind. They live without labor and wax fat. They come
to a wretched old age, dissatisfied, and ashamed, and oppressed by
the memory of their ill deeds; and, having run their course, they lay
themselves down in melancholy death and their name is remembered no
"But those fortunate youths who follow me receive other counsel. I
am the companion of virtuous men. Always I am welcome in the homes of
artisans and in the cottages of tillers of the soil. I am the guardian
of industrious households, and the rewarder of generous masters
and faithful servants. I am the promoter of the labors of peace. No
honorable deed is accomplished without me.
"My friends have sweet repose and the untroubled enjoyment of the fruits
of their efforts. They remember their deeds with an easy conscience
and contentment, and are beloved of their friends and honored by their
country. And when they have run their course, and death overtakes them,
their names are celebrated in song and praise, and they live in the
hearts of their grateful countrymen.
"Come, then, O Hercules, thou son of noble parents, come, follow thou
me, and by thy worthy and illustrious deeds secure for thyself exalted
She ceased, and Hercules, withdrawing his gaze from the face of Vice,
arose from his place, and followed Virtue along the rugged, brown path