: Theseus
: The Heroes

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


And first she laid a cunning plot to punish that poor old Pelias,
br /> 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


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


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.