Invocation of the Muse (1–5). — Grief of Medea, who flies from the palace during the night and joins the Argonauts (6–91). — By the aid of Medea, Jason seizes and carries off the golden fleece, after which the Argonauts depart (92–211). — Pursued by the Colchians, they land in Paphlagonia, where Argus shows them the route to take (212–293). — The Argonauts sail up the Ister, by a branch of which they make their way into the Adriatic, where they find their progress barred by the Colchians, who had come by a shorter route (294–337). — Agreement between the Argonauts and the Colchians: Medea’s reproaches to Jason (338–451). — Murder of Apsyrtus by Jason: the Colchians give up the pursuit (452–551). — The Argonauts sail along the Eridanus into the Rhone, and reach the abode of Circe in Italy (552–684). — Jason and Medea are purified by Circe: the Argonauts pass the isle of the Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis, and the Planctae (685–981). — Arrival among the Phaeacians: here other Colchians reclaim Medea, and, to prevent her surrender, her marriage with Jason is celebrated (982–1169). — Departure of the Argonauts, who are driven by a storm on to the Syrtes: they carry Argo on their shoulders to the Tritonian lake (1170–1484). — Deaths of Canthus and Mopsus (1485–1536). — The god Triton conducts Argo from the lake into the sea (1537–1637). — Episode of the giant Talos in Crete (1638–1693). — Arrival at the isle Anaphe: the dream of Euphemus, which is interpreted by Jason: arrival at Aegina and at Pagasae, the end of the voyage (1694–1781).
Now do thou thyself, goddess Muse, daughter of Zeus, tell of the labour and wiles of the Colchian maiden. Surely my soul within me wavers with speechless amazement as I ponder whether I should call it the lovesick grief of mad passion or a panic flight, through which she left the Colchian folk.
Aeetes all night long with the bravest captains of his people was devising in his halls sheer treachery against the heroes, with fierce wrath in his heart at the issue of the hateful contest; nor did he deem at all that these things were being accomplished without the knowledge of his daughters.
But into Medea’s heart Hera cast most grievous fear; and she trembled like a nimble fawn whom the baying of hounds hath terrified amid the thicket of a deep copse. For at once she truly forboded that the aid she had given was not hidden from her father, and that quickly she would fill up the cup of woe. And she dreaded the guilty knowledge of her handmaids; her eyes were filled with fire and her ears rung with a terrible cry. Often did she clutch at her throat, and often did she drag out her hair by the roots and groan in wretched despair. There on that very day the maiden would have tasted the drugs and perished and so have made void the purposes of Hera, had not the goddess driven her, all bewildered, to flee with the sons of Phrixus; and her fluttering soul within her was comforted; and then she poured from her bosom all the drugs back again into the casket. Then she kissed her bed, and the folding-doors on both sides, and stroked the walls, and tearing away in her hands a long tress of hair, she left it in the chamber for her mother, a memorial of her maidenhood, and thus lamented with passionate voice:
“I go, leaving this long tress here in my stead, O mother mine; take this farewell from me as I go far hence; farewell Chalciope, and all my home. Would that the sea, stranger, had dashed thee to pieces, ere thou earnest to the Colchian land!”
Thus she spake, and from her eyes shed copious tears. And as a bondmaid steals away from a wealthy house, whom fate has lately severed from her native land, nor yet has she made trial of grievous toil, but still unschooled to misery and shrinking in terror from slavish tasks, goes about beneath the cruel hands of a mistress; even so the lovely maiden rushed forth from her home. But to her the bolts of the doors gave way self-moved, leaping backwards at the swift strains of her magic song. And with bare feet she sped along the narrow paths, with her left hand holding her robe over her brow to veil her face and fair cheeks, and with her right lifting up the hem of her tunic. Quickly along the dark track, outside the towers of the spacious city, did she come in fear; nor did any of the warders note her, but she sped on unseen by them. Thence she was minded to go to the temple; for well she knew the way, having often aforetime wandered there in quest of corpses and noxious roots of the earth, as a sorceress is wont to do; and her soul fluttered with quivering fear. And the Titanian goddess, the moon, rising from a far land, beheld her as she fled distraught, and fiercely exulted over her, and thus spake to her own heart:
“Not I alone then stray to the Latmian cave, nor do I alone burn with love for fair Endymion; oft times with thoughts of love have I been driven away by thy crafty spells, in order that in the darkness of night thou mightest work thy sorcery at ease, even the deeds dear to thee. And now thou thyself too hast part in a like mad passion; and some god of affliction has given thee Jason to be thy grievous woe. Well, go on, and steel thy heart, wise though thou be, to take up thy burden of pain, fraught with many sighs.”
“Thus spake the goddess; but swiftly the maiden’s feet bore her, hasting on. And gladly did she gain the high bank of the river and beheld on the opposite side the gleam of fire, which all night long the heroes were kindling in joy at the contest’s issue. Then through the gloom, with clear-pealing voice from across the stream, she called on Phrontis, the youngest of Phrixus’ sons, and he with his brothers and Aeson’s son recognised the maiden’s voice; and in silence his comrades wondered when they knew that it was so in truth. Thrice she called, and thrice at the bidding of the company Phrontis called out in reply; and meantime the heroes were rowing with swift-moving oars in search of her. Not yet were they casting the ship’s hawsers upon the opposite bank, when Jason with light feet leapt to land from the deck above, and after him Phrontis and Argus, sons of Phrixus, leapt to the ground; and she, clasping their knees with both hands, thus addressed them:
“Save me, the hapless one, my friends, from Aeetes, and yourselves too, for all is brought to light, nor doth any remedy come. But let us flee upon the ship; before the king mounts his swift chariot. And I will lull to sleep the guardian serpent and give you the fleece of gold; but do thou, stranger, amid thy comrades make the gods witness of the vows thou hast taken on thyself for my sake; and now that I have fled far from my country, make me not a mark for blame and dishonour for want of kinsmen.”
She spake in anguish; but greatly did the heart of Aeson’s son rejoice, and at once, as she fell at his knees, he raised her gently and embraced her, and spake words of comfort: “Lady, let Zeus of Olympus himself be witness to my oath, and Hera, queen of marriage, bride of Zeus, that I will set thee in my halls my own wedded wife, when we have reached the land of Hellas on our return.”
Thus he spake, and straightway clasped her right hand in his; and she bade them row the swift ship to the sacred grove near at hand, in order that, while it was still night, they might seize and carry off the fleece against the will of Aeetes. Word and deed were one to the eager crew. For they took her on board, and straightway thrust the ship from shore; and loud was the din as the chieftains strained at their oars, but she, starting back, held out her hands in despair towards the shore. But Jason spoke cheering words and restrained her grief.
Now at the hour when men have cast sleep from their eyes — huntsmen, who, trusting to their bounds, never slumber away the end of night, but avoid the light of dawn lest, smiting with its white beams, it efface the track and scent of the quarry — then did Aeson’s son and the maiden step forth from the ship over a grassy spot, the “Ram’s couch” as men call it, where it first bent its wearied knees in rest, bearing on its back the Minyan son of Athamas. And close by, all smirched with soot, was the base of the altar, which the Aeolid Phrixus once set up to Zeus, the aider of fugitives, when he sacrificed the golden wonder at the bidding of Hermes who graciously met him on the way. There by the counsels of Argus the chieftains put them ashore.
And they two by the pathway came to the sacred grove, seeking the huge oak tree on which was hung the fleece, like to a cloud that blushes red with the fiery beams of the rising sun. But right in front the serpent with his keen sleepless eyes saw them coming, and stretched out his long neck and hissed in awful wise; and all round the long banks of the river echoed and the boundless grove. Those heard it who dwelt in the Colchian land very far from Titanian Aea, near the outfall of Lycus, the river which parts from loud-roaring Araxes and blends his sacred stream with Phasis, and they twain flow on together in one and pour their waters into the Caucasian Sea. And through fear young mothers awoke, and round their new-born babes, who were sleeping in their arms, threw their hands in agony, for the small limbs started at that hiss. And as when above a pile of smouldering wood countless eddies of smoke roll up mingled with soot, and one ever springs up quickly after another, rising aloft from beneath in wavering wreaths; so at that time did that monster roll his countless coils covered with hard dry scales. And as he writhed, the maiden came before his eyes, with sweet voice calling to her aid Sleep, highest of gods, to charm the monster; and she cried to the queen of the underworld, the night-wanderer, to be propitious to her enterprise. And Aeson’s son followed in fear, but the serpent, already charmed by her song, was relaxing the long ridge of his giant spine, and lengthening out his myriad coils, like a dark wave, dumb and noiseless, rolling over a sluggish sea; but still he raised aloft his grisly head, eager to enclose them both in his murderous jaws. But she with a newly cut spray of juniper, dipping and drawing untempered charms from her mystic brew, sprinkled his eyes, while she chanted her song; and all around the potent scent of the charm cast sleep; and on the very spot he let his jaw sink down; and far behind through the wood with its many trees were those countless coils stretched out.
Hereupon Jason snatched the golden fleece from the oak, at the maiden’s bidding; and she, standing firm, smeared with the charm the monster’s head, till Jason himself bade her turn back towards their ship, and she left the grove of Ares, dusky with shade. And as a maiden catches on her finely wrought robe the gleam of the moon at the full, as it rises above her high-roofed chamber; and her heart rejoices as she beholds the fair ray; so at that time did Jason uplift the mighty fleece in his hands; and from the shimmering of the flocks of wool there settled on his fair cheeks and brow a red flush like a flame. And great as is the hide of a yearling ox or stag, which huntsmen call a brocket, so great in extent was the fleece all golden above. Heavy it was, thickly clustered with flocks; and as he moved along, even beneath his feet the sheen rose up from the earth. And he strode on now with the fleece covering his left shoulder from the height of his neck to his feet, and now again he gathered it up in his hands; for he feared exceedingly, lest some god or man should meet him and deprive him thereof.
Dawn was spreading over the earth when they reached the throng of heroes; and the youths marvelled to behold the mighty fleece, which gleamed like the lightning of Zeus. And each one started up eager to touch it and clasp it in his hands. But the son of Aeson restrained them all, and threw over it a mantle newly-woven; and he led the maiden to the stern and seated her there, and spake to them all as follows:
“No longer now, my friends, forbear to return to your fatherland. For now the task for which we dared this grievous voyage, toiling with bitter sorrow of heart, has been lightly fulfilled by the maiden’s counsels. Her — for such is her will — I will bring home to be my wedded wife; do ye preserve her, the glorious saviour of all Achaea and of yourselves. For of a surety, I ween, will Aeetes come with his host to bar our passage from the river into the sea. But do some of you toil at the oars in turn, sitting man by man; and half of you raise your shields of oxhide, a ready defence against the darts of the enemy, and guard our return. And now in our hands we hold the fate of our children and dear country and of our aged parents; and on our venture all Hellas depends, to reap either the shame of failure or great renown.”
Thus he spake, and donned his armour of war; and they cried aloud, wondrously eager. And he drew his sword from the sheath and cut the hawsers at the stern. And near the maiden he took his stand ready armed by the steersman Ancaeus, and with their rowing the ship sped on as they strained desperately to drive her clear of the river.
By this time Medea’s love and deeds had become known to haughty Aeetes and to all the Colchians. And they thronged to the assembly in arms; and countless as the waves of the stormy sea when they rise crested by the wind, or as the leaves that fall to the ground from the wood with its myriad branches in the month when the leaves fall — who could reckon their tale? — so they in countless number poured along the banks of the river shouting in frenzy; and in his shapely chariot Aeetes shone forth above all with his steeds, the gift of Helios, swift as the blasts of the wind. In his left hand he raised his curved shield, and in his right a huge pine-torch, and near him in front stood up his mighty spear. And Apsyrtus held in his hands the reins of the steeds. But already the ship was cleaving the sea before her, urged on by stalwart oarsmen, and the stream of the mighty river rushing down. But the king in grievous anguish lifted his hands and called on Helios and Zeus to bear witness to their evil deeds; and terrible threats he uttered against all his people, that unless they should with their own hands seize the maiden, either on the land or still finding the ship on the swell of the open sea, and bring her back, that so he might satisfy his eager soul with vengeance for all those deeds, at the cost of their own lives they should learn and abide all his rage and revenge.
Thus spake Aeetes; and on that same day the Colchians launched their ships and cast the tackle on board, and on that same day sailed forth on the sea; thou wouldst not say so mighty a host was a fleet of ships, but that a countless flight of birds, swarm on swarm, was clamouring over the sea.
Swiftly the wind blew, as the goddess Hera planned, so that most quickly Aeaean Medea might reach the Pelasgian land, a bane to the house of Pelias, and on the third morn they bound the ship’s stern cables to the shores of the Paphlagonians, at the mouth of the river Halys. For Medea bade them land and propitiate Hecate with sacrifice. Now all that the maiden prepared for offering the sacrifice may no man know, and may my soul not urge me to sing thereof. Awe restrains my lips, yet from that time the altar which the heroes raised on the beach to the goddess remains till now, a sight to men of a later day.
And straightway Aeson’s son and the rest of the heroes bethought them of Phineus, how that he had said that their course from Aea should be different, but to all alike his meaning was dim. Then Argus spake, and they eagerly hearkened:
“We go to Orchomenus, whither that unerring seer, whom ye met aforetime, foretold your voyage. For there is another course, signified by those priests of the immortal gods, who have sprung from Tritonian Thebes. As yet all the stars that wheel in the heaven were not, nor yet, though one should inquire, could aught be heard of the sacred race of the Danai. Apidanean Arcadians alone existed, Arcadians who lived even before the moon, it is said, eating acorns on the hills; nor at that time was the Pelasgian land ruled by the glorious sons of Deucalion, in the days when Egypt, mother of men of an older time, was called the fertile Morning-land, and the river fair-flowing Triton, by which all the Morning-land is watered; and never does the rain from Zeus moisten the earth; but from the flooding of the river abundant crops spring up. From this land, it is said, a king28 made his way all round through the whole of Europe and Asia, trusting in the might and strength and courage of his people; and countless cities did he found wherever he came, whereof some are still inhabited and some not; many an age hath passed since then. But Aea abides unshaken even now and the sons of those men whom that king settled to dwell in Aea. They preserve the writings of their fathers, graven on pillars, whereon are marked all the ways and the limits of sea and land as ye journey on all sides round. There is a river, the uttermost horn of Ocean, broad and exceeding deep, that a merchant ship may traverse; they call it Ister and have marked it far off; and for a while it cleaves the boundless tilth alone in one stream; for beyond the blasts of the north wind, far off in the Rhipaean mountains, its springs burst forth with a roar. But when it enters the boundaries of the Thracians and Scythians, here, dividing its stream into two, it sends its waters partly into the Ionian sea,29 and partly to the south into a deep gulf that bends upwards from the Trinacrian sea, that sea which lies along your land, if indeed Achelous flows forth from your land.”
28 The allusion is to Sesostris, see Herod, ii. 102 foll.
29 Or, reading [Greek: hêmeterên], “into our sea.” The Euxine is meant in any case and the word Ionian is therefore wrong.
Thus he spake, and to them the goddess granted a happy portent, and all at the sight shouted approval, that this was their appointed path. For before them appeared a trail of heavenly light, a sign where they might pass. And gladly they left behind there the son of Lycus and with canvas outspread sailed over the sea, with their eyes on the Paphlagonian mountains. But they did not round Carambis, for the winds and the gleam of the heavenly fire stayed with them till they reached Ister’s mighty stream.
Now some of the Colchians, in a vain search, passed out from Pontus through the Cyanean rocks; but the rest went to the river, and them Apsyrtus led, and, turning aside, he entered the mouth called Fair. Wherefore he outstripped the heroes by crossing a neck of land into the furthest gulf of the Ionian sea. For a certain island is enclosed by Ister, by name Peuce, three-cornered, its base stretching along the coast, and with a sharp angle towards the river; and round it the outfall is cleft in two. One mouth they call the mouth of Narex, and the other, at the lower end, the Fair mouth. And through this Apsyrtus and his Colchians rushed with all speed; but the heroes went upwards far away towards the highest part of the island. And in the meadows the country shepherds left their countless flocks for dread of the ships, for they deemed that they were beasts coming forth from the monster-teeming sea. For never yet before had they seen seafaring ships, neither the Scythians mingled with the Thracians, nor the Sigynni, nor yet the Graucenii, nor the Sindi that now inhabit the vast desert plain of Laurium. But when they had passed near the mount Angurum, and the cliff of Cauliacus, far from the mount Angurum, round which Ister, dividing his stream, falls into the sea on this side and on that, and the Laurian plain, then indeed the Colchians went forth into the Cronian sea and cut off all the ways, to prevent their foes’ escape. And the heroes came down the river behind and reached the two Brygean isles of Artemis near at hand. Now in one of them was a sacred temple; and on the other they landed, avoiding the host of Apsyrtus; for the Colchians had left these islands out of many within the river, just as they were, through reverence for the daughter of Zeus; but the rest, thronged by the Colchians, barred the ways to the sea. And so on other islands too, close by, Apsyrtus left his host as far as the river Salangon and the Nestian land.
There the Minyae would at that time have yielded in grim fight, a few to many; but ere then they made a covenant, shunning a dire quarrel; as to the golden fleece, that since Aeetes himself had so promised them if they should fulfil the contests, they should keep it as justly won, whether they carried it off by craft or even openly in the king’s despite; but as to Medea — for that was the cause of strife — that they should give her in ward to Leto’s daughter apart from the throng, until some one of the kings that dispense justice should utter his doom, whether she must return to her father’s home or follow the chieftains to the land of Hellas.
Now when the maiden had mused upon all this, sharp anguish shook her heart unceasingly; and quickly she called forth Jason alone apart from his comrades, and led him aside until they were far away, and before his face uttered her speech all broken with sobs:
“What is this purpose that ye are now devising about me, O son of Aeson? Has thy triumph utterly cast forgetfulness upon thee, and reckest thou nothing of all that thou spakest when held fast by necessity? whither are fled the oaths by Zeus the suppliants’ god, whither are fled thy honied promises? for which in no seemly wise, with shameless will, I have left my country, the glories of my home and even my parents — things that were dearest to me; and far away all alone I am borne over the sea with the plaintive kingfishers because of thy trouble, in order that I might save thy life in fulfilling the contests with the oxen and the earthborn men. Last of all the fleece — when the matter became known, it was by my folly thou didst win it; and a foul reproach have I poured on womankind. Wherefore I say that as thy child, thy bride and thy sister, I follow thee to the land of Hellas. Be ready to stand by me to the end, abandon me not left forlorn of thee when thou dost visit the kings. But only save me; let justice and right, to which we have both agreed, stand firm; or else do thou at once shear through this neck with the sword, that I may gain the guerdon due to my mad passion. Poor wretch! if the king, to whom you both commit your cruel covenant, doom me to belong to my brother. How shall I come to my father’s sight? Will it be with a good name? What revenge, what heavy calamity shall I not endure in agony for the terrible deeds I have done? And wilt thou win the return that thy heart desires? Never may Zeus’ bride, the queen of all, in whom thou dost glory, bring that to pass. Mayst thou some time remember me when thou art racked with anguish; may the fleece like a dream vanish into the nether darkness on the wings of the wind! And may my avenging Furies forthwith drive thee from thy country, for all that I have suffered through thy cruelty! These curses will not be allowed to fall unaccomplished to the ground. A mighty oath hast thou transgressed, ruthless one; but not long shalt thou and thy comrades sit at ease casting eyes of mockery upon me, for all your covenants.”
Thus she spake, seething with fierce wrath; and she longed to set fire to the ship and to hew it utterly in pieces, and herself to fall into the raging flame. But Jason, half afraid, thus addressed her with gentle words:
“Forbear, lady; me too this pleases not. But we seek some respite from battle, for such a cloud of hostile men, like to a fire, surrounds us, on thy account. For all that inhabit this land are eager to aid Apsyrtus, that they may lead thee back home to thy father, like some captured maid. And all of us would perish in hateful destruction, if we closed with them in fight; and bitterer still will be the pain, if we are slain and leave thee to be their prey. But this covenant will weave a web of guile to lead him to ruin. Nor will the people of the land for thy sake oppose us, to favour the Colchians, when their prince is no longer with them, who is thy champion and thy brother; nor will I shrink from matching myself in fight with the Colchians, if they bar my way homeward.”
Thus he spake soothing her; and she uttered a deadly speech: “Take heed now. For when sorry deeds are done we must needs devise sorry counsel, since at first I was distraught by my error, and by heaven’s will it was I wrought the accomplishment of evil desires. Do thou in the turmoil shield me from the Colchians’ spears; and I will beguile Apsyrtus to come into thy hands — do thou greet him with splendid gifts — if only I could persuade the heralds on their departure to bring him alone to hearken to my words. Thereupon if this deed pleases thee, slay him and raise a conflict with the Colchians, I care not.”
So they two agreed and prepared a great web of guile for Apsyrtus, and provided many gifts such as are due to guests, and among them gave a sacred robe of Hypsipyle, of crimson hue. The Graces with their own hands had wrought it for Dionysus in sea-girt Dia, and he gave it to his son Thoas thereafter, and Thoas left it to Hypsipyle, and she gave that fair-wrought guest-gift with many another marvel to Aeson’s son to wear. Never couldst thou satisfy thy sweet desire by touching it or gazing on it. And from it a divine fragrance breathed from the time when the king of Nysa himself lay to rest thereon, flushed with wine and nectar as he clasped the beauteous breast of the maiden-daughter of Minos, whom once Theseus forsook in the island of Dia, when she had followed him from Cnossus. And when she had worked upon the heralds to induce her brother to come, as soon as she reached the temple of the goddess, according to the agreement, and the darkness of night surrounded them that so she might devise with him a cunning plan for her to take the mighty fleece of gold and return to the home of Aeetes, for, she said, the sons of Phrixus had given her by force to the strangers to carry off; with such beguiling words she scattered to the air and the breezes her witching charms, which even from afar would have drawn down the savage beast from the steep mountain-height.
Ruthless Love, great bane, great curse to mankind, from thee come deadly strifes and lamentations and groans, and countless pains as well have their stormy birth from thee. Arise, thou god, and arm thyself against the sons of our foes in such guise as when thou didst fill Medea’s heart with accursed madness. How then by evil doom did she slay Apsyrtus when he came to meet her? For that must our song tell next.
When the heroes had left the maiden on the island of Artemis, according to the covenant, both sides ran their ships to land separately. And Jason went to the ambush to lie in wait for Apsyrtus and then for his comrades. But he, beguiled by these dire promises, swiftly crossed the swell of the sea in his ship, and in dark night set foot on the sacred island; and faring all alone to meet her he made trial in speech of his sister, as a tender child tries a wintry torrent which not even strong men can pass through, to see if she would devise some guile against the strangers. And so they two agreed together on everything; and straightway Aeson’s son leapt forth from the thick ambush, lifting his bare sword in his hand, and quickly the maiden turned her eyes aside and covered them with her veil that she might not see the blood of her brother when he was smitten. And Jason marked him and struck him down, as a butcher strikes down a mighty strong-horned bull, hard by the temple which the Brygi on the mainland opposite had once built for Artemis. In its vestibule he fell on his knees; and at last the hero breathing out his life caught up in both hands the dark blood as it welled from the wound; and he dyed with red his sister’s silvery veil and robe as she shrank away. And with swift side-glance the irresistible pitiless Fury beheld the deadly deed they had done. And the hero, Aeson’s son, cut off the extremities of the dead man, and thrice licked up some blood and thrice spat the pollution from his teeth, as it is right for the slayer to do, to atone for a treacherous murder. And the clammy corpse he hid in the ground where even now those bones lie among the Apsyrtians.
Now as soon as the heroes saw the blaze of a torch, which the maiden raised for them as a sign to pursue, they laid their own ship near the Colchian ship, and they slaughtered the Colchian host, as kites slay the tribes of wood-pigeons, or as lions of the wold, when they have leapt amid the steading, drive a great flock of sheep huddled together. Nor did one of them escape death, but the heroes rushed upon the whole crew, destroying them like a flame; and at last Jason met them, and was eager to give aid where none was needed; but already they were taking thought for him too. Thereupon they sat to devise some prudent counsel for their voyage, and the maiden came upon them as they pondered, but Peleus spake his word first:
“I now bid you embark while it is still night, and take with your oars the passage opposite to that which the enemy guards, for at dawn when they see their plight I deem that no word urging to further pursuit of us will prevail with them; but as people bereft of their king, they will be scattered in grievous dissension. And easy, when the people are scattered, will this path be for us on our return.”
Thus he spake; and the youths assented to the words of Aeacus’ son. And quickly they entered the ship, and toiled at their oars unceasingly until they reached the sacred isle of Electra, the highest of them all, near the river Eridanus.
But when the Colchians learnt the death of their prince, verily they were eager to pursue Argo and the Minyans through all the Cronian sea. But Hera restrained them by terrible lightnings from the sky. And at last they loathed their own homes in the Cytaean land, quailing before Aeetes’ fierce wrath; so they landed and made abiding homes there, scattered far and wide. Some set foot on those very islands where the heroes had stayed, and they still dwell there, bearing a name derived from Apsyrtus; and others built a fenced city by the dark deep Illyrian river, where is the tomb of Harmonia and Cadmus, dwelling among the Encheleans; and others live amid the mountains which are called the Thunderers, from the day when the thunders of Zeus, son of Cronos, prevented them from crossing over to the island opposite.
Now the heroes, when their return seemed safe for them, fared onward and made their hawsers fast to the land of the Hylleans. For the islands lay thick in the river and made the path dangerous for those who sailed thereby. Nor, as aforetime, did the Hylleans devise their hurt, but of their own accord furthered their passage, winning as guerdon a mighty tripod of Apollo. For tripods twain had Phoebus given to Aeson’s son to carry afar in the voyage he had to make, at the time when he went to sacred Pytho to enquire about this very voyage; and it was ordained by fate that in whatever land they should be placed, that land should never be ravaged by the attacks of foemen. Therefore even now this tripod is hidden in that land near the pleasant city of Hyllus, far beneath the earth, that it may ever be unseen by mortals. Yet they found not King Hyllus still alive in the land, whom fair Melite bare to Heracles in the land of the Phaeacians. For he came to the abode of Nausithous and to Macris, the nurse of Dionysus, to cleanse himself from the deadly murder of his children; here he loved and overcame the water nymph Melite, the daughter of the river Aegaeus, and she bare mighty Hyllus. But when he had grown up he desired not to dwell in that island under the rule of Nausithous the king; but he collected a host of native Phaeacians and came to the Cronian sea; for the hero King Nausithous aided his journey, and there he settled, and the Mentores slew him as he was fighting for the oxen of his field.
Now, goddesses, say how it is that beyond this sea, near the land of Ausonia and the Ligystian isles, which are called Stoechades, the mighty tracks of the ship Argo are clearly sung of? What great constraint and need brought the heroes so far? What breezes wafted them?
When Apsyrtus had fallen in mighty overthrow Zeus himself, king of gods, was seized with wrath at what they had done. And he ordained that by the counsels of Aeaean Circe they should cleanse themselves from the terrible stain of blood and suffer countless woes before their return. Yet none of the chieftains knew this; but far onward they sped starting from the Hyllean land, and they left behind all the islands that were beforetime thronged by the Colchians — the Liburnian isles, isle after isle, Issa, Dysceladus, and lovely Pityeia. Next after them they came to Corcyra, where Poseidon settled the daughter of Asopus, fair-haired Corcyra, far from the land of Phlius, whence he had carried her off through love; and sailors beholding it from the sea, all black with its sombre woods, call it Corcyra the Black. And next they passed Melite, rejoicing in the soft-blowing breeze, and steep Cerossus, and Nymphaea at a distance, where lady Calypso, daughter of Atlas, dwelt; and they deemed they saw the misty mountains of Thunder. And then Hera bethought her of the counsels and wrath of Zeus concerning them. And she devised an ending of their voyage and stirred up storm-winds before them, by which they were caught and borne back to the rocky isle of Electra. And straightway on a sudden there called to them in the midst of their course, speaking with a human voice, the beam of the hollow ship, which Athena had set in the centre of the stem, made of Dodonian oak. And deadly fear seized them as they heard the voice that told of the grievous wrath of Zeus. For it proclaimed that they should not escape the paths of an endless sea nor grievous tempests, unless Circe should purge away the guilt of the ruthless murder of Apsyrtus; and it bade Polydeuces and Castor pray to the immortal gods first to grant a path through the Ausonian sea where they should find Circe, daughter of Perse and Helios.
Thus Argo cried through the darkness; and the sons of Tyndareus uprose, and lifted their hands to the immortals praying for each boon: but dejection held the rest of the Minyan heroes. And far on sped Argo under sail, and entered deep into the stream of Eridanus; where once, smitten on the breast by the blazing bolt, Phaëthon half-consumed fell from the chariot of Helios into the opening of that deep lake; and even now it belcheth up heavy steam clouds from the smouldering wound. And no bird spreading its light wings can cross that water; but in mid-course it plunges into the flame, fluttering. And all around the maidens, the daughters of Helios, enclosed in tall poplars, wretchedly wail a piteous plaint; and from their eyes they shed on the ground bright drops of amber. These are dried by the sun upon the sand; but whenever the waters of the dark lake flow over the strand before the blast of the wailing wind, then they roll on in a mass into Eridanus with swelling tide. But the Celts have attached this story to them, that these are the tears of Leto’s son, Apollo, that are borne along by the eddies, the countless tears that he shed aforetime when he came to the sacred race of the Hyperboreans and left shining heaven at the chiding of his father, being in wrath concerning his son whom divine Coronis bare in bright Lacereia at the mouth of Amyrus. And such is the story told among these men. But no desire for food or drink seized the heroes nor were their thoughts turned to joy. But they were sorely afflicted all day, heavy and faint at heart, with the noisome stench, hard to endure, which the streams of Eridanus sent forth from Phaethon still burning; and at night they heard the piercing lament of the daughters of Helios, wailing with shrill voice; and, as they lamented, their tears were borne on the water like drops of oil.
Thence they entered the deep stream of Rhodanus which flows into Eridanus; and where they meet there is a roar of mingling waters. Now that river, rising from the ends of the earth, where are the portals and mansions of Night, on one side bursts forth upon the beach of Ocean, at another pours into the Ionian sea, and on the third through seven mouths sends its stream to the Sardinian sea and its limitless bay.30 And from Rhodanus they entered stormy lakes, which spread throughout the Celtic mainland of wondrous size; and there they would have met with an inglorious calamity; for a certain branch of the river was bearing them towards a gulf of Ocean which in ignorance they were about to enter, and never would they have returned from there in safety. But Hera leaping forth from heaven pealed her cry from the Hercynian rock; and all together were shaken with fear of her cry; for terribly crashed the mighty firmament. And backward they turned by reason of the goddess, and noted the path by which their return was ordained. And after a long while they came to the beach of the surging sea by the devising of Hera, passing unharmed through countless tribes of the Celts and Ligyans. For round them the goddess poured a dread mist day by day as they fared on. And sailing through the midmost mouth, they reached the Stoechades islands in safety by the aid of the sons of Zeus; wherefore altars and sacred rites are established in their honour for ever; and not that sea-faring alone did they attend to succour; but Zeus granted to them the ships of future sailors too. Then leaving the Stoechades they passed on to the island Aethalia, where after their toil they wiped away with pebbles sweat in abundance; and pebbles like skin in colour are strewn on the beach31; and there are their quoits and their wondrous armour; and there is the Argoan harbour called after them.
30 Apollonius seems to have thought that the Po, the Rhone, and the Rhine are all connected together.
31 i.e. like the scrapings from skin, [Greek: apostlengismata]; see Strabo p. 224 for this adventure.
And quickly from there they passed through the sea, beholding the Tyrrhenian shores of Ausonia; and they came to the famous harbour of Aeaea, and from the ship they cast hawsers to the shore near at hand. And here they found Circe bathing her head in the salt sea-spray, for sorely had she been scared by visions of the night. With blood her chambers and all the walls of her palace seemed to be running, and flame was devouring all the magic herbs with which she used to bewitch strangers whoever came; and she herself with murderous blood quenched the glowing flame, drawing it up in her hands; and she ceased from deadly fear. Wherefore when morning came she rose, and with sea-spray was bathing her hair and her garments. And beasts, not resembling the beasts of the wild, nor yet like men in body, but with a medley of limbs, went in a throng, as sheep from the fold in multitudes follow the shepherd. Such creatures, compacted of various limbs, did earth herself produce from the primeval slime when she had not yet grown solid beneath a rainless sky nor yet had received a drop of moisture from the rays of the scorching sun; but time combined these forms and marshalled them in their ranks; in such wise these monsters shapeless of form followed her. And exceeding wonder seized the heroes, and at once, as each gazed on the form and face of Circe, they readily guessed that she was the sister of Aeetes.
Now when she had dismissed the fears of her nightly visions, straightway she fared backwards, and in her subtlety she bade the heroes follow, charming them on with her hand. Thereupon the host remained stedfast at the bidding of Aeson’s son, but Jason drew with him the Colchian maid. And both followed the selfsame path till they reached the hall of Circe, and she in amaze at their coming bade them sit on brightly burnished seats. And they, quiet and silent, sped to the hearth and sat there, as is the wont of wretched suppliants. Medea hid her face in both her hands, but Jason fixed in the ground the mighty hilted sword with which he had slain Aeetes’ son; nor did they raise their eyes to meet her look. And straightway Circe became aware of the doom of a suppliant and the guilt of murder. Wherefore in reverence for the ordinance of Zeus, the god of suppliants, who is a god of wrath yet mightily aids slayers of men, she began to offer the sacrifice with which ruthless suppliants are cleansed from guilt when they approach the altar. First to atone for the murder still unexpiated, she held above their heads the young of a sow whose dugs yet swelled from the fruit of the womb, and, severing its neck, sprinkled their hands with the blood; and again she made propitiation with other drink offerings, calling on Zeus the Cleanser, the protector of murder-stained suppliants. And all the defilements in a mass her attendants bore forth from the palace — the Naiad nymphs who ministered all things to her. And within, Circe, standing by the hearth, kept burning atonement-cakes without wine, praying the while that she might stay from their wrath the terrible Furies, and that Zeus himself might be propitious and gentle to them both, whether with hands stained by the blood of a stranger or, as kinsfolk, by the blood of a kinsman, they should implore his grace.
But when she had wrought all her task, then she raised them up and seated them on well polished seats, and herself sat near, face to face with them. And at once she asked them clearly of their business and their voyaging, and whence they had come to her land and palace, and had thus seated themselves as suppliants at her hearth. For in truth the hideous remembrance of her dreams entered her mind as she pondered; and she longed to hear the voice of the maiden, her kinswoman, as soon as she saw that she had raised her eyes from the ground. For all those of the race of Helios were plain to discern, since by the far flashing of their eyes they shot in front of them a gleam as of gold. So Medea told her all she asked — the daughter of Aeetes of the gloomy heart, speaking gently in the Colchian tongue, both of the quest and the journeyings of the heroes, and of their toils in the swift contests, and how she had sinned through the counsels of her much-sorrowing sister, and how with the sons of Phrixus she had fled afar from the tyrannous horrors of her father; but she shrank from telling of the murder of Apsyrtus. Yet she escaped not Circe’s ken; nevertheless, in spite of all she pitied the weeping maiden, and spake thus:
“Poor wretch, an evil and shameful return hast thou planned. Not for long, I ween, wilt thou escape the heavy wrath of Aeetes; but soon will he go even to the dwellings of Hellas to avenge the blood of his son, for intolerable are the deeds thou hast done. But since thou art my suppliant and my kinswoman, no further ill shall I devise against thee at thy coming; but begone from my halls, companioning the stranger, whosoever he be, this unknown one that thou hast taken in thy father’s despite; and kneel not to me at my hearth, for never will I approve thy counsels and thy shameful flight.”
Thus she spake, and measureless anguish seized the maid; and over her eyes she cast her robe and poured forth a lamentation, until the hero took her by the hand and led her forth from the hall quivering with fear. So they left the home of Circe.
But they were not unmarked by the spouse of Zeus, son of Cronos; but Iris told her when she saw them faring from the hall. For Hera had bidden her watch what time they should come to the ship; so again she urged her and spake:
“Dear Iris, now come, if ever thou hast fulfilled bidding, his thee away on light pinions, and bid Thetis arise from the sea and come hither. For need of her is come upon me. Then go to the sea-beaches where the bronze anvils of Hephaestus are smitten by sturdy hammers, and tell him to still the blasts of fire until Argo pass by them. Then go to Aeolus too, Aeolus who rules the winds, children of the clear sky; and to him also tell my purpose so that he may make all winds cease under heaven and no breeze may ruffle the sea; yet let the breath of the west wind blow until the heroes have reached the Phaeacian isle of Alcinous.”
So she spake, and straightway Iris leapt down from Olympus and cleft her way, with light wings outspread. And she plunged into the Aegean Sea, where is the dwelling of Nereus. And she came to Thetis first and, by the promptings of Hera, told her tale and roused her to go to the goddess. Next she came to Hephaestus, and quickly made him cease from the clang of his iron hammers; and the smoke-grimed bellows were stayed from their blast. And thirdly she came to Aeolus, the famous son of Hippotas. And when she had given her message to him also and rested her swift knees from her course, then Thetis leaving Nereus and her sisters had come from the sea to Olympus to the goddess Hera; and the goddess made her sit by her side and uttered her word:
“Hearken now, lady Thetis, to what I am eager to tell thee. Thou knowest how honoured in my heart is the hero, Aeson’s son, and the others that have helped him in the contest, and how I saved them when they passed between the Wandering rocks32 where roar terrible storms of fire and the waves foam round the rugged reefs. And now past the mighty rock of Scylla and Charybdis horribly belching, a course awaits them. But thee indeed from thy infancy did I tend with my own hands and love beyond all others that dwell in the salt sea because thou didst refuse to share the couch of Zeus for all his desire. For to him such deeds are ever dear, to embrace either goddesses or mortal women. But in reverence for me and with fear in thy heart thou didst shrink from his love; and he then swore a mighty oath that thou shouldst never be called the bride of an immortal god. Yet he ceased not from spying thee against thy will, until reverend Themis declared to him the whole truth, how that it was thy fate to bear a son mightier than his sire; wherefore he gave thee up, for all his desire, fearing lest another should be his match and rule the immortals, and in order that he might ever hold his own dominion. But I gave thee the best of the sons of earth to be thy husband, that thou mightest find a marriage dear to thy heart and bear children; and I summoned to the feast the gods, one and all. And with my own hand I raised the bridal torch, in return for the kindly honour thou didst pay me. But come, let me tell a tale that erreth not. When thy son shall come to the Elysian plain, he whom now in the home of Cheiron the Centaur water-nymphs are tending, though he still craves thy mother milk, it is fated that he be the husband of Medea, Aeetes’ daughter; do thou aid thy daughter-inlaw as a mother-inlaw should, and aid Peleus himself. Why is thy wrath so steadfast? He was blinded by folly. For blindness comes even upon the gods. Surely at my behest I deem that Hephaestus will cease from kindling the fury of his flame, and that Aeolus, son of Hippotas, will check his swift rushing winds, all but the steady west wind, until they reach the havens of the Phaeacians; do thou devise a return without bane. The rocks and the tyrannous waves are my fear, they alone, and them thou canst foil with thy sisters’ aid. And let them not fall in their helplessness into Charybdis lest she swallow them at one gulp, or approach the hideous lair of Scylla, Ausonian Scylla the deadly, whom night-wandering Hecate, who is called Crataeis,33 bare to Phorcys, lest swooping upon them with her horrible jaws she destroy the chiefest of the heroes. But guide their ship in the course where there shall be still a hair’s breadth escape from destruction.”
32 The Symplegades are referred to, where help was given by Athena, not by Hera. It is strange that no mention is made of the Planctae, properly so called, past which they are soon to be helped. Perhaps some lines have fallen out.
33 i.e. the Mighty One.
Thus she spake, and Thetis answered with these words: “If the fury of the ravening flame and the stormy winds cease in very deed, surely will I promise boldly to save the ship, even though the waves bar the way, if only the west wind blows fresh and clear. But it is time to fare on a long and measureless path, in quest of my sisters who will aid me, and to the spot where the ship’s hawsers are fastened, that at early dawn the heroes may take thought to win their home-return.”
She spake, and darting down from the sky fell amid the eddies of the dark blue sea; and she called aid her the rest of the Nereids, her own sisters; and they heard her and gathered together; and Thetis declared to them Hera’s behests, and quickly sped them all on their way to the Ausonian sea. And herself, swifter than the flash of an eye or the hafts of the sun, when it rises upwards from a far-distant land, hastened swiftly through the sea, until she reached the Aeaean beach of the Tyrrhenian mainland. And the heroes she found by the ship taking their pastime, with quoits and shooting of arrows; and she drew near and just touched the hand of Aeacus’ son Peleus, for he was her husband; nor could anyone see her clearly, but she appeared to his eyes alone, and thus addressed him:
“No longer now must ye stay sitting on the Tyrrhenian beach, but at dawn loosen the hawsers of your swift ship, in obedience to Hera, your helper. For at her behest the maiden daughters of Nereus have met together to draw your ship through the midst of the rocks which are called Planctae,34 for that is your destined path. But do thou show my person to no one, when thou seest us come to meet thee, but keep it secret in thy mind, lest thou anger me still more than thou didst anger me before so recklessly.”
34 i.e. the Wanderers.
She spake, and vanished into the depths of the sea; but sharp pain smote Peleus, for never before had he seen her come, since first she left her bridal chamber and bed in anger, on account of noble Achilles, then a babe. For she ever encompassed the child’s mortal flesh in the night with the flame of fire; and day by day she anointed with ambrosia his tender frame, so that he might become immortal and that she might keep off from his body loathsome old age. But Peleus leapt up from his bed and saw his dear son gasping in the flame; and at the sight he uttered a terrible cry, fool that he was; and she heard it, and catching up the child threw him screaming to the ground, and herself like a breath of wind passed swiftly from the hall as a dream and leapt into the sea, exceeding wroth, and thereafter returned not again. Wherefore blank amazement fettered his soul; nevertheless he declared to his comrades all the bidding of Thetis. And they broke off in the midst and hurriedly ceased their contests, and prepared their meal and earth-strewn beds, whereon after supper they slept through the night as aforetime.
Now when dawn the light-bringer was touching the edge of heaven, then at the coming of the swift west wind they went to their thwarts from the land; and gladly did they draw up the anchors from the deep and made the tackling ready in due order; and above spread the sail, stretching it taut with the sheets from the yard-arm. And a fresh breeze wafted the ship on. And soon they saw a fair island, Anthemoessa, where the clear-voiced Sirens, daughters of Achelous, used to beguile with their sweet songs whoever cast anchor there, and then destroy him. Them lovely Terpsichore, one of the Muses, bare, united with Achelous; and once they tended Demeter’s noble daughter still unwed, and sang to her in chorus; and at that time they were fashioned in part like birds and in part like maidens to behold. And ever on the watch from their place of prospect with its fair haven, often from many had they taken away their sweet return, consuming them with wasting desire; and suddenly to the heroes, too, they sent forth from their lips a lily-like voice. And they were already about to cast from the ship the hawsers to the shore, had not Thracian Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, stringing in his hands his Bistonian lyre, rung forth the hasty snatch of a rippling melody so that their ears might be filled with the sound of his twanging; and the lyre overcame the maidens’ voice. And the west wind and the sounding wave rushing astern bore the ship on; and the Sirens kept uttering their ceaseless song. But even so the goodly son of Teleon alone of the comrades leapt before them all from the polished bench into the sea, even Butes, his soul melted by the clear ringing voice of the Sirens; and he swam through the dark surge to mount the beach, poor wretch. Quickly would they have robbed him of his return then and there, but the goddess that rules Eryx, Cypris, in pity snatched him away, while yet in the eddies, and graciously meeting him saved him to dwell on the Lilybean height. And the heroes, seized by anguish, left the Sirens, but other perils still worse, destructive to ships, awaited them in the meeting-place of the seas.
For on one side appeared the smooth rock of Scylla; on the other Charybdis ceaselessly spouted and roared; in another part the Wandering rocks were booming beneath the mighty surge, where before the burning flame spurted forth from the top of the crags, above the rock glowing with fire, and the air was misty with smoke, nor could you have seen the sun’s light. Then, though Hephaestus had ceased from his toils, the sea was still sending up a warm vapour. Hereupon on this side and on that the daughters of Nereus met them; and behind, lady Thetis set her hand to the rudder-blade, to guide them amid the Wandering rocks. And as when in fair weather herds of dolphins come up from the depths and sport in circles round a ship as it speeds along, now seen in front, now behind, now again at the side — and delight comes to the sailors; so the Nereids darted upward and circled in their ranks round the ship Argo, while Thetis guided its course. And when they were about to touch the Wandering rocks, straightway they raised the edge of their garments over their snow-white knees, and aloft on the very rocks and where the waves broke, they hurried along on this side and on that apart from one another. And the ship was raised aloft as the current smote her, and all around the furious wave mounting up broke over the rocks, which at one time touched the sky like towering crags, at another, down in the depths, were fixed fast at the bottom of the sea and the fierce waves poured over them in floods. And the Nereids, even as maidens near some sandy beach roll their garments up to their waists out of their way and sport with a shapely-rounded ball; then they catch it one from another and send it high into the air; and it never touches the ground; so they in turn one from another sent the ship through the air over the waves, as it sped on ever away from the rocks; and round them the water spouted and foamed. And lord Hephaestus himself standing on the summit of a smooth rock and resting his massy shoulder on the handle of his hammer, beheld them, and the spouse of Zeus beheld them as she stood above the gleaming heaven; and she threw her arms round Athena, such fear seized her as she gazed. And as long as the space of a day is lengthened out in springtime, so long a time did they toil, heaving the ship between the loud-echoing rocks; then again the heroes caught the wind and sped onward; and swiftly they passed the mead of Thrinacia, where the kine of Helios fed. There the nymphs, like sea-mews, plunged beneath the depths, when they had fulfilled the behests of the spouse of Zeus. And at the same time the bleating of sheep came to the heroes through the mist and the lowing of kine, near at hand, smote their ears. And over the dewy leas Phaëthusa, the youngest of the daughters of Helios, tended the sheep, bearing in her hand a silver crook; while Lampetia, herding the kine, wielded a staff of glowing orichalcum35 as she followed. These kine the heroes saw feeding by the river’s stream, over the plain and the water-meadow; not one of them was dark in hue but all were white as milk and glorying in their horns of gold. So they passed them by in the day-time, and when night came on they were cleaving a great sea-gulf, rejoicing, until again early rising dawn threw light upon their course.
35 A fabulous metal, resembling gold in appearance.
Fronting the Ionian gulf there lies an island in the Ceraunian sea, rich in soil, with a harbour on both sides, beneath which lies the sickle, as legend saith — grant me grace, O Muses, not willingly do I tell this tale of olden days — wherewith Cronos pitilessly mutilated his father; but others call it the reaping-hook of Demeter, goddess of the nether world. For Demeter once dwelt in that island, and taught the Titans to reap the ears of corn, all for the love of Macris. Whence it is called Drepane,36 the sacred nurse of the Phaeacians; and thus the Phaeacians themselves are by birth of the blood of Uranus. To them came Argo, held fast by many toils, borne by the breezes from the Thrinacian sea; and Alcinous and his people with kindly sacrifice gladly welcomed their coming; and over them all the city made merry; thou wouldst say they were rejoicing over their own sons. And the heroes themselves strode in gladness through the throng, even as though they had set foot in the heart of Haemonia; but soon were they to arm and raise the battle-cry; so near to them appeared a boundless host of Colchians, who had passed through the mouth of Pontus and between the Cyanean rocks in search of the chieftains. They desired forthwith to carry off Medea to her father’s house apart from the rest, or else they threatened with fierce cruelty to raise the dread war-cry both then and thereafter on the coming of Aeetes. But lordly Alcinous checked them amid their eagerness for war. For he longed to allay the lawless strife between both sides without the clash of battle. And the maiden in deadly fear often implored the comrades of Aeson’s son, and often with her hands touched the knees of Arete, the bride of Alcinous:
36 i.e. the Sickle-island.
“I beseech thee, O queen, be gracious and deliver me not to the Colchians to be borne to my father, if thou thyself too art one of the race of mortals, whose heart rushes swiftly to ruin from light transgressions. For my firm sense forsook me — it was not for wantonness. Be witness the sacred light of Helios, be witness the rites of the maiden that wanders by night, daughter of Perses. Not willingly did I haste from my home with men of an alien race but a horrible fear wrought on me to bethink me of flight when I sinned; other device was there none. Still my maiden’s girdle remains, as in the halls of my father, unstained, untouched. Pity me, lady, and turn thy lord to mercy; and may the immortals grant thee a perfect life, and joy, and children, and the glory of a city unravaged!”
Thus did she implore Arete, shedding tears, and thus each of the chieftains in turn:
“On your account, ye men of peerless might, and on account of my toils in your ventures am I sorely afflicted; even I, by whose help ye yoked the bulls, and reaped the deadly harvest of the earthborn men; even I, through whom on your homeward path ye shall bear to Haemonia the golden fleece. Lo, here am I, who have lost my country and my parents, who have lost my home and all the delights of life; to you have I restored your country and your homes; with eyes of gladness ye will see again your parents; but from me a heavy-handed god has reft all joy; and with strangers I wander, an accursed thing. Fear your covenant and your oaths, fear the Fury that avenges suppliants and the retribution of heaven, if I fall into Aeetes’ hands and am slain with grievous outrage. To no shrines, no tower of defence, no other refuge do I pay heed, but/only to you. Hard and pitiless in your cruelty! No reverence have ye for me in your heart though ye see me helpless, stretching my hands towards the knees of a stranger queen; yet, when ye longed to seize the fleece, would have met all the Colchians face to face and haughty Aeetes himself; but now ye have forgotten your courage, now that they are all alone and cut off.”
Thus she spake, beseeching; and to whomsoever she bowed in prayer, that man tried to give her heart and to check her anguish. And in their hands they shook their sharp pointed spears, and drew the swords from their sheaths; and they swore they would not hold back from giving succour, if she should meet with an unrighteous judgement. And the host were all wearied and Night came on them, Night that puts to rest the works of men, and lulled all the earth to sleep; but to the maid no sleep brought rest, but in her bosom her heart was wrung with anguish. Even as when a toiling woman turns her spindle through the night, and round her moan her orphan children, for she is a widow, and down her cheeks fall the tears, as she bethinks her how dreary a lot hath seized her; so Medea’s cheeks were wet; and her heart within her was in agony, pierced with sharp pain.
Now within the palace in the city, as aforetime, lay lordly Alcinous and Arete, the revered wife of Alcinous, and on their couch through the night they were devising plans about the maiden; and him, as her wedded husband, the wife addressed with loving words:
“Yea, my friend, come, save the woe-stricken maid from the Colchians and show grace to the Minyae. Argos is near our isle and the men of Haemonia; but Aeetes dwells not near, nor do we know of Aeetes one whit: we hear but his name; but this maiden of dread suffering hath broken my heart by her prayers. O king, give her not up to the Colchians to be borne back to her father’s home. She was distraught when first she gave him the drugs to charm the oxen; and next, to cure one ill by another, as in our sinning we do often, she fled from her haughty sire’s heavy wrath. But Jason, as I hear, is bound to her by mighty oaths that he will make her his wedded wife within his halls. Wherefore, my friend, make not, of thy will, Aeson’s son to be forsworn, nor let the father, if thou canst help, work with angry heart some intolerable mischief on his child. For fathers are all too jealous against their children; what wrong did Nycteus devise against Antiope, fair of face! What woes did Danae endure on the wide sea through her sire’s mad rage! Of late, and not far away, Echetus in wanton cruelty thrust spikes of bronze in his daughter’s eyes; and by a grievous fate is she wasting away, grinding grains of bronze in a dungeon’s gloom.”
Thus she spake, beseeching; and by his wife’s words his heart was softened, and thus he spake:
“Arete, with arms I could drive forth the Colchians, showing grace to the heroes for the maiden’s sake. But I fear to set at nought the righteous judgment of Zeus. Nor is it well to take no thought of Aeetes, as thou sayest: for none is more lordly than Aeetes. And, if he willed, he might bring war upon Hellas, though he dwell afar. Wherefore it is right for me to deliver the judgement that in all men’s eyes shall be best; and I will not hide it from thee. If she be yet a maid I decree that they carry her back to her father; but if she shares a husband’s bed, I will not separate her from her lord; nor, if she bear a child beneath her breast, will I give it up to an enemy.”
Thus he spake, and at once sleep laid him to rest. And she stored up in her heart the word of wisdom, and straightway rose from her couch and went through the palace; and her handmaids came hasting together, eagerly tending their mistress. But quietly she summoned her herald and addressed him, in her prudence urging Aeson’s son to wed the maiden, and not to implore Alcinous; for he himself, she said, will decree to the Colchians that if she is still a maid he will deliver her up to be borne to her father’s house, but that if she shares a husband’s bed he will not sever her from wedded love.
Thus she spake, and quickly from the hall his feet bore him, that be might declare to Jason the fair-omened speech of Arete and the counsel of god-fearing Alcinous. And he found the heroes watching in full armour in the haven of Hyllus, near the city; and out he spake the whole message; and each hero’s heart rejoiced; for the word that he spake was welcome.
And straightway they mingled a bowl to the blessed ones, as is right, and reverently led sheep to the altar, and for that very night prepared for the maiden the bridal couch in the sacred cave, where once dwelt Macris, the daughter of Aristaeus, lord of honey, who discovered the works of bees and the fatness of the olive, the fruit of labour. She it was that first received in her bosom the Nysean son of Zeus in Abantian Euboea, and with honey moistened his parched lips when Hermes bore him out of the flame. And Hera beheld it, and in wrath drove her from the whole island. And she accordingly came to dwell far off, in the sacred cave of the Phaeacians, and granted boundless wealth to the inhabitants. There at that time did they spread a mighty couch; and thereon they laid the glittering fleece of gold, that so the marriage might be made honoured and the theme of song. And for them nymphs gathered flowers of varied hue and bore them thither in their white bosoms; and a splendour as of flame played round them all, such a light gleamed from the golden tufts. And in their eyes it kindled a sweet longing; yet for all her desire, awe withheld each one from laying her hand thereon. Some were called daughters of the river Aegaeus; others dwelt round the crests of the Meliteian mount; and others were woodland nymphs from the plains. For Hera herself, the spouse of Zeus, had sent them to do honour to Jason. That cave is to this day called the sacred cave of Medea, where they spread the fine and fragrant linen and brought these two together. And the heroes in their hands wielded their spears for war, lest first a host of foes should burst upon them for battle unawares, and, their heads enwreathed with leafy sprays, all in harmony, while Orpheus’ harp rang clear, sang the marriage song at the entrance to the bridal chamber. Yet not in the house of Alcinous was the hero, Aeson’s son, minded to complete his marriage, but in his father’s hall when he had returned home to Iolcus; and such was the mind of Medea herself; but necessity led them to wed at this time. For never in truth do we tribes of woe-stricken mortals tread the path of delight with sure foot; but still some bitter affliction keeps pace with our joy; Wherefore they too, though their souls were melted with sweet love, were held by fear, whether the sentence of Alcinous would be fulfilled.
Now dawn returning with her beams divine scattered the gloomy night through the sky; and the island beaches laughed out and the paths over the plains far off, drenched with dew, and there was a din in the streets; the people were astir throughout the city, and far away the Colchians were astir at the bounds of the isle of Macris. And straightway to them went Alcinous, by reason of his covenant, to declare his purpose concerning the maiden, and in his hand he held a golden staff, his staff of justice, whereby the people had righteous judgments meted out to them throughout the city. And with him in order due and arrayed in their harness of war went marching, band by band, the chiefs of the Phaeacians. And from the towers came forth the women in crowds to gaze upon the heroes; and the country folk came to meet them when they heard the news, for Hera had sent forth a true report. And one led the chosen ram of his Hock, and another a heifer that had never toiled; and others set hard by jars of wine for mixing; and the smoke of sacrifice leapt up far away. And women bore fine linen, the fruit of much toil, as women will, and gifts of gold and varied ornaments as well, such as are brought to newly-wedded brides; and they marvelled when they saw the shapely forms and beauty of the gallant heroes, and among them the son of Oeagrus, oft beating the ground with gleaming sandal, to the time of his loud-ringing lyre and song. And all the nymphs together, whenever he recalled the marriage, uplifted the lovely bridal-chant; and at times again they sang alone as they circled in the dance, Hera, in thy honour; for it was thou that didst put it into the heart of Arete to proclaim the wise word of Alcinous. And as soon as he had uttered the decree of his righteous judgement, and the completion of the marriage had been proclaimed, he took care that thus it should abide fixed; and no deadly fear touched him nor Aeetes’ grievous wrath, but he kept his judgement fast bound by unbroken oaths. So when the Colchians learnt that they were beseeching in vain and he bade them either observe his judgements or hold their ships away from his harbours and land, then they began to dread the threats of their own king and besought Alcinous to receive them as comrades; and there in the island long time they dwelt with the Phaeacians, until in the course of years, the Bacchiadae, a race sprung from Ephyra,37 settled among them; and the Colchians passed to an island opposite; and thence they were destined to reach the Ceraunian hills of the Abantes, and the Nestaeans and Oricum; but all this was fulfilled after long ages had passed. And still the altars which Medea built on the spot sacred to Apollo, god of shepherds, receive yearly sacrifices in honour of the Fates and the Nymphs. And when the Minyae departed many gifts of friendship did Alcinous bestow, and many Arete; moreover she gave Medea twelve Phaeacian handmaids from the palace, to bear her company. And on the seventh day they left Drepane; and at dawn came a fresh breeze from Zeus. And onward they sped borne along by the wind’s breath. Howbeit not yet was it ordained for the heroes to set foot on Achaea, until they had toiled even in the furthest bounds of Libya.
37 The old name of Corinth.
Now had they left behind the gulf named after the Ambracians, now with sails wide spread the land of the Curetes, and next in order the narrow islands with the Echinades, and the land of Pelops was just descried; even then a baleful blast of the north wind seized them in mid-course and swept them towards the Libyan sea nine nights and as many days, until they came far within Syrtis, wherefrom is no return for ships, when they are once forced into that gulf. For on every hand are shoals, on every hand masses of seaweed from the depths; and over them the light foam of the wave washes without noise; and there is a stretch of sand to the dim horizon; and there moveth nothing that creeps or flies. Here accordingly the flood-tide — for this tide often retreats from the land and bursts back again over the beach coming on with a rush and roar — thrust them suddenly on to the innermost shore, and but little of the keel was left in the water. And they leapt forth from the ship, and sorrow seized them when they gazed on the mist and the levels of vast land stretching far like a mist and continuous into the distance; no spot for water, no path, no steading of herdsmen did they descry afar off, but all the scene was possessed by a dead calm. And thus did one hero, vexed in spirit, ask another:
“What land is this? Whither has the tempest hurled us? Would that, reckless of deadly fear, we had dared to rush on by that same path between the clashing rocks! Better were it to have overleapt the will of Zeus and perished in venturing some mighty deed. But now what should we do, held back by the winds to stay here, if ever so short a time? How desolate looms before us the edge of the limitless land!”
Thus one spake; and among them Ancaeus the helmsman, in despair at their evil case, spoke with grieving heart: “Verily we are undone by a terrible doom; there is no escape from ruin; we must suffer the cruellest woes, having fallen on this desolation, even though breezes should blow from the land; for, as I gaze far around, on every side do I behold a sea of shoals, and masses of water, fretted line upon line, run over the hoary sand. And miserably long ago would our sacred ship have been shattered far from the shore; but the tide itself bore her high on to the land from the deep sea. But now the tide rushes back to the sea, and only the foam, whereon no ship can sail, rolls round us, just covering the land. Wherefore I deem that all hope of our voyage and of our return is cut off. Let someone else show his skill; let him sit at the helm — the man that is eager for our deliverance. But Zeus has no will to fulfil our day of return after all our toils.”
Thus he spake with tears, and all of them that had knowledge of ships agreed thereto; but the hearts of all grew numb, and pallor overspread their cheeks. And as, like lifeless spectres, men roam through a city awaiting the issue of war or of pestilence, or some mighty storm which overwhelms the countless labours of oxen, when the images of their own accord sweat and run down with blood, and bellowings are heard in temples, or when at mid-day the sun draws on night from heaven, and the stars shine clear through the mist; so at that time along the endless strand the chieftains wandered, groping their way. Then straightway dark evening came upon them; and piteously did they embrace each other and say farewell with tears, that they might, each one apart from his fellow, fall on the sand and die. And this way and that they went further to choose a resting-place; and they wrapped their heads in their cloaks and, fasting and unfed, lay down all that night and the day, awaiting a piteous death. But apart the maidens huddled together lamented beside the daughter of Aeetes. And as when, forsaken by their mother, unfledged birds that have fallen from a cleft in the rock chirp shrilly; or when by the banks of fair-flowing Pactolus, swans raise their song, and all around the dewy meadow echoes and the river’s fair stream; so these maidens, laying in the dust their golden hair, all through the night wailed their piteous lament. And there all would have parted from life without a name and unknown to mortal men, those bravest of heroes, with their task unfulfilled; but as they pined in despair, the heroine-nymphs, warders of Libya, had pity on them, they who once found Athena, what time she leapt in gleaming armour from her father’s head, and bathed her by Trito’s waters. It was noon-tide and the fiercest rays of the sun were scorching Libya; they stood near Aeson’s son, and lightly drew the cloak from his head. And the hero cast down his eyes and looked aside, in reverence for the goddesses, and as he lay bewildered all alone they addressed him openly with gentle words:
“Ill-starred one, why art thou so smitten with despair? We know how ye went in quest of the golden fleece; we know each toil of yours, all the mighty deeds ye wrought in your wanderings over land and sea. We are the solitary ones, goddesses of the land, speaking with human voice, the heroines, Libya’s warders and daughters. Up then; be not thus afflicted in thy misery, and rouse thy comrades. And when Amphitrite has straightway loosed Poseidon’s swift-wheeled car, then do ye pay to your mother a recompense for all her travail when she bare you so long in her womb; and so ye may return to the divine land of Achaea.”
Thus they spake, and with the voice vanished at once, where they stood. But Jason sat upon the earth as he gazed around, and thus cried:
“Be gracious, noble goddesses of the desert, yet the saying about our return I understand not clearly. Surely I will gather together my comrades and tell them, if haply we can find some token of our escape, for the counsel of many is better.”
He spake, and leapt to his feet, and shouted afar to his comrades, all squalid with dust, like a lion when he roars through the woodland seeking his mate; and far off in the mountains the glens tremble at the thunder of his voice; and the oxen of the field and the herdsmen shudder with fear; yet to them Jason’s voice was no whit terrible — the voice of a comrade calling to his friends. And with looks downcast they gathered near, and hard by where the ship lay he made them sit down in their grief and the women with them, and addressed them and told them everything:
“Listen, friends; as I lay in my grief, three goddesses girded with goat-skins from the neck downwards round the back and waist, like maidens, stood over my head nigh at hand; and they uncovered me, drawing my cloak away with light hand, and they bade me rise up myself and go and rouse you, and pay to our mother a bounteous recompense for all her travail when she bare us so long in her womb, when Amphitrite shall have loosed Poseidon’s swift-wheeled car. But I cannot fully understand concerning this divine message. They said indeed that they were heroines, Libya’s warders land daughters; and all the toils that we endured aforetime by land and sea, all these they declared that they knew full well. Then I saw them no more in their place, but a mist or cloud came between and hid them from my sight.”
Thus he spake, and all marvelled as they heard. Then was wrought for the Minyae the strangest of portents. From the sea to the land leapt forth a monstrous horse, of vast size, with golden mane tossing round his neck; and quickly from his limbs he shook off abundant spray and started on his course, with feet like the wind. And at once Peleus rejoiced and spake among the throng of his comrades:
“I deem that Poseidon’s car has even now been loosed by the hands of his dear wife, and I divine that our mother is none else than our ship herself; for surely she bare us in her womb and groans unceasingly with grievous travailing. But with unshaken strength and untiring shoulders will we lift her up and bear her within this country of sandy wastes, where yon swift-footed steed has sped before. For he will not plunge beneath the earth; and his hoof-prints, I ween, will point us to some bay above the sea.”
Thus he spake, and the fit counsel pleased all. This is the tale the Muses told; and I sing obedient to the Pierides, and this report have I heard most truly; that ye, O mightiest far of the sons of kings, by your might and your valour over the desert sands of Libya raised high aloft on your shoulders the ship and all that ye brought therein, and bare her twelve days and nights alike. Yet who could tell the pain and grief which they endured in that toil? Surely they were of the blood of the immortals, such a task did they take on them, constrained by necessity. How forward and how far they bore her gladly to the waters of the Tritonian lake! How they strode in and set her down from their stalwart shoulders!
Then, like raging hounds, they rushed to search for a spring; for besides their suffering and anguish, a parching thirst lay upon them, and not in vain did they wander; but they came to the sacred plain where Ladon, the serpent of the land, till yesterday kept watch over the golden apples in the garden of Atlas; and all around the nymphs, the Hesperides, were busied, chanting their lovely song. But at that time, stricken by Heracles, he lay fallen by the trunk of the apple-tree; only the tip of his tail was still writhing; but from his head down his dark spine he lay lifeless; and where the arrows had left in his blood the bitter gall of the Lernaean hydra, flies withered and died over the festering wounds And close at hand the Hesperides, their white arms flung over their golden heads, lamented shrilly; and the heroes drew near suddenly; but the maidens, at their quick approach, at once became dust and earth where they stood. Orpheus marked the divine portent, and for his comrades addressed them in prayer: “O divine ones, fair and kind, be gracious, O queens, whether ye be numbered among the heavenly goddesses, or those beneath the earth, or be called the Solitary nymphs; come, O nymphs, sacred race of Oceanus, appear manifest to our longing eyes and show us some spring of water from the rock or some sacred flow gushing from the earth, goddesses, wherewith we may quench the thirst that burns us unceasingly. And if ever again we return in our voyaging to the Achaean land, then to you among the first of goddesses with willing hearts will we bring countless gifts, libations and banquets.”
So he spake, beseeching them with plaintive voice; and they from their station near pitied their pain; and lo! first of all they caused grass to spring from the earth; and above the grass rose up tall shoots; and then flourishing saplings grew standing upright far above the earth. Hespere became a poplar and Eretheis an elm, and Aegle a willow’s sacred trunk. And forth from these trees their forms looked out, as clear as they were before, a marvel exceeding great, and Aegle spake with gentle words answering their longing looks:
“Surely there has come hither a mighty succour to your toils, that most accursed man, who robbed our guardian serpent of life and plucked the golden apples of the goddesses and is gone; and has left bitter grief for us. For yesterday came a man most fell in wanton violence, most grim in form; and his eyes flashed beneath his scowling brow; a ruthless wretch; and he was clad in the skin of a monstrous lion of raw hide, untanned; and he bare a sturdy bow of olive, and a bow, wherewith he shot and killed this monster here. So he too came, as one traversing the land on foot, parched with thirst; and he rushed wildly through this spot, searching for water, but nowhere was he like to see it. Now here stood a rock near the Tritonian lake; and of his own device, or by the prompting of some god, he smote it below with his foot; and the water gushed out in full flow. And he, leaning both his hands and chest upon the ground, drank a huge draught from the rifted rock, until, stooping like a beast of the field, he had satisfied his mighty maw.”
Thus she spake; and they gladly with joyful steps ran to the spot where Aegle had pointed out to them the spring, until they reached it. And as when earth-burrowing ants gather in swarms round a narrow cleft, or when flies lighting upon a tiny drop of sweet honey cluster round with insatiate eagerness; so at that time, huddled together, the Minyae thronged about the spring from the rock. And thus with wet lips one cried to another in his delight:
“Strange! In very truth Heracles, though far away, has saved his comrades, fordone with thirst. Would that we might find him on his way as we pass through the mainland!”
So they spake, and those who were ready for this work answered, and they separated this way and that, each starting to search. For by the night winds the footsteps had been effaced where the sand was stirred. The two sons of Boreas started up, trusting in their wings; and Euphemus, relying on his swift feet, and Lynceus to cast far his piercing eyes; and with them darted off Canthus, the fifth. He was urged on by the doom of the gods and his own courage, that he might learn for certain from Heracles where he had left Polyphemus, son of Eilatus; for he was minded to question him on every point concerning his comrade. But that hero had founded a glorious city among the Mysians, and, yearning for his home-return, had passed far over the mainland in search of Argo; and in time he reached the land of the Chalybes, who dwell near the sea; there it was that his fete subdued him. And to him a monument stands under a tall poplar, just facing the sea. But that day Lynceus thought he saw Heracles all alone, far off, over measureless land, as a man at the month’s beginning sees, or thinks he sees, the moon through a bank of cloud. And he returned and told his comrades that no other searcher would find Heracles on his way, and they also came back, and swift-footed Euphemus and the twin sons of Thracian Boreas, after a vain toil.
But thee, Canthus, the fates of death seized in Libya. On pasturing flocks didst thou light; and there followed a shepherd who, in defence of his own sheep, while thou wert leading them off38 to thy comrades in their need, slew thee by the cast of a stone; for he was no weakling, Caphaurus, the grandson of Lycoreian Phoebus and the chaste maiden Acacallis, whom once Minos drove from home to dwell in Libya, his own daughter, when she was bearing the gods’ heavy load; and she bare to Phoebus a glorious son, whom they call Amphithemis and Garamas. And Amphithemis wedded a Tritonian nymph; and she bare to him Nasamon and strong Caphaurus, who on that day in defending his sheep slew Canthus. But he escaped not the chieftains’ avenging hands, when they learned the deed he had done. And the Minyae, when they knew it, afterwards took up the corpse and buried it in the earth, mourning; and the sheep they took with them.
38 This seems to be the only possible translation, but the optative is quite anomalous. We should expect [Greek: ekomizes].
Thereupon on the same day a pitiless fate seized Mopsus too, son of Ampycus; and he escaped not a bitter doom by his prophesying; for there is no averting of death. Now there lay in the sand, avoiding the midday heat, a dread serpent, too sluggish of his own will to strike at an unwilling foe, nor yet would he dart full face at one that would shrink back. But into whatever of all living beings that life-giving earth sustains that serpent once injects his black venom, his path to Hades becomes not so much as a cubit’s length, not even if Paeëon, if it is right for me to say this openly, should tend him, when its teeth have only grazed the skin. For when over Libya flew godlike Perseus Eurymedon — for by that name his mother called him — bearing to the king the Gorgon’s head newly severed, all the drops of dark blood that fell to the earth, produced a brood of those serpents. Now Mopsus stepped on the end of its spine, setting thereon the sole of his left foot; and it writhed round in pain and bit and tore the flesh between the shin and the muscles. And Medea and her handmaids fled in terror; but Canthus bravely felt the bleeding wound; for no excessive pain harassed him. Poor wretch! Already a numbness that loosed his limbs was stealing beneath his skin, and a thick mist was spreading over his eyes. Straightway his heavy limbs sank helplessly to the ground and he grew cold; and his comrades and the hero, Aeson’s son, gathered round, marvelling at the close-coming doom. Nor yet though dead might he lie beneath the sun even for a little space. For at once the poison began to rot his flesh within, and the hair decayed and fell from the skin. And quickly and in haste they dug a deep grave with mattocks of bronze; and they tore their hair, the heroes and the maidens, bewailing the dead man’s piteous suffering; and when he had received due burial rites, thrice they marched round the tomb in full armour, and heaped above him a mound of earth.
But when they had gone aboard, as the south wind blew over the sea, and they were searching for a passage to go forth from the Tritonian lake, for long they had no device, but all the day were borne on aimlessly. And as a serpent goes writhing along his crooked path when the sun’s fiercest rays scorch him; and with a hiss he turns his head to this side and that, and in his fury his eyes glow like sparks of fire, until he creeps to his lair through a cleft in the rock; so Argo seeking an outlet from the lake, a fairway for ships, wandered for a long time. Then straightway Orpheus bade them bring forth from the ship Apollo’s massy tripod and offer it to the gods of the land as propitiation for their return. So they went forth and set Apollo’s gift on the shore; then before them stood, in the form of a youth, far-swaying Triton, and he lifted a clod from the earth and offered it as a stranger’s gift, and thus spake:
“Take it, friends, for no stranger’s gift of great worth have I here by me now to place in the hands of those who beseech me. But if ye are searching for a passage through this sea, as often is the need of men passing through a strange land, I will declare it. For my sire Poseidon has made me to be well versed in this sea. And I rule the shore — if haply in your distant land you have ever heard of Eurypylus, born in Libya, the home of wild beasts.”
Thus he spake, and readily Euphemus held out his hands towards the clod, and thus addressed him in reply:
“If haply, hero, thou knowest aught of Apis39 and the sea of Minos, tell us truly, who ask it of you. For not of our will have we come hither, but by the stress of heavy storms have we touched the borders of this land, and have borne our ship aloft on our shoulders to the waters of this lake over the mainland, grievously burdened; and we know not where a passage shows itself for our course to the land of Pelops.”
39 An old name of the Peloponnesus.
So he spake; and Triton stretched out his hand and showed afar the sea and the lake’s deep mouth, and then addressed them: “That is the outlet to the sea, where the deep water lies unmoved and dark; on each side roll white breakers with shining crests; and the way between for your passage out is narrow. And that sea stretches away in mist to the divine land of Pelops beyond Crete; but hold to the right, when ye have entered the swell of the sea from the lake, and steer your course hugging the land, as long as it trends to the north; but when the coast bends, falling away in the other direction, then your course is safely laid for you if ye go straight forward from the projecting cape. But go in joy, and as for labour let there be no grieving that limbs in youthful vigour should still toil.”
He spake with kindly counsel; and they at once went aboard, intent to come forth from the lake by the use of oars. And eagerly they sped on; meanwhile Triton took up the mighty tripod, and they saw him enter the lake; but thereafter did no one mark how he vanished so near them along with the tripod. But their hearts were cheered, for that one of the blessed had met them in friendly guise. And they bade Aeson’s son offer to him the choicest of the sheep and when he had slain it chant the hymn of praise. And straightway he chose in haste and raising the victim slew it over the stern, and prayed with these words:
“Thou god, who hast manifested thyself on the borders of this land, whether the daughters born of the sea call thee Triton, the great sea-marvel, or Phorcys, or Nereus, be gracious, and grant the return home dear to our hearts.”
He spake, and cut the victim’s throat over the water and cast it from the stern. And the god rose up from the depths in form such as he really was. And as when a man trains a swift steed for the broad race-course, and runs along, grasping the bushy mane, while the steed follows obeying his master, and rears his neck aloft in his pride, and the gleaming bit rings loud as he champs it in his jaws from side to side; so the god, seizing hollow Argo’s keel, guided her onward to the sea. And his body, from the crown of his head, round his back and waist as far as the belly, was wondrously like that of the blessed ones in form; but below his sides the tail of a sea monster lengthened far, forking to this side and that; and he smote the surface of the waves with the spines, which below parted into curving fins, like the horns of the new moon. And he guided Argo on until he sped her into the sea on her course; and quickly he plunged into the vast abyss; and the heroes shouted when they gazed with their eyes on that dread portent. There is the harbour of Argo and there are the signs of her stay, and altars to Poseidon and Triton; for during that day they tarried. But at dawn with sails outspread they sped on before the breath of the west wind, keeping the desert land on their right. And on the next morn they saw the headland and the recess of the sea, bending inward beyond the jutting headland. And straightway the west wind ceased, and there came the breeze of the clear south wind: and their hearts rejoiced at the sound it made. But when the sun sank and the star returned that bids the shepherd fold, which brings rest to wearied ploughmen, at that time the wind died down in the dark night; so they furled the sails and lowered the tall mast and vigorously plied their polished oars all night and through the day, and again when the next night came on. And rugged Carpathus far away welcomed them; and thence they were to cross to Crete, which rises in the sea above other islands.
And Talos, the man of bronze, as he broke off rocks from the hard cliff, stayed them from fastening hawsers to the shore, when they came to the road-stead of Dicte’s haven. He was of the stock of bronze, of the men sprung from ash-trees, the last left among the sons of the gods; and the son of Cronos gave him to Europa to be the warder of Crete and to stride round the island thrice a day with his feet of bronze. Now in all the rest of his body and limbs was he fashioned of bronze and invulnerable; but beneath the sinew by his ankle was a blood-red vein; and this, with its issues of life and death, was covered by a thin skin. So the heroes, though outworn with toil, quickly backed their ship from the land in sore dismay. And now far from Crete would they have been borne in wretched plight, distressed both by thirst and pain, had not Medea addressed them as they turned away:
“Hearken to me. For I deem that I alone can subdue for you that man, whoever he be, even though his frame be of bronze throughout, unless his life too is everlasting. But be ready to keep your ship here beyond the cast of his stones, till he yield the victory to me.”
Thus she spake; and they drew the ship out of range, resting on their oars, waiting to see what plan unlooked for she would bring to pass; and she, holding the fold of her purple robe over her cheeks on each side, mounted on the deck; and Aeson’s son took her hand in his and guided her way along the thwarts. And with songs did she propitiate and invoke the Death-spirits, devourers of life, the swift hounds of Hades, who, hovering through all the air, swoop down on the living. Kneeling in supplication, thrice she called on them with songs, and thrice with prayers; and, shaping her soul to mischief, with her hostile glance she bewitched the eyes of Talos, the man of bronze; and her teeth gnashed bitter wrath against him, and she sent forth baneful phantoms in the frenzy of her rage.
Father Zeus, surely great wonder rises in my mind, seeing that dire destruction meets us not from disease and wounds alone, but lo! even from afar, may be, it tortures us! So Talos, for all his frame of bronze, yielded the victory to the might of Medea the sorceress. And as he was heaving massy rocks to stay them from reaching the haven, he grazed his ankle on a pointed crag; and the ichor gushed forth like melted lead; and not long thereafter did he stand towering on the jutting cliff. But even as some huge pine, high up on the mountains, which woodmen have left half hewn through by their sharp axes when they returned from the forest — at first it shivers in the wind by night, then at last snaps at the stump and crashes down; so Talos for a while stood on his tireless feet, swaying to and fro, then at last, all strengthless, fell with a mighty thud. For that night there in Crete the heroes lay; then, just as dawn was growing bright, they built a shrine to Minoan Athena, and drew water and went aboard, so that first of all they might by rowing pass beyond Salmone’s height.
But straightway as they sped over the wide Cretan sea night scared them, that night which they name the Pall of Darkness; the stars pierced not that fatal night nor the beams of the moon, but black chaos descended from heaven, or haply some other darkness came, rising from the nethermost depths. And the heroes, whether they drifted in Hades or on the waters, knew not one whit; but they committed their return to the sea in helpless doubt whither it was bearing them. But Jason raised his hands and cried to Phoebus with mighty voice, calling on him to save them; and the tears ran down in his distress; and often did he promise to bring countless offerings to Pytho, to Amyclae, and to Ortygia. And quickly, O son of Leto, swift to hear, didst thou come down from heaven to the Melantian rocks, which lie there in the sea. Then darting upon one of the twin peaks, thou raisedst aloft in thy right hand thy golden bow; and the bow flashed a dazzling gleam all round. And to their sight appeared a small island of the Sporades, over against the tiny isle Hippuris, and there they cast anchor and stayed; and straightway dawn arose and gave them light; and they made for Apollo a glorious abode in a shady wood, and a shady altar, calling on Phoebus the “Gleamer,” because of the gleam far-seen; and that bare island they called Anaphe,40 for that Phoebus had revealed it to men sore bewildered. And they sacrificed all that men could provide for sacrifice on a desolate strand; wherefore when Medea’s Phaeacian handmaids saw them pouring water for libations on the burning brands, they could no longer restrain laughter within their bosoms, for that ever they had seen oxen in plenty slain in the halls of Alcinous. And the heroes delighted in the jest and attacked them with taunting words; and merry railing and contention flung to and fro were kindled among them. And from that sport of the heroes such scoffs do the women fling at the men in that island whenever they propitiate with sacrifices Apollo the gleaming god, the warder of Anaphe.
40 i.e. the isle of Revealing.
But when they had loosed the hawsers thence in fair weather, then Euphemus bethought him of a dream of the night, reverencing the glorious son of Maia. For it seemed to him that the god-given clod of earth held in his palm close to his breast was being suckled by white streams of milk, and that from it, little though it was, grew a woman like a virgin; and he, overcome by strong desire, lay with her in love’s embrace; and united with her he pitied her, as though she were a maiden whom he was feeding with his own milk; but she comforted him with gentle words:
“Daughter of Triton am I, dear friend, and nurse of thy children, no maiden; Triton and Libya are my parents. But restore me to the daughters of Nereus to dwell in the sea near Anaphe; I shall return again to the light of the sun, to prepare a home for thy descendants.”
Of this he stored in his heart the memory, and declared it to Aeson’s son; and Jason pondered a prophecy of the Far–Darter and lifted up his voice and said:
“My friend, great and glorious renown has fallen to thy lot. For of this clod when thou hast cast it into the sea, the gods will make an island, where thy children’s children shall dwell; for Triton gave this to thee as a stranger’s gift from the Libyan mainland. None other of the immortals it was than he that gave thee this when he met thee.”
Thus he spake; and Euphemus made not vain the answer of Aeson’s son; but, cheered by the prophecy, he cast the clod into the depths. Therefrom rose up an island, Calliste, sacred nurse of the sons of Euphemus, who in former days dwelt in Sintian Lemnos, and from Lemnos were driven forth by Tyrrhenians and came to Sparta as suppliants; and when they left Sparta, Theras, the goodly son of Autesion, brought them to the island Calliste, and from himself he gave it the name of Thera. But this befell after the days of Euphemus.
And thence they steadily left behind long leagues of sea and stayed on the beach of Aegina; and at once they contended in innocent strife about the fetching of water, who first should draw it and reach the ship. For both their need and the ceaseless breeze urged them on. There even to this day do the youths of the Myrmidons take up on their shoulders full-brimming jars, and with swift feet strive for victory in the race.
Be gracious, race of blessed chieftains! And may these songs year after year be sweeter to sing among men. For now have I come to the glorious end of your toils; for no adventure befell you as ye came home from Aegina, and no tempest of winds opposed you; but quietly did ye skirt the Cecropian land and Aulis inside of Euboea and the Opuntian cities of the Locrians, and gladly did ye step forth upon the beach of Pagasae.
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50