FAMOUS TALES OF FACT AND FANCY
Myths and Legends of the Nations of the World Retold for Boys and Girls
Translated and Edited by
Illustrated With Original Plates
Philadelphia The John C. Winston Company Publishers
Copyright, MCMXIV L. F. Myers
The myths and legends here gathered together have appealed and will continue to appeal to every age. Nowhere in the realm of fiction are there stories to compare with those which took form centuries ago when the race was in its childhood—stories so intimately connected with the life and history and religion of the great peoples of antiquity that they have become an integral part of our own civilization, a heritage of wealth to every child that is born into the world.
The historic basis of the tales is slight; yet who can think of the Greeks without remembering the story of Troy, or of Rome without a backward glance at AEneas, fabled founder of the race and hero of Virgil's world-famous Latin epic? Any understanding of German civilisation would be incomplete without knowledge of the mythical prince Siegfried, hero of the earliest literature of the Teutonic people, finally immortalized in the nineteenth century through the musical dramas of Wagner. Any understanding of English civilization would be similarly incomplete without the semi-historic figure of King Arthur, glorified through the accumulated legends of the Middle Ages and made to live again in the melodic idylls of the great Victorian laureate. And so one might go on. In many ways the mythology and folklore of a country are a truer index to the life of its people than any of the pages of actual history; for through these channels the imagination and the heart speak. All the chronicles of rulers and governing bodies are as dust in comparison.
The imagination of the ancients had few if any bounds, and even Athens in the height of her intellectual glory accepted the fabulous tales of gods and half-gods. Today we read and wonder. But the child, who in his brief lifetime must live over in part at least the history of the whole race, delights in the myths and legends which made his ancestors admire or tremble. They are naturally not so real to him as they were to his forefathers; yet they open up a rich and gorgeous wonderland, without excursions into which every child must grow up the poorer in mind and spirit.
To the children of America, wherever they may be, this book is dedicated. It is sure to bring enjoyment, because its stories have stood the test of time.
PROMETHEUS THE FRIEND OF MAN 7
THE LABORS OF HERCULES 11 From the German of Gustav Schwab.
DEUCALION AND PYRRHA 29 From the German of Gustav Schwab.
THESEUS AND THE CENTAUR 33 From the German of Gustav Schwab.
NIOBE 37 From the German of Gustav Schwab.
THE GORGON'S HEAD 41 From Hawthorne's "Wonder Book."
THE GOLDEN FLEECE 67 From Hawthorne's "Tanglewood Tales."
THE CYCLOPS 106 From Church's "Stories from Homer."
OEDIPUS AND THE SPHINX 116 Adapted from Church's "Stories from Greek Tragedians."
ANTIGONE, A FAITHFUL DAUGHTER AND SISTER 118 Adapted from Church's "Stories from Greek Tragedians."
THE STORY OF IPHIGENIA 131 From Church's "Stories from Greek Tragedians."
THE SACK OF TROY 153 From Church's "Stories from Virgil."
BEOWULF AND GRENDEL 164 From Joyce Pollard's "Stories from Old English Romance."
THE GOOD KING ARTHUR 179
THE GREAT KNIGHT SIEGFRIED 214
LOHENGRIN AND ELSA THE BEAUTIFUL 221 From the German of Robert Hertwig.
FRITHIOF THE BOLD 226 From the German of Robert Hertwig.
WAYLAND THE SMITH 231 From the German of Robert Hertwig.
TWARDOWSKI, THE POLISH FAUST 237
ILIA MUROMEC OF RUSSIA 243
KRALEWITZ MARKO OF SERVIA 245
THE DECISION OF LIBUSCHA 248
COUNT ROLAND OF FRANCE 250 From Church's "Stories of Charlemagne and the Peers of France."
THE CID 267
PROMETHEUS, THE FRIEND OF MAN
Many, many centuries ago there lived two brothers, Prometheus or Forethought, and Epimetheus or Afterthought. They were the sons of those Titans who had fought against Jupiter and been sent in chains to the great prison-house of the lower world, but for some reason had escaped punishment.
Prometheus, however, did not care for idle life among the gods on Mount Olympus. Instead he preferred to spend his time on the earth, helping men to find easier and better ways of living. For the children of earth were not happy as they had been in the golden days when Saturn ruled. Indeed, they were very poor and wretched and cold, without fire, without food, and with no shelter but miserable caves.
"With fire they could at least warm their bodies and cook their food," Prometheus thought, "and later they could make tools and build houses for themselves and enjoy some of the comforts of the gods."
So Prometheus went to Jupiter and asked that he might be permitted to carry fire to the earth. But Jupiter shook his head in wrath.
"Fire, indeed!" he exclaimed. "If men had fire they would soon be as strong and wise as we who dwell on Olympus. Never will I give my consent."
Prometheus made no reply, but he didn't give up his idea of helping men. "Some other way must be found," he thought.
Then, one day, as he was walking among some reeds he broke off one, and seeing that its hollow stalk was filled with a dry, soft pith, exclaimed:
"At last! In this I can carry fire, and the children of men shall have the great gift in spite of Jupiter."
Immediately, taking a long stalk in his hands, he set out for the dwelling of the sun in the far east. He reached there in the early morning, just as Apollo's chariot was about to begin its journey across the sky. Lighting his reed, he hurried back, carefully guarding the precious spark that was hidden in the hollow stalk.
Then he showed men how to build fires for themselves, and it was not long before they began to do all the wonderful things of which Prometheus had dreamed. They learned to cook and to domesticate animals and to till the fields and to mine precious metals and melt them into tools and weapons. And they came out of their dark and gloomy caves and built for themselves beautiful houses of wood and stone. And instead of being sad and unhappy they began to laugh and sing. "Behold, the Age of Gold has come again," they said.
But Jupiter was not so happy. He saw that men were gaining daily greater power, and their very prosperity made him angry.
"That young Titan!" he cried out, when he heard what Prometheus had done. "I will punish him."
But before punishing Prometheus he decided to vex the children of men. So he gave a lump of clay to his blacksmith, Vulcan, and told him to mold it in the form of a woman. When the work was done he carried it to Olympus.
Jupiter called the other gods together, bidding them give her each a gift. One bestowed upon her beauty, another, kindness, another, skill, another, curiosity, and so on. Jupiter himself gave her the gift of life, and they named her Pandora, which means "all-gifted."
Then Mercury, the messenger of the gods, took Pandora and led her down the mountain side to the place where Prometheus and his brother were living.
"Epimetheus, here is a beautiful woman that Jupiter has sent to be your wife," he said.
Epimetheus was delighted and soon loved Pandora very deeply, because of her beauty and her goodness.
Now Pandora had brought with her as a gift from Jupiter a golden casket. Athena had warned her never to open the box, but she could not help wondering and wondering what it contained. Perhaps it held beautiful jewels. Why should they go to waste?
At last she could not contain her curiosity any longer. She opened the box just a little to take a peep inside. Immediately there was a buzzing, whirring sound, and before she could snap down the lid ten thousand ugly little creatures had jumped out. They were diseases and troubles, and very glad they were to be free.
All over the earth they flew, entering into every household, and carrying sorrow and distress wherever they went.
How Jupiter must have laughed when he saw the result of Pandora's curiosity!
Soon after this the god decided that it was time to punish Prometheus. He called Strength and Force and bade them seize the Titan and carry him to the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains. Then he sent Vulcan to bind him with iron chains, making arms and feet fast to the rocks. Vulcan was sorry for Prometheus, but dared not disobey.
So the friend of man lay, miserably bound, naked to the winds, while the storms beat about him and an eagle tore at his liver with its cruel talons. But Prometheus did not utter a groan in spite of all his sufferings. Year after year he lay in agony, and yet he would not complain, beg for mercy or repent of what he had done. Men were sorry for him, but could do nothing.
Then one day a beautiful white cow passed over the mountain, and stopped to look at Prometheus with sad eyes.
"I know you," Prometheus said. "You are Io, once a fair and happy maiden dwelling in Argos, doomed by Jupiter and his jealous queen to wander over the earth in this guise. Go southward and then west until you come to the great river Nile. There you shall again become a maiden, fairer than ever before, and shall marry the king of that country. And from your race shall spring the hero who will break my chains and set me free."
Centuries passed and then a great hero, Hercules, came to the Caucasus Mountains. He climbed the rugged peak, slew the fierce eagle, and with mighty blows broke the chains that bound the friend of man.
THE LABORS OF HERCULES
Before the birth of Hercules Jupiter had explained in the council of the gods that the first descendant of Perseus should be the ruler of all the others of his race. This honor was intended for the son of Perseus and Alcmene; but Juno was jealous and brought it about that Eurystheus, who was also a descendant of Perseus, should be born before Theseus. So Eurystheus became king in Mycene, and the later-born Hercules remained inferior to him.
Now Eurystheus watched with anxiety the rising fame of his young relative, and called his subject to him, demanding that he carry through certain great tasks or labors. When Hercules did not immediately obey, Jupiter himself sent word to him that he should fulfill his service to the King of Greece.
Nevertheless the hero son of a god could not make up his mind easily to render service to a mere mortal. So he traveled to Delhi and questioned the oracle as to what he should do. This was the answer:
The overlordship of Eurystheus will be qualified on condition that Hercules perform ten labors that Eurystheus shall assign him. When this is done, Hercules shall be numbered among the immortal gods.
Hereupon Hercules fell into deep trouble. To serve a man of less importance than himself hurt his dignity and self-esteem; but Jupiter would not listen to his complaints.
THE FIRST LABOR
The first labor that Eurystheus assigned to Hercules was to bring him the skin of the Nemean lion. This monster dwelt on the mountain of Peloponnesus, in the forest between Kleona and Nemea, and could be wounded by no weapons made of man. Some said he was the son of the giant Typhon and the snake Echidna; others that he had dropped down from the moon to the earth.
Hercules set out on his journey and came to Kleona, where a poor laborer, Molorchus, received him hospitably. He met the latter just as he was about to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter.
"Good man," said Hercules, "let the animal live thirty days longer; then, if I return, offer it to Jupiter, my deliverer, and if I do not return, offer it as a funeral sacrifice to me, the hero who has attained immortality."
So Hercules continued on his way, his quiver of arrows over his shoulder, his bow in one hand, and in the other a club made from the trunk of a wild olive tree which he had passed on Mount Helicon and pulled up by the roots. When he at last entered the Nemean wood, he looked carefully in every direction in order that he might catch sight of the monster lion before the lion should see him. It was mid-day, and nowhere could he discover any trace of the lion or any path that seemed to lead to his lair. He met no man in the field or in the forest: fear held them all shut up in their distant dwellings. The whole afternoon he wandered through the thick undergrowth, determined to test his strength just as soon as he should encounter the lion.
At last, toward evening, the monster came through the forest, returning from his trap in a deep fissure of the earth.
He was saturated with blood: head, mane and breast were reeking, and his great tongue was licking his jaws. The hero, who saw him coming long before he was near, took refuge in a thicket and waited until the lion approached; then with his arrow he shot him in the side. But the shot did not pierce his flesh; instead it flew back as if it had struck stone, and fell on the mossy earth.
Then the animal raised his bloody head; looked around in every direction, and in fierce anger showed his ugly teeth. Raising his head, he exposed his heart, and immediately Hercules let fly another arrow, hoping to pierce him through the lungs. Again the arrow did not enter the flesh, but fell at the feet of the monster.
Hercules took a third arrow, while the lion, casting his eyes to the side, watched him. His whole neck swelled with anger; he roared, and his back was bent like a bow. He sprang toward his enemy; but Hercules threw the arrow and cast off the lion skin in which he was clothed with the left hand, while with the right he swung his club over the head of the beast and gave him such a blow on the neck that, all ready to spring as the lion was, he fell back, and came to a stand on trembling legs, with shaking head. Before he could take another breath, Hercules was upon him.
Throwing down his bow and quiver, that he might be entirely unencumbered, he approached the animal from behind, threw his arm around his neck and strangled him. Then for a long time he sought in vain to strip the fallen animal of his hide. It yielded to no weapon or no stone. At last the idea occurred to him of tearing it with the animal's own claws, and this method immediately succeeded.
Later he prepared for himself a coat of mail out of the lion's skin, and from the neck, a new helmet; but for the present he was content to don his own costume and weapons, and with the lion's skin over his arm took his way back to Tirynth.
THE SECOND LABOR
The second labor consisted in destroying a hydra. This monster dwelt in the swamp of Lerna, but came occasionally over the country, destroying herds and laying waste the fields. The hydra was an enormous creature—a serpent with nine heads, of which eight were mortal and one immortal.
Hercules set out with high courage for this fight. He mounted his chariot, and his beloved nephew Iolaus; the son of his stepbrother Iphicles, who for a long time had been his inseparable companion, sat by his side, guiding the horses; and so they sped toward Lerna.
At last the hydra was visible on a hill by the springs of Amymone, where its lair was found. Here Iolaus left the horses stand. Hercules leaped from the chariot and sought with burning arrows to drive the many-headed serpent from its hiding place. It came forth hissing, its nine heads raised and swaying like the branches of a tree in a storm.
Undismayed, Hercules approached it, seized it, and held it fast. But the snake wrapped itself around one of his feet. Then he began with his sword to cut off its heads. But this looked like an endless task, for no sooner had he cut off one head than two grew in its place. At the same time an enormous crab came to the help of the hydra and began biting the hero's foot. Killing this with his club, he called to Iolaus for help.
The latter had lighted a torch, set fire to a portion of the nearby wood, and with brands therefrom touched the serpent's newly growing heads and prevented them from living. In this way the hero was at last master of the situation and was able to cut off even the head of the hydra that could not be killed. This he buried deep in the ground and rolled a heavy stone over the place. The body of the hydra he cut into half, dipping his arrows in the blood, which was poisonous.
From that time the wounds made by the arrows of Hercules were fatal.
THE THIRD LABOR
The third demand of Eurystheus was that Hercules bring to him alive the hind Cerynitis. This was a noble animal, with horns of gold and feet of iron. She lived on a hill in Arcadia, and was one of the five hinds which the goddess Diana had caught on her first hunt. This one, of all the five, was permitted to run loose again in the woods, for it was decreed by fate that Hercules should one day hunt her.
For a whole year Hercules pursued her; came at last to the river Ladon; and there captured the hind, not far from the city Oenon, on the mountains of Diana. But he knew of no way of becoming master of the animal without wounding her, so he lamed her with an arrow and then carried her over his shoulder through Arcadia.
Here he met Diana herself with Apollo, who scolded him for wishing to kill the animal that she had held sacred, and was about to take it from him.
"Impiety did not move me, great goddess," said Hercules in his own defense, "but only the direst necessity. How otherwise could I hold my own against Eurystheus?"
And thus he softened the anger of the goddess and brought the animal to Mycene.
THE FOURTH LABOR
Then Hercules set out on his fourth undertaking. It consisted in bringing alive to Mycene a boar which, likewise sacred to Diana, was laying waste the country around the mountain of Erymanthus.
On his wanderings in search of this adventure he came to the dwelling of Pholus, the son of Silenus. Like all Centaurs, Pholus was half man and half horse. He received his guest with hospitality and set before him broiled meat, while he himself ate raw. But Hercules, not satisfied with this, wished also to have something good to drink.
"Dear guest," said Pholus, "there is a cask in my cellar; but it belongs to all the Centaurs jointly, and I hesitate to open it because I know how little they welcome guests."
"Open it with good courage," answered Hercules, "I promise to defend you against all displeasure."
As it happened, the cask of wine had been given to the Centaurs by Bacchus, the god of wine, with the command that they should not open it until, after four centuries, Hercules should appear in their midst.
Pholus went to the cellar and opened the wonderful cask. But scarcely had he done so when the Centaurs caught the perfume of the rare old wine, and, armed with stones and pine clubs, surrounded the cave of Pholus. The first who tried to force their way in Hercules drove back with brands he seized from the fire. The rest he pursued with bow and arrow, driving them back to Malea, where lived the good Centaur, Chiron, Hercules' old friend. To him his brother Centaurs had fled for protection.
But Hercules still continued shooting, and sent an arrow through the arm of an old Centaur, which unhappily went quite through and fell on Chiron's knee, piercing the flesh. Then for the first time Hercules recognized his friend of former days, ran to him in great distress, pulled out the arrow, and laid healing ointment on the wound, as the wise Chiron himself had taught him. But the wound, filled with the poison of the hydra, could not be healed; so the centaur was carried into his cave. There he wished to die in the arms of his friend. Vain wish! The poor Centaur had forgotten that he was immortal, and though wounded would not die.
Then Hercules with many tears bade farewell to his old teacher and promised to send to him, no matter at what price, the great deliverer, Death. And we know that he kept his word.
When Hercules from the pursuit of the other Centaurs returned to the dwelling of Pholus he found him also dead. He had drawn the deadly arrow from the lifeless body of one Centaur, and while he was wondering how so small a thing could do such great damage, the poisoned arrow slipped through his fingers and pierced his foot, killing him instantly. Hercules was very sad, and buried his body reverently beneath the mountain, which from that day was called Pholoe.
Then Hercules continued his hunt for the boar, drove him with cries out of the thick of the woods, pursued him into a deep snow field, bound the exhausted animal, and brought him, as he had been commanded, alive to Mycene.
THE FIFTH LABOR
Thereupon King Eurystheus sent him upon the fifth labor, which: was one little worthy of a hero. It was to clean the stables of Augeas in a single day.
Augeas was king in Elis and had great herds of cattle. These herds were kept, according to the custom, in a great inclosure before the palace. Three thousand cattle were housed there, and as the stables had not been cleaned for many years, so much manure had accumulated that it seemed an insult to ask Hercules to clean them in one day.
When the hero stepped before King Augeas and without telling him anything of the demands of Eurystheus, pledged himself to the task, the latter measured the noble form in the lion-skin and could hardly refrain from laughing when he thought of so worthy a warrior undertaking so menial a work. But he said to himself: "Necessity has driven many a brave man; perhaps this one wishes to enrich himself through me. That will help him little. I can promise him a large reward if he cleans out the stables, for he can in one day clear little enough." Then he spoke confidently:
"Listen, O stranger. If you clean all of my stables in one day, I will give over to you the tenth part of all my possessions in cattle."
Hercules accepted the offer, and the king expected to see him begin to shovel. But Hercules, after he had called the son of Augeas to witness the agreement, tore the foundations away from one side of the stables; directed to it by means of a canal the streams of Alpheus and Peneus that flowed near by; and let the waters carry away the filth through another opening. So he accomplished the menial work without stooping to anything unworthy of an immortal.
When Augeas learned that this work had been done in the service of Eurystheus, he refused the reward and said that he had not promised it; but he declared himself ready to have the question settled in court. When the judges were assembled, Phyleus, commanded by Hercules to appear, testified against his father, and explained how he had agreed to offer Hercules a reward. Augeas did not wait for the decision; he grew angry and commanded his son as well as the stranger to leave his kingdom instantly.
THE SIXTH LABOR
Hercules now returned with new adventures to Eurystheus; but the latter would not give him credit for the task because Hercules had demanded a reward for his labor. He sent the hero forth upon a sixth adventure, commanding him to drive away the Stymphalides. These were monster birds of prey, as large as cranes, with iron feathers, beaks and claws. They lived on the banks of Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia, and had the power of using their feathers as arrows and piercing with their beaks even bronze coats of mail. Thus they brought destruction to both animals and men in all the surrounding country.
After a short journey Hercules, accustomed to wandering, arrived at the lake, which was thickly shaded by a wood. Into this wood a great flock of the birds had flown for fear of being robbed by wolves. The hero stood undecided when he saw the frightful crowd, not knowing how he could become master over so many enemies. Then he felt a light touch on his shoulder, and glancing behind him saw the tall figure of the goddess Minerva, who gave into his hands two mighty brass rattles made by Vulcan. Telling him to use these to drive away the Stymphalides, she disappeared.
Hercules mounted a hill near the lake, and began frightening the birds by the noise of the rattles. The Stymphalides could not endure the awful noise and flew, terrified, out of the forest. Then Hercules seized his bow and sent arrow after arrow in pursuit of them, shooting many as they flew. Those who were not killed left the lake and never returned.
THE SEVENTH LABOR
King Minos of Crete had promised Neptune (Poseidon), god of the sea, to offer to him whatever animal should first come up out of the water, for he declared he had no animal that was worthy for so high a sacrifice. Therefore the god caused a very beautiful ox to rise out of the sea. But the king was so taken with the noble appearance of the animal that he secretly placed it among his own herds and offered another to Neptune. Angered by this, the god had caused the animal to become mad, and it was bringing great destruction to the island of Crete. To capture this animal, master it, and bring it before Eurystheus, was the seventh labor of Hercules.
When the hero came to Crete and with this intention stepped before Minos, the king was not a little pleased over the prospect of ridding the island of the bull, and he himself helped Hercules to capture the raging animal. Hercules approached the dreadful monster without fear, and so thoroughly did he master him that he rode home on the animal the whole way to the sea.
With this work Eurystheus was pleased, and after he had regarded the animal for a time with pleasure, set it free. No longer under Hercules' management, the ox became wild again, wandered through all Laconia and Arcadia, crossed over the isthmus to Marathon in Attica and devastated the country there as formerly on the island of Crete. Later it was given to the hero Theseus to become master over him.
THE EIGHTH LABOR
The eighth labor of Hercules was to bring the mares of the Thracian Diomede to Mycene. Diomede was a son of Mars and ruler of the Bistonians, a very warlike people. He had mares so wild and strong that they had to be fastened with iron chains. Their fodder was chiefly hay; but strangers who had the misfortune to come into the city were thrown before them, their flesh serving the animals as food.
When Hercules arrived the first thing he did was to seize the inhuman king himself and after he had overpowered the keepers, throw him before his own mares. With this food the animals were satisfied and Hercules was able to drive them to the sea.
But the Bistonians followed him with weapons, and Hercules was forced to turn and fight them. He gave the horses into the keeping of his beloved, companion Abderus, the son of Mercury, and while Hercules was away the animals grew hungry again and devoured their keeper.
Hercules, returning, was greatly grieved over this loss, and later founded a city in honor of Abderus, naming it after his lost friend. For the present he was content to master the mares and drive them without further mishap to Eurystheus.
The latter consecrated the horses to Juno. Their descendants were very powerful, and the great king Alexander of Macedonia rode one of them.
THE NINTH LABOR
Returning from a long journey, the hero undertook an expedition against the Amazons in order to finish the ninth adventure and bring to King Eurystheus the sword belt of the Amazon Hippolyta.
The Amazons inhabited the region of the river Thermodon and were a race of strong women who followed the occupations of men. From their children they selected only such as were girls. United in an army, they waged great wars. Their queen, Hippolyta, wore, as a sign of her leadership, a girdle which the goddess of war had given her as a present.
Hercules gathered his warrior companions together into a ship, sailed after many adventures into the Black Sea and at last into the mouth of the river Thermodon, and the harbor of the Amazon city Themiscira. Here the queen of the Amazons met him.
The lordly appearance of the hero flattered her pride, and when she heard the object of his visit, she promised him the belt. But Juno, the relentless enemy of Hercules, assuming the form of an Amazon, mingled among the others and spread the news that a stranger was about to lead away their queen. Then the Amazons fought with the warriors of Hercules, and the best fighters of them attacked the hero and gave him a hard battle.
The first who began fighting with him was called, because of her swiftness, Aella, or Bride of the Wind; but she found in Hercules a swifter opponent, was forced to yield and was in her swift flight overtaken by him and vanquished. A second fell at the first attack; then Prothoe, the third, who had come off victor in seven duels, also fell. Hercules laid low eight others, among them three hunter companions of Diana, who, although formerly always certain with their weapons, today failed in their aim, and vainly covering themselves with their shields fell before the arrows of the hero. Even Alkippe fell, who had sworn to live her whole live unmarried: the vow she kept, but not her life.
After even Melanippe, the brave leader of the Amazons, was made captive, all the rest took to wild flight, and Hippolyta the queen handed over the sword belt which she had promised even before the fight. Hercules took it as ransom and set Melanippe free.
THE TENTH LABOR
When the hero laid the sword belt of Queen Hippolyta at the feet of Eurystheus, the latter gave him no rest, but sent him out immediately to procure the cattle of the giant Geryone. The latter dwelt on an island in the midst of the sea, and possessed a herd of beautiful red-brown cattle; which were guarded by another giant and a two-headed dog.
Geryone himself was enormous, had three bodies, three heads, six arms and six feet. No son of earth had ever measured his strength against him, and Hercules realized exactly how many preparations were necessary for this heavy undertaking. As everybody knew, Geryone's father, who bore the name "Gold-Sword" because of his riches, was king of all Iberia (Spain). Besides Geryone he had three brave giant sons who fought for him; and each son had a mighty army of soldiers under his command. For these very reasons had Eurystheus given the task to Hercules, for he hoped that his hated existence would at last be ended in a war in such a country. Yet Hercules set out on this undertaking no more dismayed than on any previous expedition.
He gathered together his army on the island of Crete, which he had freed from wild animals, and landed first in Libya. Here he met the giant Antaeus, whose strength was renewed as often as he touched the earth. He also freed Libya of birds of prey; for he hated wild animals and wicked men because he saw in all of them the image of the overbearing and unjust lord whom he so long had served.
After long wandering through desert country he came at last to a fruitful land, through which great streams flowed. Here he founded a city of vast size, which he named Hecatompylos (City of a Hundred Gates). Then at last he reached the Atlantic Ocean and planted the two mighty pillars which bear his name.
The sun burned so fiercely that Hercules could bear it no longer; he raised his eyes to heaven and with raised bow threatened the sun-god. Apollo wondered at his courage and lent him for his further journeys the bark in which he himself was accustomed to lie from sunset to sunrise. In this Hercules sailed to Iberia.
Here he found the three sons of Gold-Sword with three great armies camping near each other; but he killed all the leaders and plundered the land. Then he sailed to the island Erythia, where Geryone dwelt with his herds.
As soon as the two-headed dog knew of his approach he sprang toward him; but Hercules struck him with his club and killed him. He killed also the giant herdsman who came to the help of the dog. Then he hurried away with the cattle.
But Geryone overtook him and there was a fierce struggle. Juno herself offered to assist the giant; but Hercules shot her with an arrow deep in the heart, and the goddess, wounded, fled. Even the threefold body of the giant which ran together in the region of the stomach, felt the might of the deadly arrows and was forced to yield.
With glorious adventures Hercules continued his way home, driving the cattle across country through Iberia and Italy. At Rhegium in lower Italy one of his oxen got away and swam across the strait to Sicily. Immediately Hercules drove the other cattle into the water and swam, holding one by the horns, to Sicily. Then the hero pursued his way without misfortune through Italy, Illyria and Thrace to Greece.
Hercules had now accomplished ten labors; but Eurystheus was still unsatisfied and there were two more tasks to be undertaken.
THE ELEVENTH LABOR
At the celebration of the marriage of Jupiter and Juno, when all the gods were bringing their wedding gifts to the happy pair, Mother Earth did not wish to be left out. So she caused to spring forth on the western borders of the great world-sea a many-branched tree full of golden apples. Four maidens called the Hesperides, daughters of Night, were the guardians of this sacred garden, and with them watched the hundred-headed dragon, Ladon, whose father was Phorkys, the parent of many monsters. Sleep came never to the eyes of this dragon and a fearful hissing sound warned one of his presence, for each of his hundred throats had a different voice. From this monster, so was the command of Eurystheus, should Hercules seize the golden apples.
The hero set out on his long and adventurous journey and placed himself in the hands of blind chance, for he did not know where the Hesperides dwelt.
He went first to Thessaly, where dwelt the giant Termerus, who with his skull knocked to death every traveler that he met; but on the mighty cranium of Hercules the head of the giant himself was split open.
Farther on the hero came upon another monster in his way, Cycnus, the son of Mars and Pyrene. He, when asked concerning the garden of the Hesperides, instead of answering, challenged the wanderer to a duel, and was beaten by Hercules. Then appeared Mars, the god of war, himself, to avenge the death of his son; and Hercules was forced to fight with him. But Jupiter did not wish that his sons should shed blood, and sent his lightning bolt to separate the two.
Then Hercules continued his way through Illyria, hastened over the river Eridanus, and came to the nymphs of Jupiter and Themis, who dwelt on the banks of the stream. To these Hercules put his question.
"Go to the old river god Nereus," was their answer. "He is a seer and knows all things. Surprise him while he sleeps and bind him; then he will be forced to tell you the right way."
Hercules followed this advice and became master of the river god, although the latter, according to his custom, assumed many different forms. Hercules would not let him go until he had learned in what locality he could find the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Informed of this, he went on his way toward Libya and Egypt. Over the latter land ruled Busiris, the son of Neptune and Lysianassa. To him during the period of a nine-year famine a prophet had borne the oracular message that the land would again bear fruit if a stranger were sacrificed once a year to Jupiter. In gratitude Busiris made a beginning with the priest himself. Later he found great pleasure in the custom and killed all strangers who came to Egypt. So Hercules was seized and placed on the altar of Jupiter. But he broke the chains which bound him, and killed Busiris and his son and the priestly herald.
With many adventures the hero continued his way, set free, as has been told elsewhere, Prometheus, the Titan, who was bound to the Caucasus Mountains, and came at last to the place where Atlas stood carrying the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Near him grew the tree which bore the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Prometheus had advised the hero not to attempt himself to make the robbery of the golden fruit, but to send Atlas on the errand. The giant offered to do this if Hercules would support the heavens while he went. This Hercules consented to do, and Atlas set out. He put to sleep the dragon who lived beneath the tree and killed him. Then with a trick he got the better of the keepers, and returned happily to Hercules with the three apples which he had plucked.
"But," he said, "I have now found out how it feels to be relieved of the heavy burden of the heavens. I will not carry them any longer." Then he threw the apples down at the feet of the hero, and left him standing with the unaccustomed, awful weight upon his shoulders.
Hercules had to think of a trick in order to get away. "Let me," he said to the giant, "just make a coil of rope to bind around my head, so that the frightful weight will not cause my forehead to give way."
Atlas found this new demand reasonable, and consented to take over the burden again for a few minutes. But the deceiver was at last deceived, and Hercules picked up the apples from the ground and set out on his way back. He carried the apples to Eurystheus, who, since his object of getting rid of the hero had not been accomplished, gave them back to Hercules as a present. The latter laid them on the altar of Minerva; but the goddess, knowing that it was contrary to the divine wishes to carry away this sacred fruit, returned the apples to the garden of the Hesperides.
THE TWELFTH LABOR
Instead of destroying his hated enemy the labors which Eurystheus had imposed upon Hercules had only strengthened the hero in the fame for which fate had selected him. He had become the protector of all the wronged upon earth, and the boldest adventurer among mortals.
But the last labor he was to undertake in the region in which his hero strength—so the impious king hoped—would not accompany him. This was a fight with the dark powers of the underworld. He was to bring forth from Hades Cerberus, the dog of Hell. This animal had three heads with frightful jaws, from which incessantly poison flowed. A dragon's tail hung from his body, and the hair of his head and of his back formed hissing, coiling serpents.
To prepare himself for this fearful journey Hercules went to the city of Eleusis, in Attic territory, where, from a wise priest, he received secret instruction in the things of the upper and lower world, and where also he received pardon for the murder of the Centaur.
Then, with strength to meet the horrors of the underworld, Hercules traveled on to Peloponnesus, and to the Laconian city of Taenarus, which contained the opening to the lower world. Here, accompanied by Mercury, he descended through a cleft in the earth, and came to the entrance of the city of King Pluto. The shades which sadly wandered back and forth before the gates of the city took flight as soon as they caught sight of flesh and blood in the form of a living man. Only the Gorgon Medusa and the spirit of Meleager remained. The former Hercules wished to overthrow with his sword, but Mercury touched him on the arm and told him that the souls of the departed were only empty shadow pictures and could not be wounded by mortal weapons.
With the soul of Meleager the hero chatted in friendly fashion, and received from him loving messages for the upper world. Still nearer to the gates of Hades Hercules caught sight of his friends Theseus and Pirithous. When both saw the friendly form of Hercules they stretched beseeching hands towards him, trembling with the hope that through his strength they might again reach the upper world. Hercules grasped Theseus by the hand, freed him from his chains and raised him from the ground. A second attempt to free Pirithous did not succeed, for the ground opened beneath his feet.
At the gate of the City of the Dead stood King Pluto, and denied entrance to Hercules. But with an arrow the hero shot the god in the shoulder, so that he feared the mortal; and when Hercules then asked whether he might lead away the dog of Hades he did not longer oppose him. But he imposed the condition that Hercules should become master of Cerberus without using any weapons. So the hero set out, protected only with cuirass and the lion skin.
He found the dog camping near the dwelling of Acheron, and without paying any attention to the bellowing of the three heads, which was like the echo of fearful resounding thunder, he seized the dog by the legs, put his arms around his neck, and would not let him go, although the dragon tail of the animal bit him in the cheek.
He held the neck of Cerberus firm, and did not let go until he was really master of the monster. Then he raised it, and through another opening of Hades returned in happiness to his own country. When the dog of Hades saw the light of day he was afraid and began to spit poison, from which poisonous plants sprung up out of the earth. Hercules brought the monster in chains to Tirynth, and led it before the astonished Eurystheus, who could not believe his eyes.
Now at last the king doubted whether he could ever rid himself of the hated son of Jupiter. He yielded to his fate and dismissed the hero, who led the dog of Hades back to his owner in the lower world.
Thus Hercules after all his labors was at last set free from the service of Eurystheus, and returned to Thebes.
DEUCALION AND PYRRHA
While the men of the Age of Bronze still dwelt upon the earth reports of their wickedness were carried to Jupiter. The god decided to verify the reports by coming to earth himself in the form of a man, and everywhere he went he found that the reports were much milder than the truth.
One evening in the late twilight he entered the inhospitable shelter of the Arcadian King Lycaon, who was famed for his wild conduct. By several signs he let it be known that he was a god, and the crowd dropped to their knees; but Lycaon made light of the pious prayers.
"Let us see," he said, "whether he is a mortal or a god."
Thereupon he decided to destroy the guest that night while he lay in slumber, not expecting death. But before doing so he killed a poor hostage whom the Molossians had sent to him, cooked the half-living limbs in boiling water or broiled them over a fire, and placed them on the table before the guest for his evening meal.
But Jupiter, who knew all this, left the table and sent a raging fire over the castle of the godless man. Frightened, the king fled into the open field. The first cry he uttered was a howl; his garments changed to fur; his arms to legs; he was transformed into a blood-thirsty wolf.
Jupiter returned to Olympus, held counsel with the gods and decided to destroy the reckless race of men. At first he wanted to turn his lightnings over all the earth, but the fear that the ether would take fire and destroy the axle of the universe restrained him. He laid aside the thunderbolt which the Cyclops had fashioned for him, and decided to send rain from heaven over all the earth and so destroy the race of mortals.
Immediately the North Wind and all the other cloud-scattering winds were locked in the cave of Aeolus, and only the South Wind sent out. The latter descended upon the earth; his frightful face was covered with darkness; his beard was heavy with clouds; from his white hair ran the flood; mists lay upon his brow; from his bosom dropped the water. The South Wind grasped the heavens, seized in his hands the surrounding clouds and began to squeeze them. The thunder rolled; floods of rain burst from the heavens. The standing corn was bent to the earth; destroyed was the hope of the farmer; destroyed the weary work of a whole year.
Even Neptune, god of the sea, came to the assistance of his brother Jupiter in the work of destruction. He called all the rivers together and said, "Give full rein to your torrents; enter houses; break through all dams!"
They followed his command, and Neptune himself struck the earth with his trident and let the flood enter. Then the waters streamed over the open meadows, covered the fields, dislodged trees, temples and houses. Wherever a palace stood, its gables were soon covered with water and the highest turrets were hidden in the torrent. Sea and earth were no longer divided; all was flood—an unbroken stretch of water.
Men tried to save themselves as best they could; some climbed the high mountains; others entered boats and rowed, now over the roofs of the fallen houses, now over the hills of their ruined vineyards. Fish swam among the branches of the highest trees; the wild boar was caught in the flood; people were swept away by the water and those whom the flood spared died of hunger on the barren mountains.
One high mountain in the country of Phocis still raised two peaks above the surrounding waters. It was the great Mount Parnassus. Toward this floated a boat containing Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha. No man, no woman, had ever been found who surpassed these in righteousness and piety. When, therefore, Jupiter, looking down from heaven upon the earth, saw that only a single pair of mortals remained of the many thousand times a thousand, both blameless, both devoted servants of the gods, he sent forth the North Wind, recalled the clouds, and once again separated the earth from the heavens and the heavens from the earth.
Even Neptune, lord of the sea, laid down his trident and calmed the flood. The ocean resumed its banks; the rivers returned to their beds; forests stretched their slime-covered tree-tops out of the deep; hills followed; finally stretches of level land appeared and the earth was as before.
Deucalion looked around him. The country was laid waste; it was wrapped in the silence of the grave. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he said to his wife, Pyrrha, "Beloved, solitary companion of my life, as far as I can see through all the surrounding country, I can discover no living creature. We two must people the earth; all the rest have been drowned by the flood. But even we are not yet certain of our lives. Every cloud that I see strikes terror to my soul. And even if danger is past, what shall we do alone on the forsaken earth? Oh, that my father Prometheus had taught me the art of creating men and breathing life into them!"
Then the two began to weep. They threw themselves on their knees before the half-destroyed altar of the goddess Themis, and began to pray, saying, "Tell us? O goddess, by what means we can replace the race that has disappeared? Oh, help the earth to new life."
"Leave my altar," sounded the voice of the goddess. "Uncover your heads, ungird your garments and cast the bones of your mother behind you."
For a long time Deucalion and Pyrrha wondered over the puzzling words of the goddess. Pyrrha was the first to break the silence. "Pardon me, O noble goddess," she said, "if I do not obey you and cannot consent to scatter the bones of my mother."
Then Deucalion had a happy thought. He comforted his wife. "Either my reason deceives me," he said, "or the command of the goddess is good and involves no impiety. The great mother of all of us is the Earth; her bones are the stones, and these, Pyrrha, we will cast behind us!"
Both mistrusted this interpretation of the words, but what harm would it do to try? Thereupon they uncovered their heads, ungirded their garments and began casting stones behind them.
Then a wonderful thing happened. The stone began to lose its hardness, became malleable, grew and took form—not definite at once, but rude figures such as an artist first hews out of the rough marble. Whatever was moist or earthy in the stones was changed into flesh; the harder parts became bones; the veins in the rock remained as veins in the bodies. Thus, in a little while, with the aid of the gods, the stones which Deucalion threw assumed the form of men; those which Pyrrha threw, the form of women.
This homely origin the race of men does not deny; they are a hardy people, accustomed to work. Every moment of the day they remember from what sturdy stock they have sprung.
THESEUS AND THE CENTAUR
Theseus, the hero king of Athens, had a reputation for great strength and bravery; but Pirithous, the son of Ixion, one of the most famous heroes of antiquity, wished to put him to the test. He therefore drove the cattle which belonged to Theseus away from Marathon, and when he heard that Theseus, weapon in hand, was following him, then, indeed, he had what he desired. He did not flee, but turned around to meet him.
When the two heroes were near enough to see each other, each was so filled with admiration for the beautiful form and the bravery of his opponent that, as if at a given signal, both threw down their weapons and hastened toward each other. Pirithous extended his hand to Theseus and proposed that the latter act as arbitrator for the settlement of the dispute about the cattle: whatever satisfaction Theseus would demand Pirithous would willingly give.
"The only satisfaction which I desire," answered Pirithous, "is that you instead of my enemy become my friend and comrade in arms."
Then the two heroes embraced each other and swore eternal friendship.
Soon after this Pirithous chose the Thessalian princess, Hippodamia, from the race of Lapithae, for his bride, and invited Theseus to the wedding. The Lapithae, among whom the ceremony took place, were a famous family of Thessalians, rugged mountaineers, in some respects resembling animals—the first mortals who had learned to manage a horse. But the bride, who had sprung from this race, was not at all like the men of her people. She was of noble form, with delicate, youthful face, so beautiful that all the guests praised Pirithous for his good fortune.
The assembled princes of Thessaly were at the wedding feast, and also the Centaurs, relatives of Pirithous. The Centaurs were half men; the offspring which a cloud, assuming the form of the goddess Hera, had born to Ixion, the father of Pirithous. They were the eternal enemies of the Lapithae. Upon this occasion, however, and for the sake of the bride, they had forgotten past grudges and come together to the joyful celebration. The noble castle of Pirithous resounded with glad tumult; bridal songs were sung; wine and food abounded. Indeed, there were so many guests that the palace would not accommodate all. The Lapithae and Centaurs sat at a special table in a grotto shaded by trees.
For a long time the festivities went on with undisturbed happiness. Then the wine began to stir the heart of the wildest of the Centaurs, Eurytion, and the beauty of the Princess Hippodamia awoke in him the mad desire of robbing the bridegroom of his bride. Nobody knew how it came to pass; nobody noticed the beginning of the unthinkable act; but suddenly the guests saw the wild Eurytion lifting Hippodamia from her feet, while she struggled and cried for help. His deed was the signal for the rest of the drunken Centaurs to do likewise, and before the strange heroes and the Lapithae could leave their places, every one of the Centaurs had roughly seized one of the Thessalian princesses who served at the court of the king or who had assembled as guests at the wedding.
The castle and the grotto resembled a besieged city; the cry of the women sounded far and wide. Quickly friends and relatives sprang from their places.
"What delusion is this, Eurytion," cried Theseus, "to vex Pirithous while I still live, and by so doing arouse the anger of two heroes?" With these words he forced his way through the crowd and tore the stolen bride from the struggling robber.
Eurytion said nothing, for he could not excuse his deed, but he lifted his hand toward Theseus and gave him a rough knock in the chest. Then Theseus, who had no weapon at hand, seized an iron jug of embossed workmanship which stood near by and flung it into the face of his opponent with such force that the Centaur fell backward on the ground, while brains and blood oozed from the wound in his head.
"To arms!" the cry arose from all sides. At first beakers, flasks and bowls flew back and forth. Then one sacrilegious monster grabbed the oblations from the neighboring apartments. Another tore down the lamp which burned over the table, while still another fought with a sacrificial deer which had hung on one side of the grotto. A frightful slaughter ensued. Rhoetus, the most wicked of the Centaurs after Eurytion, seized the largest brand from the altar and thrust it into the gaping wound of one of the fallen Lapithae, so that the blood hissed like iron in a furnace. In opposition to him rose Dryas, the bravest of the Lapithae, and seizing a glowing log from the fire, thrust it into the Centaur's neck. The fate of this Centaur atoned for the death of his fallen companion, and Dryas turned to the raging mob and laid five of them low.
Then the spear of the brave hero Pirithous flew forth and pierced a mighty Centaur, Petraus, just as he was about to uproot a tree to use it for a club. The spear pinned him against the knotted oak. A second, Dictys, fell at the stroke of the Greek hero, and in falling snapped off a mighty ash tree; a third, wishing to avenge him, was crushed by Theseus with an oak club.
The most beautiful and youthful of the Centaurs was Cyllarus. His long hair and beard were golden; his smile was friendly; his neck, shoulders, hands and breast were as beautiful as if formed by an artist. Even the lower part of his body, the part which resembled a horse, was faultless, pitch-black in color, with legs and tail of lighter dye. He had come to the feast with his wife, the beautiful Centaur, Hylonome, who at the table had leaned gracefully against him and even now united with him in the raging fight. He received from an unknown hand a light wound near his heart, and sank dying in the arms of his wife. Hylonome nursed his dying form, kissed him and tried to retain the fleeting breath. When she saw that he was gone she drew a dagger from her breast and stabbed herself.
For a long time still the fight between the Lapithae and the Centaurs continued; but at last night put an end to the tumult. Then Pirithous remained in undisturbed possession of his bride, and on the following morning Theseus departed, bidding farewell to his friend. The common fight had quickly welded the fresh tie of their brotherhood into an indestructible bond.
Niobe, Queen of Thebes, was proud of many things. Amphion, her husband, had received from the Muses a wonderful lyre, to the music of which the stones of the royal palace had of themselves assumed place. Her father was Tantalus, who had been entertained by the gods; and she herself was the ruler of a powerful kingdom and a woman of great pride of spirit and majestic beauty. But of none of these things was she so proud as she was of her fourteen lovely children, the seven sons and seven daughters to whom she had given birth.
Indeed, Niobe was the happiest of all mothers, and so would she have remained if she had not believed herself so peculiarly blessed. Her very knowledge of her good fortune was her undoing.
One day the prophetess Manto, daughter of the soothsayer Tiresias, being instructed of the gods, called together the women of Thebes to do honor to the goddess Latona and her two children, Apollo and Diana. "Put laurel wreaths upon your heads," were her commands, "and bring sacrifices with pious prayers."
Then while the women of Thebes were gathering together, Niobe came forth, clad in a gold-embroidered garment, with a crowd of followers, radiant in her beauty, though angry, with her hair flowing about her shoulders. She stopped in the midst of the busy women, and raising her voice, spoke to them.
"Are you not foolish to worship gods of whom stories are told to you when more favored beings dwell here among you? While you are making sacrifices on the altar of Latona, why does my divine name remain unknown? My father Tantalus is the only mortal who has ever sat at the table of the gods, and my mother Dione is the sister of the Pleiades, who as bright stars shine nightly in the heavens. One of my uncles is the giant Atlas, who on his neck supports the vaulted heavens; my grandfather is Jupiter, the father of the gods. The people of Phrygia obey me, and to me and my husband belongs the city of Cadmus, the walls of which were put together by the music that my husband played. Every corner of my palace is filled with priceless treasures; and there, too, are other treasures—children such as no other mother can show: seven beautiful daughters, seven sturdy sons, and just as many sons- and daughters-in-law. Ask now whether I have ground for pride. Consider again before you honor more than me Latona, the unknown daughter of the Titans, who could find no place in the whole earth in which she might rest and give birth to her children until the island of Delos in compassion offered her a precarious shelter. There she became the mother of two children—the poor creature! Just the seventh part of my mother joy! Who can deny that I am fortunate? Who will doubt that I shall remain happy? Fortune would have a hard time if she undertook to shatter my happiness. Take this or that one from my treasured children; but when would the number of them dwindle to the sickly two of Latona? Away with your sacrifices! Take the laurel out of your hair. Go back to your homes and let me never see such foolishness again!"
Frightened at the outburst, the women removed the wreaths from their heads, left their sacrifices and slunk home, still honoring Latona with silent prayer.
On the summit of the Delian mountain Cynthas stood Latona with her two children, watching what was taking place in distant Thebes. "See, my children," she said, "I, your mother, who am so proud of your birth, who yield place to no goddess except Juno, I am held up to ridicule by an upstart mortal, and if you do not defend me, my children, I shall be driven away from the ancient and holy altars. Yes, you too are insulted by Niobe, and she would like to have you set aside for her children!"
Latona was about to go on, but Apollo interrupted her: "Cease your lamentations, mother; you only delay the punishment."
Then he and his sister wrapped themselves in a magic cloud cloak that made them invisible, and flew swiftly through the air until they reached the town and castle of Cadmus.
Just outside the walls of the city was an open field that was used as a race-course and practice ground for horses. Here the seven sons of Amphion were amusing themselves, when suddenly the oldest dropped his reins with a cry and fell from his horse, pierced to the heart by an arrow. One after another the whole seven were struck down.
The news of the disaster soon spread through the city. Amphion, when he heard that all his sons had perished, fell on his own sword. Then the loud cries of his servants penetrated to the women's quarters.
For a long time Niobe could not believe that the gods had thus brought vengeance. When she did, how unlike was she to the Niobe who drove the people from the altars of the mighty goddess and strode through the city with haughty mien. Crazed with grief she rushed out to the field where her sons had been stricken, threw herself on their dead bodies, kissing now this one and now that. Then, raising her arms to heaven, she cried, "Look now upon my distress, thou cruel Latona; for the death of these seven bows me to the earth. Triumph thou, O my victorious enemy!"
Now the seven daughters of Niobe, clad in garments of mourning, drew near, and with loosened hair stood around their brothers. And the sight of them brought a ray of joy to Niobe's white face. She forgot her grief for a moment, and casting a scornful look to heaven, said, "Victor! No, for even in my loss I have more than thou in thy happiness!"
Hardly had she spoken when there was the sound of a drawn bow. The bystanders grew cold with fear, but Niobe was not frightened, for misfortune had made her strong.
Suddenly one of the sisters put her hand to her breast and drew out an arrow that had pierced her; then, unconscious, she sank to the ground. Another daughter hastened to her mother to comfort her, but before she could reach her she was laid low by a hidden wound. One after another the rest fell, until only the last was left. She had fled to Niobe's lap and childlike was hiding her face in her mother's garments.
"Leave me only this one," cried Niobe, "just the youngest of so many."
But even while she prayed the child fell lifeless from her lap, and Niobe sat alone among the dead bodies of her husband, her sons and her daughters. She was speechless with grief; no breath of air stirred the hair on her head; the blood left her face; the eyes remained fixed on the grief-stricken countenance; in the whole body there was no longer any sign of life. The veins ceased to carry blood; the neck stiffened; arms and feet grew rigid; the whole body was transformed into cold and lifeless stone. Nothing living remained to her except her tears, which continued flowing from her stony eyes.
Then a mighty wind lifted the image of stone, carried it over the sea and set it down in Lydia, the old home of Niobe, in the barren mountains under the stony cliffs of Sipylus. Here Niobe remained fixed as a marble statue on the summit of the mountain, and to this very day you can see the grief-stricken mother in tears.
THE GORGON'S HEAD
Perseus was the son of Danae, who was the daughter of a king. And when Perseus was a very little boy, some wicked people put his mother and himself into a chest and set them afloat upon the sea. The wind blew freshly and drove the chest away from the shore, and the uneasy billows tossed it up and down; while Danae clasped her child closely to her bosom, and dreaded that some big wave would dash its foamy crest over them both. The chest sailed on, however, and neither sank nor was upset, until, when night was coming, it floated so near an island that it got entangled in a fisherman's nets and was drawn out high and dry upon the sand. This island was called Seriphus and it was reigned over by King Polydectes, who happened to be the fisherman's brother.
This fisherman, I am glad to tell you, was an exceedingly humane and upright man. He showed great kindness to Danae and her little boy, and continued to befriend them until Perseus had grown to be a handsome youth, very strong and active and skilful in the use of arms. Long before this time King Polydectes had seen the two strangers—the mother and her child—who had come to his dominions in a floating chest. As he was not good and kind, like his brother the fisherman, but extremely wicked, he resolved to send Perseus on a dangerous enterprise, in which he would probably be killed, and then to do some great mischief to Danae herself. So this bad-hearted king spent a long while in considering what was the most dangerous thing that a young man could possibly undertake to perform. At last, having hit upon an enterprise that promised to turn out as fatally as he desired, he sent for the youthful Perseus.
The young man came to the palace and found the king sitting upon his throne.
"Perseus," said King Polydectes, smiling craftily upon him, "you are grown up a fine young man. You and your good mother have received a great deal of kindness from myself, as well as from my worthy brother the fisherman, and I suppose you would not be sorry to repay some of it."
"Please, your Majesty," answered Perseus, "I would willingly risk my life to do so."
"Well, then," continued the king, still with a cunning smile on his lips, "I have a little adventure to propose to you, and as you are a brave and enterprising youth, you will doubtless look upon it as a great piece of good luck to have so rare an opportunity of distinguishing yourself. You must know, my good Perseus, I think of getting married to the beautiful Princess Hippodamia, and it is customary on these occasions to make the bride a present of some far-fetched and elegant curiosity. I have been a little perplexed, I must honestly confess, where to obtain anything likely to please a princess of her exquisite taste. But this morning, I flatter myself, I have thought of precisely the article."
"And can I assist your Majesty in obtaining it?" cried Perseus, eagerly.
"You can if you are as brave a youth as I believe you to be," replied King Polydectes with the utmost graciousness of manner. "The bridal gift which I have set my heart on presenting to the beautiful Hippodamia is the head of the Gorgon Medusa with the snaky locks; and I depend on you, my dear Perseus, to bring it to me. So, as I am anxious to settle affairs with the princess, the sooner you go in quest of the Gorgon, the better I shall be pleased."
"I will set out tomorrow morning," answered Perseus.
"Pray do so, my gallant youth," rejoined the king. "And, Perseus, in cutting off the Gorgon's head, be careful to make a clean stroke, so as not to injure its appearance. You must bring it home in the very best condition in order to suit the exquisite taste of the beautiful Princess Hippodamia."
Perseus left the palace, but was scarcely out of hearing before Polydectes burst into a laugh, being greatly amused, wicked king that he was, to find how readily the young man fell into the snare. The news quickly spread abroad that Perseus had undertaken to cut off the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. Everybody was rejoiced, for most of the inhabitants of the island were as wicked as the king himself and would have liked nothing better than to see some enormous mischief happen to Danae and her son. The only good man in this unfortunate island of Seriphus appears to have been the fisherman. As Perseus walked along, therefore, the people pointed after him and made mouths, and winked to one another and ridiculed him as loudly as they dared.
"Ho, ho!" cried they; "Medusa's snakes will sting him soundly!"
Now, there were three Gorgons alive at that period, and they were the most strange and terrible monsters that had ever been since the world was made, or that have been seen in after days, or that are likely to be seen in all time to come. I hardly know what sort of creature or hobgoblin to call them. They were three sisters and seem to have borne some distant resemblance to women, but were really a very frightful and mischievous species of dragon. It is, indeed, difficult to imagine what hideous beings these three sisters were. Why, instead of locks of hair, if you can believe men, they had each of them a hundred enormous snakes growing on their heads, all alive, twisting, wriggling, curling and thrusting out their venomous tongues, with forked stings at the end! The teeth of the Gorgons were terribly long tusks, their hands were made of brass, and their bodies were all over scales, which, if not iron, were something as hard and impenetrable. They had wings, too, and exceedingly splendid ones, I can assure you, for every feather in them was pure, bright, glittering, burnished gold; and they looked very dazzling, no doubt, when the Gorgons were flying about in the sunshine.
But when people happened to catch a glimpse of their glittering brightness, aloft in the air, they seldom stopped to gaze, but ran and hid themselves as speedily as they could. You will think, perhaps, that they were afraid of being stung by the serpents that served the Gorgons instead of hair—or of having their heads bitten off by their ugly tusks—or of being torn all to pieces by their brazen claws. Well, to be sure, these were some of the dangers, but by no means the greatest nor the most difficult to avoid. For the worst thing about these abominable Gorgons was that if once a poor mortal fixed his eyes full upon one of their faces, he was certain that very instant to be changed from warm flesh and blood into cold and lifeless stone!
Thus, as you will easily perceive, it was a very dangerous adventure that the wicked King Polydectes had contrived for this innocent young man. Perseus himself, when he had thought over the matter, could not help seeing that he had very little chance of coming safely through it, and that he was far more likely to become a stone image than to bring back the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. For, not to speak of other difficulties, there was one which it would have puzzled an older man than Perseus to get over. Not only must he fight with and slay this golden-winged, iron-scaled, long-tusked, brazen-clawed, snaky-haired monster, but he must do it with his eyes shut, or, at least, without so much as a glance at the enemy with whom he was contending. Else, while his arm was lifted to strike, he would stiffen into stone and stand with that uplifted arm for centuries, until time and the wind and weather should crumble him quite away. This would be a very sad thing to befall a young man who wanted to perform a great many brave deeds and to enjoy a great deal of happiness in this bright and beautiful world.
So disconsolate did these thoughts make him that Perseus could not bear to tell his mother what he had undertaken to do. He therefore took his shield, girded on his sword and crossed over from the island to the mainland, where he sat down in a solitary place and hardly refrained from shedding tears.
But while he was in this sorrowful mood, he heard a voice close beside him.
"Perseus," said the voice, "why are you sad?"
He lifted his head from his hands, in which he had hidden it, and behold! all alone as Perseus had supposed himself to be, there was a stranger in the solitary place. It was a brisk, intelligent and remarkably shrewd-looking young man, with a cloak over his shoulders, an odd sort of cap on his head, a strangely twisted staff in his hand and a short and very crooked sword hanging by his side. He was exceedingly light and active in his figure, like a person much accustomed to gymnastic exercises and well able to leap or run. Above all, the stranger had such a cheerful, knowing and helpful aspect (though it was certainly a little mischievous, into the bargain) that Perseus could not help feeling his spirits grow livelier as he gazed at him. Besides, being really a courageous youth, he felt greatly ashamed that anybody should have found him with tears in his eyes like a timid little schoolboy, when, after all, there might be no occasion for despair. So Perseus wiped his eyes and answered the stranger pretty briskly, putting on as brave a look as he could.
"I am not so very sad," said he, "only thoughtful about an adventure that I have undertaken."
"Oho!" answered the stranger. "Well, tell me all about it and possibly I may be of service to you. I have helped a good many young men through adventures that looked difficult enough beforehand. Perhaps you may have heard of me. I have more names than one, but the name of Quicksilver suits me as well as any other. Tell me what the trouble is and we will talk the matter over and see what can be done."
The stranger's words and manner put Perseus into quite a different mood from his former one. He resolved to tell Quicksilver all his difficulties, since he could not easily be worse off than he already was, and, very possibly, his new friend might give him some advice that would turn out well in the end. So he let the stranger know in few words precisely what was the case—how the King Polydectes wanted the head of Medusa with the snaky locks as a bridal gift for the beautiful Princess Hippodamia and how that he had undertaken to get it for him, but was afraid of being turned into stone.
"And that would be a great pity," said Quicksilver, with his mischievous smile. "You would make a very handsome marble statue, it is true, and it would be a considerable number of centuries before you crumbled away; but, on the whole, one would rather be a young man for a few years than a stone image for a great many."
"Oh, far rather!" exclaimed Perseus, with the tears again standing in his eyes. "And, besides, what would my dear mother do if her beloved son were turned into a stone?"
"Well, well, let us hope that the affair will not turn out so very badly," replied Quicksilver in an encouraging tone. "I am the very person to help you, if anybody can. My sister and myself will do our utmost to bring you safe through the adventure, ugly as it now looks."
"Your sister?" repeated Perseus.
"Yes, my sister," said the stranger. "She is very wise, I promise you; and as for myself, I generally have all my wits about me, such as they are. If you show yourself bold and cautious, and follow our advice, you need not fear being a stone image yet awhile. But, first of all, you must polish your shield till you can see your face in it as distinctly as in a mirror."
This seemed to Perseus rather an odd beginning of the adventure, for he thought it of far more consequence that the shield should be strong enough to defend him from the Gorgon's brazen claws than that it should be bright enough to show him the reflection of his face. However, concluding that Quicksilver knew better than himself, he immediately set to work and scrubbed the shield with so much diligence and good will that it very quickly shone like the moon at harvest time. Quicksilver looked at it with a smile and nodded his approbation. Then taking off his own short and crooked sword, he girded it about Perseus, instead of the one which he had before worn.
"No sword but mine will answer your purpose," observed he; "the blade has a most excellent temper and will cut through iron and brass as easily as through the slenderest twig. And now we will set out. The next thing is to find the Three Gray Women, who will tell us where to find the Nymphs."
"The Three Gray Women!" cried Perseus, to whom this seemed only a new difficulty in the path of his adventure. "Pray, who may the Three Gray Women be? I never heard of them before."
"They are three very strange old ladies," said Quicksilver, laughing. "They have but one eye among them, and only one tooth. Moreover, you must find them out by starlight or in the dusk of the evening, for they never show themselves by the light either of the sun or moon."
"But," said Perseus, "why should I waste my time with these Three Gray Women? Would it not be better to set out at once in search of the terrible Gorgons?"
"No, no," answered his friend. "There are other things to be done before you can find your way to the Gorgons. There is nothing for it but to hunt up these old ladies; and when we meet with them, you may be sure that the Gorgons are not a great way off. Come, let us be stirring!"
Perseus by this time felt so much confidence in his companion's sagacity that he made no more objections, and professed himself ready to begin the adventure immediately. They accordingly set out and walked at a pretty brisk pace; so brisk, indeed, that Perseus found it rather difficult to keep up with his nimble friend Quicksilver. To say the truth, he had a singular idea that Quicksilver was furnished with a pair of winged shoes, which, of course, helped him along marvelously. And then, too, when Perseus looked sideways at him out of the corner of his eye, he seemed to see wings on the side of his head; although, if he turned a full gaze, there were no such things to be perceived, but only an odd kind of cap. But at all events, the twisted staff was evidently a great convenience to Quicksilver, and enabled him to proceed so fast that Perseus, though a remarkably active young man, began to be out of breath.
"Here!" cried Quicksilver at last—for he knew well enough, rogue that he was, how hard Perseus found it to keep pace with him—"take you the staff, for you need it a great deal more than I. Are there no better walkers than yourself in the island of Seriphus?"
"I could walk pretty well," said Perseus, glancing slyly at his companion's feet, "if I had only a pair of winged shoes."
"We must see about getting you a pair," answered Quicksilver.
But the staff helped Perseus along so bravely that he no longer felt the slightest weariness. In fact, the stick seemed to be alive in his hand and to lend some of its life to Perseus. He and Quicksilver now walked onward at their ease, talking very sociably together; and Quicksilver told so many pleasant stories about his former adventures and how well his wits had served him on various occasions that Perseus began to think him a very wonderful person. He evidently knew the world; and nobody is so charming to a young man as a friend who has that kind of knowledge. Perseus listened the more eagerly, in the hope of brightening his own wits by what he heard.
At last, he happened to recollect that Quicksilver had spoken of a sister who was to lend her assistance in the adventure which they were now bound upon.
"Where is she?" he inquired. "Shall we not meet her soon?"
"All at the proper time," said his companion. "But this sister of mine, you must understand, is quite a different sort of character from myself. She is very grave and prudent, seldom smiles, never laughs and makes it a rule not to utter a word unless she has something particularly profound to say. Neither will she listen to any but the wisest conversation."
"Dear me!" ejaculated Perseus; "I shall be afraid to say a syllable."
"She is a very accomplished person, I assure you," continued Quicksilver, "and has all the arts and science at her fingers' ends. In short, she is so immoderately wise that many people call her wisdom personified. But to tell you the truth, she has hardly vivacity enough for my taste; and I think you would scarcely find her so pleasant a traveling companion as myself. She has her good points, nevertheless; and you will find the benefit of them in your encounter with the Gorgons."
By this time it had grown quite dusk. They were now come to a very wild and desert place, overgrown with shaggy bushes and so silent and solitary that nobody seemed ever to have dwelt or journeyed there. All was waste and desolate in the gray twilight, which grew every moment more obscure. Perseus looked about him rather disconsolately and asked Quicksilver whether they had a great deal farther to go.
"Hist! hist!" whispered his companion. "Make no noise! This is just the time and place to meet the Three Gray Women. Be careful that they do not see you before you see them, for though they have but a single eye among the three, it is as sharp-sighted as half a dozen common eyes."
"But what must I do," asked Perseus, "when we meet them?"
Quicksilver explained to Perseus how the Three Gray Women managed with their one eye. They were in the habit, it seems, of changing it from one to another, as if it had been a pair of spectacles, or—which would have suited them better—a quizzing glass. When one of the three had kept the eye a certain time, she took it out of the socket and passed it to one of her sisters, whose turn it might happen to be, and who immediately clapped it into her own head and enjoyed a peep at the visible world. Thus it will easily be understood that only one of the Three Gray Women could see, while the other two were in utter darkness; and, moreover, at the instant when the eye was passing from hand to hand, none of the poor old ladies was able to see a wink. I have heard of a great many strange things in my day, and have witnessed not a few, but none, it seems to me, that can compare with the oddity of these Three Gray Women all peeping through a single eye.
So thought Perseus, likewise, and was so astonished that he almost fancied his companion was joking with him, and that there were no such old women in the world.
"You will soon find whether I tell the truth or no," observed Quicksilver. "Hark! hush! hist! hist! There they come now!"
Perseus looked earnestly through the dusk of the evening, and there, sure enough, at no great distance off, he descried the Three Gray Women. The light being so faint, he could not well make out what sort of figures they were; only he discovered that they had long gray hair, and as they came nearer he saw that two of them had but the empty socket of an eye in the middle of their foreheads. But in the middle of the third sister's forehead there was a very large, bright and piercing eye, which sparkled like a great diamond in a ring; and so penetrating did it seem to be that Perseus could not help thinking it must possess the gift of seeing in the darkest midnight just as perfectly as at noonday. The sight of three persons' eyes was melted and collected into that single one.
Thus the three old dames got along about as comfortably, upon the whole, as if they could all see at once. She who chanced to have the eye in her forehead led the other two by the hands, peeping sharply about her all the while; insomuch that Perseus dreaded lest she should see right through the thick clump of bushes behind which he and Quicksilver had hidden themselves. My stars! it was positively terrible to be within reach of so very sharp an eye!
But before they reached the clump of bushes, one of the Three Gray Women spoke.
"Sister! Sister Scarecrow!" cried she, "you have had the eye long enough. It is my turn now!"
"Let me keep it a moment longer, Sister Nightmare," answered Scarecrow. "I thought I had a glimpse of something behind that thick bush."
"Well, and what of that?" retorted Nightmare, peevishly. "Can't I see into a thick bush as easily as yourself? The eye is mine as well as yours; and I know the use of it as well as you, or maybe a little better. I insist upon taking a peep immediately!"
But here the third sister, whose name was Shakejoint, began to complain, and said that it was her turn to have the eye, and that Scarecrow and Nightmare wanted to keep it all to themselves. To end the dispute, old Dame Scarecrow took the eye out of her forehead and held it forth in her hand.
"Take it, one of you," cried she, "and quit this foolish quarreling. For my part, I shall be glad of a little thick darkness. Take it quickly, however, or I must clap it into my own head again!"
Accordingly, both Nightmare and Shakejoint put out their hands, groping eagerly to snatch the eye out of the hand of Scarecrow. But being both alike blind, they could not easily find where Scarecrow's hand was; and Scarecrow, being now just as much in the dark as Shakejoint and Nightmare, could not at once meet either of their hands in order to put the eye into it. Thus (as you will see with half an eye, my wise little auditors) these good old dames had fallen into a strange perplexity. For, though the eye shone and glistened like a star as Scarecrow held it out, yet the Gray Women caught not the least glimpse of its light and were all three in utter darkness from too impatient a desire to see.
Quicksilver was so much tickled at beholding Shakejoint and Nightmare both groping for the eye, and each finding fault with Scarecrow and one another, that he could scarcely help laughing aloud.
"Now is your time!" he whispered to Perseus. "Quick, quick! before they can clap the eye into either of their heads. Rush out upon the old ladies and snatch it from Scarecrow's hand!"
In an instant, while the Three Gray Women were still scolding each other, Perseus leaped from behind the clump of bushes and made himself master of the prize. The marvelous eye, as he held it in his hand, shone very brightly, and seemed to look up into his face with a knowing air, and an expression as if it would have winked had it been provided with a pair of eyelids for that purpose. But the Gray Women knew nothing of what had happened, and each supposing that one of her sisters was in possession of the eye, they began their quarrel anew. At last, as Perseus did not wish to put these respectable dames to greater inconvenience than was really necessary, he thought it right to explain the matter.
"My good ladies," said he, "pray do not be angry with one another. If anybody is in fault, it is myself; for I have the honor to hold your very brilliant and excellent eye in my own hand!"
"You! you have our eye! And who are you?" screamed the Three Gray Women all in a breath; for they were terribly frightened, of course, at hearing a strange voice and discovering that their eyesight had got into the hands of they could not guess whom. "Oh, what shall we do, sisters? what shall we do? We are all in the dark! Give us our eye! Give us our one precious, solitary eye! You have two of your own! Give us our eye!"
"Tell them," whispered Quicksilver to Perseus, "that they shall have back the eye as soon as they direct you where to find the Nymphs who have the flying slippers, the magic wallet and the helmet of darkness."
"My dear, good, admirable old ladies," said Perseus, addressing the Gray Women, "there is no occasion for putting yourselves into such a fright. I am by no means a bad young man. You shall have back your eye, safe and sound, and as bright as ever, the moment you tell me where to find the Nymphs."
"The Nymphs! Goodness me! sisters, what Nymphs does he mean?" screamed Scarecrow. "There are a great many Nymphs, people say; some that go a hunting in the woods, and some that live inside of trees, and some that have a comfortable home in fountains of water. We know nothing at all about them. We are three unfortunate old souls that go wandering about in the dusk and never had but one eye amongst us, and that one you have stolen away. Oh, give it back, good stranger!—whoever you are, give it back!"
All this while the Three Gray Women were groping with their outstretched hands and trying their utmost to get hold of Perseus. But he took good care to keep out of their reach.
"My respectable dames," said he—for his mother had taught him always to use the greatest civility—"I hold your eye fast in my hand and shall keep it safely for you until you please to tell me where to find these Nymphs. The Nymphs, I mean, who keep the enchanted wallet, the flying slippers and the what is it?—the helmet of invisibility."
"Mercy on us, sisters! what is the young man talking about?" exclaimed Scarecrow, Nightmare and Shakejoint, one to another, with great appearance of astonishment. "A pair of flying slippers, quoth he! His heels would quickly fly higher than his head if he was silly enough to put them on. And a helmet of invisibility! How could a helmet make him invisible, unless it were big enough for him to hide under it? And an enchanted wallet! What sort of a contrivance may that be, I wonder? No, no, good stranger! we can tell you nothing of these marvelous things. You have two eyes of your own and we have but a single one amongst us three. You can find out such wonders better than three blind old creatures like us."
Perseus, hearing them talk in this way, began really to think that the Gray Women knew nothing of the matter; and, as it grieved him to put them to so much trouble, he was just on the point of restoring their eye and asking pardon for his rudeness in snatching it away. But Quicksilver caught his hand.
"Don't let them make a fool of you!" said he. "These Three Gray Women are the only persons in the world that can tell you where to find the Nymphs, and unless you get that information you will never succeed in cutting off the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. Keep fast hold on the eye and all will go well."
As it turned out, Quicksilver was in the right. There are but few things that people prize so much as they do their eyesight; and the Gray Women valued their single eye as highly as if it had been half a dozen, which was the number they ought to have had. Finding that there was no other way of recovering it, they at last told Perseus what he wanted to know. No sooner had they done so than he immediately and with the utmost respect clapped the eye into the vacant socket in one of their foreheads, thanked them for their kindness and bade them farewell. Before the young man was out of hearing, however, they had got into a new dispute, because he happened to have given the eye to Scarecrow, who had already taken her turn of it when their trouble with Perseus commenced.
It is greatly to be feared that the Three Gray Women were very much in the habit of disturbing their mutual harmony by bickerings of this sort, which was the more pity, as they could not conveniently do without one another and were evidently intended to be inseparable companions. As a general rule, I would advise all people, whether sisters or brothers, old or young, who chance to have but one eye amongst them, to cultivate forbearance and not all insist upon peeping through it at once.
Quicksilver and Perseus, in the meantime, were making the best of their way in quest of the Nymphs. The old dames had given them such particular directions that they were not long in finding them out. They proved to be very different persons from Nightmare, Shakejoint and Scarecrow; for, instead of being old, they were young and beautiful; and instead of one eye amongst the sisterhood, each Nymph had two exceedingly bright eyes of her own, with which she looked very kindly at Perseus. They seemed to be acquainted with Quicksilver, and when he told them the adventure which Perseus had undertaken, they made no difficulty about giving him the valuable articles that were in their custody. In the first place, they brought out what appeared to be a small purse, made of deer skin and curiously embroidered, and bade him be sure and keep it safe. This was the magic wallet. The Nymphs next produced a pair of shoes or slippers or sandals, with a nice little pair of wings at the heel of each.