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The Golden Fleece






Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.

When Jason, the son of the dethroned King of Iolchos, was a little
boy, he was sent away from his parents and placed under the queerest
schoolmaster that ever you heard of. This learned person was one of
the people, or quadrupeds, called Centaurs. He lived in a cavern, and
had the body and legs of a white horse, with the head and shoulders of
a man. His name was Chiron; and in spite of his odd appearance, he was
a very excellent teacher and had several scholars who afterward did
him credit by making a great figure in the world. The famous Hercules
was one, and so was Achilles, and Philoctetes likewise, and
AEsculapius, who acquired immense repute as a doctor. The good Chiron
taught his pupils how to play upon the harp, and how to cure diseases,
and how to use the sword and shield, together with various other
branches of education in which the lads of those days used to be
instructed instead of writing and arithmetic.

I have sometimes suspected that Master Chiron was not really very
different from other people, but that, being a kind-hearted and merry
old fellow, he was in the habit of making believe that he was a horse,
and scrambling about the schoolroom on all fours and letting the
little boys ride upon his back. And so, when his scholars had grown up
and grown old and were trotting their grandchildren on their knees,
they told them about the sports of their school-days; and these young
folks took the idea that their grandfathers had been taught their
letters by a Centaur, half man and half horse. Little children, not
quite understanding what is said to them, often get such absurd
notions into their heads, you know.

Be that as it may, it has always been told for a fact (and always
will be told, as long as the world lasts) that Chiron, with the head
of a schoolmaster, had the body and legs of a horse. Just imagine the
grave old gentleman clattering and stamping into the schoolroom on his
four hoofs, perhaps treading on some little fellow's toes, flourishing
his switch tail instead of a rod and now and then trotting out of
doors to eat a mouthful of grass! I wonder what the blacksmith charged
him for a set of iron shoes.

So Jason dwelt in the cave, with this four-footed Chiron from the time
that he was an infant only a few months old, until he had grown to the
full height of a man. He became a very good harper, I suppose, and
skilful in the use of weapons and tolerably acquainted with herbs and
other doctor's stuff, and above all, an admirable horseman; for, in
teaching young people to ride, the good Chiron must have been without
a rival among schoolmasters. At length, being now a tall and athletic
youth, Jason resolved to seek his fortune in the world without asking
Chiron's advice or telling him anything about the matter. This was
very unwise, to be sure; and I hope none of you, my little hearers,
will ever follow Jason's example. But, you are to understand, he had
heard how that he himself was a prince royal, and how his father, King
AEson, had been deprived of the kingdom of Iolchos by a certain Pelias,
who would also have killed Jason had he not been hidden in the
Centaur's cave. And being come to the strength of a man, Jason
determined to set all this business to rights and to punish the wicked
Pelias for wronging his dear father, and to cast him down from the
throne and seat himself there instead.

With this intention he took a spear in each hand and threw a leopard's
skin over his shoulders to keep off the rain, and set forth on his

travels, with his long yellow ringlets waving in the wind. The part
of his dress on which he most prided himself was a pair of sandals
that had been his father's. They were handsomely embroidered and were
tied upon his feet with strings of gold. But his whole attire was such
as people did not very often see; and as he passed along, the women
and children ran to the doors and windows, wondering whither this
beautiful youth was journeying, with his leopard's skin and his
golden-tied sandals, and what heroic deeds he meant to perform, with a
spear in his right hand and another in his left.

I know not how far Jason had traveled when he came to a turbulent
river, which rushed right across his pathway with specks of white foam
along its black eddies, hurrying tumultuously onward and roaring
angrily as it went. Though not a very broad river in the dry seasons
of the year, it was now swollen by heavy rains and by the melting of
the snow on the sides of Mount Olympus; and it thundered so loudly and
looked so wild and dangerous that Jason, bold as he was, thought it
prudent to pause upon the brink. The bed of the stream seemed to be
strewn with sharp and rugged rocks, some of which thrust themselves
above the water. By and by an uprooted tree, with shattered branches,
came drifting along the current and got entangled among the rocks. Now
and then a drowned sheep and once the carcass of a cow floated past.

In short, the swollen river had already done a great deal of mischief.
It was evidently too deep for Jason to wade and too boisterous for him
to swim; he could see no bridge, and as for a boat, had there been
any, the rocks would have broken it to pieces in an instant.

"See the poor lad," said a cracked voice close to his side. "He must
have had but a poor education, since he does not know how to cross a
little stream like this. Or is he afraid of wetting his fine
golden-stringed sandals? It is a pity his four-footed schoolmaster is
not here to carry him safely across on his back!"

Jason looked round greatly surprised, for he did not know that anybody
was near. But beside him stood an old woman, with a ragged mantle over
her head, leaning on a staff, the top of which was carved into the
shape of a cuckoo. She looked very aged and wrinkled and infirm; and
yet her eyes, which were as brown as those of an ox, were so extremely
large and beautiful that when they were fixed on Jason's eyes he could
see nothing else but them. The old woman had a pomegranate in her
hand, although the fruit was then quite out of season.

"Whither are you going, Jason?" she now asked.

She seemed to know his name, you will observe; and, indeed, those
great brown eyes looked as if they had a knowledge of everything,
whether past or to come. While Jason was gazing at her a peacock
strutted forward and took his stand at the old woman's side.

"I am going to Iolchos," answered the young man, "to bid the wicked
King Pelias come down from my father's throne and let me reign in his
stead."

"Ah, well, then," said the old woman, still with the same cracked
voice, "if that is all your business, you need not be in a very great
hurry. Just take me on your back, there's a good youth, and carry me
across the river. I and my peacock have something to do on the other
side, as well as yourself."

"Good mother," replied Jason, "your business can hardly be so
important as the pulling down a king from his throne. Besides, as you
may see for yourself, the river is very boisterous; and if I should
chance to stumble, it would sweep both of us away more easily than it
has carried off yonder uprooted tree. I would gladly help you if I
could, but I doubt whether I am strong enough to carry you across."

"Then," said she very scornfully, "neither are you strong enough to
pull King Pelias off his throne. And, Jason, unless you will help an
old woman at her need, you ought not to be a king. What are kings made
for, save to succor the feeble and distressed? But do as you please.
Either take me on your back, or with my poor old limbs I shall try my
best to struggle across the stream."

Saying this, the old woman poked with her staff in the river as if to
find the safest place in its rocky bed where she might make the first
step. But Jason by this time had grown ashamed of his reluctance to
help her. He felt that he could never forgive himself if this poor
feeble creature should come to any harm in attempting to wrestle
against the headlong current. The good Chiron, whether half horse or
no, had taught him that the noblest use of his strength was to assist
the weak; and also that he must treat every young woman as if she were
his sister and every old one like a mother. Remembering these maxims,
the vigorous and beautiful young man knelt down and requested the good
dame to mount upon his back.

"The passage seems to me not very safe," he remarked, "but as your
business is so urgent I will try to carry you across. If the river
sweeps you away it shall take me, too."

"That, no doubt, will be a great comfort to both of us," quoth the old
woman. "But never fear! We shall get safely across."

So she threw her arms around Jason's neck; and, lifting her from the
ground, he stepped boldly into the raging and foamy current, and began
to stagger away from the shore. As for the peacock, it alighted on the
old dame's shoulder. Jason's two spears, one in each hand, kept him
from stumbling and enabled him to feel his way among the hidden
rocks; although every instant he expected that his companion and
himself would go down the stream together with the driftwood of
shattered trees and the carcasses of the sheep and cow. Down came the
cold, snowy torrent from the steep side of Olympus, raging and
thundering as if it had a real spite against Jason or, at all events,
were determined to snatch off his living burden from his shoulders.
When he was half way across the uprooted tree (which I have already
told you about) broke loose from among the rocks and bore down upon
him with all its splintered branches sticking out like the hundred
arms of the giant Briareus. It rushed past, however, without touching
him. But the next moment his foot was caught in a crevice between two
rocks and stuck there so fast that in the effort to get free he lost
one of his golden-stringed sandals.

At this accident Jason could not help uttering a cry of vexation.

"What is the matter, Jason?" asked the old woman.

"Matter enough," said the young man. "I have lost a sandal here among
the rocks. And what sort of a figure shall I cut at the court of King
Pelias with a golden-stringed sandal on one foot and the other foot
bare!"

"Do not take it to heart," answered his companion cheerily. "You never
met with better fortune than in losing that sandal. It satisfies me
that you are the very person whom the Speaking Oak has been talking
about."

There was no time just then to inquire what the Speaking Oak had said.
But the briskness of her tone encouraged the young man; and, besides,
he had never in his life felt so vigorous and mighty as since taking
this old woman on his back. Instead of being exhausted he gathered
strength as he went on; and, struggling up against the torrent, he at
last gained the opposite shore, clambered up the bank and set down
the old dame and her peacock safely on the grass. As soon as this was
done, however, he could not help looking rather despondently at his
bare foot, with only a remnant of the golden string of the sandal
clinging round his ankle.

"You will get a handsomer pair of sandals by and by," said the old
woman, with a kindly look out of her beautiful brown eyes. "Only let
King Pelias get a glimpse of that bare foot and you shall see him turn
as pale as ashes, I promise you. There is your path. Go along, my good
Jason, and my blessing go with you. And when you sit on your throne
remember the old woman whom you helped over the river."

With these words she hobbled away, giving him a smile over her
shoulder as she departed. Whether the light of her beautiful brown
eyes threw a glory round about her, or whatever the cause might be,
Jason fancied that there was something very noble and majestic in her
figure after all, and that, though her gait seemed to be a rheumatic
hobble, yet she moved with as much grace and dignity as any queen on
earth. Her peacock, which had now fluttered down from her shoulder,
strutted behind her in prodigious pomp and spread out its magnificent
tail on purpose for Jason to admire it.

When the old dame and her peacock were out of sight Jason set forward
on his journey. After traveling a pretty long distance he came to a
town situated at the foot of a mountain and not a great way from the
shore of the sea. On the outside of the town there was an immense
crowd of people, not only men and women, but children, too, all in
their best clothes and evidently enjoying a holiday. The crowd was
thickest toward the seashore, and in that direction, over the people's
heads, Jason saw a wreath of smoke curling upward to the blue sky. He
inquired of one of the multitude what town it was near by and why so
many persons were here assembled together.

"This is the kingdom of Iolchos," answered the man, "and we are the
subjects of King Pelias. Our monarch has summoned us together, that we
may see him sacrifice a black bull to Neptune, who, they say, is his
majesty's father. Yonder is the king, where you see the smoke going up
from the altar."

While the man spoke he eyed Jason with great curiosity; for his garb
was quite unlike that of the Iolchians, and it looked very odd to see
a youth with a leopard's skin over his shoulders and each hand
grasping a spear. Jason perceived, too, that the man stared
particularly at his feet, one of which, you remember, was bare, while
the other was decorated with his father's golden-stringed sandal.

"Look at him! only look at him!" said the man to his next neighbor.
"Do you see? He wears but one sandal!"

Upon this, first one person and then another began to stare at Jason,
and everybody seemed to be greatly struck with something in his
aspect; though they turned their eyes much oftener toward his feet
than to any other part of his figure. Besides, he could hear them
whispering to one another.

"One sandal! One sandal!" they kept saying. "The man with one sandal!
Here he is at last! Whence has he come? What does he mean to do? What
will the king say to the one-sandaled man?"

Poor Jason was greatly abashed and made up his mind that the people of
Iolchos were exceedingly ill-bred to take such public notice of an
accidental deficiency in his dress. Meanwhile, whether it were that
they hustled him forward or that Jason of his own accord thrust a
passage through the crowd, it so happened that he soon found himself
close to the smoking altar, where King Pelias was sacrificing the
black bull. The murmur and hum of the multitude, in their surprise at
the spectacle of Jason with his one bare foot, grew so loud that it
disturbed the ceremonies; and the king, holding the great knife with
which he was just going to cut the bull's throat, turned angrily about
and fixed his eyes on Jason. The people had now withdrawn from around
him, so that the youth stood in an open space, near the smoking altar,
front to front with the angry King Pelias.

"Who are you?" cried the king, with a terrible frown. "And how dare
you make this disturbance, while I am sacrificing a black bull to my
father Neptune?"

"It is no fault of mine," answered Jason. "Your majesty must blame the
rudeness of your subjects, who have raised all this tumult because one
of my feet happens to be bare."

When Jason said this the king gave a quick, startled glance at his
feet.

"Ha!" muttered he, "here is the one-sandaled fellow, sure enough! What
can I do with him?"

And he clutched more closely the great knife in his hand, as if he
were half a mind to slay Jason instead of the black bull. The people
round about caught up the king's words, indistinctly as they were
uttered; and first there was a murmur among them and then a loud
shout.

"The one-sandaled man has come! The prophecy must be fulfilled!"

For you are to know that many years before King Pelias had been told
by the Speaking Oak of Dodona that a man with one sandal should cast
him down from his throne. On this account he had given strict orders
that nobody should ever come into his presence unless both sandals
were securely tied upon his feet; and he kept an officer in his palace
whose sole business it was to examine people's sandals and to supply
them with a new pair at the expense of the royal treasury as soon as
the old ones began to wear out. In the whole course of the king's
reign he had never been thrown into such a fright and agitation as by
the spectacle of poor Jason's bare foot. But as he was naturally a
bold and hard-hearted man, he soon took courage and began to consider
in what way he might rid himself of this terrible one-sandaled
stranger.

"My good young man," said King Pelias, taking the softest tone
imaginable in order to throw Jason off his guard, "you are excessively
welcome to my kingdom. Judging by your dress, you must have traveled a
long distance, for it is not the fashion to wear leopard-skins in this
part of the world. Pray, what may I call your name, and where did you
receive your education?"

"My name is Jason," answered the young stranger. "Ever since my
infancy I have dwelt in the cave of Chiron the Centaur. He was my
instructor, and taught me music and horsemanship and how to cure
wounds, and likewise how to inflict wounds with my weapons!"

"I have heard of Chiron the schoolmaster," replied King Pelias, "and
how that there is an immense deal of learning and wisdom in his head,
although it happens to be set on a horse's body. It gives me great
delight to see one of his scholars at my court. But to test how much
you have profited under so excellent a teacher, will you allow me to
ask you a single question?"

"I do not pretend to be very wise," said Jason; "but ask me what you
please and I will answer to the best of my ability."

Now King Pelias meant cunningly to entrap the young man and to make
him say something that should be the cause of mischief and destruction
to himself. So with a crafty and evil smile upon his face, he spoke as
follows:

"What would you do, brave Jason," asked he, "if there were a man in
the world by whom, as you had reason to believe, you were doomed to be
ruined and slain--what would you do, I say, if that man stood before
you and in your power?"

When Jason saw the malice and wickedness which King Pelias could not
prevent from gleaming out of his eyes, he probably guessed that the
king had discovered what he came for, and that he intended to turn his
own words against himself. Still, he scorned to tell a falsehood. Like
an upright and honorable prince, as he was, he determined to speak out
the real truth. Since the king had chosen to ask him the question and
since Jason had promised him an answer, there was no right way save to
tell him precisely what would be the most prudent thing to do if he
had his worst enemy in his power.

Therefore, after a moment's consideration, he spoke up with a firm and
manly voice:

"I would send such a man," said he, "in quest of the Golden Fleece!"

This enterprise, you will understand, was, of all others, the most
difficult and dangerous in the world. In the first place, it would be
necessary to make a long voyage through unknown seas. There was hardly
a hope or a possibility that any young man who should undertake this
voyage would either succeed in obtaining the Golden Fleece or would
survive to return home and tell of the perils he had run. The eyes of
King Pelias sparkled with joy, therefore, when he heard Jason's reply.

"Well said, wise man with the one sandal!" cried he. "Go, then, and at
the peril of your life bring me back the Golden Fleece!"

"I go," answered Jason composedly. "If I fail, you need not fear that
I will ever come back to trouble you again. But if I return to Iolchos
with the prize, then, King Pelias, you must hasten down from your
lofty throne and give me your crown and scepter."

"That I will," said the king, with a sneer. "Meantime I will keep them
very safely for you."

The first thing that Jason thought of doing after he left the king's
presence was to go to Dodona and inquire of the Talking Oak what
course it was best to pursue. This wonderful tree stood in the center
of an ancient wood. Its stately trunk rose up a hundred feet into the
air and threw a broad and dense shadow over more than an acre of
ground. Standing beneath it, Jason looked up among the knotted
branches and green leaves and into the mysterious heart of the old
tree, and spoke aloud, as if he were addressing some person who was
hidden in the depths of the foliage.

"What shall I do," said he, "in order to win the Golden Fleece?"

At first there was a deep silence, not only within the shadow of the
Talking Oak, but all through the solitary wood. In a moment or two,
however, the leaves of the oak began to stir and rustle as if a gentle
breeze were wandering among them, although the other trees of the wood
were perfectly still. The sound grew louder and became like the roar
of a high wind. By and by Jason imagined that he could distinguish
words, but very confusedly, because each separate leaf of the tree
seemed to be a tongue and the whole myriad of tongues were babbling at
once. But the noise waxed broader and deeper until it resembled a
tornado sweeping through the oak and making one great utterance out of
the thousand and thousand of little murmurs which each leafy tongue
had caused by its rustling. And now, though it still had the tone of a
mighty wind roaring among the branches, it was also like a deep bass
voice speaking, as distinctly as a tree could be expected to speak,
the following words:

"Go to Argus, the shipbuilder, and bid him build a galley with fifty
oars."

Then the voice melted again into the indistinct murmur of the rustling
leaves and died gradually away. When it was quite gone Jason felt
inclined to doubt whether he had actually heard the words or whether
his fancy had not shaped them out of the ordinary sound made by a
breeze while passing through the thick foliage of the tree.

But on inquiry among the people of Iolchos, he found that there was
really a man in the city by the name of Argus, who was a very skilful
builder of vessels. This showed some intelligence in the oak, else how
should it have known that any such person existed? At Jason's request
Argus readily consented to build him a galley so big that it should
require fifty strong men to row it, although no vessel of such a size
and burden had heretofore been seen in the world. So the head
carpenter and all his journeymen and apprentices began their work; and
for a good while afterward there they were busily employed hewing out
the timbers and making a great clatter with their hammers, until the
new ship, which was called the Argo, seemed to be quite ready for sea.
And as the Talking Oak had already given him such good advice, Jason
thought that it would not be amiss to ask for a little more. He
visited it again, therefore, and standing beside its huge, rough
trunk, inquired what he should do next.

This time there was no such universal quivering of the leaves
throughout the whole tree as there had been before. But after a while
Jason observed that the foliage of a great branch which stretched
above his head had begun to rustle as if the wind were stirring that
one bough, while all the other boughs of the oak were at rest.

"Cut me off!" said the branch, as soon as it could speak distinctly;
"cut me off! cut me off! and carve me into a figurehead for your
galley."

Accordingly, Jason took the branch at its word and lopped it off the
tree. A carver in the neighborhood engaged to make the figurehead. He
was a tolerably good workman and had already carved several
figureheads in what he intended for feminine shapes, and looking
pretty much like those which we see nowadays stuck up under a vessel's
bowsprit, with great staring eyes that never wink at the dash of the
spray. But (what was very strange) the carver found that his hand was
guided by some unseen power and by a skill beyond his own, and that
his tools shaped out an image which he had never dreamed of. When the
work was finished it turned out to be the figure of a beautiful woman,
with a helmet on her head, from beneath which the long ringlets fell
down upon her shoulders. On the left arm was a shield and in its
center appeared a lifelike representation of the head of Medusa with
the snaky locks. The right arm was extended as if pointing onward. The
face of this wonderful statue, though not angry or forbidding, was so
grave and majestic that perhaps you might call it severe; and as for
the mouth, it seemed just ready to unclose its lips and utter words of
the deepest wisdom.

Jason was delighted with the oaken image and gave the carver no rest
until it was completed and set up where a figurehead has always stood,
from that time to this, in the vessel's prow.

"And now," cried he, as he stood gazing at the calm, majestic face of
the statue, "I must go to the Talking Oak and inquire what next to
do."

"There is no need of that, Jason," said a voice which, though it was
far lower, reminded him of the mighty tones of the great oak. "When
you desire good advice you can seek it of me."

Jason had been looking straight into the face of the image when these
words were spoken. But he could hardly believe either his ears or his
eyes. The truth was, however, that the oaken lips had moved, and to
all appearance, the voice had proceeded from the statue's mouth.
Recovering a little from his surprise, Jason bethought himself that
the image had been carved out of the wood of the Talking Oak, and
that, therefore, it was really no great wonder, but, on the contrary,
the most natural thing in the world, that it should possess the
faculty of speech. It should have been very odd indeed if it had not.
But certainly it was a great piece of good fortune that he should be
able to carry so wise a block of wood along with him in his perilous
voyage.

"Tell me, wondrous image," exclaimed Jason, "since you inherit the
wisdom of the Speaking Oak of Dodona, whose daughter you are--tell me,
where shall I find fifty bold youths who will take each of them an oar
of my galley? They must have sturdy arms to row and brave hearts to
encounter perils, or we shall never win the Golden Fleece."

"Go," replied the oaken image, "go, summon all the heroes of Greece."

And, in fact, considering what a great deed was to be done, could any
advice be wiser than this which Jason received from the figurehead of
his vessel? He lost no time in sending messengers to all the cities,
and making known to the whole people of Greece that Prince Jason, the
son of King AEson, was going in quest of the Fleece of Gold, and he
desired the help of forty-nine of the bravest and strongest young men
alive, to row his vessel and share his dangers. And Jason himself
would be the fiftieth.

At this news the adventurous youths all over the country began to
bestir themselves. Some of them had already fought with giants and
slain dragons; and the younger ones, who had not yet met with such
good fortune, thought it a shame to have lived so long without getting
astride of a flying serpent or sticking their spears into a Chimaera,
or at least thrusting their right arms down a monstrous lion's throat.
There was a fair prospect that they would meet with plenty of such
adventures before finding the Golden Fleece. As soon as they could
furbish up their helmets and shields, therefore, and gird on their
trusty swords, they came thronging to Iolchos and clambered on board
the new galley. Shaking hands with Jason, they assured him that they
did not care a pin for their lives, but would help row the vessel to
the remotest edge of the world and as much further as he might think
it best to go.

Many of these brave fellows had been educated by Chiron, the
four-footed pedagogue, and were therefore old schoolmates of Jason and
knew him to be a lad of spirit. The mighty Hercules, whose shoulders
afterward held up the sky, was one of them. And there were Castor and
Pollux, the twin brothers, who were never accused of being
chicken-hearted, although they had been hatched out of an egg; and
Theseus, who was so renowned for killing the Minotaur; and Lynceus,
with his wonderfully sharp eyes, which could see through a millstone
or look right down into the depths of the earth and discover the
treasures that were there; and Orpheus, the very best of harpers, who
sang and played upon his lyre so sweetly that the brute beasts stood
upon their hind legs and capered merrily to the music. Yes, and at
some of his more moving tunes the rocks bestirred their moss-grown
bulk out of the ground, and a grove of forest trees uprooted
themselves and, nodding their tops to one another, performed a country
dance.

One of the rowers was a beautiful young woman named Atalanta, who had
been nursed among the mountains by a bear. So light of foot was this
fair damsel that she could step from one foamy crest of a wave to the
foamy crest of another without wetting more than the sole of her
sandal. She had grown up in a very wild way and talked much about the
rights of women, and loved hunting and war far better than her needle.
But in my opinion, the most remarkable of this famous company were two
sons of the North Wind (airy youngsters, and of rather a blustering
disposition), who had wings on their shoulders, and, in case of a
calm, could puff out their cheeks and blow almost as fresh a breeze as
their father. I ought not to forget the prophets and conjurers, of
whom there were several in the crew, and who could foretell what would
happen tomorrow, or the next day, or a hundred years hence, but were
generally quite unconscious of what was passing at the moment.

Jason appointed Tiphys to be helmsman, because he was a star-gazer and
knew the points of the compass. Lynceus, on account of his sharp
sight, was stationed as a lookout in the prow, where he saw a whole
day's sail ahead, but was rather apt to overlook things that lay
directly under his nose. If the sea only happened to be deep enough,
however, Lynceus could tell you exactly what kind of rocks or sands
were at the bottom of it; and he often cried out to his companions
that they were sailing over heaps of sunken treasure, which yet he was
none the richer for beholding. To confess the truth, few people
believed him when he said it.

Well! But when the Argonauts, as these fifty brave adventurers were
called, had prepared everything for the voyage, an unforeseen
difficulty threatened to end it before it was begun. The vessel, you
must understand, was so long and broad and ponderous that the united
force of all the fifty was insufficient to shove her into the water.
Hercules, I suppose, had not grown to his full strength, else he might
have set her afloat as easily as a little boy launches his boat upon a
puddle. But here were these fifty heroes, pushing and straining and
growing red in the face without making the Argo start an inch. At
last, quite wearied out, they sat themselves down on the shore,
exceedingly disconsolate and thinking that the vessel must be left to
rot and fall in pieces and that they must either swim across the sea
or lose the Golden Fleece.

All at once Jason bethought himself of the galley's miraculous
figurehead.

"Oh, daughter of the Talking Oak," cried he, "how shall we set to
work to get our vessel into the water?"

"Seat yourselves," answered the image (for it had known what had ought
to be done from the very first and was only waiting for the question
to be put), "seat yourselves and handle your oars, and let Orpheus
play upon his harp."

Immediately the fifty heroes got on board, and seizing their oars,
held them perpendicularly in the air, while Orpheus (who liked such a
task far better than rowing) swept his fingers across the harp. At the
first ringing note of the music they felt the vessel stir. Orpheus
thrummed away briskly and the galley slid at once into the sea,
dipping her prow so deeply that the figurehead drank the wave with its
marvelous lips, and rising again as buoyant as a swan. The rowers
plied their fifty oars, the white foam boiled up before the prow, the
water gurgled and bubbled in their wake, while Orpheus continued to
play so lively a strain of music that the vessel seemed to dance over
the billows by way of keeping time to it. Thus triumphantly did the
Argo sail out of the harbor amid the huzzas and good wishes of
everybody except the wicked old Pelias, who stood on a promontory
scowling at her and wishing that he could blow out of his lungs the
tempest of wrath that was in his heart and so sink the galley with all
on board. When they had sailed above fifty miles over the sea Lynceus
happened to cast his sharp eyes behind, and said that there was this
bad-hearted king, still perched upon the promontory, and scowling so
gloomily that it looked like a black thunder-cloud in that quarter of
the horizon.

In order to make the time pass away more pleasantly during the voyage,
the heroes talked about the Golden Fleece. It originally belonged, it
appears, to a Boeotian ram, who had taken on his back two children,
when in danger of their lives, and fled with them over land and sea as
far as Colchis. One of the children, whose name was Helle, fell into
the sea and was drowned. But the other (a little boy named Phrixus)
was brought safe ashore by the faithful ram, who, however, was so
exhausted that he immediately lay down and died. In memory of this
good deed, and as a token of his true heart, the fleece of the poor
dead ram was miraculously changed to gold and became one of the most
beautiful objects ever seen on earth. It was hung upon a tree in a
sacred grove, where it had now been kept I know not how many years,
and was the envy of mighty kings who had nothing so magnificent in any
of their palaces.

If I were to tell you all the adventures of the Argonauts it would
take me till nightfall and perhaps a great deal longer. There was no
lack of wonderful events, as you may judge from what you have already
heard. At a certain island they were hospitably received by King
Cyzicus, its sovereign, who made a feast for them and treated them
like brothers. But the Argonauts saw that this good king looked
downcast and very much troubled, and they therefore inquired of him
what was the matter. King Cyzicus hereupon informed them that he and
his subjects were greatly abused and incommoded by the inhabitants of
a neighboring mountain, who made war upon them and killed many people
and ravaged the country. And while they were talking about it Cyzicus
pointed to the mountain and asked Jason and his companions what they
saw there.

"I see some very tall objects," answered Jason, "but they are at such
a distance that I cannot distinctly make out what they are. To tell
your majesty the truth, they look so very strangely that I am inclined
to think them clouds which have chanced to take something like human
shapes."

"I see them very plainly," remarked Lynceus, whose eyes, you know,
were as far-sighted as a telescope. "They are a band of enormous
giants, all of whom have six arms apiece, and a club, a sword or some
other weapon in each of their hands."

"You have excellent eyes," said King Cyzicus. "Yes, they are six-armed
giants, as you say, and these are the enemies whom I and my subjects
have to contend with."

The next day, when the Argonauts were about setting sail, down came
these terrible giants, stepping a hundred yards at a stride,
brandishing their six arms apiece and looking very formidable so far
aloft in the air. Each of these monsters was able to carry on a whole
war by himself, for with one of his arms he could fling immense stones
and wield a club with another and a sword with a third, while a fourth
was poking a long spear at the enemy and the fifth and sixth were
shooting him with a bow and arrow. But luckily, though the giants were
so huge and had so many arms, they had each but one heart and that no
bigger nor braver than the heart of an ordinary man. Besides, if they
had been like the hundred-armed Briareus, the brave Argonauts would
have given them their hands full of fight. Jason and his friends went
boldly to meet them, slew a great many and made the rest take to their
heels--so that if the giants had had six legs apiece instead of six
arms, it would have served them better to run away with.

Another strange adventure happened when the voyagers came to Thrace,
where they found a poor blind king named Phineus, deserted by his
subjects and living in a very sorrowful way all by himself. On Jason's
inquiring whether they could do him any service, the king answered
that he was terribly tormented by three great winged creatures called
Harpies, which had the faces of women and the wings, bodies and claws
of vultures. These ugly wretches were in the habit of snatching away
his dinner, and allowed him no peace of his life. Upon hearing this
the Argonauts spread a plentiful feast on the seashore, well knowing
from what the blind king said of their greediness that the Harpies
would snuff up the scent of the victuals and quickly come to steal
them away. And so it turned out, for hardly was the table set before
the three hideous vulture-women came flapping their wings, seized the
food in their talons and flew off as fast as they could. But the two
sons of the North Wind drew their swords, spread their pinions and set
off through the air in pursuit of the thieves, whom they at last
overtook among some islands, after a chase of hundreds of miles. The
two winged youths blustered terribly at the Harpies (for they had the
rough temper of their father), and so frightened them with their drawn
swords that they solemnly promised never to trouble King Phineus
again.

Then the Argonauts sailed onward and met with many other marvelous
incidents, any one of which would make a story by itself. At one time
they landed on an island and were reposing on the grass, when they
suddenly found themselves assailed by what seemed a shower of
steel-headed arrows. Some of them stuck in the ground, while others
hit against their shields and several penetrated their flesh. The
fifty heroes started up and looked about them for the hidden enemy,
but could find none nor see any spot on the whole island where even a
single archer could lie concealed. Still, however, the steel-headed
arrows came whizzing among them; and at last, happening to look
upward, they beheld a large flock of birds hovering and wheeling aloft
and shooting their feathers down upon the Argonauts. These feathers
were the steel-headed arrows that had so tormented them. There was no
possibility of making any resistance, and the fifty heroic Argonauts
might all have been killed or wounded by a flock of troublesome birds
without ever setting eyes on the Golden Fleece if Jason had not
thought of asking the advice of the oaken image.

So he ran to the galley as fast as his legs would carry him.

"O daughter of the Speaking Oak," cried he, all out of breath, "we
need your wisdom more than ever before! We are in great peril from a
flock of birds, who are shooting us with their steel-pointed feathers.
What can we do to drive them away?"

"Make a clatter on your shields," said the image.

On receiving this excellent counsel, Jason hurried back to his
companions (who were far more dismayed than when they fought with the
six-armed giants) and bade them strike with their swords upon their
brazen shields. Forthwith the fifty heroes set heartily to work,
banging with might and main, and raised such a terrible clatter that
the birds made what haste they could to get away; and though they had
shot half the feathers out of their wings, they were soon seen
skimming among the clouds, a long distance off and looking like a
flock of wild geese. Orpheus celebrated this victory by playing a
triumphant anthem on his harp, and sang so melodiously that Jason
begged him to desist, lest, as the steel-feathered birds had been
driven away by an ugly sound, they might be enticed back again by a
sweet one.

While the Argonauts remained on this island they saw a small vessel
approaching the shore, in which were two young men of princely
demeanor, and exceedingly handsome, as young princes generally were in
those days. Now, who do you imagine these two voyagers turned out to
be? Why, if you will believe me, they were the sons of that very
Phrixus, who in his childhood had been carried to Colchis on the back
of the golden-fleeced ram. Since that time Phrixus had married the
king's daughter, and the two young princes had been born and brought
up at Colchis, and had spent their play days on the outskirts of the
grove, in the center of which the Golden Fleece was hanging upon a
tree. They were now on their way to Greece, in hopes of getting back
a kingdom that had been wrongfully taken from their father.

When the princes understood whither the Argonauts were going they
offered to turn back and guide them to Colchis. At the same time,
however, they spoke as if it were very doubtful whether Jason would
succeed in getting the Golden Fleece. According to their account, the
tree on which it hung was guarded by a terrible dragon, who never
failed to devour at one mouthful every person who might venture within
his reach.

"There are other difficulties in the way," continued the young
princes. "But is not this enough? Ah, brave Jason, turn back before it
is too late! It would grieve us to the heart if you and your
forty-nine brave companions should be eaten up, at fifty mouthfuls, by
this execrable dragon."

"My young friends," quietly replied Jason, "I do not wonder that you
think the dragon very terrible. You have grown up from infancy in the
fear of this monster, and therefore still regard him with the awe that
children feel for the bugbears and hobgoblins which their nurses have
talked to them about. But in my view of the matter, the dragon is
merely a pretty large serpent who is not half so likely to snap me up
at one mouthful as I am to cut off his ugly head and strip the skin
from his body. At all events, turn back who may, I will never see
Greece again unless I carry with me the Golden Fleece."

"We will none of us turn back!" cried his forty-nine brave comrades.
"Let us get on board the galley this instant, and if the dragon is to
make a breakfast of us, much good may it do him."

And Orpheus (whose custom it was to set everything to music) began to
harp and sing most gloriously, and made every mother's son of them
feel as if nothing in this world were so delectable as to fight
dragons and nothing so truly honorable as to be eaten up at one
mouthful, in case of the worst.

After this (being now under the guidance of the two princes, who were
well acquainted with the way) they quickly sailed to Colchis. When the
king of the country, whose name was AEetes, heard of their arrival, he
instantly summoned Jason to court. The king was a stern and
cruel-looking potentate, and though he put on as polite and hospitable
an expression as he could, Jason did not like his face a whit better
than that of the wicked King Pelias, who dethroned his father.

"You are welcome, brave Jason," said King AEetes. "Pray, are you on a
pleasure voyage?--or do you meditate the discovery of unknown
islands?--or what other cause has procured me the happiness of seeing
you at my court?"

"Great sir," replied Jason, with an obeisance--for Chiron had taught
him how to behave with propriety, whether to kings or beggars--"I have
come hither with a purpose which I now beg your majesty's permission
to execute. King Pelias, who sits on my father's throne (to which he
has no more right than to the one on which your excellent majesty is
now seated), has engaged to come down from it and to give me his crown
and scepter, provided I bring him the Golden Fleece. This, as your
majesty is aware, is now hanging on a tree here at Colchis; and I
humbly solicit your gracious leave to take it away."

In spite of himself, the king's face twisted itself into an angry
frown; for, above all things else in the world, he prized the Golden
Fleece, and was even suspected of having done a very wicked act in
order to get it into his own possession. It put him into the worst
possible humor, therefore, to hear that the gallant Prince Jason and
forty-nine of the bravest young warriors of Greece had come to Colchis
with the sole purpose of taking away his chief treasure.

"Do you know," asked King AEetes, eyeing Jason very sternly, "what are
the conditions which you must fulfill before getting possession of the
Golden Fleece?"

"I have heard," rejoined the youth, "that a dragon lies beneath the
tree on which the prize hangs, and that whoever approaches him runs
the risk of being devoured at a mouthful."

"True," said the king, with a smile that did not look particularly
good-natured. "Very true, young man. But there are other things as
hard, or perhaps a little harder, to be done before you can even have
the privilege of being devoured by the dragon. For example, you must
first tame my two brazen-footed and brazen-lunged bulls, which Vulcan,
the wonderful blacksmith, made for me. There is a furnace in each of
their stomachs, and they breathe such hot fire out of their mouths and
nostrils that nobody has hitherto gone nigh them without being
instantly burned to a small, black cinder. What do you think of this,
my brave Jason?"

"I must encounter the peril," answered Jason composedly, "since it
stands in the way of my purpose."

"After taming the fiery bulls," continued King AEetes, who was
determined to scare Jason if possible, "you must yoke them to a plow
and must plow the sacred earth in the grove of Mars and sow some of
the same dragon's teeth from which Cadmus raised a crop of armed men.
They are an unruly set of reprobates, those sons of the dragon's
teeth, and unless you treat them suitably, they will fall upon you
sword in hand. You and your forty-nine Argonauts, my bold Jason, are
hardly numerous or strong enough to fight with such a host as will
spring up."

"My master Chiron," replied Jason, "taught me long ago the story of
Cadmus. Perhaps I can manage the quarrelsome sons of the dragon's
teeth as well as Cadmus did."

"I wish the dragon had him," muttered King AEetes to himself, "and the
four-footed pedant, his schoolmaster, into the bargain. Why, what a
foolhardy, self-conceited coxcomb he is! We'll see what my
fire-breathing bulls will do for him. Well, Prince Jason," he
continued aloud, and as complacently as he could, "make yourself
comfortable for today, and tomorrow morning, since you insist upon it,
you shall try your skill at the plow."

While the king talked with Jason a beautiful young woman was standing
behind the throne. She fixed her eyes earnestly upon the youthful
stranger and listened attentively to every word that was spoken, and
when Jason withdrew from the king's presence this young woman followed
him out of the room.

"I am the king's daughter," she said to him, "and my name is Medea. I
know a great deal of which other young princesses are ignorant and can
do many things which they would be afraid so much as to dream of. If
you will trust to me I can instruct you how to tame the fiery bulls
and sow the dragon's teeth and get the Golden Fleece."

"Indeed, beautiful princess," answered Jason, "if you will do me this
service I promise to be grateful to you my whole life long."

Gazing at Medea, he beheld a wonderful intelligence in her face. She
was one of those persons whose eyes are full of mystery; so that while
looking into them, you seem to see a very great way, as into a deep
well, yet can never be certain whether you see into the furthest
depths or whether there be not something else hidden at the bottom. If
Jason had been capable of fearing anything he would have been afraid
of making this young princess his enemy; for, beautiful as she now
looked, she might the very next instant become as terrible as the
dragon that kept watch over the Golden Fleece.

"Princess," he exclaimed, "you seem indeed very wise and very
powerful. But how can you help me to do the things of which you speak?
Are you an enchantress?"

"Yes, Prince Jason," answered Medea, with a smile, "you have hit upon
the truth. I am an enchantress. Circe, my father's sister, taught me
to be one, and I could tell you, if I pleased, who was the old woman
with the peacock, the pomegranate and the cuckoo staff, whom you
carried over the river; and likewise, who it is that speaks through
the lips of the oaken image that stands in the prow of your galley. I
am acquainted with some of your secrets, you perceive. It is well for
you that I am favorably inclined, for otherwise you would hardly
escape being snapped up by the dragon."

"I should not so much care for the dragon," replied Jason, "if I only
knew how to manage the brazen-footed and fiery-lunged bulls."

"If you are as brave as I think you, and as you have need to be," said
Medea, "your own bold heart will teach you that there is but one way
of dealing with a mad bull. What it is I leave you to find out in the
moment of peril. As for the fiery breath of these animals, I have a
charmed ointment here which will prevent you from being burned up and
cure you if you chance to be a little scorched."

So she put a golden box into his hand and directed him how to apply
the perfumed unguent which it contained, and where to meet her at
midnight.

"Only be brave," added she, "and before daybreak the brazen bulls
shall be tamed."

The young man assured her that his heart would not fail him. He then
rejoined his comrades, and told them what had passed between the
princess and himself, and warned them to be in readiness in case there
might be need of their help.

At the appointed hour he met the beautiful Medea on the marble steps
of the king's palace. She gave him a basket, in which were the
dragon's teeth, just as they had been pulled out of the monster's jaws
by Cadmus long ago. Medea then led Jason down the palace steps and
through the silent streets of the city and into the royal
pasture-ground, where the two brazen-footed bulls were kept. It was a
starry night, with a bright gleam along the eastern edge of the sky,
where the moon was soon going to show herself. After entering the
pasture the princess paused and looked around.

"There they are," said she, "reposing themselves and chewing their
fiery cuds in that furthest corner of the field. It will be excellent
sport, I assure you, when they catch a glimpse of your figure. My
father and all his court delight in nothing so much as to see a
stranger trying to yoke them in order to come at the Golden Fleece. It
makes a holiday in Colchis whenever such a thing happens. For my part,
I enjoy it immensely. You cannot imagine in what a mere twinkling of
an eye their hot breath shrivels a young man into a black cinder."

"Are you sure, beautiful Medea," asked Jason, "quite sure, that the
unguent in the gold box will prove a remedy against those terrible
burns?"

"If you doubt, if you are in the least afraid," said the princess,
looking him in the face by the dim starlight, "you had better never
have been born than go a step nigher to the bulls."

But Jason had set his heart steadfastly on getting the Golden Fleece,
and I positively doubt whether he would have gone back without it even
had he been certain of finding himself turned into a red-hot cinder,
or a handful of white ashes the instant he made a step further. He
therefore let go Medea's hand and walked boldly forward in the
direction whither she had pointed. At some distance before him he
perceived four streams of fiery vapor, regularly appearing and again
vanishing after dimly lighting up the surrounding obscurity. These,
you will understand, were caused by the breath of the brazen bulls,
which was quietly stealing out of their four nostrils as they lay
chewing their cuds.

At the first two or three steps which Jason made the four fiery
streams appeared to gush out somewhat more plentifully, for the two
brazen bulls had heard his foot-tramp and were lifting up their hot
noses to snuff the air. He went a little further, and by the way in
which the red vapor now spouted forth he judged that the creatures had
got upon their feet. Now he could see glowing sparks and vivid jets of
flame. At the next step each of the bulls made the pasture echo with a
terrible roar, while the burning breath which they thus belched forth
lit up the whole field with a momentary flash.

One other stride did bold Jason make; and suddenly, as a streak of
lightning, on came these fiery animals, roaring like thunder and
sending out sheets of white flame, which so kindled up the scene that
the young man could discern every object more distinctly than by
daylight. Most distinctly of all he saw the two horrible creatures
galloping right down upon him, their brazen hoofs rattling and ringing
over the ground and their tails sticking up stiffly into the air, as
has always been the fashion with angry bulls. Their breath scorched
the herbage before them. So intensely hot it was, indeed, that it
caught a dry tree under which Jason was now standing and set it all in
a light blaze. But as for Jason himself (thanks to Medea's enchanted
ointment), the white flame curled around his body without injuring him
a jot more than if he had been made of asbestos.

Greatly encouraged at finding himself not yet turned into a cinder,
the young man awaited the attack of the bulls. Just as the brazen
brutes fancied themselves sure of tossing him into the air he caught
one of them by the horn and the other by his screwed-up tail and held
them in a grip like that of an iron vise, one with his right hand, the
other with his left. Well, he must have been wonderfully strong in his
arms, to be sure! But the secret of the matter was that the brazen
bulls were enchanted creatures and that Jason had broken the spell of
their fiery fierceness by his bold way of handling them. And ever
since that time it has been the favorite method of brave men, when
danger assails them, to do what they call "taking the bull by the
horns"; and to grip him by the tail is pretty much the same
thing--that is, to throw aside fear and overcome the peril by
despising it.

It was now easy to yoke the bulls and to harness them to the plow
which had lain rusting on the ground for a great many years gone by,
so long was it before anybody could be found capable of plowing that
piece of land. Jason, I suppose, had been taught how to draw a furrow
by the good old Chiron, who, perhaps, used to allow himself to be
harnessed to the plow. At any rate, our hero succeeded perfectly well
in breaking up the greensward; and by the time that the moon was a
quarter of her journey up the sky the plowed field lay before him, a
large tract of black earth, ready to be sown with the dragon's teeth.
So Jason scattered them broadcast and harrowed them into the soil with
a brush-harrow, and took his stand on the edge of the field, anxious
to see what would happen next.

"Must we wait long for harvest-time?" he inquired of Medea, who was
now standing by his side.

"Whether sooner or later, it will be sure to come," answered the
princess. "A crop of armed men never fails to spring up when the
dragon's teeth have been sown."

The moon was now high aloft in the heavens and threw its bright beams
over the plowed field, where as yet there was nothing to be seen. Any
farmer, on viewing it, would have said that Jason must wait weeks
before the green blades would peep from among the clods, and whole
months before the yellow grain would be ripened for the sickle. But by
and by, all over the field, there was something that glistened in the
moonbeams like sparkling drops of dew. These bright objects sprouted
higher and proved to be the steel heads of spears. Then there was a
dazzling gleam from a vast number of polished brass helmets, beneath
which, as they grew further out of the soil, appeared the dark and
bearded visages of warriors, struggling to free themselves from the
imprisoning earth. The first look that they gave at the upper world
was a glare of wrath and defiance. Next were seen their bright
breastplates; in every right hand there was a sword or a spear and on
each left arm a shield; and when this strange crop of warriors had but
half grown out of the earth, they struggled--such was their impatience
of restraint--and, as it were, tore themselves up by the roots.
Wherever a dragon's tooth had fallen, there stood a man armed for
battle. They made a clangor with their swords against their shields,
and eyed one another fiercely; for they had come into this beautiful
world and into the peaceful moonlight full of rage and stormy passions
and ready to take the life of every human brother in recompense for
the boon of their own existence.

There have been many other armies in the world that seemed to possess
the same fierce nature with the one which had now sprouted from the
dragon's teeth; but these in the moonlit field were the more
excusable, because they never had women for their mothers. And now it
would have rejoiced any great captain who was bent on conquering the
world, like Alexander or Napoleon, to raise a crop of armed soldiers
as easily as Jason did!

For awhile the warriors stood flourishing their weapons, clashing
their swords against their shields and boiling over with the red-hot
thirst for battle. Then they began to shout, "Show us the enemy! Lead
us to the charge! Death or victory! Come on, brave comrades! Conquer
or die!" and a hundred other outcries, such as men always bellow forth
on a battle-field and which these dragon people seemed to have at
their tongues' ends. At last the front rank caught sight of Jason,
who, beholding the flash of so many weapons in the moonlight, had
thought it best to draw his sword. In a moment all the sons of the
dragon's teeth appeared to take Jason for an enemy; and crying with
one voice, "Guard the Golden Fleece!" they ran at him with uplifted
swords and protruded spears. Jason knew that it would be impossible to
withstand this bloodthirsty battalion with his single arm, but
determined, since there was nothing better to be done, to die as
valiantly as if he himself had sprung from a dragon's tooth.

Medea, however, bade him snatch up a stone from the ground.

"Throw it among them quickly!" cried she. "It is the only way to save
yourself."

The armed men were now so nigh that Jason could discern the fire
flashing out of their enraged eyes, when he let fly the stone and saw
it strike the helmet of a tall warrior who was rushing upon him with
his blade aloft. The stone glanced from this man's helmet to the
shield of his nearest comrade, and thence flew right into the angry
face of another, hitting him smartly between the eyes. Each of the
three who had been struck by the stone took it for granted that his
next neighbor had given him a blow; and instead of running any further
toward Jason, they began to fight among themselves. The confusion
spread through the host, so that it seemed scarcely a moment before
they were all hacking, hewing and stabbing at one another, lopping off
arms, heads and legs and doing such memorable deeds that Jason was
filled with immense admiration; although, at the same time, he could
not help laughing to behold these mighty men punishing each other for
an offense which he himself had committed. In an incredibly short
space of time (almost as short, indeed, as it had taken them to grow
up) all but one of the heroes of the dragon's teeth were stretched
lifeless on the field. The last survivor, the bravest and strongest of
the whole, had just force enough to wave his crimson sword over his
head and give a shout of exultation, crying, "Victory! Victory!
Immortal fame!" when he himself fell down and lay quietly among his
slain brethren.

And there was the end of the army that had sprouted from the dragon's
teeth. That fierce and feverish fight was the only enjoyment which
they had tasted on this beautiful earth.

"Let them sleep in the bed of honor," said the Princess Medea, with a
sly smile at Jason. "The world will always have simpletons enough,
just like them, fighting and dying for they know not what, and
fancying that posterity will take the trouble to put laurel wreaths on
their rusty and battered helmets. Could you help smiling, Prince
Jason, to see the self-conceit of that last fellow, just as he tumbled
down?"

"It made me very sad," answered Jason gravely. "And to tell you the
truth, princess, the Golden Fleece does not appear so well worth the
winning, after what I have here beheld."

"You will think differently in the morning," said Medea. "True, the
Golden Fleece may not be so valuable as you have thought it; but then
there is nothing better in the world, and one must needs have an
object, you know. Come! Your night's work has been well performed; and
tomorrow you can inform King AEetes that the first part of your
allotted task is fulfilled."

Agreeably to Medea's advice, Jason went betimes in the morning to the
palace of king AEetes. Entering the presence chamber, he stood at the
foot of the throne and made a low obeisance.

"Your eyes look heavy, Prince Jason," observed the king; "you appear
to have spent a sleepless night. I hope you have been considering the
matter a little more wisely and have concluded not to get yourself
scorched to a cinder in attempting to tame my brazen-lunged bulls."

"That is already accomplished, may it please your majesty," replied
Jason. "The bulls have been tamed and yoked; the field has been
plowed; the dragon's teeth have been sown broadcast and harrowed into
the soil; the crop of armed warriors has sprung up and they have slain
one another to the last man. And now I solicit your majesty's
permission to encounter the dragon, that I may take down the Golden
Fleece from the tree and depart with my forty-nine comrades."

King AEetes scowled and looked very angry and excessively disturbed;
for he knew that, in accordance with his kingly promise, he ought now
to permit Jason to win the fleece if his courage and skill should
enable him to do so. But since the young man had met with such good
luck in the matter of the brazen bulls and dragon's teeth, the king
feared that he would be equally successful in slaying the dragon. And
therefore, though he would gladly have seen Jason snapped up at a
mouthful, he was resolved (and it was a very wrong thing of this
wicked potentate) not to run any further risk of losing his beloved
fleece.

"You never would have succeeded in this business, young man," said he,
"if my undutiful daughter Medea had not helped you with her
enchantments. Had you acted fairly, you would have been at this
instant a black cinder or a handful of white ashes. I forbid you, on
pain of death, to make any more attempts to get the Golden Fleece. To
speak my mind plainly, you shall never set eyes on so much as one of
its glistening locks."

Jason left the king's presence in great sorrow and anger. He could
think of nothing better to be done than to summon together his
forty-nine brave Argonauts, march at once to the grove of Mars, slay
the dragon, take possession of the Golden Fleece, get on board the
Argo and spread all sail for Iolchos. The success of this scheme
depended, it is true, on the doubtful point whether all the fifty
heroes might not be snapped up as so many mouthfuls by the dragon. But
as Jason was hastening down the palace steps, the Princess Medea
called after him and beckoned him to return. Her black eyes shone upon
him with such a keen intelligence that he felt as if there were a
serpent peeping out of them, and although she had done him so much
service only the night before, he was by no means very certain that
she would not do him an equally great mischief before sunset. These
enchantresses, you must know, are never to be depended upon.

"What says King AEetes, my royal and upright father?" inquired Medea,
slightly smiling. "Will he give you the Golden Fleece without any
further risk or trouble?"

"On the contrary," answered Jason, "he is very angry with me for
taming the brazen bulls and sowing the dragon's teeth. And he forbids
me to make any more attempts, and positively refuses to give up the
Golden Fleece, whether I slay the dragon or no."

"Yes, Jason," said the princess, "and I can tell you more. Unless you
set sail from Colchis before tomorrow's sunrise, the king means to
burn your fifty-oared galley and put y





Next: The Cyclops

Previous: The Gorgon's Head



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