The Golden Fleece

: 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


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


"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


"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


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


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


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


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


"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


"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


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


"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


"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