This Is Done Hercules Shall Be Numbered Among The Immortal Gods
: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.
Hereupon Hercules fell into deep trouble. To serve a man of less
importance than himself hurt his dignity and self-esteem; but Jupiter
would not listen to his complaints.
TTITLE THE FIRST LABOR
The first labor that Eurystheus assigned to Hercules was to bring him
the skin of the Nemean lion. This monster dwelt on the mountain of
Peloponnesus, in the forest between Kleona and Ne
ea, and could be
wounded by no weapons made of man. Some said he was the son of the
giant Typhon and the snake Echidna; others that he had dropped down
from the moon to the earth.
Hercules set out on his journey and came to Kleona, where a poor
laborer, Molorchus, received him hospitably. He met the latter just as
he was about to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter.
"Good man," said Hercules, "let the animal live thirty days longer;
then, if I return, offer it to Jupiter, my deliverer, and if I do not
return, offer it as a funeral sacrifice to me, the hero who has
So Hercules continued on his way, his quiver of arrows over his
shoulder, his bow in one hand, and in the other a club made from the
trunk of a wild olive tree which he had passed on Mount Helicon and
pulled up by the roots. When he at last entered the Nemean wood, he
looked carefully in every direction in order that he might catch sight
of the monster lion before the lion should see him. It was mid-day,
and nowhere could he discover any trace of the lion or any path that
seemed to lead to his lair. He met no man in the field or in the
forest: fear held them all shut up in their distant dwellings. The
whole afternoon he wandered through the thick undergrowth, determined
to test his strength just as soon as he should encounter the lion.
At last, toward evening, the monster came through the forest,
returning from his trap in a deep fissure of the earth.
He was saturated with blood: head, mane and breast were reeking, and
his great tongue was licking his jaws. The hero, who saw him coming
long before he was near, took refuge in a thicket and waited until the
lion approached; then with his arrow he shot him in the side. But the
shot did not pierce his flesh; instead it flew back as if it had
struck stone, and fell on the mossy earth.
Then the animal raised his bloody head; looked around in every
direction, and in fierce anger showed his ugly teeth. Raising his
head, he exposed his heart, and immediately Hercules let fly another
arrow, hoping to pierce him through the lungs. Again the arrow did not
enter the flesh, but fell at the feet of the monster.
Hercules took a third arrow, while the lion, casting his eyes to the
side, watched him. His whole neck swelled with anger; he roared, and
his back was bent like a bow. He sprang toward his enemy; but Hercules
threw the arrow and cast off the lion skin in which he was clothed
with the left hand, while with the right he swung his club over the
head of the beast and gave him such a blow on the neck that, all ready
to spring as the lion was, he fell back, and came to a stand on
trembling legs, with shaking head. Before he could take another
breath, Hercules was upon him.
Throwing down his bow and quiver, that he might be entirely
unencumbered, he approached the animal from behind, threw his arm
around his neck and strangled him. Then for a long time he sought in
vain to strip the fallen animal of his hide. It yielded to no weapon
or no stone. At last the idea occurred to him of tearing it with the
animal's own claws, and this method immediately succeeded.
Later he prepared for himself a coat of mail out of the lion's skin,
and from the neck, a new helmet; but for the present he was content to
don his own costume and weapons, and with the lion's skin over his arm
took his way back to Tirynth.
TTITLE THE SECOND LABOR
The second labor consisted in destroying a hydra. This monster dwelt
in the swamp of Lerna, but came occasionally over the country,
destroying herds and laying waste the fields. The hydra was an
enormous creature--a serpent with nine heads, of which eight were
mortal and one immortal.
Hercules set out with high courage for this fight. He mounted his
chariot, and his beloved nephew Iolaus, the son of his stepbrother
Iphicles, who for a long time had been his inseparable companion, sat
by his side, guiding the horses; and so they sped toward Lerna.
At last the hydra was visible on a hill by the springs of Amymone,
where its lair was found. Here Iolaus left the horses stand. Hercules
leaped from the chariot and sought with burning arrows to drive the
many-headed serpent from its hiding place. It came forth hissing, its
nine heads raised and swaying like the branches of a tree in a storm.
Undismayed, Hercules approached it, seized it, and held it fast. But
the snake wrapped itself around one of his feet. Then he began with
his sword to cut off its heads. But this looked like an endless task,
for no sooner had he cut off one head than two grew in its place. At
the same time an enormous crab came to the help of the hydra and began
biting the hero's foot. Killing this with his club, he called to
Iolaus for help.
The latter had lighted a torch, set fire to a portion of the nearby
wood, and with brands therefrom touched the serpent's newly growing
heads and prevented them from living. In this way the hero was at last
master of the situation and was able to cut off even the head of the
hydra that could not be killed. This he buried deep in the ground and
rolled a heavy stone over the place. The body of the hydra he cut into
half, dipping his arrows in the blood, which was poisonous.
From that time the wounds made by the arrows of Hercules were fatal.
TTITLE THE THIRD LABOR
The third demand of Eurystheus was that Hercules bring to him alive
the hind Cerynitis. This was a noble animal, with horns of gold and
feet of iron. She lived on a hill in Arcadia, and was one of the five
hinds which the goddess Diana had caught on her first hunt. This one,
of all the five, was permitted to run loose again in the woods, for it
was decreed by fate that Hercules should one day hunt her.
For a whole year Hercules pursued her; came at last to the river
Ladon; and there captured the hind, not far from the city Oenon, on
the mountains of Diana. But he knew of no way of becoming master of
the animal without wounding her, so he lamed her with an arrow and
then carried her over his shoulder through Arcadia.
Here he met Diana herself with Apollo, who scolded him for wishing to
kill the animal that she had held sacred, and was about to take it
"Impiety did not move me, great goddess," said Hercules in his own
defense, "but only the direst necessity. How otherwise could I hold my
own against Eurystheus?"
And thus he softened the anger of the goddess and brought the animal
TTITLE THE FOURTH LABOR
Then Hercules set out on his fourth undertaking. It consisted in
bringing alive to Mycene a boar which, likewise sacred to Diana, was
laying waste the country around the mountain of Erymanthus.
On his wanderings in search of this adventure he came to the dwelling
of Pholus, the son of Silenus. Like all Centaurs, Pholus was half man
and half horse. He received his guest with hospitality and set before
him broiled meat, while he himself ate raw. But Hercules, not
satisfied with this, wished also to have something good to drink.
"Dear guest," said Pholus, "there is a cask in my cellar; but it
belongs to all the Centaurs jointly, and I hesitate to open it because
I know how little they welcome guests."
"Open it with good courage," answered Hercules, "I promise to defend
you against all displeasure."
As it happened, the cask of wine had been given to the Centaurs by
Bacchus, the god of wine, with the command that they should not open
it until, after four centuries, Hercules should appear in their midst.
Pholus went to the cellar and opened the wonderful cask. But scarcely
had he done so when the Centaurs caught the perfume of the rare old
wine, and, armed with stones and pine clubs, surrounded the cave of
Pholus. The first who tried to force their way in Hercules drove back
with brands he seized from the fire. The rest he pursued with bow and
arrow, driving them back to Malea, where lived the good Centaur,
Chiron, Hercules' old friend. To him his brother Centaurs had fled for
But Hercules still continued shooting, and sent an arrow through the
arm of an old Centaur, which unhappily went quite through and fell on
Chiron's knee, piercing the flesh. Then for the first time Hercules
recognized his friend of former days, ran to him in great distress,
pulled out the arrow, and laid healing ointment on the wound, as the
wise Chiron himself had taught him. But the wound, filled with the
poison of the hydra, could not be healed; so the centaur was carried
into his cave. There he wished to die in the arms of his friend. Vain
wish! The poor Centaur had forgotten that he was immortal, and though
wounded would not die.
Then Hercules with many tears bade farewell to his old teacher and
promised to send to him, no matter at what price, the great deliverer,
Death. And we know that he kept his word.
When Hercules from the pursuit of the other Centaurs returned to the
dwelling of Pholus he found him also dead. He had drawn the deadly
arrow from the lifeless body of one Centaur, and while he was
wondering how so small a thing could do such great damage, the
poisoned arrow slipped through his fingers and pierced his foot,
killing him instantly. Hercules was very sad, and buried his body
reverently beneath the mountain, which from that day was called
Then Hercules continued his hunt for the boar, drove him with cries
out of the thick of the woods, pursued him into a deep snow field,
bound the exhausted animal, and brought him, as he had been commanded,
alive to Mycene.
TTITLE THE FIFTH LABOR
Thereupon King Eurystheus sent him upon the fifth labor, which was one
little worthy of a hero. It was to clean the stables of Augeas in a
Augeas was king in Elis and had great herds of cattle. These herds
were kept, according to the custom, in a great inclosure before the
palace. Three thousand cattle were housed there, and as the stables
had not been cleaned for many years, so much manure had accumulated
that it seemed an insult to ask Hercules to clean them in one day.
When the hero stepped before King Augeas and without telling him
anything of the demands of Eurystheus, pledged himself to the task,
the latter measured the noble form in the lion-skin and could hardly
refrain from laughing when he thought of so worthy a warrior
undertaking so menial a work. But he said to himself: "Necessity has
driven many a brave man; perhaps this one wishes to enrich himself
through me. That will help him little. I can promise him a large
reward if he cleans out the stables, for he can in one day clear
little enough." Then he spoke confidently:
"Listen, O stranger. If you clean all of my stables in one day, I will
give over to you the tenth part of all my possessions in cattle."
Hercules accepted the offer, and the king expected to see him begin
to shovel. But Hercules, after he had called the son of Augeas to
witness the agreement, tore the foundations away from one side of the
stables; directed to it by means of a canal the streams of Alpheus and
Peneus that flowed near by; and let the waters carry away the filth
through another opening. So he accomplished the menial work without
stooping to anything unworthy of an immortal.
When Augeas learned that this work had been done in the service of
Eurystheus, he refused the reward and said that he had not promised
it; but he declared himself ready to have the question settled in
court. When the judges were assembled, Phyleus, commanded by Hercules
to appear, testified against his father, and explained how he had
agreed to offer Hercules a reward. Augeas did not wait for the
decision; he grew angry and commanded his son as well as the stranger
to leave his kingdom instantly.
TTITLE THE SIXTH LABOR
Hercules now returned with new adventures to Eurystheus; but the
latter would not give him credit for the task because Hercules had
demanded a reward for his labor. He sent the hero forth upon a sixth
adventure, commanding him to drive away the Stymphalides. These were
monster birds of prey, as large as cranes, with iron feathers, beaks
and claws. They lived on the banks of Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia, and
had the power of using their feathers as arrows and piercing with
their beaks even bronze coats of mail. Thus they brought destruction
to both animals and men in all the surrounding country.
After a short journey Hercules, accustomed to wandering, arrived at
the lake, which was thickly shaded by a wood. Into this wood a great
flock of the birds had flown for fear of being robbed by wolves.
The hero stood undecided when he saw the frightful crowd, not knowing
how he could become master over so many enemies. Then he felt a light
touch on his shoulder, and glancing behind him saw the tall figure of
the goddess Minerva, who gave into his hands two mighty brass rattles
made by Vulcan. Telling him to use these to drive away the
Stymphalides, she disappeared.
Hercules mounted a hill near the lake, and began frightening the birds
by the noise of the rattles. The Stymphalides could not endure the
awful noise and flew, terrified, out of the forest. Then Hercules
seized his bow and sent arrow after arrow in pursuit of them, shooting
many as they flew. Those who were not killed left the lake and never
TTITLE THE SEVENTH LABOR
King Minos of Crete had promised Neptune (Poseidon), god of the sea,
to offer to him whatever animal should first come up out of the water,
for he declared he had no animal that was worthy for so high a
sacrifice. Therefore the god caused a very beautiful ox to rise out of
the sea. But the king was so taken with the noble appearance of the
animal that he secretly placed it among his own herds and offered
another to Neptune. Angered by this, the god had caused the animal to
become mad, and it was bringing great destruction to the island of
Crete. To capture this animal, master it, and bring it before
Eurystheus, was the seventh labor of Hercules.
When the hero came to Crete and with this intention stepped before
Minos, the king was not a little pleased over the prospect of ridding
the island of the bull, and he himself helped Hercules to capture the
raging animal. Hercules approached the dreadful monster without fear,
and so thoroughly did he master him that he rode home on the animal
the whole way to the sea.
With this work Eurystheus was pleased, and after he had regarded the
animal for a time with pleasure, set it free. No longer under
Hercules' management, the ox became wild again, wandered through all
Laconia and Arcadia, crossed over the isthmus to Marathon in Attica
and devastated the country there as formerly on the island of Crete.
Later it was given to the hero Theseus to become master over him.
TTITLE THE EIGHTH LABOR
The eighth labor of Hercules was to bring the mares of the Thracian
Diomede to Mycene. Diomede was a son of Mars and ruler of the
Bistonians, a very warlike people. He had mares so wild and strong
that they had to be fastened with iron chains. Their fodder was
chiefly hay; but strangers who had the misfortune to come into the
city were thrown before them, their flesh serving the animals as food.
When Hercules arrived the first thing he did was to seize the inhuman
king himself and after he had overpowered the keepers, throw him
before his own mares. With this food the animals were satisfied and
Hercules was able to drive them to the sea.
But the Bistonians followed him with weapons, and Hercules was forced
to turn and fight them. He gave the horses into the keeping of his
beloved companion Abderus, the son of Mercury, and while Hercules was
away the animals grew hungry again and devoured their keeper.
Hercules, returning, was greatly grieved over this loss, and later
founded a city in honor of Abderus, naming it after his lost friend.
For the present he was content to master the mares and drive them
without further mishap to Eurystheus.
The latter consecrated the horses to Juno. Their descendants were very
powerful, and the great king Alexander of Macedonia rode one of them.
TTITLE THE NINTH LABOR
Returning from a long journey, the hero undertook an expedition
against the Amazons in order to finish the ninth adventure and bring
to King Eurystheus the sword belt of the Amazon Hippolyta.
The Amazons inhabited the region of the river Thermodon and were a
race of strong women who followed the occupations of men. From their
children they selected only such as were girls. United in an army,
they waged great wars. Their queen, Hippolyta, wore, as a sign of her
leadership, a girdle which the goddess of war had given her as a
Hercules gathered his warrior companions together into a ship, sailed
after many adventures into the Black Sea and at last into the mouth of
the river Thermodon, and the harbor of the Amazon city Themiscira.
Here the queen of the Amazons met him.
The lordly appearance of the hero flattered her pride, and when she
heard the object of his visit, she promised him the belt. But Juno,
the relentless enemy of Hercules, assuming the form of an Amazon,
mingled among the others and spread the news that a stranger was about
to lead away their queen. Then the Amazons fought with the warriors of
Hercules, and the best fighters of them attacked the hero and gave him
a hard battle.
The first who began fighting with him was called, because of her
swiftness, Aella, or Bride of the Wind; but she found in Hercules a
swifter opponent, was forced to yield and was in her swift flight
overtaken by him and vanquished. A second fell at the first attack;
then Prothoe, the third, who had come off victor in seven duels, also
fell. Hercules laid low eight others, among them three hunter
companions of Diana, who, although formerly always certain with their
weapons, today failed in their aim, and vainly covering themselves
with their shields fell before the arrows of the hero. Even Alkippe
fell, who had sworn to live her whole live unmarried: the vow she
kept, but not her life.
After even Melanippe, the brave leader of the Amazons, was made
captive, all the rest took to wild flight, and Hippolyta the queen
handed over the sword belt which she had promised even before the
fight. Hercules took it as ransom and set Melanippe free.
TTITLE THE TENTH LABOR
When the hero laid the sword belt of Queen Hippolyta at the feet of
Eurystheus, the latter gave him no rest, but sent him out immediately
to procure the cattle of the giant Geryone. The latter dwelt on an
island in the midst of the sea, and possessed a herd of beautiful
red-brown cattle, which were guarded by another giant and a two-headed
Geryone himself was enormous, had three bodies, three heads, six arms
and six feet. No son of earth had ever measured his strength against
him, and Hercules realized exactly how many preparations were
necessary for this heavy undertaking. As everybody knew, Geryone's
father, who bore the name "Gold-Sword" because of his riches, was king
of all Iberia (Spain). Besides Geryone he had three brave giant sons
who fought for him; and each son had a mighty army of soldiers under
his command. For these very reasons had Eurystheus given the task to
Hercules, for he hoped that his hated existence would at last be ended
in a war in such a country. Yet Hercules set out on this undertaking
no more dismayed than on any previous expedition.
He gathered together his army on the island of Crete, which he had
freed from wild animals, and landed first in Libya. Here he met the
giant Antaeus, whose strength was renewed as often as he touched the
earth. He also freed Libya of birds of prey; for he hated wild
animals and wicked men because he saw in all of them the image of the
overbearing and unjust lord whom he so long had served.
After long wandering through desert country he came at last to a
fruitful land, through which great streams flowed. Here he founded a
city of vast size, which he named Hecatompylos (City of a Hundred
Gates). Then at last he reached the Atlantic Ocean and planted the two
mighty pillars which bear his name.
The sun burned so fiercely that Hercules could bear it no longer; he
raised his eyes to heaven and with raised bow threatened the sun-god.
Apollo wondered at his courage and lent him for his further journeys
the bark in which he himself was accustomed to lie from sunset to
sunrise. In this Hercules sailed to Iberia.
Here he found the three sons of Gold-Sword with three great armies
camping near each other; but he killed all the leaders and plundered
the land. Then he sailed to the island Erythia, where Geryone dwelt
with his herds.
As soon as the two-headed dog knew of his approach he sprang toward
him; but Hercules struck him with his club and killed him. He killed
also the giant herdsman who came to the help of the dog. Then he
hurried away with the cattle.
But Geryone overtook him and there was a fierce struggle. Juno herself
offered to assist the giant; but Hercules shot her with an arrow deep
in the heart, and the goddess, wounded, fled. Even the threefold body
of the giant which ran together in the region of the stomach, felt the
might of the deadly arrows and was forced to yield.
With glorious adventures Hercules continued his way home, driving the
cattle across country through Iberia and Italy. At Rhegium in lower
Italy one of his oxen got away and swam across the strait to Sicily.
Immediately Hercules drove the other cattle into the water and swam,
holding one by the horns, to Sicily. Then the hero pursued his way
without misfortune through Italy, Illyria and Thrace to Greece.
Hercules had now accomplished ten labors; but Eurystheus was still
unsatisfied and there were two more tasks to be undertaken.
TTITLE THE ELEVENTH LABOR
At the celebration of the marriage of Jupiter and Juno, when all the
gods were bringing their wedding gifts to the happy pair, Mother Earth
did not wish to be left out. So she caused to spring forth on the
western borders of the great world-sea a many-branched tree full of
golden apples. Four maidens called the Hesperides, daughters of Night,
were the guardians of this sacred garden, and with them watched the
hundred-headed dragon, Ladon, whose father was Phorkys, the parent of
many monsters. Sleep came never to the eyes of this dragon and a
fearful hissing sound warned one of his presence, for each of his
hundred throats had a different voice. From this monster, so was the
command of Eurystheus, should Hercules seize the golden apples.
The hero set out on his long and adventurous journey and placed
himself in the hands of blind chance, for he did not know where the
He went first to Thessaly, where dwelt the giant Termerus, who with
his skull knocked to death every traveler that he met; but on the
mighty cranium of Hercules the head of the giant himself was split
Farther on the hero came upon another monster in his way--Cycnus, the
son of Mars and Pyrene. He, when asked concerning the garden of the
Hesperides, instead of answering, challenged the wanderer to a duel,
and was beaten by Hercules. Then appeared Mars, the god of war,
himself, to avenge the death of his son; and Hercules was forced to
fight with him. But Jupiter did not wish that his sons should shed
blood, and sent his lightning bolt to separate the two.
Then Hercules continued his way through Illyria, hastened over the
river Eridanus, and came to the nymphs of Jupiter and Themis, who
dwelt on the banks of the stream. To these Hercules put his question.
"Go to the old river god Nereus," was their answer. "He is a seer and
knows all things. Surprise him while he sleeps and bind him; then he
will be forced to tell you the right way."
Hercules followed this advice and became master of the river god,
although the latter, according to his custom, assumed many different
forms. Hercules would not let him go until he had learned in what
locality he could find the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Informed of this, he went on his way toward Libya and Egypt. Over the
latter land ruled Busiris, the son of Neptune and Lysianassa. To him
during the period of a nine-year famine a prophet had borne the
oracular message that the land would again bear fruit if a stranger
were sacrificed once a year to Jupiter. In gratitude Busiris made a
beginning with the priest himself. Later he found great pleasure in
the custom and killed all strangers who came to Egypt. So Hercules was
seized and placed on the altar of Jupiter. But he broke the chains
which bound him, and killed Busiris and his son and the priestly
With many adventures the hero continued his way, set free, as has been
told elsewhere, Prometheus, the Titan, who was bound to the Caucasus
Mountains, and came at last to the place where Atlas stood carrying
the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Near him grew the tree
which bore the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Prometheus had advised the hero not to attempt himself to make the
robbery of the golden fruit, but to send Atlas on the errand. The
giant offered to do this if Hercules would support the heavens while
he went. This Hercules consented to do, and Atlas set out. He put to
sleep the dragon who lived beneath the tree and killed him. Then with
a trick he got the better of the keepers, and returned happily to
Hercules with the three apples which he had plucked.
"But," he said, "I have now found out how it feels to be relieved of
the heavy burden of the heavens. I will not carry them any longer."
Then he threw the apples down at the feet of the hero, and left him
standing with the unaccustomed, awful weight upon his shoulders.
Hercules had to think of a trick in order to get away. "Let me," he
said to the giant, "just make a coil of rope to bind around my head,
so that the frightful weight will not cause my forehead to give way."
Atlas found this new demand reasonable, and consented to take over the
burden again for a few minutes. But the deceiver was at last deceived,
and Hercules picked up the apples from the ground and set out on his
way back. He carried the apples to Eurystheus, who, since his object
of getting rid of the hero had not been accomplished, gave them back
to Hercules as a present. The latter laid them on the altar of
Minerva; but the goddess, knowing that it was contrary to the divine
wishes to carry away this sacred fruit, returned the apples to the
garden of the Hesperides.
TTITLE THE TWELFTH LABOR
Instead of destroying his hated enemy the labors which Eurystheus had
imposed upon Hercules had only strengthened the hero in the fame for
which fate had selected him. He had become the protector of all the
wronged upon earth, and the boldest adventurer among mortals.
But the last labor he was to undertake in the region in which his
hero strength--so the impious king hoped--would not accompany him.
This was a fight with the dark powers of the underworld. He was to
bring forth from Hades Cerberus, the dog of Hell. This animal had
three heads with frightful jaws, from which incessantly poison flowed.
A dragon's tail hung from his body, and the hair of his head and of
his back formed hissing, coiling serpents.
To prepare himself for this fearful journey Hercules went to the city
of Eleusis, in Attic territory, where, from a wise priest, he received
secret instruction in the things of the upper and lower world, and
where also he received pardon for the murder of the Centaur.
Then, with strength to meet the horrors of the underworld, Hercules
traveled on to Peloponnesus, and to the Laconian city of Taenarus,
which contained the opening to the lower world. Here, accompanied by
Mercury, he descended through a cleft in the earth, and came to the
entrance of the city of King Pluto. The shades which sadly wandered
back and forth before the gates of the city took flight as soon as
they caught sight of flesh and blood in the form of a living man. Only
the Gorgon Medusa and the spirit of Meleager remained. The former
Hercules wished to overthrow with his sword, but Mercury touched him
on the arm and told him that the souls of the departed were only empty
shadow pictures and could not be wounded by mortal weapons.
With the soul of Meleager the hero chatted in friendly fashion, and
received from him loving messages for the upper world. Still nearer to
the gates of Hades Hercules caught sight of his friends Theseus and
Pirithous. When both saw the friendly form of Hercules they stretched
beseeching hands towards him, trembling with the hope that through his
strength they might again reach the upper world. Hercules grasped
Theseus by the hand, freed him from his chains and raised him from the
ground. A second attempt to free Pirithous did not succeed, for the
ground opened beneath his feet.
At the gate of the City of the Dead stood King Pluto, and denied
entrance to Hercules. But with an arrow the hero shot the god in the
shoulder, so that he feared the mortal; and when Hercules then asked
whether he might lead away the dog of Hades he did not longer oppose
him. But he imposed the condition that Hercules should become master
of Cerberus without using any weapons. So the hero set out, protected
only with cuirass and the lion skin.
He found the dog camping near the dwelling of Acheron, and without
paying any attention to the bellowing of the three heads, which was
like the echo of fearful resounding thunder, he seized the dog by the
legs, put his arms around his neck, and would not let him go, although
the dragon tail of the animal bit him in the cheek.
He held the neck of Cerberus firm, and did not let go until he was
really master of the monster. Then he raised it, and through another
opening of Hades returned in happiness to his own country. When the
dog of Hades saw the light of day he was afraid and began to spit
poison, from which poisonous plants sprung up out of the earth.
Hercules brought the monster in chains to Tirynth, and led it before
the astonished Eurystheus, who could not believe his eyes.
Now at last the king doubted whether he could ever rid himself of the
hated son of Jupiter. He yielded to his fate and dismissed the hero,
who led the dog of Hades back to his owner in the lower world.
Thus Hercules after all his labors was at last set free from the
service of Eurystheus, and returned to Thebes.
TTITLE DEUCALION AND PYRRHA
While the men of the Age of Bronze still dwelt upon the earth reports
of their wickedness were carried to Jupiter. The god decided to verify
the reports by coming to earth himself in the form of a man, and
everywhere he went he found that the reports were much milder than the
One evening in the late twilight he entered the inhospitable shelter
of the Arcadian King Lycaon, who was famed for his wild conduct. By
several signs he let it be known that he was a god, and the crowd
dropped to their knees; but Lycaon made light of the pious prayers.
"Let us see," he said, "whether he is a mortal or a god."
Thereupon he decided to destroy the guest that night while he lay in
slumber, not expecting death. But before doing so he killed a poor
hostage whom the Molossians had sent to him, cooked the half-living
limbs in boiling water or broiled them over a fire, and placed them on
the table before the guest for his evening meal.
But Jupiter, who knew all this, left the table and sent a raging fire
over the castle of the godless man. Frightened, the king fled into the
open field. The first cry he uttered was a howl; his garments changed
to fur; his arms to legs; he was transformed into a bloodthirsty wolf.
Jupiter returned to Olympus, held counsel with the gods and decided to
destroy the reckless race of men. At first he wanted to turn his
lightnings over all the earth, but the fear that the ether would take
fire and destroy the axle of the universe restrained him. He laid
aside the thunderbolt which the Cyclops had fashioned for him, and
decided to send rain from heaven over all the earth and so destroy the
race of mortals.
Immediately the North Wind and all the other cloud-scattering winds
were locked in the cave of Aeolus, and only the South Wind sent out.
The latter descended upon the earth; his frightful face was covered
with darkness; his beard was heavy with clouds; from his white hair
ran the flood; mists lay upon his brow; from his bosom dropped the
water. The South Wind grasped the heavens, seized in his hands the
surrounding clouds and began to squeeze them. The thunder rolled;
floods of rain burst from the heavens. The standing corn was bent to
the earth; destroyed was the hope of the farmer; destroyed the weary
work of a whole year.
Even Neptune, god of the sea, came to the assistance of his brother
Jupiter in the work of destruction. He called all the rivers together
and said, "Give full rein to your torrents; enter houses; break
through all dams!"
They followed his command, and Neptune himself struck the earth with
his trident and let the flood enter. Then the waters streamed over the
open meadows, covered the fields, dislodged trees, temples and houses.
Wherever a palace stood, its gables were soon covered with water and
the highest turrets were hidden in the torrent. Sea and earth were no
longer divided; all was flood--an unbroken stretch of water.
Men tried to save themselves as best they could; some climbed the high
mountains; others entered boats and rowed, now over the roofs of the
fallen houses, now over the hills of their ruined vineyards. Fish swam
among the branches of the highest trees; the wild boar was caught in
the flood; people were swept away by the water and those whom the
flood spared died of hunger on the barren mountains.
One high mountain in the country of Phocis still raised two peaks
above the surrounding waters. It was the great Mount Parnassus. Toward
this floated a boat containing Deucalion, the son of Prometheus,
and his wife Pyrrha. No man, no woman, had ever been found who
surpassed these in righteousness and piety. When, therefore, Jupiter,
looking down from heaven upon the earth, saw that only a single pair
of mortals remained of the many thousand times a thousand, both
blameless, both devoted servants of the gods, he sent forth the North
Wind, recalled the clouds, and once again separated the earth from the
heavens and the heavens from the earth.
Even Neptune, lord of the sea, laid down his trident and calmed the
flood. The ocean resumed its banks; the rivers returned to their beds;
forests stretched their slime-covered tree-tops out of the deep; hills
followed; finally stretches of level land appeared and the earth was
Deucalion looked around him. The country was laid waste; it was
wrapped in the silence of the grave. Tears rolled down his cheeks and
he said to his wife, Pyrrha, "Beloved, solitary companion of my life,
as far as I can see through all the surrounding country, I can
discover no living creature. We two must people the earth; all the
rest have been drowned by the flood. But even we are not yet certain
of our lives. Every cloud that I see strikes terror to my soul. And
even if danger is past, what shall we do alone on the forsaken earth?
Oh, that my father Prometheus had taught me the art of creating men
and breathing life into them!"
Then the two began to weep. They threw themselves on their knees
before the half-destroyed altar of the goddess Themis, and began to
pray, saying, "Tell us, O goddess, by what means we can replace the
race that has disappeared? Oh, help the earth to new life."
"Leave my altar," sounded the voice of the goddess. "Uncover your
heads, ungird your garments and cast the bones of your mother behind
For a long time Deucalion and Pyrrha wondered over the puzzling words
of the goddess. Pyrrha was the first to break the silence. "Pardon me,
O noble goddess," she said, "if I do not obey you and cannot consent
to scatter the bones of my mother."
Then Deucalion had a happy thought. He comforted his wife. "Either my
reason deceives me," he said, "or the command of the goddess is good
and involves no impiety. The great mother of all of us is the Earth;
her bones are the stones, and these, Pyrrha, we will cast behind us!"
Both mistrusted this interpretation of the words, but what harm would
it do to try? Thereupon they uncovered their heads, ungirded their
garments and began casting stones behind them.
Then a wonderful thing happened. The stone began to lose its hardness,
became malleable, grew and took form--not definite at once, but rude
figures such as an artist first hews out of the rough marble. Whatever
was moist or earthy in the stones was changed into flesh; the harder
parts became bones; the veins in the rock remained as veins in the
bodies. Thus, in a little while, with the aid of the gods, the stones
which Deucalion threw assumed the form of men; those which Pyrrha
threw, the form of women.
This homely origin the race of men does not deny; they are a hardy
people, accustomed to work. Every moment of the day they remember from
what sturdy stock they have sprung.
TTITLE THESEUS AND THE CENTAUR
Theseus, the hero king of Athens, had a reputation for great strength
and bravery; but Pirithous, the son of Ixion, one of the most famous
heroes of antiquity, wished to put him to the test. He therefore drove
the cattle which belonged to Theseus away from Marathon, and when he
heard that Theseus, weapon in hand, was following him, then, indeed,
he had what he desired. He did not flee, but turned around to meet
When the two heroes were near enough to see each other, each was so
filled with admiration for the beautiful form and the bravery of his
opponent that, as if at a given signal, both threw down their weapons
and hastened toward each other. Pirithous extended his hand to Theseus
and proposed that the latter act as arbitrator for the settlement of
the dispute about the cattle: whatever satisfaction Theseus would
demand Pirithous would willingly give.
"The only satisfaction which I desire," answered Pirithous, "is that
you instead of my enemy become my friend and comrade in arms."
Then the two heroes embraced each other and swore eternal friendship.
Soon after this Pirithous chose the Thessalian princess, Hippodamia,
from the race of Lapithae, for his bride, and invited Theseus to the
wedding. The Lapithae, among whom the ceremony took place, were a
famous family of Thessalians, rugged mountaineers, in some respects
resembling animals--the first mortals who had learned to manage a
horse. But the bride, who had sprung from this race, was not at all
like the men of her people. She was of noble form, with delicate
youthful face, so beautiful that all the guests praised Pirithous for
his good fortune.
The assembled princes of Thessaly were at the wedding feast, and also
the Centaurs, relatives of Pirithous. The Centaurs were half men, the
offspring which a cloud, assuming the form of the goddess Hera, had
born to Ixion, the father of Pirithous. They were the eternal enemies
of the Lapithae. Upon this occasion, however, and for the sake of the
bride, they had forgotten past grudges and come together to the joyful
celebration. The noble castle of Pirithous resounded with glad tumult;
bridal songs were sung; wine and food abounded. Indeed, there were so
many guests that the palace would not accommodate all. The Lapithae and
Centaurs sat at a special table in a grotto shaded by trees.
For a long time the festivities went on with undisturbed happiness.
Then the wine began to stir the heart of the wildest of the Centaurs,
Eurytion, and the beauty of the Princess Hippodamia awoke in him the
mad desire of robbing the bridegroom of his bride. Nobody knew how it
came to pass; nobody noticed the beginning of the unthinkable act; but
suddenly the guests saw the wild Eurytion lifting Hippodamia from her
feet, while she struggled and cried for help. His deed was the signal
for the rest of the drunken Centaurs to do likewise, and before the
strange heroes and the Lapithae could leave their places, every one of
the Centaurs had roughly seized one of the Thessalian princesses who
served at the court of the king or who had assembled as guests at the
The castle and the grotto resembled a besieged city; the cry of the
women sounded far and wide. Quickly friends and relatives sprang from
"What delusion is this, Eurytion," cried Theseus, "to vex Pirithous
while I still live, and by so doing arouse the anger of two heroes?"
With these words he forced his way through the crowd and tore the
stolen bride from the struggling robber.
Eurytion said nothing, for he could not excuse his deed, but he
lifted his hand toward Theseus and gave him a rough knock in the
chest. Then Theseus, who had no weapon at hand, seized an iron jug of
embossed workmanship which stood near by and flung it into the face of
his opponent with such force that the Centaur fell backward on the
ground, while brains and blood oozed from the wound in his head.
"To arms!" the cry arose from all sides. At first beakers, flasks and
bowls flew back and forth. Then one sacrilegious monster grabbed the
oblations from the neighboring apartments. Another tore down the lamp
which burned over the table, while still another fought with a
sacrificial deer which had hung on one side of the grotto. A frightful
slaughter ensued. Rhoetus, the most wicked of the Centaurs after
Eurytion, seized the largest brand from the altar and thrust it into
the gaping wound of one of the fallen Lapithae, so that the blood
hissed like iron in a furnace. In opposition to him rose Dryas, the
bravest of the Lapithae, and seizing a glowing log from the fire,
thrust it into the Centaur's neck. The fate of this Centaur atoned for
the death of his fallen companion, and Dryas turned to the raging mob
and laid five of them low.
Then the spear of the brave hero Pirithous flew forth and pierced a
mighty Centaur, Petraeus, just as he was about to uproot a tree to use
it for a club. The spear pinned him against the knotted oak. A second,
Dictys, fell at the stroke of the Greek hero, and in falling snapped
off a mighty ash tree; a third, wishing to avenge him, was crushed by
Theseus with an oak club.
The most beautiful and youthful of the Centaurs was Cyllarus. His long
hair and beard were golden; his smile was friendly; his neck,
shoulders, hands and breast were as beautiful as if formed by an
artist. Even the lower part of his body, the part which resembled a
horse, was faultless, pitch-black in color, with legs and tail of
lighter dye. He had come to the feast with his wife, the beautiful
Centaur, Hylonome, who at the table had leaned gracefully against him
and even now united with him in the raging fight. He received from an
unknown hand a light wound near his heart, and sank dying in the arms
of his wife. Hylonome nursed his dying form, kissed him and tried to
retain the fleeting breath. When she saw that he was gone she drew a
dagger from her breast and stabbed herself.
For a long time still the fight between the Lapithae and the Centaurs
continued, but at last night put an end to the tumult. Then Pirithous
remained in undisturbed possession of his bride, and on the following
morning Theseus departed, bidding farewell to his friend. The common
fight had quickly welded the fresh tie of their brotherhood into an
Niobe, Queen of Thebes, was proud of many things. Amphion, her
husband, had received from the Muses a wonderful lyre, to the music of
which the stones of the royal palace had of themselves assumed place.
Her father was Tantalus, who had been entertained by the gods; and she
herself was the ruler of a powerful kingdom and a woman of great pride
of spirit and majestic beauty. But of none of these things was she so
proud as she was of her fourteen lovely children, the seven sons and
seven daughters to whom she had given birth.
Indeed, Niobe was the happiest of all mothers, and so would she have
remained if she had not believed herself so peculiarly blessed. Her
very knowledge of her good fortune was her undoing.
One day the prophetess Manto, daughter of the soothsayer Tiresias,
being instructed of the gods, called together the women of Thebes to
do honor to the goddess Latona and her two children, Apollo and Diana.
"Put laurel wreaths upon your heads," were her commands, "and bring
sacrifices with pious prayers."
Then while the women of Thebes were gathering together, Niobe came
forth, clad in a gold-embroidered garment, with a crowd of followers,
radiant in her beauty, though angry, with her hair flowing about her
shoulders. She stopped in the midst of the busy women, and raising her
voice, spoke to them.
"Are you not foolish to worship gods of whom stories are told to you
when more favored beings dwell here among you? While you are making
sacrifices on the altar of Latona, why does my divine name remain
unknown? My father Tantalus is the only mortal who has ever sat at the
table of the gods; and my mother Dione is the sister of the Pleiades,
who as bright stars shine nightly in the heavens. One of my uncles is
the giant Atlas, who on his neck supports the vaulted heavens; my
grandfather is Jupiter, the father of the gods. The people of Phrygia
obey me, and to me and my husband belongs the city of Cadmus, the
walls of which were put together by the music that my husband played.
Every corner of my palace is filled with priceless treasures; and
there, too, are other treasures--children such as no other mother can
show: seven beautiful daughters, seven sturdy sons, and just as many
sons- and daughters-in-law. Ask now whether I have ground for pride.
Consider again before you honor more than me Latona, the unknown
daughter of the Titans, who could find no place in the whole earth in
which she might rest and give birth to her children until the island
of Delos in compassion offered her a precarious shelter. There she
became the mother of two children--the poor creature! Just the seventh
part of my mother joy! Who can deny that I am fortunate? Who will
doubt that I shall remain happy? Fortune would have a hard time if she
undertook to shatter my happiness. Take this or that one from my
treasured children; but when would the number of them dwindle to the
sickly two of Latona? Away with your sacrifices! Take the laurel out
of your hair. Go back to your homes and let me never see such
Frightened at the outburst, the women removed the wreaths from their
heads, left their sacrifices and slunk home, still honoring Latona
with silent prayer.
On the summit of the Delian mountain Cynthas stood Latona with her two
children, watching what was taking place in distant Thebes. "See, my
children," she said, "I, your mother, who am so proud of your birth,
who yield place to no goddess except Juno, I am held up to ridicule by
an upstart mortal, and if you do not defend me, my children, I shall
be driven away from the ancient and holy altars. Yes, you too are
insulted by Niobe, and she would like to have you set aside for her
Latona was about to go on, but Apollo interrupted her: "Cease your
lamentations, mother; you only delay the punishment."
Then he and his sister wrapped themselves in a magic cloud cloak that
made them invisible, and flew swiftly through the air until they
reached the town and castle of Cadmus.
Just outside the walls of the city was an open field that was used as
a race-course and practice ground for horses. Here the seven sons of
Amphion were amusing themselves, when suddenly the oldest dropped his
reins with a cry and fell from his horse, pierced to the heart by an
arrow. One after another the whole seven were struck down.
The news of the disaster soon spread through the city. Amphion, when
he heard that all his sons had perished, fell on his own sword. Then
the loud cries of his servants penetrated to the women's quarters.
For a long time Niobe could not believe that the gods had thus brought
vengeance. When she did, how unlike was she to the Niobe who drove the
people from the altars of the mighty goddess and strode through the
city with haughty mien. Crazed with grief she rushed out to the field
where her sons had been stricken, threw herself on their dead bodies,
kissing now this one and now that. Then, raising her arms to heaven,
she cried, "Look now upon my distress, thou cruel Latona; for the
death of these seven bows me to the earth. Triumph thou, O my
Now the seven daughters of Niobe, clad in garments of mourning, drew
near, and with loosened hair stood around their brothers. And the
sight of them brought a ray of joy to Niobe's white face. She forgot
her grief for a moment, and casting a scornful look to heaven, said,
"Victor! No, for even in my loss I have more than thou in thy
Hardly had she spoken when there was the sound of a drawn bow. The
bystanders grew cold with fear, but Niobe was not frightened, for
misfortune had made her strong.
Suddenly one of the sisters put her hand to her breast and drew out an
arrow that had pierced her; then, unconscious, she sank to the ground.
Another daughter hastened to her mother to comfort her, but before she
could reach her she was laid low by a hidden wound. One after another
the rest fell, until only the last was left. She had fled to Niobe's
lap and childlike was hiding her face in her mother's garments.
"Leave me only this one," cried Niobe, "just the youngest of so many."
But even while she prayed the child fell lifeless from her lap, and
Niobe sat alone among the dead bodies of her husband, her sons and her
daughters. She was speechless with grief; no breath of air stirred the
hair on her head; the blood left her face; the eyes remained fixed on
the grief-stricken countenance; in the whole body there was no longer
any sign of life. The veins ceased to carry blood; the neck stiffened;
arms and feet grew rigid; the whole body was transformed into cold and
lifeless stone. Nothing living remained to her except her tears, which
continued flowing from her stony eyes.
Then a mighty wind lifted the image of stone, carried it over the sea
and set it down in Lydia, the old home of Niobe, in the barren
mountains under the stony cliffs of Sipylus. Here Niobe remained fixed
as a marble statue on the summit of the mountain, and to this very day
you can see the grief-stricken mother in tears.
TTITLE THE GORGON'S HEAD
Perseus was the son of Danae, who was the daughter of a king. And when
Perseus was a very little boy, some wicked people put his mother and
himself into a chest and set them afloat upon the sea. The wind blew
freshly and drove the chest away from the shore, and the uneasy
billows tossed it up and down; while Danae clasped her child closely
to her bosom, and dreaded that some big wave would dash its foamy
crest over them both. The chest sailed on, however, and neither sank
nor was upset, until, when night was coming, it floated so near an
island that it got entangled in a fisherman's nets and was drawn out
high and dry upon the sand. This island was called Seriphus and it was
reigned over by King Polydectes, who happened to be the fisherman's
This fisherman, I am glad to tell you, was an exceedingly humane and
upright man. He showed great kindness to Danae and her little boy, and
continued to befriend them until Perseus had grown to be a handsome
youth, very strong and active and skilful in the use of arms. Long
before this time King Polydectes had seen the two strangers--the
mother and her child--who had come to his dominions in a floating
chest. As he was not good and kind, like his brother the fisherman,
but extremely wicked, he resolved to send Perseus on a dangerous
enterprise, in which he would probably be killed, and then to do some
great mischief to Danae herself. So this bad-hearted king spent a long
while in considering what was the most dangerous thing that a young
man could possibly undertake to perform. At last, having hit upon an
enterprise that promised to turn out as fatally as he desired, he sent
for the youthful Perseus.
The young man came to the palace and found the king sitting upon his
"Perseus," said King Polydectes, smiling craftily upon him, "you are
grown up a fine young man. You and your good mother have received a
great deal of kindness from myself, as well as from my worthy brother
the fisherman, and I suppose you would not be sorry to repay some of
"Please, your Majesty," answered Perseus, "I would willingly risk my
life to do so."
"Well, then," continued the king, still with a cunning smile on his
lips, "I have a little adventure to propose to you, and as you are a
brave and enterprising youth, you will doubtless look upon it as a
great piece of good luck to have so rare an opportunity of
distinguishing yourself. You must know, my good Perseus, I think of
getting married to the beautiful Princess Hippodamia, and it is
customary on these occasions to make the bride a present of some
far-fetched and elegant curiosity. I have been a little perplexed, I
must honestly confess, where to obtain anything likely to please a
princess of her exquisite taste. But this morning, I flatter myself, I
have thought of precisely the article."
"And can I assist your Majesty in obtaining it?" cried Perseus,
"You can if you are as brave a youth as I believe you to be," replied
King Polydectes with the utmost graciousness of manner. "The bridal
gift which I have set my heart on presenting to the beautiful
Hippodamia is the head of the Gorgon Medusa with the snaky locks; and
I depend on you, my dear Perseus, to bring it to me. So, as I am
anxious to settle affairs with the princess, the sooner you go in
quest of the Gorgon, the better I shall be pleased."
"I will set out tomorrow morning," answered Perseus.
"Pray do so, my gallant youth," rejoined the king. "And, Perseus, in
cutting off the Gorgon's head, be careful to make a clean stroke, so
as not to injure its appearance. You must bring it home in the very
best condition in order to suit the exquisite taste of the beautiful
Perseus left the palace, but was scarcely out of hearing before
Polydectes burst into a laugh, being greatly amused, wicked king that
he was, to find how readily the young man fell into the snare. The
news quickly spread abroad that Perseus had undertaken to cut off the
head of Medusa with the snaky locks. Everybody was rejoiced, for most
of the inhabitants of the island were as wicked as the king himself
and would have liked nothing better than to see some enormous mischief
happen to Danae and her son. The only good man in this unfortunate
island of Seriphus appears to have been the fisherman. As Perseus
walked along, therefore, the people pointed after him and made mouths,
and winked to one another and ridiculed him as loudly as they dared.
"Ho, ho!" cried they; "Medusa's snakes will sting him soundly!"
Now, there were three Gorgons alive at that period, and they were the
most strange and terrible monsters that had ever been since the world
was made, or that have been seen in after days, or that are likely to
be seen in all time to come. I hardly know what sort of creature or
hobgoblin to call them. They were three sisters and seem to have borne
some distant resemblance to women, but were really a very frightful
and mischievous species of dragon. It is, indeed, difficult to imagine
what hideous beings these three sisters were. Why, instead of locks of
hair, if you can believe men, they had each of them a hundred enormous
snakes growing on their heads, all alive, twisting, wriggling, curling
and thrusting out their venomous tongues, with forked stings at the
end! The teeth of the Gorgons were terribly long tusks, their hands
were made of brass, and their bodies were all over scales, which, if
not iron, were something as hard and impenetrable. They had wings,
too, and exceedingly splendid ones, I can assure you, for every
feather in them was pure, bright, glittering, burnished gold; and they
looked very dazzling, no doubt, when the Gorgons were flying about in
But when people happened to catch a glimpse of their glittering
brightness, aloft in the air, they seldom stopped to gaze, but ran and
hid themselves as speedily as they could. You will think, perhaps,
that they were afraid of being stung by the serpents that served the
Gorgons instead of hair--or of having their heads bitten off by their
ugly tusks--or of being torn all to pieces by their brazen claws.
Well, to be sure, these were some of the dangers, but by no means the
greatest nor the most difficult to avoid. For the worst thing about
these abominable Gorgons was that if once a poor mortal fixed his eyes
full upon one of their faces, he was certain that very instant to be
changed from warm flesh and blood into cold and lifeless stone!
Thus, as you will easily perceive, it was a very dangerous adventure
that the wicked King Polydectes had contrived for this innocent young
man. Perseus himself, when he had thought over the matter, could not
help seeing that he had very little chance of coming safely through
it, and that he was far more likely to become a stone image than to
bring back the head of Medusa with the snaky locks. For, not to speak
of other difficulties, there was one which it would have puzzled an
older man than Perseus to get over. Not only must he fight with and
slay this golden-winged, iron-scaled, long-tusked, brazen-clawed,
snaky-haired monster, but he must do it with his eyes shut, or, at
least, without so much as a glance at the enemy with whom he was
contending. Else, while his arm was lifted to strike, he would stiffen
into stone and stand with that uplifted arm for centuries, until time
and the wind and weather should crumble him quite away. This would be
a very sad thing to befall a young man who wanted to perform a great
many brave deeds and to enjoy a great deal of happiness in this bright
and beautiful world.
So disconsolate did these thoughts make him that Perseus could not
bear to tell his mother what he had undertaken to do. He therefore
took his shield, girded on his sword and crossed over from the island
to the mainland, where he sat down in a solitary place and hardly
refrained from shedding tears.
But while he was in this sorrowful mood, he heard a voice close beside
"Perseus," said the voice, "why are you sad?"
He lifted his head from his hands, in which he had hidden it, and
behold! all alone as Perseus had supposed himself to be, there was a
stranger in the solitary place. It was a brisk, intelligent and
remarkably shrewd-looking young man, with a cloak over his shoulders,
an odd sort of cap on his head, a strangely twisted staff in his hand
and a short and very crooked sword hanging by his side. He was
exceedingly light and active in his figure, like a person much
accustomed to gymnastic exercises and well able to leap or run. Above
all, the stranger had such a cheerful, knowing and helpful aspect
(though it was certainly a little mischievous, into the bargain) that
Perseus could not help feeling his spirits grow livelier as he gazed
at him. Besides, being really a courageous youth, he felt greatly
ashamed that anybody should have found him with tears in his eyes like
a timid little schoolboy, when, after all, there might be no occasion
for despair. So Perseus wiped his eyes and answered the stranger
pretty briskly, putting on as brave a look as he could.
"I am not so very sad," said he, "only thoughtful about an adventure
that I have undertaken."
"Oho!" answered the stranger. "Well, tell me all about it and
possibly I may be of service to you. I have helped a good many young
men through adventures that looked difficult enough beforehand.
Perhaps you may have heard of me. I have more names than one, but the
name of Quicksilver suits me as well as any other. Tell me what the
trouble is and we will talk the matter over and see what can be done."
The stranger's words and manner put Perseus into quite a different
mood from his former one. He resolved to tell Quicksilver all his
difficulties, since he could not easily be worse off than he already
was, and, very possibly, his new friend might give him some advice
that would turn out well in the end. So he let the stranger know in
few words precisely what was the case--how the King Polydectes wanted
the head of Medusa with the snaky locks as a bridal gift for the
beautiful Princess Hippodamia and how that he had undertaken to get it
for him, but was afraid of being turned into stone.
"And that would be a great pity," said Quicksilver, with his
mischievous smile. "You would make a very handsome marble statue, it
is true, and it would be a considerable number of centuries before you
crumbled away; but, on the whole, one would rather be a young man for
a few years than a stone image for a great many."
"Oh, far rather!" exclaimed Perseus, with the tears again standing in
his eyes. "And, besides, what would my dear mother do if her beloved
son were turned into a stone?"
"Well, well, let us hope that the affair will not turn out so very
badly," replied Quicksilver in an encouraging tone. "I am the very
person to help you, if anybody can. My sister and myself will do our
utmost to bring you safe through the adventure, ugly as it now looks."
"Your sister?" repeated Perseus.
"Yes, my sister," said the stranger. "She is very wise, I promise
you; and as for myself, I generally have all my wits about me, such as
they are. If you show yourself bold and cautious, and follow our
advice, you need not fear being a stone image yet awhile. But, first
of all, you must polish your shield till you can see your face in it
as distinctly as in a mirror."
This seemed to Perseus rather an odd beginning of the adventure, for
he thought it of far more consequence that the shield should be strong
enough to defend him from the Gorgon's brazen claws than that it
should be bright enough to show him the reflection of his face.
However, concluding that Quicksilver knew better than himself, he
immediately set to work and scrubbed the shield with so much diligence
and good will that it very quickly shone like the moon at harvest
time. Quicksilver looked at it with a smile and nodded his
approbation. Then taking off his own short and crooked sword, he
girded it about Perseus, instead of the one which he had before worn.
"No sword but mine will answer your purpose," observed he; "the blade
has a most excellent temper and will cut through iron and brass as
easily as through the slenderest twig. And now we will set out. The
next thing is to find the Three Gray Women, who will tell us where to
find the Nymphs."
"The Three Gray Women!" cried Perseus, to whom this seemed only a new
difficulty in the path of his adventure. "Pray, who may the Three Gray
Women be? I never heard of them before."
"They are three very strange old ladies," said Quicksilver, laughing.
"They have but one eye among them, and only one tooth. Moreover, you
must find them out by starlight or in the dusk of the evening, for
they never show themselves by the light either of the sun or moon."
"But," said Perseus, "why should I waste my time with these Three
Gray Women? Would it not be better to set out at once in search of the
"No, no," answered his friend. "There are other things to be done
before you can find your way to the Gorgons. There is nothing for it
but to hunt up these old ladies; and when we meet with them, you may
be sure that the Gorgons are not a great way off. Come, let us be
Perseus by this time felt so much confidence in his companion's
sagacity that he made no more objections, and professed himself ready
to begin the adventure immediately. They accordingly set out and
walked at a pretty brisk pace; so brisk, indeed, that Perseus fo