Gaius Valerius Flaccus
c. 90 CE
translated by H. G. Blomfield (1916)
The Roman writer Gaius Valerius Flaccus (d. c. 90 CE) composed what would have been Antiquity's longest and most thorough poem on Jason's journey, had he lived to complete his twelve-book Argonautica. Valerius completed five books and part of a sixth, drawing on Apollonius and a plethora of ancient sources, many of which are now lost or known only by fragments. There is no accurate and complete public domain English translation of Valerius' work, though in 1526 Nicholas Whyte produced a somewhat faulty verse adaptation of the entire epic. A translation of Book I was published in 1916 and is reproduced below. The 1928 Loeb Classical Library translation can be found in full at the Theoi Greek Mythology site, here.
I sing the first crossing of the sea by the mighty sons of the gods, and the prophetic bark which dared to go in quest of the banks of Scythian Phasis and to burst its way through the midst of the Clashing Rocks, and at length found a resting-place in the starry firmament. Give me thine aid, Phoebus; if mine house is pure, wherein stands the tripod that shares the dark secrets of the Cymaean prophetess; if the green bay-leaf that I wear encircles a worthy brow. And thou, holy Father, to whom belongs the fame of having opened up the ocean yet more widely when thou didst spread thy sails on the North Sea, which hitherto had laughed to scorn the sons of Phrygian lulus,—deliver me from the people, and uplift me o'er the murky fogs of earth; and look kindly on one who sings the thrice-famous deeds that were wrought in ancient days.Thine offspring shall unfold (for well he can) thy conquest of the Jews, and how his brother was blackened with the dust of Jerusalem, as he spread fire and slaughter, and raged furiously o'er every battlement. That brother shall cause thee to be worshipped as a god, and shall found a temple for thee and thy posterity, when thou his father art already shining from every part of heaven. And truly the Little Bear shall not be a surer guide than thee for the ships of Tyre, nor will it behove the Grecian pilots to watch the Great Bear more closely than thy star; nay thou shalt give them signs, and1 under thy guidance shall Greece and Sidon and the Nile send forth their ships. Now, I beseech thee, favourably aid mine undertaking, that my words may go out unto all lands wheresoever the Latin tongue is spoken.
Egypt, and Phoenicia will now give up watching the Great and Little Bears, and will henceforth take this wondrous 'sign' for their guide in all their voyages o'er the deep. Pelias had governed Thessaly from his earliest youth with a rod of iron, and was now well-stricken in years, and had long been feared by his subjects. His were all the streams that flow into the Ionian Sea; wealthy he was, and his servants ploughed the slopes of Othrys and Haemus and the fertile plains below Olympus. But his mind had no rest through fear of his brother's son, and the boding oracles of the gods; for the prophets prophesied that he would destroy the king, and victims on the altars gave the same dread warnings. Above all the mighty renown of the warrior himself weighs on his mind, and his valour, a thing no tyrant loves. Wherefore he strives to anticipate his fears by killing the young man, even the son of Aeson, and seeks means and an opportunity to slay him. But he can find no wars, no monster to be slain throughout the land of Greece: ere this Alcides had covered his temples with the gaping jaws of the lion of Cleone; long since had the men of Arcady been ridded of the Water-snake of Lerna; long since had the horns of both bulls been broken. So he bethinks him of the angry sea, and remembers the perils of the vasty deep. With peaceful look, no frown upon his brow, he approaches the youth, and by his serious air adds weight to words that come from feigned lips: 'Grant me this service, more noble than the deeds of olden time," and give thyself up to it, heart and soul. Thou hast heard how Phrixus, sprung from the blood of our kinsman Cretheus, escaped the altar whereon his father was about to sacrifice him. But alas! cruel Aeetes, who dwells in Scythia by frozen Phasis, shaming his mighty sire the Sun-god, slaughtered him whilst the hospitable wine-bowl circulated, amid the inviolable rites of the banquet, while the guests looked on in horror—unmindful of me and of the gods. Nor is it only rumour that tells the news. I myself, what time late sleep binds my tired limbs, have seen the youth in his own person groaning bitterly; his mangled shade dispels my slumbers with its incessant complaints, and Helle, now a deity of the mighty deep, gives me no rest. Had I the strength I once possessed, e'en now shouldst thou behold the punishment of Colchis, and see the head and arms of its king brought back in triumph. Alas! long since, with advancing years, has the keen edge of my youthful ardour been blunted; nor is mine own son yet ripe for empire or war or exploits o'er the seas. But thou, glorious youth, in whom already there is a strong ambition and a manly spirit, go and restore to the walls of a Grecian temple the fleece of the ram sent down by Nephele, and deem thyself worthy of such a perilous task.' In this strain he encourages the young man, and then holds his peace, as one who commands rather than exhorts; saying naught of the Black Rocks that clash on the Scythian main, naught of the grim Dragon that guards the fleece; whom, as it darted forth its forky tongues, the king's daughter was wont to entice from its secret abode by spells and offered food, and to give it honey already livid with the poison of the day before.
Soon was the secret guile revealed; and the young man sees that it is not the fleece that Pelias seeks, but that the jealous hatred of the king is driving him to attempt the mighty deep. By what means soever could he hope to find the Colchians whom he was thus bidden to seek out? In such a pass well might he wish for the winged sandals of flying Perseus, or the dragon-drawn car driven, so the story runs, by him who first taught how to plough the earth that till then knew naught of the gifts of Ceres, and gave to men the golden ears of corn in exchange for the acorn whose death-sentence he pronounced. Alas! what should he do? Should he summon to his aid a people ever ready for change, and hostile to the aged tyrant, and the elders who had longpitied the lot of Aeson? or should he rather steel his heart to endure all things, relying on the friendly help of Juno and of Pallas of the clashing armour, and undertake the voyage as bidden? Fame, thou alone dost set his mind and all his martial spirit aglow, to think what glory may arise from such a mighty feat as the taming of the ocean! Thee in his mind's eye he sees standing on the banks of Phasis, thy laurels undimmed by any touch of eld, beckoning a young man on to deeds of derring-do. At length Faith confirms his wavering mind and gives confidence to his troubled breast; and lifting his hands in prayer to heaven, he thus makes supplication: 'Almighty Queen, whom, when Jove hurled his dusky storm-clouds athwart the darkling sky, I myself bore safely to dry land across the Enipeus, high in flood with the deluge that was falling, nor could believe thee to be a goddess till I heard thy angry spouse recall thee in a voice of thunder, and saw thee, at his nod, borne away before my startled gaze,—deliver Scythia and Phasis into mine hands; and thou, virgin Pallas, save and deliver me from all perils: so shall I make an oblation of the fleece at your temples, and my father also shall offer fat bullocks with their gilded horns as a burnt-offering, and around your altars there shall be abundance of snow- white sheep.'
The goddesses hearkened unto his prayer, and glided swiftly down from on high, each on her different quest. Tritonia quickly wings her downward flight to the walled town of Thespiae, and seeks out her beloved Argus.8 Him she bids hew down tall trees and build a mighty vessel; and already she is accompanying him to the shady woods of Pelion. Meanwhile Juno spreads abroad the news throughout the cities of Greece and Macedon that the son of Aeson is about to breast the ocean-winds that daunted his forefathers; and that the Ship is already straining at her hawsers in full pride of oarage, and is only awaiting a crew whom she may bring back to reap the eternal glory of their achievements.
The whole host of chieftains is eager to go forth— both the renowned warriors whose valour has ere this been tried and proved, and those brave spirits in the first flower of their youth, who are enthralled with the undertaking, and by the chance of winning glory, now offered them for the first time. But to them that are occupied in tillage and the peaceful work of the plough, the woodland gods and goddesses amid their woodland haunts and in the country lanes, and horned river-gods uprising from their streams, at Juno's bidding clearlymanifest themselves, and roam the country-side, and loudly chant the praises of the vessel.
Straightway of his own accord the Tirynthian hastens up from Inachian Argos; whose arrows, imbued with fiery poison of Arcadia, and pliant bow the boy Hylas lightly bears on his rejoicing shoulders, and no would fain carry his club also, but that his hand is not yet able to support so great a burden. Against these twain the daughter of Saturn, mad with rage, relentlessly inveighs, and thus renews her time-honoured complaint:--
'Would that not all the flower of Grecian manhood were rushing headlong into a future all unknown! Would that this were a new Labour imposed by my Eurystheus! Straightway would I have sent storm and tempest, and roused my brother with his dread trident, and hurled my consort's flaming bolt, even against his will. E'en as it is I cannot brook that he should share in, or be the mainstay of, the vessel, nor were it right for me ever to put my trust in the help of Hercules, or owe so great a debt to such a haughty comrade.'
So saying, the goddess swiftly turned her gaze to the Thessalian shore below. Here she descries a busy scene, all stir and bustle, while on all sides she sees a veritable moving wood, and hears the shores resounding with the noise of the well-wielded axe; already she beholds the man of Thespiae sawing through pine-trees with his trenchant blade; already the ship's sides are being joined, already before her eyes the yielding timbers are being bent and seasoned by the softening influence of fire; the oars are ready, the mast is fixed, and Pallas herself is seen choosing the yard-arms for the sails at the mast-head. When the mighty hulk stood ready and sea-proof against her long voyage, and when any hidden chinks in the planking had been smeared over with a layer of pitch and wax, then did the shipwright crown and adorn his work with the added grace of sculptured designs. Here, on one side of the ship, Thetis is seen riding on the back of the Tuscan fish to her unlooked-for nuptials with Peleus; swiftly the dolphin cleaves the waves, but she sits with her veil pulled down over her eyes, and sighs to think that Achilles may not be born to eclipse Jove. Her sisters Panope and Doto accompany her, and Galatea, that had been basking bare-armed between the breakers, joins the escort as it makes for the cave, nor listens to the shouts of the Cyclops standing on the Sicilian shore, calling her to come back. On the reverse side the marriage-feast itself is painted— the sacred fire, the couches of fresh leaves, the flowing foowl, the son of Aeacus seated with his bride among the deities of the deep, and Chiron twanging his lyre after the wine-cup had begun to circulate. On the other side of the ship Mount Pholoe is represented, and Rhoetus mad with much wine, and the sudden battle that arose o'er the Maid of Thessaly; winebowls and tables and altars of the gods are flying and golden goblets of rare old workmanship; here stands Peleus, spearman renowned, and here is seen the well-known form of Aeson, furiously brandishing his sword. The bulky Monychus carries victorious Nestor on his unwilling back; Clanis transfixes Actor with a blazing oak-brand; Nessus is in full flight upon his coal-black steed; and in the midst of all Hippasus, prone upon the table, has buried his head in his empty goblet.
All marvelled at the wondrous scenes; but the son of Aeson was right sore amazed, and thus began to say within himself: 'Alas for the woes of our children and our parents! Is it in this frail bark that we simple souls must go forth to face the winds and waves? And shall the sea now expend its fury on Aeson's son alone? Shall I not tear away the young Acastus to share the same fortunes and perils as ourselves? So shall Pelias pray for a safe voyage for the hated vessel, and make like supplication with our mothers to the deities of the deep.'
While thus he pondered, from the left Jove's armourbearer swooped down from heaven, and seizing a lamb bore it aloft in its strong talons. Straightway from the far steadings the shepherds give chase, shouting and breathless, their barking sheep-dogs with them; but swiftly the robber soars aloft, and flies away o'er the mighty Aegean deep. The son of Aeson accepts the omen, and greatly pleased makes for the palace of proud Pelias. Then did the king's son run forth to meet him of his own accord, and fell on his neck in a brotherly embrace. To him thus spake the leader of the host: 'I have not come, Acastus, to make craven lamentations, as thou thinkest; nay, rather am I minded to make thee a sharer in our enterprise: for neither Telamon, nor Canthus, nor Idas, nor the son of Tyndareus," are in my eyes more worthy than thou to win the Golden Fleece. What numerous lands, what various climes is it granted to us to see and know! to what great uses shall we open up the ocean! Now peradventure thou thinkest that our task is difficult and dangerous; but when the ship returns anon rejoicing, and restores me to my beloved Iolcos, alas! what shame wilt thou feel then to hear of our labours! what sighs wilt thou heave when I tell thee of all the peoples we have visited!' Then thus the prince broke in, nor suffered him to say more: 'Enough and more than enough hast thou said to one who is ready to go whithersoever thou callest him; nor deem me backward, best of men, or think that I would rather put my trust in my father's kingdom than in thee; if thou wilt but let me win my spurs under thy leadership, and allow me to share a kinsman's fame. Nay more, lest any over-anxious fears of my father should prevent my going, swiftly and secretly, when all is ready, will I come to the place without his knowledge, at the very moment when the ship is about to cast off from her moorings on the sandy shore.' Gladly the other listened to his brave words and to the promise that he gave so willingly; and then turned his eager footsteps towards the shore.
And now at the command and bidding of their leader the Minyans in a body raise the ship upon their shoulders, and straining each muscle of their knees, and with heads bent forward, bear it down to the shore at a run, and launch it on the deep, panting and breathless, but with no lack of hoarse sailors' cries, while Orpheus fails not to cheer them with his soothing lyre. Then joyfully they build altars on the shore, doing chiefest honour to thee, ruler of the sea; to thee and to the west winds and to Glaucus they offer an ox adorned with azure fillets, and to Thetis an heifer: Ancaeus strikes them down, than whom none can cleave the victim's stubborn neck with surer blow of his deathdealing axe. Thrice did the chief himself pour a libation from the beaker to the Father of the Sea, and thus he spake, even the son of Aeson: 'O thou that with thy nod canst stir thy watery realms into foaming billows, and dost with thy briny ocean encircle the whole earth, have mercy on thy servant; well know I that I alone among the nations am essaying a forbidden path, and that storm and tempest should be my portion to drink: but 'tis no self-imposed journey I am undertaking, nor do I now aspire to pile mountain upon mountain, or call forth the levin-bolt from highest heaven. Let not the prayers of Pelias influence thee; a grievous task and hard hath he devised for me, designing my destruction and my comrades' by the hand of the Colchians. Him will I settle with hereafter: do thou, I pray, calm down thine angry waves, and graciously receive thy servant, and a barque whose decks are trod by kings' sons.' With these words he heaped a rich libation on the burntoffering.
As the fire, close-pent and struggling for egress amid the inward parts, at length shot forth a jet of flame, and began slowly to creep up the crackling entrails of the bull, lo! the holy man inspired of God, even Mopsus, terrible to behold, drew nigh along the shore, whirling his laurel garland above his head, his streamers flying in the wind. And now at length the seer opened his mouth in prophecy, and, when all had held their peace to listen, uttered words of dreadful import to his hearers: 'Alas, what terrible things I see! Lo! Neptune, now angry at our boldness, summons a mighty council of sea-gods; indignantly they murmur, one and all, and exhort him to maintain his rights. E'en so, cling to thy brother's breast, e'en so embrace him, Juno: and oh, Pallas, do not thou desert our ship; now, even now, turn aside the wrath of thine uncle. . . . They have yielded to our prayers, and have received the vessel on the sea. . . . Through what sundry and manifold dangers am I whirled along! Why doth the fair Hylas all on a sudden garland his brow with reeds? Why doth he bear an urn upon his shoulders, and whence those azure robes upon his snow-white limbs? Whence come these wounds of thine, Pollux? See what mighty flames come surging forth from the nostrils of the bulls! First helms, then spears, and now too, look! the broad shoulders of armed warriors, start suddenly up from every furrow. What fierce battle is this that I see raging o'er the fleece? What stranger maid is this8 who cleaves the air with winged dragons, dripping with blood ? Whom is she slaying with the sword? Ah, hapless son of Aeson, save thy little ones. Behold! I see the bridal chamber in a blaze.'
Already ere this the seer had terrified the Minyae and their leader by his dark forebodings; but now as if in answer arises Idmon, son of Phoebus, prophet inspired, not terrible to all beholders by his pale countenance and dishevelled locks, but filled with thecalm and placid spirit of that divine father who gave him the power to foreknow by signs the omens of the gods, whether by questioning the fire upon the altar, or by touching the slimy entrails, or by watching for sure signs from the flight of birds across the sky: and thus doth he prophesy to Mopsus and his companions: ''Tis true, I see our cup is full to over flowing with toil and hardship, but 'tis toil and hardship o'er which our crew shall by patience triumph in the end, yea, o'er every toil and every hardship: thus much Apollo himself, the god of augury, hath told me, and thus I interpret the ultimate emergement of the flame. Be strong therefore, and of a good courage; so shall ye return anon to the arms of your beloved parents.' While yet he spake these words of prophecy, the tears fell from his eyes, for in the flames e'en now he saw it writ that he should ne'er behold his native Argos again.
Scarce had he said these words when the chieftain, even the son of Aeson, added this exhortation thereto: 'Ye hear the message of the gods, my comrades, how that it bodes right well for our emprise; wherefore now do ye also be strong and of a good courage, proving yourselves worthy sons of your sires. 'Tis not the Thessalian tyrant's feigned desire to avenge his kinsman's blood, nor the crafty wiliness that he hath imagined against me, that I deem blameworthy in this matter; these are the commandments of God himself, which he hath graciously commanded us to perform by signs and wonders: 'tis the will of Jove himself that we should open up the broad pathways of trade and traffic by mutual interchange of human labour throughout a world whose welfare is his dearest object. Come, warriors, with me, and in all dangers and difficulties display a spirit that ye may be proud to call to mind in after years, and such as may incite our childrens' children to emulate our deeds. But now, my comrades, let us wile away this coming night with sweet converse on the tidal brink, and let us also be merry and joyful.' The young men hearkened unto his word, and stretched themselves upon the sands, pillowing their heads upon the sea-weed; conspicuous among them are seen the burly form and brawny arms of the Tirynthian. Straight way the servants snatched the flesh from off the spits, and placed the bread and meat within the baskets.
And now, hastening down shorewards from the crest of Pelion, came Chiron, and, while yet afar off, shewed to his father the young Achilles, shouting for joy. When the boy saw Peleus start at the well-known voice and stretch out his arms towards him to their fullest reach, he ran forward and fell upon his father's neck, clinging long and lovingly to him. Scant heed he paid to the goblets foaming with the wine of strength, nor recked he of the wondrous figures carved in relief upon the metal of these rare antiques; he has eyes for naught but the warrior chiefs, and on their lips he hangs as they recount with pride their mighty deeds, nor fears he to look upon the lion's skin of Hercules, but peers closely thereat. As for Peleus, in gladness of heart he folds the boy in his arms and fondly kisses him, and looking up to heaven utters these words: 'Ye gods, if 'tis your will that Peleus should pray for a calm and peaceful voyage, and ask for favouring breezes, then, I pray, watch over and protect my boy. Chiron, I leave the rest to thee; while still a lad, let him lithe and listen with wonder to thy tales of wars and the blare of bugles, and under thy guidance let him, through his childhood's days, carry abroad the weapons of the chase; and so make haste to gain the strength needed to wield his father's spear.' Straightway all are fired with fresh and greater zeal, and whole-heartedly desire to voyage o'er the deep. In their mind's eye they see the promised fleece of Phrixus, and Argo returning triumphant' with gilded figure-heads.
Meanwhile the sun is setting fast, and soon sinks altogether beneath the waves, and night falls on the rejoicing heroes. Lights are seen dotted here and there along the winding coast, but as yet there are no sailors to observe the land whereof they give warning. And now the Thracian bard beguiles the long hours of night with sweet music from his lyre, singing how Phrixus stood ready with his temples all bound with chaplets for the sacrifice, and how under the covering of a cloud he escaped from that unjust and cruel altar, leaving Athamas to the care of Learchus, the son of Ino; how his golden steed bore the young man o'er the pitying waves, and how Helle sat with hands firmly grasping its horns. Seven journeys Aurora had accomplished o'er the heavens, and seven times the moon had crossed the darkling sky; and the twin towns of Sestos and Abydos, which from afar seem not to be divided by the sea, were now beginning to part asunder into two as they approached. Here Helle, in vain, alas! delivered from her cruel step-mother, left her brother, even the grandson of Aeolus, and a name that shall endure throughout all ages. In sooth the poor girl stretched forth her weary hands and strove to clutch the sodden fleece, but the heavy weight of water dragged down her thirsty garments, and her hands slid off the slippery gold. O then what grief was thine, Phrixus, when, swept away thyself upon the racing tide, thou lookedst back and sawest the hapless maiden's lips crying for help, her disappearing hands, and at last naught but her hair floating on the waves!
And now the warriors cease their drinking and merriment, and lay themselves down to rest on their couches—all but their leader; he alone stays awake amid those silent and recumbent ranks, and neither slumbers nor sleeps. On him aged Aeson, and Alcimede, sleepless like himself, gaze fondly, and clasp him in a close embrace, their eyes filled with tears. Them Jason addresses with words of comfort and of peace, and soothes their troubled breasts. When at length he also closed his tired eyes in a deep sleep, the guardian image of the goddess that glittered from the galley's garlanded poop appeared to the prince and seemed to encourage him with these words: 'In me thou seest Dodona's oak, the handmaiden of Chaonian Jove: with thee am I entering upon the high seas, nor could the daughter of Saturn have torn me from the prophetic grove unless she had first promised me a place in heaven. The hour is at hand, come, tarry no longer; and though we sail o'er every sea, and though the fickle sky brings storm and darkness, yet lay aside thy fears e'en now, and put thy trust in Heaven and in me.' So spake the image; but Jason sprang from his couch in terror, despite the favourable omen sent from Heaven. At the same time the kindly goddess of the dawn, softly tinging the rippling waves so that they shimmered with the rays of the rising sun, revealed to his gaze the host of Minyae. Some hurry to the thwarts, some loosen the yard-arms of the mighty mast; others make trial of their oars, just dipping them below the surface; and Argus hauls in the anchor-rope from the lofty prow.
And now the wailing of mothers grows loud, and even the stout hearts of fathers fail them, as with tears they cling to their sons in a long embrace. But the voice of Alcimede sounds shrill above all other lamentations; her frenzied plaint o'erwhelms the other women's shrieks, e'en as the martial trump drowns the flute of Ida. And thus she speaks: 'My son, that art destined to suffer hardships undeserved, 'tis fated we must part; nor was I allowed to prepare myself beforehand for such a calamity as this; nay, war I feared for thee, but 'twas war on land. Now must I make my supplication to other gods: if it is ordained that thou shalt return to me, if haply the sea will listen to the prayers of an anxious mother, then peradventure I might be able to endure a lingering life of fear and doubt: but if a different fate is in store for me, then, Death,—light to bear while feared and not yet grieved for,—do thou have pity on them that are parents. Ah me! how could I have been afraid of the Colchians and the fleece of the ram that bore off Phrixus? What days of bitter anguish do I see before me now, what anxious sleepless nights! How often will my heart grow faint at the noise of the hoarse breakers on the shore, as I think with terror on the sea and clime of Scythia! how often shall I believe that they are adverse to thee, though at home the skies be bright and the weather fair! Prithee, let me take thee in mine arms, and say to me some farewell words that will ever ring in mine ears, and e'en now, while thou canst, close mine eyelids with thy dear hand.' So grieved Alcimede; but Aeson, braver than she, spake thus, his courage rising with his words: 'O that I had now the full-blooded strength I once possessed, when, as he aimed a carved wine-bowl at mine head, this hand of mine laid Pholus low with a golden goblet no less massy! Then should I have been the first to lay mine armour upon the brazen poop, and right gladly would I have plied mine oar, and helped to urge the galley forward. But now have a father's prayers prevailed, and the mighty gods have listened to his supplication. Lo! I behold a host of kings' sons upon our sea, and thee their leader; 'twas such heroes as these that I was wont to follow, and to lead. It remains now but to await that day, that glorious day, on which, please God, I shall welcome thee back victorious o'er the sea and king of Scythia, the captured fleece glittering on thy shoulders; so shall my deeds of old yield to thy youthful prowess.' So spake he; but as he ceased, the mother fell fainting on her son's bosom, and the aged father put his arms about the young man's stalwart neck.
And now 'twas time to start, and the trumpet's triple blast gave the dread signal that put an end to the embraces that were delaying the ship, now favoured by the breeze. Each man has his own appointed place at oars and thwarts. Here on the larboard side sits Telamon at stroke, while opposite to him Alcides, taller even than he, holds the like berth upon the other side. The rest of the host are thus distributed, sitting either on the one side or on the other. First comes Asterion,4 swift of foot, whom his sire Cometes had nurtured from his mother's womb anigh Piresiae's town, hard by the junction of two streams, even there where sluggish Enipeus feels the force of rushing Apidanus. Next to him labours Talaus, and close behind, so as almost to touch his brother's back, Leodocus plies his oar; these twain did noble Argos contribute. From Argos also came Idmon, although the auspices forbade his going; but 'tis base for a man to fear the future. Here, too, the son of Naubolus churns up the waves as he comes forward for the stroke, even Iphitus; here the son of Neptune cleaves his father's waters, he that is lord of wave-washed Psamathe and Taenarus with its gaping cavern, Euphemus hight; while from the gently sloping shores of Pella came Deucalion, sure marksman with the javelin, and Amphion, a right noble swordsman in the fight—twin sons of Hypso these, and so alike in face that e'en their mother could scarce tell the one from the other, nor would not, if she could. Then comes Clytius, plying a lusty oar, e'en to his breast, while next to him his brother Iphitus pulls a lengthy stroke. Beyond sits Nauplius, destined soon to bring the Greeks on to thy rocky promontory, Caphareus, by the avenging beacon that he kindled; and Oileus, fated to bewail the bolt that, hurled by another hand than Jove's, sped hissing at his son o'er the Euboean sea; and Eurytion with his unshorn locks covering his neck, locks which his father had vowed to cut and offer on the altars of Aonia when his son returned; and he who gave shelter to the son of Amphitryon in his dwelling at Tegea as he sweated under the weight of the wild boar of Erymahthus, even Cepheus, and with him Amphidamas; but their elder brother was fain rather to let the fleece of Phrixus fall to the share of his son Ancaeus. Thee also, Nestor, the fame of the Thessalian ship brings in haste to the deep, thee who wilt one day marvel not to behold the sea gleaming with the sails of Mycenae's host, and wilt view unmoved the myriad captains of that vast array. Nor was Peleus absent from the muster, for in his goddess-wife and her parents had he put his trust; yea, thy lance, thou son of Aeacus, shines resplendent from the lofty prow, that lance that is longer than all other spears, e'en as the ash-tree from which it came topped all others on Mount Pelion. The seed of Actor also is there, leaving his son in the cave of Chiron, that there, together with Achilles, his dear playmate, he may study how to sweep the ten-stringed lyre, and with him may hurl the light hunting-spear, and may learn to mount and ride on the back of his willing master. Last came the seer in whom his father Phoebus4 trusted not in vain, even Mopsus, lawn-robed, the skirts of whose clothing fell in folds about his crimson buskins and reached even unto his ankles, and whose brow was encircled by a wreathcrowned helm, from the topmost crest of which waved a laurel-leaf from beside Peneus.
Hercules rows stroke upon the other side, and next to him comes Tydeus, half rising from his seat, and then Periclymenus, son of Neleus, whom small Methone, and Elis of the swift steeds, and the sea-girt promontory of Aulon, had oftentimes seen bruising his adversary's face with his cruel gauntlets. Thou also, son of Poeas, destined twice to behold the shores of Lemnos, dost with thine oar seek out the Colchians that did murder Phrixus; now renowned as a wielder of thy father's lance, but destined later to set in motion the poisoned arrows of Hercules. Next behind him came Butes, from the coasts of Attica, a man of substance; for in his hives he kept unnumbered bees, and with their swarming cloud did darken all the day, as he proudly oped their nectar-laden * cells, and sent the king-bees to their loved Hymettus. Thou followest after him, Phalerus, carrying thy shield that sheweth forth thine own past history; how that, when thou wast a babe, a serpent gliding down swiftly from a hollow tree did thrice and four times enwrap thee in its glittering coils, while afar off stands thy father in sore anxiety, doubtfully fingering his bow. Then comes Eribotes, whose targe is embossed with like scenes of horror; and he who rumour rightly says is the son of Lyaeus, even Phlei'as, his unshorn locks falling o'er his shoulders like his sire's. Nor doth his mother fear to entrust Ancaeus to the deep, for verily it was the Sea-king that had caused her to conceive and bear him. With no less confidence Erginus, son of Neptune, puts to sea; Erginus, who knoweth of old the treacherous deep, and knoweth the number of the stars on a clear night, and which of the winds Aeolus is minded to let forth from their prison-cave: insomuch that Tiphys, when his eyes are weary of gazing constantly upon the Bear, is not afraid to commit into his charge the steerage of the vessel and the observation of the heavens. The Laconian brings his gauntlets of tough bull's-hide, studded with murderous knobs of lead, so that, in default of worthier game, he may at least fling his arms abroad and beat the empty air, and the ship of Pagasae may witness the spectacle of Oebalia's famous son exhibiting his prowess to an admiring crowd in harmless sport upon the shore. With him is Castor, skilled rather to curb the steeds of Thessaly with bit and bridle, who, when he set out in quest of the fleece on which the timorous Helle rode, left Cyllarus to batten on the rich pastures of Amyclae. Both of these twain were clad in soft raiment, even in purple and fine linen, and their clothing was of wrought gold; yea, on each twin a gorgeous, garment shimmered, shot with the purple dye of Taenarus, the which their mother had wrought upon the weft with wondrous workmanship: on either fabric had she embroidered a picture of tall Taygetus and its waving woods, and on each had she inwoven a view of Eurotas' gently-flowing stream. Each brother was depicted astride his snow-white charger in raiment of needlework, and both bear upon their breastplates the likeness of a swan in act to fly, the emblem of their Father. Yet thou, Meleager, hast already undone the clasp that gathered up the folds of thy robe, displaying thus thy broad shoulders and thy proud expanse of chest, that vieth with the brawny arms of Hercules. Next comes a stout trio, offspring of Cyllenius,—Aethalides, who with unerring aim suddenly shooteth a swift arrow from his twanging bow-string; thou, Eurytus, who with thy sword canst carve thy way right well betwixt the hostile ranks; and Echion, the honoured spokesman of the Minyae, who, like his sire, announced unto the heathen the message of the prince. Thou too, Iphis, art there; but thy stalwart arms, alas! shall never help to speed the returning Argo, which shall with sorrow leave thee behind upon the sands of Scythia, mourning thine oar lying idle in thine empty place. Thou also, Admetus, comest from the plains of Pherae, blessed by their mighty shepherd; for 'twas in thy fields that Delian Apollo paid the penalty for having slain Steropes with a bitter arrow. Alack! how often did his sister weep to meet the servant-god among her sylvan haunts, what time he cooled himself beneath the oak-trees of Mount Ossa, or fouled his hapless locks amid the muddy waters of Boebeis! The next oarsman, who, seated upright upon his bench, ploughs up the main, is Canthus, whom a barbarian spear shall cause to lick the dust before the walls of Aea: but in the meantime by his side there lies his famous shield, that noble orb borne by his father Abas; athwart whose golden surface the waves of swift Euripus flow, leaving the sandy shores of Chalcis in their wake, while in the midst Neptune from his lofty chariot curbs with a mighty hand his monsters of the deep, whose wolfish heads rise from the waves by oyster-bearing Geraestus. Thou too, Polyphemus, shalt return upon the barque of Pallas, but 'tis thy fate to arrive but just in time to catch sight of thy sire's remains upon the blazing pyre outside the city walls, thy servants having long put off the task of filial duty and affection, in case thou mightest come. Last of all, upon the furthest bench, hath Idas his seat, from which he reacheth the azure deep with shorter stroke than the other oarsmen. But his brother Lynceus, whom Arene bore, is reserved for higher work; Lynceus, whose eagle eye could pierce beyond the grave, and with far-reaching gaze snatch glimpses of the Unseen World. He sheweth land unto the steersman out of the midst of the waves, and stars by which to guide the boat; and when Jove hath darkened all the heavens with clouds, Lynceus alone can bring the vessel through the misty haze. Yea, and the sons also of Orithyia, of the line of Cecrops, even Zetes and his brother, handle not the oar; theirs is the care of the swaying yard-arms and the rigging thereof. Neither again is Thracian Orpheus set to labour at the thwarts, nor is he counted among the rowers; nay, 'tis his to teach the oars to move in time, so that they clash not promiscuously upon the surface of the waters. To Iphiclus also the son of Aeson gives immunity from toiling at the oar among the young and strong; for he had left his native Phylace well-stricken in years, not now to share the labours of the voyage, but that he might give wise counsel, and inflame the warriors with praises of their mighty forefathers. To thee, Argus, is committed the charge of thine own barque, thou that comest from the walled town of Thespiae, cunning in seamanship by the grace of Pallas; 'tis thy appointed task to see that thy craft doth not let in the sea in any secret place, and with a soldering of tar or pitch to caulk the cracks and fissures made by the waves. Tiphys, the ever-watchful, son of Hagnias, rivets his gaze upon the constellation of Arcadia; Tiphys the blest, who first revealed the uses of those slow-moving stars, and taught mankind to steer a course upon the ocean by the guidance of the heavens.
Lo now! the eager chieftain, exulting in the crafty wiliness that he had imagined, perceives the young Acastus running swiftly down a short cut o'er the sloping cliffs, armed to the teeth, and resplendent with the sheen of shield, and buckler. No sooner had he leapt aboard the boat amid the armed throng', than the son of Aeson cleft the stern-cable with his eager blade; like as when the huntsman, clutching to his breast the young tiger-cubs that he has snatched away with mingled fear and cunning, flees headlong from their woodland lair which he has just despoiled, and urges on his steed, now fearing for his master, while their fierce mother, leaving her whelps behind, ranges o'er rugged Amanus in search of prey.
And now each blade is dipped in unison, and forward leaps the ship, leaving the sorrowing- mothers still standing on the shore, and following with eager gaze the white sails and the glint of the sunlight on each warrior's shield; till e'en the mast is sunk beneath the waves, and fading from their view the vessel vanishes beyond the limidess horizon. Then did the heart of father Jove rejoice, as he looked down from the starry heights on this fair enterprise of the Grecians, and saw them undertake this arduous task, fraught with such mighty issues; for verily he had had no pleasure in the sloth of his father's reign. And all the company of heaven was glad to see the glorious future that was in store for the children of men, and the Fates also delighted in the new avenues of death that were opening out before them. But the Sun-god rejoiced not with them: sore anxious at the jeopardy of his son in Scythia, the father pours forth this heart-felt plaint: 'Almighty Father, for whom, year in, year out, I day by day unceasingly run my revolving course, is this thy will? Is it with thy consent, nay with thy favour and under thy guidance, that the Grecian barque now traverses the deep? or must I also at length give vent to my just complaint? 'Twas in fear of some such enterprise as this, and lest some envious hand should be stretched forth against my son, that I chose not for him the fair places of the earth, nor to the broad acres of a fertile district far inland; let the children of Troy, and Afric's sons, and the house of Pelops which ye gods protect, possess their goodly heritage: we dwell in a clime held in the iron grip of thy bitter frost, and by ice-bound rivers is our habitation. Even this country should my son have resigned, and ingloriously betaken himself to remoter wilds; but beyond lies an outlandish region of perpetual ice and snow, storm and vapour, whereunto even my rays cannot find an entrance. How can my son, whose dwelling-place is in a barren tract by the banks of barbarous Phasis, prove a stumbling-block to nations far removed, whose land is watered by more fertile streams? What just cause of complaint have these descendants of Minyas? Did my son gain possession of the Grecian fleece by force? Nay, he refused to join forces with exiled Phrixus, nor came he to avenge the uplifted knife of Ino; but kept him as a suitor at his court, and gave him half his kingdom, and his daughter in marriage, and now he beholds grandchildren from a Grecian stock, and calls the Greeks his kinsmen, and thinks of Greece and Scythia as linked by ties of blood. Turn back their ship, father, and turn them from their purpose, nor wound me afresh by giving them a passage o'er the sea; enough for me that the tall trees on the banks of Po bear witness to my former sorrow,—those sisters still weeping at the sight of a father's grief.'
To this prayer the War-god loudly roars his assent, shaking his massy locks; for he sees that the fleece that was hung up as an offering upon his temple-walls is in sore jeopardy. In the opposing camp stand Pallas and the daughter of Saturn," who" sorrowfully utter forth their joint complaint.
Then thus spake Father Jove: 'All these things have been ordained' of old by me, and follow a fixed course of their own, an order unchanged since thebeginning of the world; nor in truth had I any offspring in any land at the time when I was drafting the decrees of Fate, and hence I had no opportunity for favouritism, while I was raising up dynasties upon dynasties throughout the ages. And now will I unfold the set purpose that is in mine heart. That most ancient territory that reacheth from the far-off East even unto Tanai's and down to the waters of the maiden Helle, hath ever of old been in great prosperity, and hath alway abounded in men and in horses; nor hath any armed band e'er dared to rise against it, or had courage enow to make a bid for glory by waging war upon it: thus did Fate, thus did I myself, watch over the land. But now is their last hour quickly approaching, and I must desert the sinking fortunes of Asia; for already is Greece demanding of me the fulfilment of her promised time. Thence was it that my oak-groves, and the tripod of Apollo, and the shades of their ancestors, did launch this host upon the ocean, across whose waves a path hath been made through storm and tempest for thy pleasure, O Goddess of War. Nor is the fleece the only abiding source of anger; the maiden's6 rape that is to be shall furnish a more immediate cause for indignation. Truly on no other purpose is my mind more firmly set: verily there shall come a shepherd from Phrygian Ida, who shall bring sorrow and strife and mutual wrath—yea these shall be his gifts unto his own people and to the Greeks. Thenceforth what a mighty flotilla of aggrieved swains shall roll forward the tide of war! How many weary winters shall the armada of Mycenae bewail before the walls of Troy! What numerous heaven-descended chiefs shalt thou behold biting the dust in the pride of manly vigour, while Asia yields her to inevitable Fate! Thereafter the Greeks are destined to decline, and other nations will I raise up after them. Let the mountains be removed, and the forests cleared; throw open the lakes, and let all the gates of the ocean be unbarred: and let hope and fear be the guiding principles of mankind. I myself will shift the seat of earthly empire from one nation to another, and so make trial which is worthiest in my sight to enjoy a lasting supremacy over all peoples, and in whose hands I may safely leave the reins of power, when once entrusted.' Then, turning his eyes to the blue waters of the Aegean, he looks towards the burly form of Hercules, and on the offspring of Leda, and thus bespeaks: 'Toil up the heavenward path, ye heroes: I also, long ago, was chosen king o'er all the world by the council of the gods, but not till after the war with fierce Iapetus and Phlegra's hard-fought field.
For you too the road to heaven shall be full of grievous toil and hardships, for so I have ordained: lo! it was thus, e'en thus, that my Liber traversed the whole world ere he came unto his own, and Apollo also sojourned upon earth or ever he returned unto the skies. He spake, and through the void shot forth a meteor, that, leaving a long trail of light in its wake, seemed to set the clouds ablaze, and, as it neared the ship, parted asunder into two tongues of fire, that alighted on the twin brethren, even the sons of Tyndareus; straightway each forky flame played gently o'er their brows, and from the midst thereof harmlessly shed around its shining light, that Sainted fire that, in after times, poor sailors were fain to pray for in their hour of need.
Meantime Boreas1 from the Pangaean heights views with rising wrath the spreading canvas out in mid-ocean; and straightway, in hot haste, directs his flight to the isle of Aeolus, with its sea-caves opening on the Etruscan main. The forests groan and crackle at the whirring wings of the god, the corn-fields are laid low, and the sea grows black beneath his flying feet. Amid the perilous straits of the Sicilian sea there stands a rocky island, over against the retreating promontory of Pelorum; whose jagged face goes sheer down as far beneath the lowest depths as its giant bulk towers aloft above the waves. Close by another island can be seen, whose crags and caverns are stripped for toil. The latter is the home of wind and rain, the abode of storm and tempest; hence they went forth unto all lands, and destruction and shipwreck are about their paths amid the great waters; and from hence they were wont, in olden time, to mingle sea and sky in one wild welter; for of a truth there was then no Aeolus to hold them in check, what time the intruding ocean severed Calpe from the shores of Libya, and Oenotria, to her sorrow, lost her Sicilian appanage, and the waters ran among the hills. Then at last the Almighty thundered from heaven so that the winds quaked, and he gave that unruly crew a king whom he commanded them to obey. Now the East wind is imprisoned in a rocky cave amid the mountains, and iron bars and stone walls of double thickness encage the North-East wind. When he can no longer curb their noisy murmurings, then their king himself of his own accord unbars the portals of their prison, and graciously gives an outlet to the tumult of their wrath. To him6 cometh Boreas, with tidings that cause him to start in amazement from his lofty throne, as thus he speaks: 'Oh Aeolus, what a wicked thing have I espied from the Pangaean heights! These Grecian striplings have imagined a strange device and built a mighty vessel with axes and hammers; and now with bellying sails 6oo make their triumphal march across their new domain, the deep: nor am I free to stir the ocean from its sandy bottom, as I used to be ere I was chained and prisoned in this house of bondage. Hence comes it that these men are confident and put their trust in the vessel they have made, because they see that Boreas hath a master whom he must obey. Grant me permission to o'erwhelm these Grecian madmen and their foolhardy craft beneath the waves: for my children on board I take no thought. Only, I pray thee, thwart these overweening men, while they are still close to the shores of Thessaly, and as yet no other lands have seen their sails.'
So spake he ; and straightway all the winds within clamoured to be let out on to the deep. Then did the son of Hippotas by main force push the ponderous portal of their prison, so that it swung open on its hinges. Forth rush exultant the horses of the North, and after them the North-West wind, and next the South wind with his wings as black as night, his progeny of rain-clouds in his wake; and last of all the East wind, his streamers flying in the breeze, his shaggy locks embrowned with many a storm of dust and sand. With one consent they raised a gale, and with their raging blast drove the curved billows on the shore. Nor did they stir the seaking's realms alone, but in the welkin also the fire was kindled and the heavens dropped and the thunder roared, and the heavy veil of night descended from the leaden sky. The oars were wrested from the rowers' hands;round spun the vessel, and as the prow was turned about, a crashing broadside smote her amidships, and a sudden whirlwind caught up the flying sails above the tottering mast. What terror then seized the hearts of the trembling crew, when gleaming through the inky sky the vivid flames fell athwart the affrighted barque, and the left arm of the sail-yards, now disabled, kept dipping into the yawning trough beneath, and the water ran off it as the ship heeled over to the other side! Poor fools, they knew not that these raging stormy winds were sent by the gods, but thought that the sea was ever thus. Then sadly communed they among themselves: 'So this was why our fathers feared rashly to brave the sacred deep, with profane aid of hawsers and cables: scarce have we loosed our vessel from the shore, and already how fiercely doth the Aegean murmur, how mightily uprear its wave! Is it in such a sea that the Black Rocks clash together? or is a drearier deep in store for us poor wretches? Have done with hopes of fame by sea, ye sons of earth, and let these cursed waves resume once more their appointed sway.
So spake they among themselves, bewailing their fate by so ignoble a death. Amphitryon's great-souled son gazes mournfully at his quiver and his useless club; the rest make their last adieux unto each other, and comrade grasps the hand of comrade, and each man kisses his fellow for the last time, as they gaze fascinated upon the awful scene; when suddenly each several plank seems to spring a leak at once, and the good ship greedily drinks in the water through the gaping rents. And now the East wind drives her this way and that, lashing her furiously, and now the South-West wind bears her off on its raging blasts, while all around the waters race and boil: when, on a sudden, Neptune, trident in hand, raised his head from out the azure depths, and thus bespake: 'This vessel Pallas and my adventure on my realms, deeming it lawful, and then how often shall I behold their sails caught by the winds, and the seas resounding with the shouts of men in distress! 'Tis not my son Orion, nor the Pleiades of the baleful Bull, that shall cause this new-fangled form of death: 'tis thou, Argo, that art devising destructions for poor human kind; nor hereafter, Tiphys, shall any mother ever pray that thou mayst win thy well-earned resting place in Elysium amid the spirits of the blessed dead.' So spake father Neptune, and calmed the troubled waters of the bay, and put the winds to flight; in whose wake the black billows and the storm-clouds, heavy with their watery burden, followed afar off, and fled together to the confines of the gates of Aeolus. Then were the portals of heaven unbarred, and the light of day shone forth afresh, and the rain-bow spread out across a clear and open sky, and the clouds went back to their home upon the mountain-tops. And now, emerging upon the calmed waves, the ship stands forth, the which Thetis and father Nereus, for his son-in-law's sake, had delivered from the great waters by a mighty hand and by a stretched-out arm.
Therefore the leader threw the sacred robe about his shoulders, and took in his hands the golden bowl which Salmoneus had given to Aeson in joyful recompense f tall forests of unhappy Pisa and with his own hand fired the corn-fields of ill-starred Elis. From the bowl the chieftain poured a libation of wine into the sea, and thus he spake: 'Deities of the deep, whom the waves and the stormy winds obey, and whose kingdom is no whit less vast than that of highest heaven, and thou, father,to whom was assigned the dominion of the main with its merman brood, hear my prayer: whether that storm was merely our misfortune, or whether, as the heavens revolve, so likewise the sea must needs be still and disturbed by turns, or whether the sudden spectacle of a strange ship, manned by an armed throng, incited and aroused the furiousness of thy wrath, yet haply, I trow, whosesoe'er the fault, this our atonement has been sufficient, and 'tis our prayer, Master, that it may have pleased thee by this time to have become more gracious and favourable unto thy servants. Grant me to bring these souls safe back to land, and vouchsafe that we may all return again and stand once more upon the dear threshold of our fathers' doors. So in all places shall the blood of many victims feed thy altars in grateful recompense, and wheresoe'er, father, thou standest awful with chariot and horses, while some grisly monster of the deep holds the loose-dangling reins of either steed, so often and in such mighty shape will I also set up thy graven image throughout the cities of our land, for all men to worship.'
When he had said these words, his followers lifted up their voices and, with right hands raised on high, repeated aloud after him the form of prayer dictated by their chief. E'en so, when the fierce wrath of God, and the Dog-star, fell ravager of Calabria's plains,press sore upon steading and stall and harvest-fields, the untutored yokels flock together to the hallowed grove, and the man of God teaches the sufferers how to frame their humble prayers and vows to Heaven. And now, behold! the Minyans are aware of gentle breezes gliding softly down ; all sail is crammed on, and the caulky craft bounds forward like a living thing, full speed ahead, and ploughs her way through the briny, her brazen beak churning up the spray with its triple blade. Tiphys is at the helm, and the crew sit silent at their oars, obeying his commands: like as around the throne of highest Jove all things stand ever ready to perform his behests,—ice and snow, thunder and lightning, wind and storm, fulfilling his word, and streams with founts not yet unsealed.
But the chieftain is assailed by sudden fears that he spared not the king's son Acastus, but carried him off by a cruel trick, and thereby left his own kith and kin all bare and exposed to the assassin's knife, and abandoned his own father, helpless and unshielded by any armour of defence, to the tender mercies of the felon king, while he himself is now far away, safe on the deep; he remembers that all the tyrant's fury will fall on these defenceless ones, nor are his anxious fears for the future without foundation.
Meanwhile, raging horribly, Pelias gazes out at the hated sails from the mountain-top, but can find no vent or outlet for his wrath. Naught avails his anger, naught his kingly power; his warriors curse the barrier of the sea that stops pursuit, and the salt waves gleam with flashing lights and the glint of steel. E'en so, when, looking like some strange cloud, as they left the habitations of men below, Daedalus and his young companion, speeding beside him with shorter pinions, winged their headlong flight from the brazen-sounding shore— e'en so the hosts of Minos blasphemed in vain, and his horsemen, wearied with the fruitless gaze, returned to Gortyn one and all with full quivers. And now at length, casting himself down on the ground upon the very threshold of Acastus'chamber, he presses with his lips the cold footprints of the boy and kisses the very earth he trod, his grey locks falling dishevelled o'er his face as he bends, and thus he makes lament: 'To thee now also, O my son, perchance the image of thy sorrowing parent doth appear, and peradventure my sorrowful sighings shall reach thine ears. Already thou art encompassed by guile and by a thousand grim and deadly perils: whither, or to what shores, shall I follow thee, unhappy one? Not for the land of Scythia, nor the mouths of the Black Sea, doth that cruel man steer his course; nay 'tis thou, my boy, whom he hath led away with false hopes of glory and now doth maltreat, hard-hearted man, with intent to torture me in mine old age. Or thinkest thou that if the seas were navigable by lordly vessels, I would not of mine own accord have given thee a whole fleet and crews to man it? Alas for the house and the family that put their trust in their scion, all in vain!' He paused; but suddenly, o'ercome with furious wrath, that was terrible to witness, he burst out threateningly again: 'Here, robber, are things that will hurt thee also, and cause thee tears: thy father is in my hands.' Therewith he paced to and fro throughout the lofty palace, raging inwardly, and pondering nameless cruelties in his heart. E'en so Lycurgus was distraught, so that his wife and children fled from him in terror down the long colonnades, what time Thyoneus cast all the furiousness of his displeasure upon the guilty Thracians, and now unlucky Haemus, and now the tall forests of Rhodope, groaned beneath the frenzy of a thousand devils, o In the meantime Alcimede was sacrificing to the God of the Under-world and to the shades of the departed, that dwell by the River of Hate; for she was sore anxious for her mighty son, and would fain learn in advance, by calling up the dead, somewhat more certain of her boy. Aeson himself also is troubled by like cares, and conceals the same fears in his bosom, but readily follows where his consort leads the way. The blood of many victims flows and a pool of gore forms in the trench, an oblation to the Burning Stream4 below; and an ancient hag, skilled in Thessalian lore. with hideous shrieks invokes their departed ancestors, and calls upon the grandson of great Plei'one. And now in answer to her spells and to the offering of blood, lo! Cretheus uprears his bloodless cheeks, and gazing on his sorrowing son and daughter, addresses them thus: 'Fear not, your son speeds o'er the main and already, ever more and more, as he draws nigh, the town of Aea is amazed by frequent portents from the gods, and divine warnings strike terror to the hearts of the savage Colchians. Alas, on what a fateful enterprise hath he embarked! What dread seizes those distant peoples as he steadily advances! Anon shall he return laden with the spoils of Scythia and with captive maidens to adorn his triumph: would that I also could burst this crust of earth and be present at that glorious moment! But now hath the king waxed wroth and is imagining dire wickedness in his heart; yea, verily thy brother's hand is against thee, O my son, and his anger burns like fire within him. Why not forestall him and take thine own life thyself, and quickly shuffle off this mortal coil? Come, thou art mine; e'en now the holy dead and the shade of our father Aeolus are beckoning thee to join them in the groves and meadows of the blest.'
Meanwhile the halls of Aeson are filled with lamentation and with the deafening shrieks of his despairing household; and rumour spreads the news throughout the city that the king is summoning his armed host, and has already called his servants, and is even now giving his orders to them. Aeson, scared by these sudden tidings, in panic haste o'erturns the blazing altar, and flings aside the sacred robe, and scatters the wood for the sacrifice, and looks around for some loop-hole of escape. Like as a lion, standing at bay amid the press of thronging huntsmen, glares round with jaws agape, and eyes and cheeks contracted, still undecided what to do; so stood the old warrior, in sore doubt whether he should grasp again his useless glaive and in his dotage shoulder the shield and buckler of his younger days, or stir up the Elders, and the populace ever ready to change their master. Not so his wife, who, stretching forth her hands, clings to his breast, and thus bespeaks him: 'Let me also share whatever misfortunes shall befall thee. I wish not for length of days, for suns a-many have I seen already; nor could I bear to see my boy again if thou also wert not there, I that could bear that first great grief when first he set sail upon the deep.'
So spake she through her tears. And now Aeson took thought how and by what death he might forestall the tyrant's threats, and how he might put an end to his own life most worthily; for he calls to mind how that his son, and his house, and the race of Aeolus, and the battles he has fought himself, all demand that he should die a noble death. Before his mind's eye too is his other son/ still a boy of tender years, who he is fain should learn from him high courage and the will to do brave deeds, and remember in after years the manner of his father's death. Wherefore he resumes the interrupted rite. Beneath the darkling shade of an ancient cypress the sacrificial sallow sides all sicklied o'er with the drab and sombre hue of death, with sable fillets on its horns, and a chaplet of yew-leaves on its shaggy brow; the beast itself was failing fast, and its breath came in heavy gasps, and it pawed the ground, impatient to be off, for it was frightened by the apparition it had seen. This animal the old witch, after the manner of her barbarous folk, had kept specially for herself, that with it she might appease the God of Death in her latter days.
Now when Aeson saw that the time had come for the dread sacrifice for which the bull had been thus fitly reserved, he made ready to slay it, and spake his dying words, holding with his own hands the horns of the condemned beast: 'Ye who have fulfilled the commands of Jove and accomplished the strenuous journey of life, names well known to me in counsel and in war, names sanctified by the greatness and the glory of your childrens' children; and thou, my father, summoned from the shades below, that thou mightest behold my death agony, and feel once more the forgotten griefs of living men; grant me an easy passage to the realms of peace, and let the victim which I send before me win me a kind reception in your abode. Thou Recording Angel, thou maiden Justice, that lookest down from heaven with impartial eyes upon this world of sinners, and thou Goddess to whom Vengeance belongeth, timehonoured mother of the Furies, and ye Daughters of Destruction that carry out her will, swoop down, I pray, each and all of you, upon the guilty palace of the tyrant, and brandish your avenging torches o'er its roof. May an horrible dread o'erwhelm his ruthless heart, nor let him think that 'tis my son alone who hath come to torment him with but a single armed vessel, but may he have wild visions of the advance of the whole armada of the Euxine, and of kings and princes enraged at the attempts upon their coasts, and may he ever rush down panic-stricken to the shore, calling his men to arms! May the death he will long for be delayed and his attempted path of escape be barred, and let him be powerless to anticipate my curse; nay, rather let him behold anon the warriors returning triumphant with the golden fleece! Then shall I stand beside thee, villain, gloating o'er thy fall, my hand upraised against thee, and with the light of fiendish triumph in mine eyes. Then, O ye Powers of Justice, if ye have left, still unattempted, any mysterious and awful kind of vengeance, any as yet unheard-of form of sudden death, vouchsafe an ignominious end to this hoary sinner, and an inglorious close to his long career of treachery and deceit. Let him not fall in battle by the foeman's sword, nor (I beseech you) let such as he be ever deemed worthy to die by my son's blade; nay, rather may his trusted comrades and his own dear ones tear him in pieces in his dotage, and cast forth unsepulchred his mangled bones! Be this the atonement which shall be exacted from the king by my flesh and blood, and by all the poor souls he hath sent to sea!
And now the eldest of the Furies herself stood near, and with her fateful hand stretched forth the steaming cup of poisoned gore; and Aeson and his consort bore the beaker to their lips, and greedily drained the bull's blood that was therein. Then seek they to appease the triple-visaged Queen, and make supplication to the house of Hades, presenting their last burnt-offering and oblation, and reciting backwards, at this last dread moment, the incantation that wins over the Powers below; nor indeed will the dusky ferryman of Styx convey the spirits of the departed across the stream until all these things be accomplished, and without them the souls stand waiting one and all8 in the entrance and mouth of Hell.
A loud crash is heard, and there burst in upon them with a shout1 the bearers of the tyrant's cruel commands, with swords drawn at his orders. They behold the old folks already at the point of death, their eyes glazed o'er at its approach, and spitting up blood in torrents o'er their garments. Thee, luckless youth, still of tender years, and just entering upon the threshold of life, and livid at the sight of thy dying parents, they 8j tear to pieces, and slay thee before their very eyes; while Aeson, shuddering from where he lay, gave up the ghost, and took with him the memory thereof to the shades below.
Deep down beneath our poles, and cut off from the upper world, lie the halls of father Pluto; so far removed that if Jupiter should wish to destroy our globe and dissolve all things back again into their constituent elements, the falling heavens would leave these realms untouched. So vast are the limits of this grim Underworld that if the Earth, top-heavy with its gross burden, were suddenly to collapse, its cavernous jaws would engulf and swallow her up. Here stand eternally the twin gates of Hell: the one by an immutable law is ever" open, and takes in the kings of the earth and the nations thereof; but the other stands barred, and foul sin it were to strive against it, or try by force to enter in thereat: seldom it opens, and then only of its own accord, whensoever there cometh a warrior chief, bearing his glorious scars upon his breast, whose door-post is hung with plumed helms and chariot-wheels, the spoils of war; or one whose aim in life was to lighten the lot of mortal men, who worshipped Truth, and knew no fear, and kept himself unspotted from the world; or if peradventure there cometh a holy priest, wearing a sacred wreath and robe of spotless white. All such the grandchild of Atlas1 drives forward at a gentle pace, waving his torch aloft, so that their path is lit up far and wide by the flame thereof; till, by the guidance of the god, they descend unto the pleasant groves and meadows of the blest, where the sun never sets, ,and days of bright sunshine last throughout the year, and where there are glad songs and dances and joyful gatherings of men, and delights whereof the common people no longer have desire. Into these realms and their Eternal City the father brings his son and daughter; and then tells them what an awful punishment is in store for Pelias behind the grim portal on the left, and shews them by which gate he will enter in. Here they stand in awe, amazed at the discordant howls and jostling crowd; but gaze in wonder and delight at the places where innocence and virtue are rewarded in the world below.
Source: Gaius Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus Setinus Balbus: Book 1, trans. H. G. Blomfield (Oxford: 1916).