The Life and Death of Jason


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The Argonauts called together.

NOW the next morn, when risen was the sun,
Men 'gan to busk them for the quest begun;
Nor long delay made Pelias, being in fear
Lest aught should stay them; so his folk did bear
News of these things throughout the towns of Greece,
Moving great men to seek the Golden Fleece.
Therefore, from many a lordship forth they rode,
Leaving both wife and child and loved abode,
And many a town must now be masterless,
And women's voices rule both more and less,
And women's hands be dreaded, far and wide,
This fair beginning of the summer-tide.
NOW, all the folk who went upon this quest
I cannot name, but fain would hope the best
In men's remembrance ancient tales did keep
Unto our time, letting the others sleep
In nameless graves, though mayhap, one by one,
These grew to be forgotten 'neath the sun,
Being neither poor of heart, or weak of wit,
More than those others whose crowned memories sit
Enthroned amid the echoing minstrelsy
Sung of old time beside the Grecian sea.
Howe'er it be, now clinging to the hem
Of those old singers, will I tell of them,
In weak and faltering voice, e'en as I can.
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NOW was the well-skilled Argus the first man
Who through the gates into Iolchos passed,
Whose lot in fertile Egypt first was cast,
The nurse of Gods and wonder-working men;
His father's name was Danaus, who till then
Had held the golden rod above the Nile,
Feared by all men for force and deadly wile.
So he, being brought to Jason, said: O King,
Me have the Gods sent here to do the thing
Ye need the most; for often have I seen,
'Twixt sleep and waking, one clad like a queen,
With beams of light about her glorious head,
And ever hath she spoken words, and said,
Argus arise, when dawn is on the earth,
And go unto a city great of girth
Men call Iolchos, and there ask for one
Who now gets ready a great race to run
Upon a steed whose maker thou shalt be,
Whose course is but the bitter trackless sea,
Jason, the king's son, now himself a king;
And bid him hearken by this tokening,
That I, who send thee to him, am the same
Who in the greenwood bade him look for fame
That he desired but little; and am she
Who, when the eddies rushed tumultuously
About us, bore him to the river side:
And unto thee 'shall such-like things betide.
Therewith she gave me craft and wisdom great
About this keel for which your quest doth wait,
Bidding me take thee for nay king and lord,
And thee to heed my counsel as her word
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In all this craft. So if ye would set forth
Before the winter takes us from the north,
I pray you let there be at my commands
Such men as are most skilful of their hands,
Nor spare to take lintel, rooftree, or post
Of ash or pine or oak that helpeth most,
From whoso in this city lacketh gold;
And chiefly take the post that doth uphold
The second rafter in the royal hall,
That I may make the good ship's prow withal,
For soothly from Dodona doth it come,
Though men forget it, the grey pigeons' home.
So look to see a marvel, and forthright
Set on the smiths the sounding-brass to smite,
For surely shall all ye your armour need
Before these blossom-buds have turned to seed.
Then Jason gave him thanks and gifts enow,
And through the town sought all who chanced to know
The woodwright's craft, by whom was much begun,
Whilst he took gifts of wood-from many an one,
And getting timber with great gifts of gold,
Spared not to take the post that did uphold
The second rafter in the royal hall
To make the new ship's goodly prow withal.
SO Argus laboured, and the work was sped
Moreover, by a man with hoary head
Whose dwelling and whose name no man could know,
Who many a secret of the craft did show,
And 'mid their work, men gazed at him askance,
Half fearful of his reverend piercing glance,
But did his bidding; yet knew not indeed,

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It was the Queen of Heaven, and Saturn's seed.
MEANWHILE came many heroes to the town :
Asterion, dweller on the windy down
Below Philæus, far up in the north;
Slow-footed Polyphemus, late borne forth
In chariot from Larissa, that beholds
Green-girt Peneus cleaving fertile wolds.
Erginus, son of Neptune; nigh the sea
His father set him, where the laden bee
Flies low across Mæander, and falls down
Against the white walls of a merchant town
Men call Miletus. Behind him there came
The winner of a great and dreaded name,
Theseus, the slayer of the fearful beast
Who soon in winding hails should make his feast
On youths and maidens; and with him there rode
The king Pirithous; who his loved abode
Amid the shady trees, had left that tide,
Where fly the centaurs' arrows far and wide.
Black-haired was Theseus, slim, and still his cheek
Lacked all but down, for yet he had to seek
The winding ways of Daedalus the old;
But long and twining locks of ruddy gold
Blew round the face of the huge forest king,
As carelessly he rode and feared no thing.
Great joy had Jason, gazing on the twain,
Young though they were, and thought that not in vain
His quest should be, if such as these had will
The hollow of his great black ship to fill.
Next, threading Argive ways and woody lanes,

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Came Nauplius, son of Neptune, to those plains,
Crossing Anaurus dryshod, for his sire
With threats and blows drove up the land-stream higher,
And sucked the sea-waves back across the sands:
With him came Idmon, mighty of his hands,
But mightier yet that he was skilled to know
The counsel of the God who bears the bow,
His very father, who bore not to see
Unloved, Cyrene wandering carelessly
Beside Peneus; Iolaus came
From Argos, too, to win a deathless name;
And if thenceforth came any heroes more
I know not, and their names have died of yore.
BUT from Arcadian forests came forth one
Who like a goddess 'mid the rowers shone,
Swift-running Atalanta, golden-haired,
Grey-eyed, and simple; with her white limbs bared,
And sandalled feet set firm upon the sand,
Amid the wondering heroes did she stand
A very maid, yet fearing not for aught;
For she, with many a vow, had dearly bought
Diana's love, and in no flowery stead
Had borne to hear love-songs, or laid her head
On any trembling lover's heaving breast;
Therefore of mortals was she loved the best
And in return for never-tried delights,
Has won a name no woman else can have.
NEXT through the gates his car Oileus drave,
The Locrian king, red-haired, with fierce grey eyes
Wandering from right to left, as though some prize
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He sought for in the rich Thessalian land:
Then Iphiclus beside the gates did stand,
His kine at all adventure left at home,
That on a doubtful voyage he might roam.
Admetus from the well-walled Pheræ came,
Longing to add new glory to the fame
Of him whose flocks Apollo once did keep;
And then Echion, who would nowise sleep
Amid Ephesian roses, or behold
Betwixt gold cups and lovely things of gold
The white limbs of the dancing-girl, her hair
Swung round her dainty loins and bosom bare;
But needs must try the hollow-sounding sea,
As herald of the heroes; nor was he
Left by his brother Eurytus the strong.
Neither did Cæneus, the Magnesian, long
Less than the others strange new lands to see,
Though wondrous things were told of him: that he,
Once woman, now was man by Neptune's aid,
And thus had won a long-desired maid.
From nigh Larissa came Aetalides,
Leaving a plain well-watered, set with trees,
That feeds much woolly sheep and lowing neat
And knoweth well the dancing maiden's feet.
Mopsus, like Idmon, knew of things to come,
And had in Lipara a rocky home.
Eurydamas, tired of the peaceful lake
Of Xynias, was come for Jason's sake
To lay his well-skilled hands upon the oar,
Dealing with greater waves than heretofore.
Menœtius, son of Actor, from the land
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Where swift Asopus runs through stones and sand,
Bridged by the street of Opus, next was seen,
Eribotes, who through the meadows green
Would wander oft to seek what helpeth man,
Yet cannot cure his lust, through waters wan
To seek for marvels, cometh after him.
Then a rich man, grown old, but strong of limb,
Eurytion, son of Iras, leaveth now
His husbandmen still following of the plough
In the fat Theban meadows, while he goes,
Driven by fate, to suffer biting woes.
And Iphitus his brother, felt the sting
That drives great men through woes to seek renown,
And left their guarded city, looking down
From rocky heights on the well-watered plain.
Right wise they were, and men say, not in vain
Before Apollo's court they claimed to be
The first who strung the fatal cornel tree,
And loosed the twanging bowstring from the ear.
Then to the gate a chariot drew a-near,
Wherein two brothers sat, whereof the one
Who held the reins was mighty Telamon;
And Peleus was the other's dreaded name.
And from an island both the heroes came;
Sunny Aegina, where their father's hand
Ruled o'er the people of a fruitful land;
But they now young, rejoicing in their birth,
Dreamed not, that ere they lay beneath the earth,
Still greater heroes from their loins should come,

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Fair Athens, and the olive groves thereby,
Phalerus left, riding through deserts dry,
And rocky passes where no sweet birds sing;
And with him Butes, with the owlet's wing
Well-painted on his shield; and he at least,
Came back no more to share the joyous feast,
And pour out wine for well-accomplished days;
Must leave his mates; nor happier man than he,
Tiphys the pilot came, although the sea
Dealt gently with the ship whose ashen helm
His hand touched; in the rich Bœotian realm
He left outlandish merceries stored up
With many a brazen bowl and silver cup,
His heirs should feast from in the days to come,
When men he knew not went about his home.
Next Phlias came, forgetful of the hill
That bears his name, where oft the maidens fill
Their baskets with the coal-black clustering grapes
Far on in autumn, when the parched earth gapes
For cool November rain and winter snow;
For there his house stood, on the shaded brow
Of that fair ridge that Bacchus loves so well.
THEN through the gates one with a lion's fell
Hung o'er his shoulders, on a huge grey steed
Glittering from underneath the tawny hair;
Who loosely in his dreadful hand did bear
A club of unknown wood bound round with brass,
And underneath his curled black hair did pass
A golden circlet o'erwrought cunningly
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With running beasts; so folk knew this was he
That in Amphytrion's palace first saw light,
And whose first hour began with deadly fight;
The man whose shout the close Nemæan trees
Had stifled, and the lion met in vain;
The ravisher of hell, the serpent's bane,
Whom neither Gods nor fate could overwhelm.
Now was he come to this Thessalian realm
To serve with Jason on the wandering seas,
Half seeking fame, half wishing to appease
The wrath of her who grudged him ease and rest,
Yet needs must see him of all men the best.
Laughing he went, and with him on each hand
There rode a swain from out the Theban land;
Hylas was first, whose sire, Theodamas,
Had given him worthy gifts of gold and brass,
And gold-wrought arms, that he should see no more
Glittering along the green Ismenian shore.
With him Ephebus came, who many a year
Had backed the steed and cast the quivering spear
In Theban meadows, but whose fathers came
From Argos, and thereby had left their name.
So through the streets like Gods they rode, but he
Who rode the midmost of the glorious three
O'ertopped them by a head; and looking down
With smiling face, whereon it seemed no frown
Could ever come, showed like the king of all.
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NOW coming to the palace, by the wall
Sat Jason, watching while an armourer wrought
A golden crest according to his thought;
And round about the heroes were at play,
Casting the quoit; but on the well-paved way,
With clanging arms, leapt down Alcmena's son
Before the prince, and said: I who have won
Some small renown, O Jason, in this land,
Come now to put my hand within your hand
And be your man, if wide report says true,
That even now with cinnabar and blue
Men paint your long ship's prow, and shave the oars
With sharpened planes; for soothly, other shores
I fain would see than this fair Grecian one,
Wherein great deeds already I have done:
And if thou willest now to hear my name,
A Theban queen my mother once became,
And had great honour; wherefore some men say
That in Amphytrion's bed my mother lay
When I was gotten; and yet other some
Say that a God upon that night did come,
(Whose name I speak not), like unto the king,
With whom Alcmena played, but nought witting.
Nor I nor others know the certainty
Of all these things; but certes, royally
My brother rules at Thebes, whom all men call
Amphytrion's son, in whose well-peopled hall,
Right little loved of him and his, I eat,
Nor does he grieve to see my empty seat,
Though, since my name is Hercules, the man
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Who owes me hatred hides it if he can.
And now, O prince, I bid thee take my hand,
And hear me swear that till unto this land
Thou hast borne back the Fleece across the sea,
Thy liege-man and thy servant I will be.
Nor have I seen a man more like a king
Than thou art, of whom minstrel folk shall sing
In days to come, when men sit by the wine.
Then Jason said: A happy lot is mine!
Surely the Gods must love me, since that thou
Art come, with me the rough green plain to plough
That no man reaps; yet certes, thou alone
In after days shalt be the glorious one
Whom men shall sing of, when they name the Fleece,
That bore the son of Athamas from Greece,
When I and all these men have come to nought.
So spake he; but the great-eyed Juno brought
His words to nothing, stooping to behold
Jason's fair head, whereon the locks of gold
Curled thick and close, and his grey eager eyes,
That seemed already to behold the prize
In far-off Colchis: like a God he stood,
No less than he that in the darksome wood
Slew the lake-haunting, many-headed beast.
BUT on that day the Minyæ held a feast,
Praising the Gods, and those that they had sent
Across the sea to work out their intent.
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YEA, ere the night greater their joyance grew,
For to the throng of heroes came there two,
In nowise worse than any of the best:
Castor and Pollux, who thought not to rest
In woody Lacedæmon, where the doves
Make summer music in the beechen groves,
But rather chose to hear the sea-fowl sing.
Their mother wedded Tyndarus the king.
And yet a greater name their father had,
As men deem; for that Leda, all unclad,
In cold Eurotas, on a summer morn,
Bathed her fair body, unto whom was borne,
Fleeing from seeming death, a milk-white swan,
Whom straight the naked queen, not fearing man,
Took in her arms, nor knew she cherished Jove,
Who rules o'er mortal men and Gods above.
So in the hall of Pelias, in their place
The twain sat down; and joy lit every face,
When both their names the sweet-voiced herald cried.
BUT the next morn into the town did ride
Lynceus and Idas, leaving far away
Well-walled Messene where the kestrels play
About the temples and the treasure-house.
But of these twain, was Idas valorous
Beyond most men, and hasty of his blow;
And unto Lynceus would the darkness show
That which he lacked; and of all men was he
The luckiest to find the privity
Of gold or gems. And on the self-same day
Came Periclymenes, who folk did say
Had Proteus' gift to change from shape to shape.

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Next from Tegea, where the long green grape
Grows yellow in the dewy autumn night,
There came Ancæus, stubborn in the fight.
Amphidamus and Apheus left the trees
Where sing the wood-doves to their mistresses
In the Arcadian forests; and where oft,
If through the springing brake he treadeth soft,
The happy hunter may well chance to see
Beside a hidden stream some two or three
Of tired nymphs, stripping the silken weed
From off their limbs; nor shall Actæon's meed
Betide him there among the oaken trees.
Next came there Augeas, who at Elis sees,
On his fat plains, the sheep, and kine, and beeves,
Unnumbered as the rustling aspen leaves
Beside the river. From the grassy plain
Anigh Pellene, where the harvest wain
Scatters the grazing sheep, Amphion came,
In nowise skilled like him who bore his name,
The deathless singer, but right wise in war.
Then through the town there passed a brazen car
Bearing Euphemus, who had power to go
Dryshod across the plain no man doth sow,
By Tenarus he dwelt, beside the sea,
Anigh the temple of the deity
Whose son he was, the Shaker of the earth.
Then came a fresh Ancaeus, who had birth
In woody Samos, of the self-same sire,
Whose heart white-looted Alta set on fire,
As on the yellow sands at dawn she went.
Then Calydon the great a hero sent,
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The fair-haired Meleager, who became,
In after days, the glory of his name,
The greatest name of the Aetolian land;
While yet on him fate laid her heavy hand,
In midst of all his glory so raised up,
Who nowise now dreaded the proffered cup
Of life and death she held for him to drain,
Nor thought of death and wishes wished in vain.
With him his uncle rode, Laocoon,
No longer young, teaching his brother's son
What ‘longed to ruling men and unto war.
From Lacedæmon, Iphiclus afar
Had travelled, till the garments richly wrought,
That from his father Thestius' house he brought,
Were stained with sun and dust, but still he came
To try the sea and win undying fame.
Then came a man long-limbed, in savage weed,
Arcas the hunter, to whose unmatched speed
All beasts that wander through the woods are slow.
In his right hand he bare the fatal bow
Of horn, and wood, and brass, but now unstrung,
And at his back a well-closed quiver hung,
Done round with silver bands and leopard's skin,
And fifty deaths were hidden well therein
Of men or beasts; for whoso stood before
His bended bow and angry eyes, no more
Should see the green trees and the fertile earth.
Then came two brothers of a wondrous birth,
For he beheld Erechtheus' daughter pass
Along Ilissus, one bright windy day,
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Whom from amidst her maids he bore away
Unto the hills of Thrace to be his bride.
Now unto them this marvel did betide;
Like men in all else, from anigh the head
Of each grew wings, wherewith at will they sped
From land to land, 'midst of the pathless air.
Next from Magnesia did roan horses bear
Phocus and Priasus, well skilled to cast
The whistling dart then o'er the drawbridge passed
Aetolian Palæmonius, who not yet
Had seen men armed in anger, or steel wet
With blood of aught but beasts, but none the less
Was willing now to stand among the press
Of god-like men, who, with the Minyæ,
Were armed to bring the fleece across the sea.
Then came Asclepius, whom the far-darter
Saved living from the lifeless corpse of her
He once loved well, but slew for treason done,
Fair-haired Coronis, whose far-seeing son
He honoured much, and taught so many a thing,
That first he knew how man may ease the sting
Of sickening pain, because all herbs he knew,
And what the best and worst of them could do.
So many a bitter fight with death he had,
And made the heart of many a sick man glad,
And gave new life to many a man who seemed
But dead already, wherefore people deemed
When he was dead that he was God indeed,
And on his altars many a beast did bleed.
Acastus, Pelias’ son, from wandering
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Was come that self-same day unto the king,
And needs must go with Jason on his quest,
Careless of princely ease and golden rest.
Next Neleus, growing grey, forgetting not
The double crime, had left the pleasant spot
Where wan Alpheus meets the green sea waves,
And twice a-day the walls of Pylos laves;
For he was fain to expiate the sin
Pelias shared with him long years past, within
Queen Juno's temple, where the brothers slew
The old Sidero, crying out, who knew
Then first the bitterness of such a cry
As broke from Tyro in her agony
When helpless, bound, within the brazen hall,
She felt unthought-of torment on her fall,
With none to pity her, nor knew what end
The Gods unto such misery would send.
So might Sidero feel, when fell on her
Unlooked-for death, and deadly hopeless fear;
And in their turn must Neleus o'er the sea
Go wandering now, and Pelias still must be
A trembling liar till death seizes him.
But now with Neleus, young, but strong of limb,
His wise, far-seeing offspring, Nestor, went,
With eyes a little downward ever bent,
Thinking of this and that which he had seen;
Who, when his youth was flourishing and green
Saw many feats of arms and ways of men,
Yet lived so long to be well honoured, when
In Troy the old, the princes shared the spoil.
Next came Laertes to share grief and toil

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With these upon the sea; yet had he not
An easy land in Ithaca the hot,
Though Bacchus loves the ledges of the land,
And weighs the peasant in his sunburnt hand
The heavy oozing bunches, in the time
When frosts draw nigh in the rough northern clime.
Next whom came Almenus, of nought afraid,
Well armed and hardy, whom a mortal maid
Bore unto Mars, for he, new-come from Thrace,
Beside Enipeus met her, and in chase
He held her long, who vainly fled from him,
Though light of foot she was, and strong of limb.
And last of all, Orpheus the singer came,
The son of King Oeager, great of fame,
Yet happier man by much in this, that he
Was loved by heavenly Calliope,
Who bore him Orpheus on a happy day.
And now, through many a rough and toilsome way,
Hither he came the Minyæ to please,
And make them masters of the threatening seas,
Cheering their hearts, and making their hands strong
With the unlooked-for sweetness of his song.
NOW was it eve by then that Orpheus came
Into the hall, and when they heard his name,
And toward the high-seat of the prince he drew,
All men beholding him, the singer knew,
And glad were all men there that he should be
Their mate upon the bitter tuneless sea.
And loud they shouted; but Prince Jason said :
Now, may the Gods bring good things on thy head,
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Son of Oeager, but from me, indeed,
This gold Daedalian bowl shall be thy meed,
If thou wilt let us hear thy voice take wing
From out thine heart, and see the golden string
Quiver beneath thy fingers. But by me
First sit and feast, and happy mayst thou be.
Then, glad at heart, the hero took his place,
And ate and drank his fill, but when the space
Was cleared of flesh and bread, he took his lyre
And sung them of the building up of Tyre,
And of the fair things stored up over sea,
Till there was none of them but fain would be
Set in the ship, nor cared one man to stay
On the green earth for one more idle day.
But Jason, looking right and left on them,
Took his fair cloak, wrought with a golden hem,
And laid it upon Orpheus, and thereto
Added the promised bowl, that all men knew
No hand but that of Dædalus had wrought,
So rich it was, and fair beyond all thought.
Then did he say unto the Minyæ:
Fair friends and well-loved guests, no more shall ye
Feast in this hall until we come again
Back to this land, well-guerdoned for our pain,
Bearing the Fleece, and mayhap treasures more
Than ever Tyrians of erewhile did store,
Scarlet, and gold, and brass; but without fail
Bearing great fame, if that may aught avail
To men who die; and our names certainly
Shall never perish, wheresoe'er we lie.
And now behold within the haven rides
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Our good ship, swinging in the changing tides,
Gleanring with gold, and blue, and cinnabar,
The long new oars beside the rowlocks are,
The sail hangs flapping in the light west wind,
Nor aught undone can any craftsman find
From stem to stern; so is our quest begun
To-morrow at the rising of the sun.
And may Jove bring us all safe back to see
Another sun shine on this fair city,
When elders and the flower-crowned maidens meet
With tears and singing our returning feet.
So spake he, and so mighty was the shout,
That the hall shook, and shepherd-folk without
The well-walled city heard it, as they went
Unto the fold across the thymy bent. Notes Book III



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