The Life and Death of Jason


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The passage of the Symplegades. The heroes come to Aea.

BUT on the morrow did they get them gone,
Gifted with gold and many a precious stone,
And many a bale of scarlet cloth and spice,
And arms well wrought, and goodly robes of price.
But chiefly to the wind-born brothers strong
Did gifts past telling on that morn belong.
Now as they stood upon the windy quay,
Ready their hands upon the ropes to lay,
Phineus, who ‘midst his mighty lords was there,
Set high above them in a royal chair,
Spake: Many a gift I now have given you
To lay amidst your treasures old and new,
If so it be, that through hard things and pain
Ye come to your horse-nurturing land again;
But one gift more ye needs must take of me;
For lacking that, beneath the greedy sea,
The mighty tomb of mariners and kings,
Doubt not to lay down these dear treasured things,
Nor think to come to Thessaly at all.
And therewith turning, he began to call
Unto his folk to bring what they had there.
Then one brought forward a cage great and fair,
Wherein they saw a grey pink-footed dove.
Then said the king: The very Gods above
Can scantly help you more than now I do:
As to the narrowing of the sea ye go,
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And draw anigh the sound’s wind-beaten throat,
There deedless by the Clashers shall ye float,
And let the keenest-eyed among you stand
Upon the prow, and loosen from his hand
This dove, who from my mouth to-day has heard
So many a mystic and compelling word,
He cannot choose, being loosed, but fly down straight
Unto the opening of that dreadful gate;
So let the keen-eyed watch, and if so be
He come out safe into the Evil Sea,
Then bend unto the oars, nor fear at all
Of aught that from the Clashers may befall;
But if he perish, then turn back again,
And know the Gods have made your passage vain.
And if it so befall, then come ye back;
And though my house be nought, and though we lack
Good things and plenteous gifts, yet shall ye have
A king and a king’s son to be your slave;
And all things here still may ye bind and loose,
And from our women freely may ye choose,
Nor spare the fairest or most chaste to kiss,
And in fair houses shall ye live in bliss.
Said Jason: King, not first upon this day
Will I be forsworn, but by some wild way
Will reach the oak-grove and the Golden Fleece,
Or, failing, die at least far off from Greece,
Not unremembered; yet great thanks we give
For this thy gift and counsel, and will strive
To come to Colchis through the unknown land;
And whatso perils wait us, if Jove’s hand
Be heavy on us, and the great blue gates
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Be shut against us by the unmoved fates,
Then farewell, king, and henceforth, free from ill,
Live happy as thou mayest, and honoured still.
Then turned he, shouting, to the Minyæ,
Who o’er the gangways rushed tumultuously,
And from the land great Argo straightway thrust,
And gat them to their work, hot with the lust
Of fame and noble deeds, and happy prize.
But the bird Lynceus took, the man whose eyes
Made night as day, and blinding fire as air.
Then back into his marble palace fair
The king turned, thinking well upon the way
Of what had happed since morn of yesterday.
Now from the port passed Argo, and the wind
Being fair for sailing, quickly left behind
Fair Salmydessa, the kind gainful place
And so, with sail and oar, in no long space
They reached the narrow ending of the sea,
Where the wind shifted, blowing gustily
From side to side, so that their flapping sail
But little in the turmoil could avail;
And now at last did they begin to hear
The pounding of the rocks; but nothing clear
They saw them; for the steaming clouds of spray,
Cast by the meeting hammers every way,
Quite hid the polished bases from their sight;
Unless perchance the eyes of Lynceus might
Just now and then behold the deep blue shine
Betwixt the scattering of the silver brine;
But sometimes ‘twixt the clouds the sun would pass
And show the high rocks glittering like to glass,
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Quivering, as far beneath the churned-up waves
Were ground together the hard great-arched caves,
Wherein none dwelt, no not the giant’s brood,
Who fed the green sea with his lustful blood;
Nor were sea-devils even nurtured there;
Nor dared the sea-worm use them for its lair.
AND now the Minyæ, dazed with fear and doubt,
Had been at point to turn their keel about,
As each man looked on his pale fellow’s face,
Whose speech was silenced in that dreadful place
By the increasing clamour of the sea
And adamantine rocks; then verily
Was Juno good at need, who set strange fire
In Jason’s heart, and measureless desire
To be the first of men, and made his voice
The Gods within the flowery fields of Heaven,
And gave his well-knot arm the strength of seven.
So then, above the crash and thundering,
The Minyæ heard his shrill calm voice, crying:
Shall this be then an ending to our quest?
And shall we find the worst, who sought the best?
Far better had ye sat beside your wives,
And ‘mid the wine-cups lingered out your lives,
Dreaming of noble deeds, though trying none,
Than as vain boasters with your deed undone,
Come back to Greece, that men may sing of you.
Are ye all shameless? are there not a few
Who have slain fear, knowing the unmoved fates
Have meted out already what awaits
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The coward and the brave? Ho! Lynceus! stand
Upon the prow, and slip from out thine hand
The wise king’s bird; and all ye note, the wind
Is steady now, and blowing from behind,
Drives us on toward the Clashers, and I hold
The helm myself; therefore, lest we be rolled
Broadside against these horrors, take the oar,
And hang here, half a furlong from the shore,
Nor die of fear, until at least we know
If through these gates the Gods will let us go:
And if so be they will not, yet will we
Not empty-handed come to Thessaly.
But strike for Aea through this unknown land,
Whose arms reach out to us on either hand.
THEN they for shame began to cast off fear,
And, handling well the oars, kept Argo near
The changing little-lighted spray-washed space;
Whereunto Lynceus set his eager face,
And loosed the dove, who down the west wind flew;
Then all the others lost her dashing through
The clouds of spray, but Lynceus noted how
She reached the open space, just as a blow
Had spent itself, and still the hollow sound
Of the last clash was booming all around;
And eagerly he noted how the dove
Stopped ‘mazed, and hovered for a while above
The troubled sea, then stooping, darted through,
As the blue gleaming rocks together drew;
Then scarce he breathed, until a joyous shout
He gave, as he beheld her passing out
Unscathed, above the surface of the sea,
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While back again the rocks drew sluggishly.
Then back their poised oars whirled, and straight they drave
Unto the opening of the spray-arched cave;
But Jason’s eyes alone of all the crew
Beheld the sunny sea and cloudless blue,
Still narrowing fast but bright from rock to rock.
Now as they neared, came the next thundering shock,
That deafened all, and with an icy cloud
Hid man from man; but Jason, shouting loud,
Still clutched the tiller; and the oars, grasped tight
By mighty hands, drave on the ship forthright
Unto the rocks, until with blinded eyes
They blinked one moment at those mysteries
Unseen before, the next they felt the sun
Full on their backs, and knew their deed was done.
THEN on their oars they lay, and Jason turned,
And o’er the rocks beheld how Iris burned
In fair and harmless many-coloured flame,
And he beheld the way from which they came
Wide open, changeless, of its spray-clouds cleared;
And though in his bewildered ears he heard
The tumult yet, that all was stilled he knew,
While in and out the unused sea-fowl flew
Betwixt them; and the now subsiding sea
Lapped round about their dark feet quietly.
So turning to the Minyæ, he cried:
See ye, O fellows, the gates opened wide,
And chained fast by the Gods, nor think to miss
The very end we seek, nor well-earned bliss
When once again we feel our country’s earth,
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And ‘twixt the tears of elders, and the mirth
Of young men grown to manhood since we left,
And longing eyes of girls, the Fleece, once reft
From a king’s son of Greece, we hang again
In Neptune’s temple, nigh the murmuring main.
Then all men, with their eyes now cleared of brine,
Beheld the many-coloured foam-bow shine
Over the rocks, and saw it fade away,
And saw the opening cleared of sea and spray,
And saw the green sea lap about the feet
Of those blue hills, that never more should meet,
And saw the wondering sea-fowl fly about
Their much-changed tops; then, with a mighty shout,
They rose rejoicing, and poured many a cup
Of red wine to the Gods, and hoisting up
The weather-beaten sail, with mirth and song,
Having good wind at will, they sped along.
THREE days with good hap and fair wind they went,
That ever at their backs Queen Juno sent,
But on the fourth day, about noon, they drew
Unto a new-built city no man knew;
No, not the pilot; so they thought it good
To arm themselves, and thus in doubtful mood
Brought Argo to the port, and being come nigh,
A clear-voiced herald from the land did cry:
Whoso ye be, if that ye come in peace,
King Lycus bids you hail, but if from Greece
Ye come, and are the folk of whom we hear
Who make for Colchis free from any fear,
Then doubly welcome are ye; here take land,
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For everything shall be at your command.
So without fear they landed at that word,
And told him who they were, which when he heard,
Through the fair streets he brought them to the king,
Who feasted them at night with everything
That man could wish; but when on the next day
They gathered at the port to go away,
The wind was foul and boisterous, so perforce
There must they bide, lest they should come to worse.
AND there for fourteen days did they abide,
And for their pastime oft would wander wide
About the woods, for slaying of the beasts
Whereby to furnish forth the royal feasts;
But on a day, a closely-hunted boar,
Turning to bay, smote Idmon very sore
So that he died; poor wretch, who could foresee
Full many an unknown thing that was to be,
And yet not this; whose corpse they burnt with fire
Upon a purple-covered spice-strewn pyre,
And set his ashes in a marble tomb.
Neither could Tiphys there escape his doom,
Who, after suffering many a bitter storm,
Died bitten of a hidden crawling worm,
As through the woods he wandered all alone.
Now he being burned, and laid beneath a stone,
The wind grew fair for sailing, and the rest
Bade farewell to the king, and on their quest
Once more were busied, and began to plough
The unsteady plain; for whom Erginus now,
Great Neptune’s son, the brass-bound tiller swayed.
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NOW leaving that fair land, fair way they made,
But saw for seven bright days but sea and sky,
Till on the eighth, keen Lynceus could espy
A land far off, and higher as they drew
A low green shore, backed up by mountains blue,
Cleft here and there, all saw, ‘twixt hope and fear,
For now it seemed to them they should be near
The wished-for goal of Aea, and the place
Where in the great sea Phasis ends his race.
Then creeping carefully along the beach
The mouth of a green river did they reach,
Which cleft the sands, and on the yellow bar
The salt waves and the fresh waves were at war,
As Phryxus erst beheld them, but no man
Amongst them ere had sailed that water wan,
Now that wise Tiphys lay within his tomb.
Natheless they, wrapt in that resistless doom
The fates had woven, turned from off the sea
Argo’s fair head, and rowing mightily
Drave her across the bar, who with straight keel
The eddying stream against her bows did feel.
SO, with the wind behind them, and the oars
Still hard at work, they went betwixt the shores
Against the ebb, and now full oft espied
Trim homesteads here and there on either side,
And fair kine grazing, and much woolly sheep,
And skin-clad shepherds roused from mid-day sleep,
Gazing upon them with scared wondering eyes.
So now they deemed they might be near their prize,
And at the least knew that some town was nigh,
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And thought to hear new tidings presently;
Which surely happed; for on the turn of tide,
At ending of a long reach, they espied
A city wondrous fair, which seemed indeed
To bar the river’s course; but, taking heed
And drawing nigher, they soon found out the case,
That on an island builded was the place
The more part of it; but four bridges fair
Set thick with goodly houses everywhere,
Crossed two and two on each side to the land,
Whereone was built, with walls on either hand,
A towered outwork, lest that war should fall
Upon the land, and midmost of each wall
A noble gate; moreover did they note
About the wharves full many a ship and boat.
And they beheld the sunlight glistering
On arms of men and many a warlike thing,
As nigher to the city they were borne,
And heard at last some huge deep booming horn
Sound from a tower across the watery road,
Whose voice, that care and peril did forebode,
Was caught and spread by others far and near.
NOW when they did therewith loud shouting hear,
Then Jason bade them arm for what might come,
For now, quoth he, I deem we reach the home
Of that great marvel we are sworn to seek,
Nor do I think to find these folk so weak
That they with few words and a gift or two
Will give us that for which they did forego
Fair fame, the love of Gods, and praise of men.
Be strong and play the man, I bid you then,

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For certes in none other wise shall ye
Come back again to grassy Thessaly.
Then loud they shouted, clean forgetting fear,
And strong Erginus Argo straight did steer
On to the port; but through the crowded waist
Ran Jason to the high prow, making haste
To be the first to look upon that throng.
Shieldless he was, although his fingers strong
About a sharpened brass-bound spear did meet,
And as the ashen oars swept on, his feet
Moved lightly to their cadence under him;
So stood he like a God in face and limb.
NOW drawing quickly nigh the landing-place,
Little by little did they slack their pace,
Till half a bowshot from the shore they lay,
Then Jason shouted: What do ye to-day
All armed, O warriors? and what town is this
That here by seeming ye have little bliss
Of quiet life, but, smothered up in steel,
Ye needs must meet each harmless merchant keel
That nears your haven, though perchance it bring
Good news and great, and many a longed-for thing
That ye may get good cheap? and such are we,
But wayfarers upon the troublous sea,
Careful of that stored up within our hold,
Phœnician scarlet, spice, and Indian gold,
Deep-dyeing weeds, and woad and cinnabar,
Wrought arms and vessels, and all things that are
Desired so much by dwellers in all lands;
Nor doubt us friends, although indeed our hands
Lack not for weapons, for the unfenced head,
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Where we have been, soon rests among the dead.
So spake he with a smiling face, nor lied;
For he, indeed, was purposed to have tried
To win the Fleece neither by war or stealth;
But by an open hand and heaps of wealth,
If so it might be, bear it back again
Nor with a handful fight an host in vain.
But being now silent, at the last he saw
A stir among those folk, who ‘gan to draw
Apart to right and left, leaving a man
Alone amidst them, unarmed, with a wan
And withered face, and black beard mixed with grey
That swept his girdle, who these words did say:
O seafarers, I give you now to know
That on this town oft falleth many a foe,
Therefore not lightly may folk take the land
With helm on head, and naked steel in hand;
But, since indeed ye folk are but a few,
We fear you not, yet fain would that we knew
Your names and countries, since within this town
Of Aea may a good man lay him down
And fear for nought, at least while I am king,
Aeetes, born to heed full many a thing.
Now Jason heard this long-desired name
He thought to hear, and hungrier yet for fame,
With eager heart, and fair face flushed for pride,
Said: King Aeetes, if not over wide
My name is known, that yet may come to be,
For I am Jason of the Minyæ,
And through great perils have I come from Greece,
And now, since this is Aea, and the Fleece
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Thou slayedst once a guest to get, hangs up
Within thine house, take many a golden cup,
And arms, and dyestuffs, cloth, and spice, and gold,
Yea, all the goods that lie within our hold;
Which are not mean, for neither have we come
Leaving all things of price shut up at home,
Nor have we seen the faces of great kings
And left them giftless; therefore take these things
And be our friend; or, few folks as we are,
The Gods and we may bring thee bitter care.
Then spake Aeetes: Not for any word,
Or for the glitter of thy bloodless sword,
O youngling, will I give the Fleece to thee,
Nor yet for gifts; for what are such to me?
Behold, if all thy folk joined hand to hand
They should not, striving, be enough to stand
And girdle round my bursting treasure-house;
Yet, since of this thing thou art amorous,
And I love men, and hold the Gods in fear,
If thou and thine will land, then mayst thou hear
What great things thou must do to win the Fleece;
Then, if thou wilt not dare it, go in peace.
But come now, thou shalt hear it amidst wine
And lovely things, and songs well-nigh divine;
And all the feasts that thou hast shared erewhile
With other kings, to mine shall be but vile.
Lest home ye turn, and home ye come, and tell
That King Aeetes fearing guests doth dwell.
So spake he outwardly, but inly thought,
Within two days this lading shall be brought
To lie amongst my treasures with the best,
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While ‘neath the earth these robbers lie at rest.
But Jason said: King, if these things be such
As man may do, I shall not fear them much,
And at thy board will I feast merrily
To-night, if on the morrow I must die;
And yet, beware of treason, since for nought
Such lives as ours by none are lightly brought.
Draw one, O heroes, to the shore, if ye
Are willing still this great king’s house to see.
Thereat was Argo brought up to the shore,
And straight all landed from her, less and more,
And the king spake to Jason honied words,
And idle were all spears, and sheathed all swords,
As toward the house of kings in peace they went.
Smiled Jason’s face; yet was his heart intent
On cares to come: All this is fair enow,
Yet do I think it but an empty show;
Natheless, until the end comes, will not I,
Like a bad player, spoil the bravery
By breaking out before they call my turn:
But then of me some mastery they may learn.
SO thought he pacing by Aeetes’ guilt,
And noted well how great and goodly built
Were all the houses; while the folk well clad,
And armed as though good store of wealth they had,
Peered forth upon them with a wondering gaze.
At last a temple, built in ancient days
Ere Aea was a town, they came unto;
Huge was it, but not fair unto the view
Of one beholding from without, but round
The ancient place they saw a green-garthed ground
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Where laurels grew each side the temple door,
And two great images set up before
The brazen doors; whereof the one was She,
Who draws this way and that the fitful sea;
The other the great God, the Life of man,
Who makes the brown earth green, the green earth wan,
From spring to autumn, through quick following days,
The lovely archer with his crown of rays.
Now over against this temple, towering high
Above all houses, rose majestically
Aeetes’ marble house: silent it stood,
Brushed round by doves, though many a stream of blood
Had trickled o’er its stones since it was built,
But now, unconscious of all woe and guilt,
It drank the sunlight that fair afternoon.
THEN spake Aeetes: Stranger, thou shalt soon
Hear all thou wouldst hear in my house of gold;
Yet ere thou enterest this my door, behold
That ancient temple of the Far-Darter,
And know that thy desire now hangeth there,
Against the gold wall of the inmost shrine,
Guarded by sevenfold lock, whose keys are thine
When thou hast done what else thou hast to do,
And thou mayst well be bold to come thereto.
King, said the prince, fear not, but do thy part,
Nor look to see me turn back faint of heart,
Though I may die as my forefathers died,
Who, living long, their loved souls failed to hide
From death at last, however wise they were.
But verily, O King, thine house is fair,
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And here I think to see full many a thing
Men love; so, whatso the next day may bring.
Right merrily shall pass these coming hours
Amidst fair things and wine-cups crowned with flowers.
Enter, O guests, the king said, and doubt not
Ye shall see things to make the heart grow hot
With joy and longing.
As he spoke, within
Blew up the horns, as when a king doth win
His throne at last, and they who went behind
Hedging the heroes, cried as when folk find
His throne is filled and he is hid no more.
Then those within threw open wide the door,
And straight the king took Jason by the hand,
And entered, and the Minyæ now did stand
In such a hall as there has never been
Before or afterwards, since Ops was queen.
THE pillars, made the mighty roof to hold,
The one was silver and the next was gold
All down the hall; the roof, of some strange wood
Brought over sea, was dyed as red as blood,
Set thick with silver flowers, and delight
Of intertwining figures wrought aright.
With richest webs the marble walls were hung,
Picturing sweet stories by the poets sung
From ancient days, so that no wall seemed there,
But rather forests black and meadows fair,
And streets of well-built towns, with tumbling seas
About their marble wharves and palaces;
And fearful crags and mountains; and all trod
By changing feet of giant, nymph, and God,
Spear-shaking warrior and slim-ankled maid.
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The floor, moreover, of the place was laid
With coloured stones, wrought like fair flowery grass;
And, ready for what needs might come to pass,
Midmost the hall, two clear streams trickled down,
O’er wondrous gem-like pebbles, green and brown,
Betwixt smooth banks of marble, and therein
Bright-coloured fish shone through the water thin.
Now, ‘midst these wonders were there tables spread,
Whither the wondering seafarers were led,
And there with meat and drink full delicate
Were feasted, and strange dainty things they ate,
Of unused savour, and drank godlike wine;
While from the golden galleries, most divine
Heart-softening music breathed about the place;
And ‘twixt the pillars, at a gentle pace,
Passed lovely damsels, raising voices sweet
And shrill unto the music, while their feet
From thin dusk raiment now and then would gleam
Upon the polished edges of the stream.
LONG sat the Minyæ there, and for their parts
Few words they said, because, indeed, their hearts,
O’er-burdened with delight, still dreaded death;
Nor did they think that they might long draw breath
In such an earthly Paradise as this,
But looked to find sharp ending to their bliss. Notes Book VI



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