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Jason and the Golden Fleece.

From Myths and Legends of all nations
by Logan Marshall.

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At this news the adventurous youths all over the country began to bestir themselves. Some of them had already fought with giants and slain dragons; and the younger ones, who had not yet met with such good fortune, thought it a shame to have lived so long without getting astride of a flying serpent or sticking their spears into a Chimæra, or at least thrusting their right arms down a monstrous lion's throat. There was a fair prospect that they would meet with plenty of such adventures before finding the Golden Fleece. As soon as they could furbish up their helmets and shields, therefore, and gird on their trusty swords, they came thronging to Iolchos and clambered on board the new galley. Shaking hands with Jason, they assured him that they did not care a pin for their lives, but would help row the vessel to the remotest edge of the world and as much further as he might think it best to go. Many of these brave fellows had been educated by Chiron, the four-footed pedagogue, and were therefore old schoolmates of Jason and knew him to be a lad of spirit. The mighty Hercules, whose shoulders afterward held up the sky, was one of them. And there were Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers, who were never accused of being chicken-hearted, although they had been hatched out of an egg; and Theseus, who was so renowned for killing the Minotaur; and Lynceus, with his wonderfully sharp eyes, which could see through a millstone or look right down into the depths of the earth and discover the treasures that were there; and Orpheus, the very best of harpers, who sang and played upon his lyre so sweetly that the brute beasts stood upon their hind legs and capered merrily to the music. Yes, and at some of his more moving tunes the rocks bestirred their moss-grown bulk out of the ground, and a grove of forest trees uprooted themselves and, nodding their tops to one another, performed a country dance.

One of the rowers was a beautiful young woman named Atalanta, who had been nursed among the mountains by a bear. So light of foot was this fair damsel that she could step from one foamy crest of a wave to the foamy crest of another without wetting more than the sole of her sandal. She had grown up in a very wild way and talked much about the rights of women, and loved hunting and war far better than her needle. But in my opinion, the most remarkable of this famous company were two sons of the North Wind (airy youngsters, and of rather a blustering disposition), who had wings on their shoulders, and, in case of a calm, could puff out their cheeks and blow almost as fresh a breeze as their father. I ought not to forget the prophets and conjurers, of whom there were several in the crew, and who could foretell what would happen tomorrow, or the next day, or a hundred years hence, but were generally quite unconscious of what was passing at the moment. Jason appointed Tiphys to be helmsman, because he was a star-gazer and knew the points of the compass. Lynceus, on account of his sharp sight, was stationed as a lookout in the prow, where he saw a whole day's sail ahead, but was rather apt to overlook things that lay directly under his nose. If the sea only happened to be deep enough, however, Lynceus could tell you exactly what kind of rocks or sands were at the bottom of it; and he often cried out to his companions that they were sailing over heaps of sunken treasure, which yet he was none the richer for beholding. To confess the truth, few people believed him when he said it.

Well! But when the Argonauts, as these fifty brave adventurers were called, had prepared everything for the voyage, an unforeseen difficulty threatened to end it before it was begun. The vessel, you must understand, was so long and broad and ponderous that the united force of all the fifty was insufficient to shove her into the water. Hercules, I suppose, had not grown to his full strength, else he might have set her afloat as easily as a little boy launches his boat upon a puddle. But here were these fifty heroes, pushing and straining and growing red in the face without making the Argo start an inch. At last, quite wearied out, they sat themselves down on the shore, exceedingly disconsolate and thinking that the vessel must be left to rot and fall in pieces and that they must either swim across the sea or lose the Golden Fleece. All at once Jason bethought himself of the galley's miraculous figurehead. "Oh, daughter of the Talking Oak," cried he, "how shall we set to work to get our vessel into the water?" "Seat yourselves," answered the image (for it had known what had ought to be done from the very first and was only waiting for the question to be put), "seat yourselves and handle your oars, and let Orpheus play upon his harp."

Immediately the fifty heroes got on board, and seizing their oars, held them perpendicularly in the air, while Orpheus (who liked such a task far better than rowing) swept his fingers across the harp. At the first ringing note of the music they felt the vessel stir. Orpheus thrummed away briskly and the galley slid at once into the sea, dipping her prow so deeply that the figurehead drank the wave with its marvelous lips, and rising again as buoyant as a swan. The rowers plied their fifty oars, the white foam boiled up before the prow, the water gurgled and bubbled in their wake, while Orpheus continued to play so lively a strain of music that the vessel seemed to dance over the billows by way of keeping time to it. Thus triumphantly did the Argo sail out of the harbor amid the huzzas and good wishes of everybody except the wicked old Pelias, who stood on a promontory scowling at her and wishing that he could blow out of his lungs the tempest of wrath that was in his heart and so sink the galley with all on board. When they had sailed above fifty miles over the sea Lynceus happened to cast his sharp eyes behind, and said that there was this bad-hearted king, still perched upon the promontory, and scowling so gloomily that it looked like a black thunder-cloud in that quarter of the horizon.


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