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Jason and the Golden Fleece.

From Myths and Legends of all nations
by Logan Marshall.

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In order to make the time pass away more pleasantly during the voyage, the heroes talked about the Golden Fleece. It originally belonged, it appears, to a Bťotian ram, who had taken on his back two children, when in danger of their lives, and fled with them over land and sea as far as Colchis. One of the children, whose name was Helle, fell into the sea and was drowned. But the other (a little boy named Phrixus) was brought safe ashore by the faithful ram, who, however, was so exhausted that he immediately lay down and died. In memory of this good deed, and as a token of his true heart, the fleece of the poor dead ram was miraculously changed to gold and became one of the most beautiful objects ever seen on earth. It was hung upon a tree in a sacred grove, where it had now been kept I know not how many years, and was the envy of mighty kings who had nothing so magnificent in any of their palaces. If I were to tell you all the adventures of the Argonauts it would take me till nightfall and perhaps a great deal longer. There was no lack of wonderful events, as you may judge from what you have already heard. At a certain island they were hospitably received by King Cyzicus, its sovereign, who made a feast for them and treated them like brothers. But the Argonauts saw that this good king looked downcast and very much troubled, and they therefore inquired of him what was the matter. King Cyzicus hereupon informed them that he and his subjects were greatly abused and incommoded by the inhabitants of a neighboring mountain, who made war upon them and killed many people and ravaged the country. And while they were talking about it Cyzicus pointed to the mountain and asked Jason and his companions what they saw there.

"I see some very tall objects," answered Jason, "but they are at such a distance that I cannot distinctly make out what they are. To tell your majesty the truth, they look so very strangely that I am inclined to think them clouds which have chanced to take something like human shapes." "I see them very plainly," remarked Lynceus, whose eyes, you know, were as far-sighted as a telescope. "They are a band of enormous giants, all of whom have six arms apiece, and a club, a sword or some other weapon in each of their hands." "You have excellent eyes," said King Cyzicus. "Yes, they are six-armed giants, as you say, and these are the enemies whom I and my subjects have to contend with." The next day, when the Argonauts were about setting sail, down came these terrible giants, stepping a hundred yards at a stride, brandishing their six arms apiece and looking very formidable so far aloft in the air. Each of these monsters was able to carry on a whole war by himself, for with one of his arms he could fling immense stones and wield a club with another and a sword with a third, while a fourth was poking a long spear at the enemy and the fifth and sixth were shooting him with a bow and arrow. But luckily, though the giants were so huge and had so many arms, they had each but one heart and that no bigger nor braver than the heart of an ordinary man. Besides, if they had been like the hundred-armed Briareus, the brave Argonauts would have given them their hands full of fight. Jason and his friends went boldly to meet them, slew a great many and made the rest take to their heels--so that if the giants had had six legs apiece instead of six arms, it would have served them better to run away with.

Another strange adventure happened when the voyagers came to Thrace, where they found a poor blind king named Phineus, deserted by his subjects and living in a very sorrowful way all by himself. On Jason's inquiring whether they could do him any service, the king answered that he was terribly tormented by three great winged creatures called Harpies, which had the faces of women and the wings, bodies and claws of vultures. These ugly wretches were in the habit of snatching away his dinner, and allowed him no peace of his life. Upon hearing this the Argonauts spread a plentiful feast on the seashore, well knowing from what the blind king said of their greediness that the Harpies would snuff up the scent of the victuals and quickly come to steal them away. And so it turned out, for hardly was the table set before the three hideous vulture-women came flapping their wings, seized the food in their talons and flew off as fast as they could. But the two sons of the North Wind drew their swords, spread their pinions and set off through the air in pursuit of the thieves, whom they at last overtook among some islands, after a chase of hundreds of miles. The two winged youths blustered terribly at the Harpies (for they had the rough temper of their father), and so frightened them with their drawn swords that they solemnly promised never to trouble King Phineus again.

Then the Argonauts sailed onward and met with many other marvelous incidents, any one of which would make a story by itself. At one time they landed on an island and were reposing on the grass, when they suddenly found themselves assailed by what seemed a shower of steel-headed arrows. Some of them stuck in the ground, while others hit against their shields and several penetrated their flesh. The fifty heroes started up and looked about them for the hidden enemy, but could find none nor see any spot on the whole island where even a single archer could lie concealed. Still, however, the steel-headed arrows came whizzing among them; and at last, happening to look upward, they beheld a large flock of birds hovering and wheeling aloft and shooting their feathers down upon the Argonauts. These feathers were the steel-headed arrows that had so tormented them. There was no possibility of making any resistance, and the fifty heroic Argonauts might all have been killed or wounded by a flock of troublesome birds without ever setting eyes on the Golden Fleece if Jason had not thought of asking the advice of the oaken image. So he ran to the galley as fast as his legs would carry him. "O daughter of the Speaking Oak," cried he, all out of breath, "we need your wisdom more than ever before! We are in great peril from a flock of birds, who are shooting us with their steel-pointed feathers. What can we do to drive them away?" "Make a clatter on your shields," said the image.


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