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From Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
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Age Rating 8 to 10.
While the Argonauts remained on this island, they saw a small vessel
approaching the shore, in which were two young men of princely demeanor,
and exceedingly handsome, as young princes generally were, in those
days. Now, who do you imagine these two voyagers turned out to be? Why,
if you will believe me, they were the sons of that very Phrixus, who,
in his childhood, had been carried to Colchis on the back of the
golden-fleeced ram. Since that time, Phrixus had married the king's
daughter; and the two young princes had been born and brought up at
Colchis, and had spent their play-days in the outskirts of the grove, in
the center of which the Golden Fleece was hanging upon a tree. They were
now on their way to Greece, in hopes of getting back a kingdom that had
been wrongfully taken from their father.
When the princes understood whither the Argonauts were going, they
offered to turn back, and guide them to Colchis. At the same time,
however, they spoke as if it were very doubtful whether Jason would
succeed in getting the Golden Fleece. According to their account, the
tree on which it hung was guarded by a terrible dragon, who never failed
to devour, at one mouthful, every person who might venture within his
"There are other difficulties in the way," continued the young princes.
"But is not this enough? Ah, brave Jason, turn back before it is too
late. It would grieve us to the heart, if you and your nine and forty
brave companions should be eaten up, at fifty mouthfuls, by this
"My young friends," quietly replied Jason, "I do not wonder that you
think the dragon very terrible. You have grown up from infancy in the
fear of this monster, and therefore still regard him with the awe that
children feel for the bugbears and hobgoblins which their nurses have
talked to them about. But, in my view of the matter, the dragon is
merely a pretty large serpent, who is not half so likely to snap me up
at one mouthful as I am to cut off his ugly head, and strip the skin
from his body. At all events, turn back who may, I will never see Greece
again, unless I carry with me the Golden Fleece."
"We will none of us turn back!" cried his nine and forty brave comrades.
"Let us get on board the galley this instant; and if the dragon is to
make a breakfast of us, much good may it do him."
And Orpheus (whose custom it was to set everything to music) began to
harp and sing most gloriously, and made every mother's son of them feel
as if nothing in this world were so delectable as to fight dragons, and
nothing so truly honorable as to be eaten up at one mouthful, in case of
After this (being now under the guidance of the two princes, who were
well acquainted with the way), they quickly sailed to Colchis. When the
king of the country, whose name was Aetes, heard of their arrival,
he instantly summoned Jason to court. The king was a stern and cruel
looking potentate; and though he put on as polite and hospitable an
expression as he could, Jason did not like his face a whit better than
that of the wicked King Pelias, who dethroned his father. "You are
welcome, brave Jason," said King Aetes. "Pray, are you on a pleasure
voyage?--Or do you meditate the discovery of unknown islands?--or what
other cause has procured me the happiness of seeing you at my court?"
"Great sir," replied Jason, with an obeisance--for Chiron had taught him
how to behave with propriety, whether to kings or beggars--"I have
come hither with a purpose which I now beg your majesty's permission to
execute. King Pelias, who sits on my father's throne (to which he has
no more right than to the one on which your excellent majesty is now
seated), has engaged to come down from it, and to give me his crown and
sceptre, provided I bring him the Golden Fleece. This, as your majesty
is aware, is now hanging on a tree here at Colchis; and I humbly solicit
your gracious leave to take it away." In spite of himself, the king's
face twisted itself into an angry frown; for, above all things else in
the world, he prized the Golden Fleece, and was even suspected of having
done a very wicked act, in order to get it into his own possession.
It put him into the worst possible humor, therefore, to hear that the
gallant Prince Jason, and forty-nine of the bravest young warriors of
Greece, had come to Colchis with the sole purpose of taking away his
"Do you know," asked King Aetes, eyeing Jason very sternly, "what are
the conditions which you must fulfill before getting possession of the
"I have heard," rejoined the youth, "that a dragon lies beneath the tree
on which the prize hangs, and that whoever approaches him runs the risk
of being devoured at a mouthful."
"True," said the king, with a smile that did not look particularly
good-natured. "Very true, young man. But there are other things as hard,
or perhaps a little harder, to be done before you can even have the
privilege of being devoured by the dragon. For example, you must first
tame my two brazen-footed and brazen-lunged bulls, which Vulcan, the
wonderful blacksmith, made for me. There is a furnace in each of
their stomachs; and they breathe such hot fire out of their mouths
and nostrils, that nobody has hitherto gone nigh them without being
instantly burned to a small, black cinder. What do you think of this, my
"I must encounter the peril," answered Jason, composedly, "since it
stands in the way of my purpose."
"After taming the fiery bulls," continued King Aetes, who was determined
to scare Jason if possible, "you must yoke them to a plow, and must plow
the sacred earth in the Grove of Mars, and sow some of the same dragon's
teeth from which Cadmus raised a crop of armed men. They are an unruly
set of reprobates, those sons of the dragon's teeth; and unless you
treat them suitably, they will fall upon you sword in hand. You and your
nine and forty Argonauts, my bold Jason, are hardly numerous or strong
enough to fight with such a host as will spring up."
"My master Chiron," replied Jason, "taught me, long ago, the story of
Cadmus. Perhaps I can manage the quarrelsome sons of the dragon's teeth
as well as Cadmus did."
"I wish the dragon had him," muttered King Aetes to himself, "and the
four-footed pedant, his schoolmaster, into the bargain. Why, what
a foolhardy, self-conceited coxcomb he is! We'll see what my
fire-breathing bulls will do for him. Well, Prince Jason," he continued,
aloud, and as complaisantly as he could, "make yourself comfortable for
to-day, and to-morrow morning, since you insist upon it, you shall try
your skill at the plow."
While the king talked with Jason, a beautiful young woman was standing
behind the throne. She fixed her eyes earnestly upon the youthful
stranger, and listened attentively to every word that was spoken; and
when Jason withdrew from the king's presence, this young woman followed
him out of the room.
"I am the king's daughter," she said to him, "and my name is Medea. I
know a great deal of which other young princesses are ignorant, and can
do many things which they would be afraid so much as to dream of. If you
will trust to me, I can instruct you how to tame the fiery bulls, and
sow the dragon's teeth, and get the Golden Fleece."
"Indeed, beautiful princess," answered Jason, "if you will do me this
service, I promise to be grateful to you my whole life long."' Gazing
at Medea, he beheld a wonderful intelligence in her face. She was one
of those persons whose eyes are full of mystery; so that, while looking
into them, you seem to see a very great way, as into a deep well,
yet can never be certain whether you see into the farthest depths, or
whether there be not something else hidden at the bottom. If Jason had
been capable of fearing anything, he would have been afraid of making
this young princess his enemy; for, beautiful as she now looked, she
might, the very next instant, become as terrible as the dragon that kept
watch over the Golden Fleece.
"Princess," he exclaimed, "you seem indeed very wise and very powerful.
But how can you help me to do the things of which you speak? Are you an
"Yes, Prince Jason," answered Medea, with a smile, "you have hit upon
the truth. I am an enchantress. Circe, my father's sister, taught me to
be one, and I could tell you, if I pleased, who was the old woman with
the peacock, the pomegranate, and the cuckoo staff, whom you carried
over the river; and, likewise, who it is that speaks through the lips of
the oaken image, that stands in the prow of your galley. I am acquainted
with some of your secrets, you perceive. It is well for you that I
am favorably inclined; for, otherwise, you would hardly escape being
snapped up by the dragon."
"I should not so much care for the dragon," replied Jason, "if I only
knew how to manage the brazen-footed and fiery-lunged bulls."
"If you are as brave as I think you, and as you have need to be," said
Medea, "your own bold heart will teach you that there is but one way
of dealing with a mad bull. What it is I leave you to find out in the
moment of peril. As for the fiery breath of these animals, I have a
charmed ointment here, which will prevent you from being burned up, and
cure you if you chance to be a little scorched."
So she put a golden box into his hand, and directed him how to apply the
perfumed unguent which it contained, and where to meet her at midnight.
"Only be brave," added she, "and before daybreak the brazen bulls shall
The young man assured her that his heart would not fail him. He then
rejoined his comrades, and told them what had passed between the
princess and himself, and warned them to be in readiness in case there
might be need of their help. At the appointed hour he met the beautiful
Medea on the marble steps of the king's palace. She gave him a basket,
in which were the dragon's teeth, just as they had been pulled out of
the monster's jaws by Cadmus, long ago. Medea then led Jason down the
palace steps, and through the silent streets of the city, and into the
royal pasture ground, where the two brazen-footed bulls were kept. It
was a starry night, with a bright gleam along the eastern edge of the
sky, where the moon was soon going to show herself. After entering the
pasture, the princess paused and looked around.
"There they are," said she, "reposing themselves and chewing their
fiery cuds in that farthest corner of the field. It will be excellent
sport, I assure you, when they catch a glimpse of your figure. My father
and all his court delight in nothing so much as to see a stranger trying
to yoke them, in order to come at the Golden Fleece. It makes a holiday
in Colchis whenever such a thing happens. For my part, I enjoy it
immensely. You cannot imagine in what a mere twinkling of an eye their
hot breath shrivels a young man into a black cinder."
"Are you sure, beautiful Medea," asked Jason, "quite sure, that the
unguent in the gold box will prove a remedy against those terrible
"If you doubt, if you are in the least afraid," said the princess,
looking him in the face by the dim starlight, "you had better never have
been born than to go a step nigher to the bulls."
But Jason had set his heart steadfastly on getting the Golden Fleece;
and I positively doubt whether he would have gone back without it, even
had he been certain of finding himself turned into a red-hot cinder,
or a handful of white ashes, the instant he made a step farther.
He therefore let go Medea's hand, and walked boldly forward in the
direction whither she had pointed. At some distance before him he
perceived four streams of fiery vapor, regularly appearing and again
vanishing, after dimly lighting up the surrounding obscurity. These, you
will understand, were caused by the breath of the brazen bulls, which
was quietly stealing out of their four nostrils, as they lay chewing
At the first two or three steps which Jason made, the four fiery streams
appeared to gush out somewhat more plentifully; for the two brazen bulls
had heard his foot tramp, and were lifting up their hot noses to snuff
the air. He went a little farther, and by the way in which the red vapor
now spouted forth, he judged that the creatures had got upon their feet.
Now he could see glowing sparks, and vivid jets of flame. At the next
step, each of the bulls made the pasture echo with a terrible roar,
while the burning breath, which they thus belched forth, lit up the
whole field with a momentary flash. One other stride did bold Jason
make; and, suddenly as a streak of lightning, on came these fiery
animals, roaring like thunder, and sending out sheets of white flame,
which so kindled up the scene that the young man could discern every
object more distinctly than by daylight. Most distinctly of all he saw
the two horrible creatures galloping right down upon him, their brazen
hoofs rattling and ringing over the ground, and their tails sticking up
stiffly into the air, as has always been the fashion with angry bulls.
Their breath scorched the herbage before them. So intensely hot it was,
indeed, that it caught a dry tree under which Jason was now standing,
and set it all in a light blaze. But as for Jason himself (thanks to
Medea's enchanted ointment), the white flame curled around his body,
without injuring him a jot more than if he had been made of asbestos.
continued on page 4