Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt

The Cranes of Ibycus

Several old writers mention a race of little men called Pygmies, who lived far away toward the rising of the sun. These little people were afraid of some large birds called cranes, which had long bills and immense appetites. The Pygmies and the cranes had great battles, in which the little people were often beaten and eaten.


After awhile the birds came together by common consent in a great council, and it was agreed that they should all fly away. They formed in ranks like an army, put guards in the rear to keep the army in order and not let any weaker ones get lost. Then they appointed a leader, and rising high into the air where they could see far off into the distance and choose the pleasantest land, they set off with great screams.

It was evening when they started. They flew all night, and rested in the day-time, when they hid themselves in tall grasses in marshy places. They appointed day-guards to watch while they slept. They put a stone in the claw of each guard and told him that he would be punished if he let it fall. When the guards were appointed, the birds tucked their heads under their wings, each standing on one foot, and dropped off into a slumber. It is said that they slept all day, and when night came they flew on again, so that no one should see them flying, and that they carried their crops full of sand, and stones in their claws to steady them in their flight, as a ship carries ballast.

As they journeyed along, they looked down one bright moonlight night and saw a wandering musician, a minstrel, singing from door to door. He sang such songs as the birds sing, and the cranes stopped in their flight to listen. Ibycus, for that was the wanderer's name, had started out to attend a chariot race, where all the tribes of the country came once a year to a festival. Here the poets met and the singers; and those who sang the sweetest songs were crowned with pine. Ibycus had learned his music from Apollo, the god of music, who was said to understand all harmonies, and to play on a harp with golden strings.

When Ibycus left the town and entered the forest, he began to be afraid, for he did not know the way. But looking upward, he saw the gray squadron moving swiftly through the skies, and he called out, "Hail to thee, friendly band! I deem it a favorable sign that thou too art come from a distant coast, and dost go in the same direction with me."

Ibycus hastened on in a joyous mood, and soon reached a little bridge where he was attacked by two robbers, who came to steal the gifts which travellers laid on the altars of the gods that were all about the groves. They were rough fellows, unable to understand the gentle poet, whose hand could tune the lyre, but could not string the deadly bow. The poet struggled to free himself, and cried out for help, but no one came to his assistance. Then he called to the cranes, "Bear ye my dying song to the festival." And he lay down and died of the wounds the robbers had inflicted.

The news of the poet's death was received with great grief at the festival, and all the people hastened to pour wine on the ground that the spirit of the dead man might be at peace and pass to the happy fields of Elysium. But there was a band of furies who circled in a stately dance, chanting fearful songs of sorrow for the beloved Ibycus.


A Fury

Suddenly the heavens became black as night, and a voice cried out, "See there! See there! Behold the cranes!" When the robbers saw the cranes, they were seized with trembling, and gave themselves up to punishment.

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