Gateway to the Classics: The Golden Fleece and the Heroes by Padraic Colum
 
The Golden Fleece and the Heroes by  Padraic Colum

The Carrying of the Argo

dropcap image ITH the terrible weight of the ship upon their shoulders the Argonauts made their way across the desert, following the tracks of Poseidon's golden-maned horse. Like a rounded serpent that drags with pain its length along, they went day after day across that limitless land.

A day came when they saw the great tracks of the horse no more. A wind had come up and had covered them with sand. With the mighty weight of the ship upon their shoulders, with the sun beating upon their heads, and with no marks on the desert to guide them, the heroes stood there, and it seemed to them that the blood must gush up and out of their hearts.

Then Zetes and Calais, sons of the North Wind, rose up upon their wings to strive to get sight of the sea. Up, up, they soared. And then as a man sees, or thinks he sees, at the month's beginning, the moon through a bank of clouds, Zetes and Calais, looking over the measureless land, saw the gleam of water. They shouted to the Argonauts; they marked the way for them, and wearily, but with good hearts, the heroes went upon the way.


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They came at last to the shore of what seemed to be a wide inland sea. They set Argo  down from off their over-wearied shoulders and they let her keel take water once more.

All salt and brackish was that water; they dipped their hands into and tasted the salt. Orpheus was able to name the water they had come to; it was that lake that was called after Triton, the son of Nereus, the ancient one of the sea. They set up an altar and they made sacrifices in thanksgiving to the gods.

They had come to water at last, but now they had to seek for other water—for the sweet water that they could drink. All around them they looked, but they saw no sign of a spring. And then they felt a wind blow upon them—a wind that had in it not the dust of the desert but the fragrance of growing things. Toward where that wind blew from they went.

As they went on they saw a great shape against the sky; they saw mountainous shoulders bowed. Orpheus bade them halt and turn their faces with reverence toward that great shape: for this was Atlas the Titan, the brother of Prometheus, who stood there to hold up the sky on his shoulders.

Then they were near the place that the fragrance had blown from: there was a garden there; the only fence that ran around it was a lattice of silver. "Surely there are springs in the garden," the Argonauts said. "We will enter this fair garden now and slake our thirst."

Orpheus bade them walk reverently, for all around them, he said, was sacred ground. This garden was the Garden of the Hesperides that was watched over by the Daughters of the Evening Land. The Argonauts looked through the silver lattice; they saw trees with lovely fruit, and they saw three maidens moving through the garden with watchful eyes. In this garden grew the tree that had the golden apples that Zeus gave to Hera as a wedding gift.

They saw the tree on which the golden apples grew. The maidens went to it and then looked watchfully all around them. They saw the faces of the Argonauts looking through the silver lattice and they cried out, one to the other, and they joined their hands around the tree.

But Orpheus called to them, and the maidens understood the divine speech of Orpheus. He made the Daughters of the Evening Land know that they who stood before the lattice were men who reverenced the gods, who would not strive to enter the forbidden garden. The maidens came toward them. Beautiful as the singing of Orpheus was their utterance, but what they said was a complaint and a lament.

Their lament was for the dragon Ladon, that dragon with a hundred heads that guarded sleeplessly the tree that had the golden apples. Now that dragon was slain. With arrows that had been dipped in the poison of the Hydra's blood their dragon, Ladon, had been slain.

The Daughters of the Evening Land sang of how a mortal had come into the garden that they watched over. He had a great bow, and with his arrow he slew the dragon that guarded the golden apples. The golden apples he had taken away; they had come back to the tree they had been plucked from, for no mortal might keep them in his possession. So the maidens sang—Hespere, Eretheis, and Ægle—and they complained that now, unhelped by the hundred-headed dragon, they had to keep guard over the tree.

The Argonauts knew of whom they told the tale—Heracles, their comrade. Would that Heracles were with them now!

The Hesperides told them of Heracles—of how the springs in the garden dried up because of his plucking the golden apples. He came out of the garden thirsting. Nowhere could he find a spring of water. To yonder great rock he went. He smote it with his foot and water came out in full flow. Then he, leaning on his hands and with his chest upon the ground, drank and drank from the water that flowed from the rifted rock.

The Argonauts looked to where the rock stood. They caught the sound of water. They carried Medea over. And then, company after company, all huddled together, they stooped down and drank their fill of the clear good water. With lips wet with the water they cried to each other, "Heracles! Although he is not with us, in very truth Heracles has saved his comrades from deadly thirst!"

They saw his footsteps printed upon the rocks, and they followed them until they led to the sand where no footsteps stay. Heracles! How glad his comrades would have been if they could have had sight of him then! But it was long ago—before he had sailed with them—that Heracles had been here.

Still hearing their complaint they turned back to the lattice, to where the Daughters of the Evening Land stood. The Daughters of the Evening Land bent their heads to listen to what the Argonauts told one another, and, seeing them bent to listen, Orpheus told a story about one who had gone across the Libyan desert, about one who was a hero like unto Heracles.


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