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

The Golden Maid

Epimetheus the Titan had a brother who was the wisest of all beings—Prometheus called the Foreseer. But Epimetheus himself was slow-witted and scatter-brained. His wise brother once sent him a message bidding him beware of the gifts that Zeus might send him. Epimetheus heard, but he did not heed the warning, and thereby he brought upon the race of men troubles and cares.

Prometheus, the wise Titan, had saved men from a great trouble that Zeus would have brought upon them. Also he had given them the gift of fire. Zeus was the more wroth with men now because fire, stolen from him, had been given them; he was wroth with the race of Titans, too, and he pondered in his heart how he might injure men, and how he might use Epimetheus, the mindless Titan, to further his plan.

While he pondered there was a hush on high Olympus, the mountain of the gods. Then Zeus called upon the artisan of the gods, lame Hephæstus, and he commanded him to make a being out of clay that would have the likeness of a lovely maiden. With joy and pride Hephæstus worked at the task that had been given him, and he fashioned a being that had the likeness of a lovely maiden, and he brought the thing of his making before the gods and the goddesses.

All strove to add a grace or a beauty to the work of Hephæstus. Zeus granted that the maiden should see and feel. Athene dressed her in garments that were as lovely as flowers. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, put a charm on her lips and in her eyes. The Graces put necklaces around her neck and set a golden crown upon her head. The Hours brought her a girdle of spring flowers. Then the herald of the gods gave her speech that was sweet and flowing. All the gods and goddesses had given gifts to her, and for that reason the maiden of Hephæstus's making was called Pandora, the All-endowed.

She was lovely, the gods knew; not beautiful as they themselves are, who have a beauty that awakens reverence rather than love, but lovely, as flowers and bright waters and earthly maidens are lovely. Zeus smiled to himself when he looked upon her, and he called to Hermes who knew all the ways of the earth, and he put her into the charge of Hermes. Also he gave Hermes a great jar to take along; this jar was Pandora's dower.

Epimetheus lived in a deep-down valley. Now one day, as he was sitting on a fallen pillar in the ruined place that was now forsaken by the rest of the Titans, he saw a pair coming toward him. One had wings, and he knew him to be Hermes, the messenger of the gods. The other was a maiden. Epimetheus marveled at the crown upon her head and at her lovely garments. There was a glint of gold all around her. He rose from where he sat upon the broken pillar and he stood to watch the pair. Hermes, he saw, was carrying by its handle a great jar.


In wonder and delight he looked upon the maiden. Epimetheus had seen no lovely thing for ages. Wonderful indeed was this Golden Maid, and as she came nearer the charm that was on her lips and in her eyes came to the Earth-born One, and he smiled with more and more delight.

Hermes came and stood before him. He also smiled, but his smile had something baleful in it. He put the hands of the Golden Maid into the great soft hand of the Titan, and he said, "O Epimetheus, Father Zeus would be reconciled with thee, and as a sign of his good will he sends thee this lovely goddess to be thy companion."

Oh, very foolish was Epimetheus the Earth-born One! As he looked upon the Golden Maid who was sent by Zeus he lost memory of the wars that Zeus had made upon the Titans and the Elder Gods; he lost memory of his brother chained by Zeus to the rock; he lost memory of the warning that his brother, the wisest of all beings, had sent him. He took the hands of Pandora, and he thought of nothing at all in all the world but her. Very far away seemed the voice of Hermes saying, "This jar, too, is from Olympus; it has in it Pandora's dower."

The jar stood forgotten for long, and green plants grew over it while Epimetheus walked in the garden with the Golden Maid, or watched her while she gazed on herself in the stream, or searched in the untended places for the fruits that the Elder Gods would eat, when they feasted with the Titans in the old days, before Zeus had come to his power. And lost to Epimetheus was the memory of his brother now suffering upon the rock because of the gift he had given to men.

And Pandora, knowing nothing except the brightness of the sunshine and the lovely shapes and colors of things and the sweet taste of the fruits that Epimetheus brought to her, could have stayed forever in that garden.

But every day Epimetheus would think that the men and women of the world should be able to talk to him about this maiden with the wonderful radiance of gold, and with the lovely garments, and the marvelous crown. And one day he took Pandora by the hand, and he brought her out of that deep-lying valley, and toward the homes of men. He did not forget the jar that Hermes had left with her. All things that belonged to the Golden Maid were precious, and Epimetheus took the jar along.

The race of men at the time were simple and content. Their days were passed in toil, but now, since Prometheus had given them fire, they had good fruits of their toil. They had well-shaped tools to dig the earth and to build houses. Their homes were warmed with fire, and fire burned upon the altars that were upon their ways.

Greatly they reverenced Prometheus, who had given them fire, and greatly they reverenced the race of the Titans. So when Epimetheus came amongst them, tall as a man walking with stilts, they welcomed him and brought him and the Golden Maid to their hearths. And Epimetheus showed Pandora the wonderful element that his brother had given to men, and she rejoiced to see the fire, clapping her hands with delight. The jar that Epimetheus brought he left in an open place.

In carrying it up the rough ways out of the valley Epimetheus may have knocked the jar about, for the lid that had been tight upon it now fitted very loosely. But no one gave heed to the jar as it stood in the open space where Epimetheus had left it.

At first the men and women looked upon the beauty of Pandora, upon her lovely dresses, and her golden crown and her girdle of flowers, with wonder and delight. Epimetheus would have every one admire and praise her. The men would leave off working in the fields, or hammering on iron, or building houses, and the women would leave off spinning or weaving, and come at his call, and stand about and admire the Golden Maid. But as time went by a change came upon the women: one woman would weep, and another would look angry, and a third would go back sullenly to her work when Pandora was admired or praised.

Once the women were gathered together, and one who was the wisest amongst them said: "Once we did not think about ourselves, and we were content. But now we think about ourselves, and we say to ourselves that we are harsh and ill-favored indeed compared to the Golden Maid that the Titan is so enchanted with. And we hate to see our own men praise and admire her, and often, in our hearts, we would destroy her if we could."

"That is true," the women said. And then a young woman cried out in a most yearnful voice, "O tell us, you who are wise, how can we make ourselves as beautiful as Pandora!"

Then said that woman who was thought to be wise, "This Golden Maid is lovely to look upon because she has lovely apparel and all the means of keeping herself lovely. The gods have given her the ways, and so her skin remains fair, and her hair keeps its gold, and her lips are ever red and her eyes shining. And I think that the means that she has of keeping lovely are all in that jar that Epimetheus brought with her."

When the woman who was thought to be wise said this, those around her were silent for a while. But then one arose and another arose, and they stood and whispered together, one saying to the other that they should go to the place where the jar had been left by Epimetheus, and that they should take out of it the salves and the charms and the washes that would leave them as beautiful as Pandora.

So the women went to that place. On their way they stopped at a pool and they bent over to see themselves mirrored in it, and they saw themselves with dusty and unkempt hair, with large and knotted hands, with troubled eyes, and with anxious mouths. They frowned as they looked upon their images, and they said in harsh voices that in a while they would have ways of making themselves as lovely as the Golden Maid.

And as they went on they saw Pandora. She was playing in a flowering field, while Epimetheus, high as a man upon stilts, went gathering the blossoms of the bushes for her. They went on, and they came at last to the place where Epimetheus had left the jar that held Pandora's dower.

A great stone jar it was; there was no bird, nor flower, nor branch painted upon it. It stood high as a woman's shoulder. And as the women looked on it they thought that there were things enough in it to keep them beautiful for all the days of their lives. But each one thought that she should not be the last to get her hands into it.

Once the lid had been fixed tightly down on the jar. But the lid was shifted a little now. As the hands of the women grasped it to take off the lid the jar was cast down, and the things that were inside spilled themselves forth.

They were black and gray and red; they were crawling and flying things. And, as the women looked, the things spread themselves abroad or fastened themselves upon them.

The jar, like Pandora herself, had been made and filled out of the ill will of Zeus. And it had been filled, not with salves and charms and washes, as the women had thought, but with Cares and Troubles. Before the women came to it one Trouble had already come forth from the jar—Self-thought that was upon the top of the heap. It was Self-thought that had afflicted the women, making them troubled about their own looks, and envious of the graces of the Golden Maid.

And now the others spread themselves out—Sickness and War and Strife between friends. They spread themselves abroad and entered the houses, while Epimetheus, the mindless Titan, gathered flowers for Pandora, the Golden Maid.


Lest she should weary of her play he called to her. He would take her into the houses of men. As they drew near to the houses they saw a woman seated on the ground, weeping; her husband had suddenly become hard to her and had shut the door on her face.

They came upon a child crying because of a pain that he could not understand. And then they found two men struggling, their strife being on account of a possession that they had both held peaceably before.

In every house they went to Epimetheus would say, "I am the brother of Prometheus, who gave you the gift of fire." But instead of giving them a welcome the men would say, "We know nothing about your relation to Prometheus. We see you as a foolish man upon stilts."

Epimetheus was troubled by the hard looks and the cold words of the men who once had reverenced him. He turned from the houses and went away. In a quiet place he sat down, and for a while he lost sight of Pandora. And then it seemed to him that he heard the voice of his wise and suffering brother saying, "Do not accept any gift that Zeus may send you."

He rose up and he hurried away from that place, leaving Pandora playing by herself. There came into his scattered mind Regret and Fear. As he went on he stumbled. He fell from the edge of a cliff, and the sea washed away the body of the mindless brother of Prometheus.

Not everything had been spilled out of the jar that had been brought with Pandora into the world of men. A beautiful, living thing was in that jar also. This was Hope. And this beautiful, living thing had got caught under the rim of the jar and had not come forth with the others. One day a weeping woman found Hope under the rim of Pandora's jar and brought this living thing into the house of men. And now because of Hope they could see an end to their troubles. And the men and women roused themselves in the midst of their afflictions and they looked toward gladness. Hope, that had been caught under the rim of the jar, stayed behind the thresholds of their houses.

As for Pandora, the Golden Maid, she played on, knowing only the brightness of the sunshine and the lovely shapes of things. Beautiful would she have seemed to any being who saw her, but now she had strayed away from the houses of men and Epimetheus was not there to look upon her. Then Hephæstus, the lame artisan of the gods, left down his tools and went to seek her. He found Pandora, and he took her back to Olympus. And in his brazen house she stays, though sometimes at the will of Zeus she goes down into the world of men.

When Polydeuces had ended the story that Castor had begun, Heracles cried out: "For the Argonauts, too, there has been a Golden Maid—nay, not one, but a Golden Maid for each. Out of the jar that has been with her ye have taken forgetfulness of your honor. As for me, I go back to the Argo  lest one of these Golden Maids should hold me back from the labors that make great a man."

So Heracles said, and he went from Hypsipyle's hall. The heroes looked at each other, and they stood up, and shame that they had stayed so long away from the quest came over each of them. The maidens took their hands; the heroes unloosed those soft hands and turned away from them.

Hypsipyle left the throne of King Thoas and stood before Jason. There was a storm in all her body; her mouth was shaken, and a whole life's trouble was in her great eyes. Before she spoke Jason cried out: "What Heracles said is true, O Argonauts! On the Quest of the Golden Fleece our lives and our honors depend. To Colchis—to Colchis must we go!"

He stood upright in the hall, and his comrades gathered around him. The Lemnian maidens would have held out their arms and would have made their partings long delayed, but that a strange cry came to them through the night. Well did the Argonauts know that cry—it was the cry of the ship, of Argo  herself. They knew that they must go to her now or stay from the voyage for ever. And the maidens knew that there was something in the cry of the ship that might not be gainsaid, and they put their hands before their faces, and they said no other word.

Then said Hypsipyle, the queen, "I, too, am a ruler, Jason, and I know that there are great commands that we have to obey. Go, then, to the Argo.  Ah, neither I nor the women of Lemnos will stay your going now. But to-morrow speak to us from the deck of the ship and bid us farewell. Do not go from us in the night, Jason."

Jason and the Argonauts went from Hypsipyle's hall. The maidens who were left behind wept together. All but Hypsipyle. She sat on the throne of King Thoas and she had Polyxo, her nurse, tell her of the ways of Jason's voyage as he had told of them, and of all that he would have to pass through. When the other Lemnian women slept she put her head upon her nurse's knees and wept; bitterly Hypsipyle wept, but softly, for she would not have the others hear her weeping.


By the coming of the morning's light the Argonauts had made all ready for their sailing. They were standing on the deck when the light came, and they saw the Lemnian women come to the shore. Each looked at her friend aboard the Argo,  and spoke, and went away. And last, Hypsipyle, the queen, came. "Farewell, Hypsipyle," Jason said to her, and she, in her strange way of speaking, said:

"What you told us I have remembered—how you will come to the dangerous passage that leads into the Sea of Pontus, and how by the flight of a pigeon you will know whether or not you may go that way. O Jason, let the dove you fly when you come to that dangerous place be Hypsipyle's."

She showed a pigeon held in her hands. She loosed it, and the pigeon alighted on the ship, and stayed there on pink feet, a white-feathered pigeon. Jason took up the pigeon and held it in his hands, and the Argo  drew swiftly away from the Lemnian land.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Departure from Lemnos  |  Next: The Passage of the Symplegades
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.