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

The Passage of the Symplegades

dropcap image HEY came near Salmydessus, where Phineus, the wise king, ruled, and they sailed past it; they sighted the pile of stones, with the oar upright upon it that they had raised on the seashore over the body of Tiphys, the skillful steersman whom they had lost; they sailed on until they heard a sound that grew more and more thunderous, and then the heroes said to each other, "Now we come to the Symplegades and the dread passage into the Sea of Pontus."

It was then that Jason cried out: "Ah, when Pelias spoke of this quest to me, why did I not turn my head away and refuse to be drawn into it? Since we came near the dread passage that is before us I have passed every night in groans. As for you who have come with me, you may take your ease, for you need care only for your own lives. But I have to care for you all, and to strive to win for you all a safe return to Greece. Ah, greatly am I afflicted now, knowing to what a great peril I have brought you!"

So Jason said, thinking to make trial of the heroes. They, on their part, were not dismayed, but shouted back cheerful words to him. Then he said: "O friends of mine, by your spirit my spirit is quickened. Now if I knew that I was being borne down into the black gulfs of Hades, I should fear nothing, knowing that you are constant and faithful of heart."

As he said this they came into water that seethed all around the ship. Then into the hands of Euphemus, a youth of Iolcus, who was the keenest-eyed amongst the Argonauts, Jason put the pigeon that Hypsipyle had given him. He bade him stand by the prow of the Argo,  ready to loose the pigeon as the ship came nigh that dreadful gate of rock.

They saw the spray being dashed around in showers; they saw the sea spread itself out in foam; they saw the high, black rocks rush together, sounding thunderously as they met. The caves in the high rocks rumbled as the sea surged into them, and the foam of the dashing waves spurted high up the rocks.

Jason shouted to each man to grip hard on the oars. The Argo  dashed on as the rocks rushed toward each other again. Then there was such noise that no man's voice could be heard above it.

As the rocks met, Euphemus loosed the pigeon. With his keen eyes he watched her fly through the spray. Would she, not finding an opening to fly through, turn back? He watched, and meanwhile the Argonauts gripped hard on the oars to save the ship from being dashed on the rocks. The pigeon fluttered as though she would sink down and let the spray drown her. And then Euphemus saw her raise herself and fly forward. Toward the place where she had flown he pointed. The rowers gave a loud cry, and Jason called upon them to pull with might and main.

The rocks were parting asunder, and to the right and left broad Pontus was seen by the heroes. Then suddenly a huge wave rose before them, and at the sight of it they all uttered a cry and bent their heads. It seemed to them that it would dash down on the whole ship's length and overwhelm them all. But Nauplius was quick to ease the ship, and the wave rolled away beneath the keel, and at the stern it raised the Argo  and dashed her away from the rocks.

They felt the sun as it streamed upon them through the sundered rocks. They strained at the oars until the oars bent like bows in their hands. The ship sprang forward. Surely they were now in the wide Sea of Pontus!

The Argonauts shouted. They saw the rocks behind them with the sea fowl screaming upon them. Surely they were in the Sea of Pontus—the sea that had never been entered before through the Rocks Wandering. The rocks no longer dashed together; each remained fixed in its place, for it was the will of the gods that these rocks should no more clash together after a mortal's ship had passed between them.

They were now in the Sea of Pontus, the sea into which flowed the river that Colchis was upon—the River Phasis. And now above Jason's head the bird of peaceful days, the Halcyon, fluttered, and the Argonauts knew that this was a sign from the gods that the voyage would not any more be troublous.

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