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

Part I

The Voyage to Colchis

The Youth Jason

dropcap image MAN in the garb of a slave went up the side of that mountain that is all covered with forest, the Mountain Pelion. He carried in his arms a little child.

When it was full noon the slave came into a clearing of the forest so silent that it seemed empty of all life. He laid the child down on the soft moss, and then, trembling with the fear of what might come before him, he raised a horn to his lips and blew three blasts upon it.

Then he waited. The blue sky was above him, the great trees stood away from him, and the little child lay at his feet. He waited, and then he heard the thud-thud of great hooves. And then from between the trees he saw coming toward him the strangest of all beings, one who was half man and half horse; this was Chiron the centaur.

Chiron came toward the trembling slave. Greater than any horse was Chiron, taller than any man. The hair of his head flowed back into his horse's mane, his great beard flowed over his horse's chest; in his man's hand he held a great spear.


Not swiftly he came, but the slave could see that in those great limbs of his there was speed like to the wind's. The slave fell upon his knees. And with eyes that were full of majesty and wisdom and limbs that were full of strength and speed, the king-centaur stood above him. "O my lord," the slave said, "I have come before thee sent by Æson, my master, who told me where to come and what blasts to blow upon the horn. And Æson, once King of Iolcus, bade me say to thee that if thou dost remember his ancient friendship with thee thou wilt, perchance, take this child and guard and foster him, and, as he grows, instruct him with thy wisdom."

"For Æson's sake I will rear and foster this child," said Chiron the king-centaur in a deep voice.

The child lying on the moss had been looking up at the four-footed and two-handed centaur. Now the slave lifted him up and placed him in the centaur's arms. He said:

"Æson bade me tell thee that the child's name is Jason. He bade me give thee this ring with the great ruby in it that thou mayst give it to the child when he is grown. By this ring with its ruby and the images engraved on it Æson may know his son when they meet after many years and many changes. And another thing Æson bade me say to thee, O my lord Chiron: not presumptuous is he, but he knows that this child has the regard of the immortal Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus."

Chiron held Æson's son in his arms, and the little child put hands into his great beard. Then the centaur said, "Let Æson know that his son will be reared and fostered by me, and that, when they meet again, there will be ways by which they will be known to each other."

Saying this Chiron the centaur, holding the child in his arms, went swiftly toward the forest arches; then the slave took up the horn and went down the side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to where a horse was hidden, and he mounted and rode, first to a city, and then to a village that was beyond the city.

All this was before the famous walls of Troy were built; before King Priam had come to the throne of his father and while he was still known, not as Priam, but as Podarces. And the beginning of all these happenings was in Iolcus, a city in Thessaly.

Cretheus founded the city and had ruled over it in days before King Priam was born. He left two sons, Æson and Pelias. Æson succeeded his father. And because he was a mild and gentle man the men of war did not love Æson; they wanted a hard king who would lead them to conquests.

Pelias, the brother of Æson, was ever with the men of war; he knew what mind they had toward Æson and he plotted with them to overthrow his brother. This they did, and they brought Pelias to reign as king in Iolcus.

The people loved Æson and they feared Pelias. And because the people loved him and would be maddened by his slaying, Pelias and the men of war left him living. With his wife, Alcimide, and his infant son, Æson went from the city, and in a village that was at a distance from Iolcus he found a hidden house and went to dwell in it.

Æson would have lived content there were it not that he was fearful for Jason, his infant son. Jason, he knew, would grow into a strong and a bold youth, and Pelias, the king, would be made uneasy on his account. Pelias would slay the son, and perhaps would slay the father for the son's sake when his memory would come to be less loved by the people. Æson thought of such things in his hidden house, and he pondered on ways to have his son reared away from Iolcus and the dread and the power of King Pelias.

He had for a friend one who was the wisest of all creatures—Chiron the centaur; Chiron who was half man and half horse; Chiron who had lived and was yet to live measureless years. Chiron had fostered Heracles, and it might be that he would not refuse to foster Jason, Æson's child.

Away in the fastnesses of Mount Pelion Chiron dwelt; once Æson had been with him and had seen the centaur hunt with his great bow and his great spears. And Æson knew a way that one might come to him; Chiron himself had told him of the way.

Now there was a slave in his house who had been a huntsman and who knew all the ways of the Mountain Pelion. Æson talked with this slave one day, and after he had talked with him he sat for a long time over the cradle of his sleeping infant. And then he spoke to Alcimide, his wife, telling her of a parting that made her weep. That evening the slave came in and Æson took the child from the arms of the mournful-eyed mother and put him in the slave's arms. Also he gave him a horn and a ring with a great ruby in it and mystic images engraved on its gold. Then when the ways were dark the slave mounted a horse, and, with the child in his arms, rode through the city that King Pelias ruled over. In the morning he came to that mountain that is all covered with forest, the Mountain Pelion. And that evening he came back to the village and to Æson's hidden house, and he told his master how he had prospered.

Æson was content thereafter although he was lonely and although his wife was lonely in their childlessness. But the time came when they rejoiced that their child had been sent into an unreachable place. For messengers from King Pelias came inquiring about the boy. They told the king's messengers that the child had strayed off from his nurse, and that whether he had been slain by a wild beast or had been drowned in the swift River Anaurus they did not know.

The years went by and Pelias felt secure upon the throne he had taken from his brother. Once he sent to the oracle of the gods to ask of it whether he should be fearful of anything. What the oracle answered was this: that King Pelias had but one thing to dread—the coming of a half-shod man.

The centaur nourished the child Jason on roots and fruits and honey; for shelter they had a great cave that Chiron had lived in for numberless years. When he had grown big enough to leave the cave Chiron would let Jason mount on his back; with the child holding on to his great mane he would trot gently through the ways of the forest.

Jason began to know the creatures of the forest and their haunts. Sometimes Chiron would bring his great bow with him; then Jason, on his back, would hold the quiver and would hand him the arrows. The centaur would let the boy see him kill with a single arrow the bear, the boar, or the deer. And soon Jason, running beside him, hunted too.

No heroes were ever better trained than those whose childhood and youth had been spent with Chiron the king-centaur. He made them more swift of foot than any other of the children of men. He made them stronger and more ready with the spear and bow. Jason was trained by Chiron as Heracles just before him had been trained, and as Achilles was to be trained afterward.

Moreover, Chiron taught him the knowledge of the stars and the wisdom that had to do with the ways of the gods.

Once, when they were hunting together, Jason saw a form at the end of an alley of trees—the form of a woman it was—of a woman who had on her head a shining crown. Never had Jason dreamt of seeing a form so wondrous. Not very near did he come, but he thought he knew that the woman smiled upon him. She was seen no more, and Jason knew that he had looked upon one of the immortal goddesses.

All day Jason was filled with thought of her whom he had seen. At night, when the stars were out, and when they were seated outside the cave, Chiron and Jason talked together, and Chiron told the youth that she whom he had seen was none other than Hera, the wife of Zeus, who had for his father Æson and for himself an especial friendliness.

So Jason grew up upon the mountain and in the forest fastnesses. When he had reached his full height and had shown himself swift in the hunt and strong with the spear and bow, Chiron told him that the time had come when he should go back to the world of men and make his name famous by the doing of great deeds.

And when Chiron told him about his father Æson—about how he had been thrust out of the kingship by Pelias, his uncle—a great longing came upon Jason to see his father and a fierce anger grew up in his heart against Pelias.

Then the time came when he bade good-by to Chiron his great instructor; the time came when he went from the centaur's cave for the last time, and went through the wooded ways and down the side of the Mountain Pelion. He came to the river, to the swift Anaurus, and he found it high in flood. The stones by which one might cross were almost all washed over; far apart did they seem in the flood.

Now as he stood there pondering on what he might do there came up to him an old woman who had on her back a load of brushwood. "Wouldst thou cross?" asked the old woman. "Wouldst thou cross and get thee to the city of Iolcus, Jason, where so many things await thee?"

Greatly was the youth astonished to hear his name spoken by this old woman, and to hear her give the name of the city he was bound for. "Wouldst thou cross the Anaurus?" she asked again. "Then mount upon my back, holding on to the wood I carry, and I will bear thee over the river."

Jason smiled. How foolish this old woman was to think that she could bear him across the flooded river! She came near him and she took him in her arms and lifted him up on her shoulders. Then, before he knew what she was about to do, she had stepped into the water.

From stone to stepping-stone she went, Jason holding on to the wood that she had drawn to her shoulders. She left him down upon the bank. As she was lifting him down one of his feet touched the water; the swift current swept away a sandal.


He stood on the bank knowing that she who had carried him across the flooded river had strength from the gods. He looked upon her, and behold! she was transformed. Instead of an old woman there stood before him one who had on a golden robe and a shining crown. Around her was a wondrous light—the light of the sun when it is most golden. Then Jason knew that she who had carried him across the broad Anaurus was the goddess whom he had seen in the ways of the forest—Hera, great Zeus's wife.

"Go into Iolcus, Jason," said great Hera to him, "go into Iolcus, and in whatever chance doth befall thee act as one who has the eyes of the immortals upon him."

She spoke and she was seen no more. Then Jason went on his way to the city that Cretheus, his grandfather, had founded and that his father Æson had once ruled over. He came into that city, a tall, great-limbed, unknown youth, dressed in a strange fashion, and having but one sandal on.

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