Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Padraic Colum

The Assembling of the Heroes and the Building of the Ship

dropcap image IRST there came the youths CASTOR and POLYDEUCES. They came riding on white horses, two noble-looking brothers. From Sparta they came, and their mother was Leda, who, after the twin brothers, had another child born to her—Helen, for whose sake the sons of many of Jason's friends were to wage war against the great city of Troy. These were the first heroes who came to Iolcus after the word had gone forth through Greece of Jason's adventuring in quest of the Golden Fleece.

And then there came one who had both welcome and reverence from Jason; this one came without spear or bow, bearing in his hands a lyre only. He was ORPHEUS, and he knew all the ways of the gods and all the stories of the gods; when he sang to his lyre the trees would listen and the beasts would follow him. It was Chiron who had counseled Orpheus to go with Jason; Chiron the centaur had met him as he was wandering through the forests on the Mountain Pelion and had sent him down into Iolcus.

Then there came two men well skilled in the handling of ships—TIPHYS and NAUPLIUS. Tiphys knew all about the sun and winds and stars, and all about the signs by which a ship might be steered, and Nauplius had the love of Poseidon, the god of the sea.

Afterward there came, one after the other, two who were famous for their hunting. No two could be more different than these two were. The first was ARCAS. He was dressed in the skin of a bear; he had red hair and savage-looking eyes, and for arms he carried a mighty bow with bronze-tipped arrows. The folk were watching an eagle as he came into the city—an eagle that was winging its way far, far up in the sky. Arcas drew his bow, and with one arrow he brought the eagle down.

The other hunter was a girl, ATALANTA. Tall and bright-haired was Atalanta, swift and good with the bow. She had dedicated herself to Artemis, the guardian of the wild things, and she had vowed that she would remain unwedded. All the heroes welcomed Atalanta as a comrade, and the maiden did all the things that the young men did.

There came a hero who was less youthful than Castor or Polydeuces; he was a man good in council named NESTOR. Afterward Nestor went to the war against Troy, and then he was the oldest of the heroes in the camp of Agamemnon.

Two brothers came who were to be special friends of Jason's—PELEUS and TELAMON. Both were still youthful and neither had yet achieved any notable deed. Afterward they were to be famous, but their sons were to be even more famous, for the son of Telamon was strong Aias, and the son of Peleus was great Achilles.

Another who came was ADMETUS; afterward he became a famous king. The God Apollo once made himself a shepherd and he kept the flocks of King Admetus.

And there came two brothers, twins, who were a wonder to all who beheld them. ZETES and CALAIS they were named; their mother was Oreithyia, the daughter of Erechtheus, King of Athens, and their father was Boreas, the North Wind. These two brothers had on their ankles wings that gleamed with golden scales; their black hair was thick upon their shoulders, and it was always being shaken by the wind.

With Zetes and Calais there came a youth armed with a great sword whose name was THESEUS. Theseus's father was an unknown king; he had bidden the mother show their son where his sword was hidden. Under a great stone the king had hidden it before Theseus was born. Before he had grown out of his boyhood Theseus had been able to raise the stone and draw forth his father's sword. As yet he had done no great deed, but he was resolved to win fame and to find his unknown father.

On the day that the messengers had set out to bring through Greece the word of Jason's going forth in quest of the Golden Fleece the woodcutters made their way up into the forests of Mount Pelion; they began to fell trees for the timbers of the ship that was to make the voyage to far Colchis.

Great timbers were cut and brought down to Pagasæ, the harbor of Iolcus. On the night of the day he had helped to bring them down Jason had a dream. He dreamt that She whom he had seen in the forest ways and afterward by the River Anaurus appeared to him. And in his dream the goddess bade him rise early in the morning and welcome a man whom he would meet at the city's gate—a tall and gray-haired man who would have on his shoulders tools for the building of a ship.


He went to the city's gate and he met such a man. ARGUS was his name. He told Jason that a dream had sent him to the city of Iolcus. Jason welcomed him and lodged him in the king's palace, and that day the word went through the city that the building of the great ship would soon be begun.

But not with the timbers brought from Mount Pelion did Argus begin. Walking through the palace with Jason he noted a great beam in the roof. That beam, he said, had been shown him in his dream; it was from an oak tree in Dodona, the grove of Zeus. A sacred power was in the beam, and from it the prow of the ship should be fashioned. Jason had them take the beam from the roof of the palace; it was brought to where the timbers were, and that day the building of the great ship was begun.

Then all along the waterside came the noise of hammering; in the street where the metalworkers were came the noise of beating upon metals as the smiths fashioned out of bronze armor for the heroes and swords and spears. Every day, under the eyes of Argus the master, the ship that had in it the beam from Zeus's grove was built higher and wider. And those who were building the ship often felt going through it tremors as of a living creature.

When the ship was built and made ready for the voyage a name was given to it—the ARGO it was called. And naming themselves from the ship the heroes called themselves the ARGONAUTS. All was ready for the voyage, and now Jason went with his friends to view the ship before she was brought into the water.

Argus the master was on the ship, seeing to it that the last things were being done before Argo  was launched. Very grave and wise looked Argus—Argus the builder of the ship. And wonderful to the heroes the ship looked now that Argus, for their viewing, had set up the mast with the sails and had even put the oars in their places. Wonderful to the heroes Argo  looked with her long oars and her high sails, with her timbers painted red and gold and blue, and with a marvelous figure carved upon her prow. All over the ship Jason's eyes went. He saw a figure standing by the mast; for a moment he looked on it, and then the figure became shadowy. But Jason knew that he had looked upon the goddess whom he had seen in the ways of the forest and had seen afterward by the rough Anaurus.

Then mast and sails were taken down and the oars were left in the ship, and the Argo  was launched into the water. The heroes went back to the palace of King Pelias to feast with the king's guests before they took their places on the ship, setting out on the voyage to far Colchis.

When they came into the palace they saw that another hero had arrived. His shield was hung in the hall; the heroes all gathered around, amazed at the size and the beauty of it. The shield shone all over with gold. In its center was the figure of Fear—of Fear that stared backward with eyes burning as with fire. The mouth was open and the teeth were shown. And other figures were wrought around the figure of Fear—Strife and Pursuit and Flight; Tumult and Panic and Slaughter. The figure of Fate was there dragging a dead man by the feet; on her shoulders Fate had a garment that was red with the blood of men.

Around these figures were heads of snakes, heads with black jaws and glittering eyes, twelve heads such as might affright any man. And on other parts of the shield were shown the horses of Ares, the grim god of war. The figure of Ares himself was shown also. He held a spear in his hand, and he was urging the warriors on.

Around the inner rim of the shield the sea was shown, wrought in white metal. Dolphins swam in the sea, fishing for little fishes that were shown there in bronze. Around the rim chariots were racing along with wheels running close together; there were men fighting and women watching from high towers. The awful figure of the Darkness of Death was shown there, too, with mournful eyes and the dust of battles upon her shoulders. The outer rim of the shield showed the Stream of Ocean, the stream that encircles the world; swans were soaring above and swimming on its surface.

All in wonder the heroes gazed on the great shield, telling each other that only one man in all the world could carry it—Heracles the son of Zeus. Could it be that Heracles had come amongst them? They went into the feasting hall and they saw one there who was tall as a pine tree, with unshorn tresses of hair upon his head. Heracles indeed it was! He turned to them a smiling face with smiling eyes. Heracles! They all gathered around the strongest hero in the world, and he took the hand of each in his mighty hand.