Hero Tales
by James Baldwin
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Author of "The Story of Siegfried," "The Story of Roland," "A Story of the Golden Age," "Baldwin's Readers," etc.









In the world's literature there are certain stories which, told ages ago, can never be forgotten. They have within them that which gives pleasure to all intelligent men, women and children. They appeal to the sympathies, the desires, and the admiration of all sorts and conditions of mankind. These are the stories that are said to be immortal. They have been repeated and re-repeated in many forms and to all kinds of audiences. They have been recited and sung in royal palaces, in the halls of mediaeval castles, and by the camp fires of warring heroes. Parents have taught them to their children, and generation after generation has preserved their memory. They have been written on parchment and printed in books, translated into many languages, abridged, extended, edited, and "adapted." But through all these changes and the vicissitudes of time, they still preserve the qualities that have made them so universally popular.

Chief among these masterpieces of imagination are the tales of gods and heroes that have come down to us from the golden age of Greece, and particularly the tales of Troy that cluster around the narratives of old Homer in his "Iliad" and "Odyssey." Three thousand years or more have passed since they were first recited, and yet they have lost none of their original charm. Few persons of intelligence are unacquainted with these tales, for our literature abounds in allusions to them; and no one who pretends to the possession of culture or learning can afford to be ignorant of them.

Second only in interest, especially to us of Anglo-Saxon descent, are the hero tales of the ancient North and the stirring legends connected with the "Nibelungen Lied." Of much later origin than the Greek stories, and somewhat inferior to them in refinement of thought and delicacy of imagery, these tales partake of the rugged, forceful character of the people among whom they were composed. Yet, with all their austerity and sternness, they are replete with vivid action, and they charm us by their very strength and the lessons which they teach of heroic endurance and the triumph of eternal justice.

Scarcely inferior to these latter, but not so well known to English-speaking people, are the tales of knighthood and chivalry that commemorate the romantic deeds of Charlemagne and his paladins. Written in various languages, and at periods widely separated, these tales present a curious mixture of fact and fiction, of the real and the marvellous, of the beautiful and the grotesque, of pagan superstition and Christian devotion. Although there were, in truth, no knights in the time of Charlemagne, and the institution of chivalry did not exist until many years later, yet these legends are of value as portraying life and manners in that period of history which we call the Dark Ages; and their pictures of knightly courage and generosity, faithfulness, and loyalty, appeal to our nobler feelings and stir our hearts with admiration.

To know something of these three great cycles, or groups, of classic and romantic stories—the hero tales of Troy, those of the ancient North, and those of Charlemagne—is essential to the acquirement of refined literary tastes. For this knowledge will go far toward helping its possessor to enjoy many things in our modern literature that would otherwise be puzzling or obscure. The importance, therefore, of placing some of the best of such tales early within the reach of school children and all young readers cannot be disputed.

In three volumes somewhat larger than the present one—"A Story of the Golden Age," "The Story of Siegfried," and "The Story of Roland"—I have already endeavored to introduce young readers to the most interesting portions of these great cycles of romance, narrating in each the adventures of the hero who is the central figure in the group of legends or tales under consideration. The present volume, made up of selections from these earlier books, has been prepared in response to repeated suggestions that certain portions of them, and especially some of the independent shorter stories, are well adapted to use in reading-classes at school. Of the seventeen stories herein presented, nine are from the "Golden Age," four from "Siegfried," and four from "Roland." They are, for the most part, episodes, complete in themselves, and connected only by a slender thread with the main narrative. Their intrinsic value is in no way diminished by being thus separated from their former setting, and each tale being independent of the others, they lend themselves more readily to the demands of the schoolroom.

It is well to observe that in no case have I endeavored to repeat the story in its exact original form. To have done so would have defeated the purpose in view; for without proper adaptation such stories are usually neither interesting nor intelligible to children. I have therefore recast and rearranged, using my own words, and adding here a touch of color and here a fanciful idea, as the narrative has seemed to permit or as my audience of school children may demand. Nevertheless, in the end, the essential features of each tale—those which give it value in its original form—remain unchanged.


How Apollo Came to Parnassus The Hunt in the Wood of Calydon The Choice of Hercules Alpheus and Arethusa The Golden Apple Paris and Oenone Hesione Paris and Helen Iphigenia The Hoard of the Elves The Forging of Balmung Idun and Her Apples The Doom of the Mischief-maker The Hunt in the Wood of Puelle Ogier the Dane and the Fairies How Charlemagne Crossed the Alps What Happened at Roncevaux


A very long time ago, Apollo was born in the island of Delos. When the glad news of his birth was told, Earth smiled, and decked herself with flowers; the nymphs of Delos sang songs of joy that were heard to the utmost bounds of Greece; and choirs of white swans flew seven times around the island, piping notes of praise to the pure being who had come to dwell among men. Then Zeus looked down from high Olympus, and crowned the babe with a golden head-band, and put into his hands a silver bow and a sweet-toned lyre such as no man had ever seen; and he gave him a team of white swans to drive, and bade him go forth to teach men the things which are right and good, and to make light that which is hidden in darkness.

So Apollo arose, beautiful as the morning sun, and journeyed through many lands, seeking a dwelling place. He stopped for a time at the foot of Mount Olympus, and played so sweetly upon his lyre that Zeus and all his court were entranced. Then he wandered up and down through the whole length of the Thessalian land; but nowhere could he find a spot in which he was willing to dwell. At length he climbed into his car, and bade his swan team fly with him to the country of the Hyperboreans beyond the far-off northern mountains. Forthwith they obeyed; and through the pure regions of the upper air they bore him, winging their way ever northward. They carried him over many an unknown land, and on the seventh day they came to the Snowy Mountains where the griffins, with lion bodies and eagle wings, guard the golden treasures of the North.

In these mountains, the North Wind has his home; and from his deep caves he now and then comes forth, chilling with his cold and angry breath the orchards and the fair fields of Greece, and bringing death and dire disasters In his train. But northward this blustering Boreas cannot blow, for the heaven-towering mountains stand like a wall against him, and drive him back. Hence it is that beyond these mountains the storms of winter never come, but one happy springtime runs through all the year. There the flowers bloom, and the grain ripens, and the fruits drop mellowing to the earth, and the red wine is pressed from the luscious grape, every day the same.

The Hyperboreans who dwell in that favored land know neither pain nor sickness, nor wearying labor nor eating care; but their youth is as unfading as the springtime, and old age with its wrinkles and its sorrows is evermore a stranger to them. The spirit of evil, which would lead all men to err, has never found entrance among them, and they are free from vile passions and unworthy thoughts; and among them there is neither war, nor wicked deeds, nor fear of the avenging Furies, for their hearts are pure and clean, and never burdened with the love of self.

When the swan team of silver-bowed Apollo had carried him over the Snowy Mountains, they alighted in the Hyperborean land. And the people welcomed Apollo with shouts of joy and songs of triumph, as one for whom they had long been waiting. He took up his abode there, and dwelt with them one whole year, delighting them with his presence, and ruling over them as their king. But when twelve moons had passed, he bethought him that the toiling, suffering men of Greece needed most his aid and care. Therefore he bade the Hyperboreans farewell, and again went up into his sun-bright car; and his winged team carried him back to the land of his birth.

Long time Apollo sought a place where he might build a temple to which men might come to learn of him and to seek his help in time of need. At length he came to a broad plain, by the shore of a beautiful lake; and there he began to build a house, for the land was a pleasant one, well-watered, and rich in grain and fruit. But the nymph that lived in the lake liked not to have Apollo so near her, lest men seeing and loving him should forget to honor her; and one day, garmented with mosses and crowned with lilies, she came and stood before him in the sunlight.

"Apollo of the silver bow," said she, "have you not made a mistake in choosing this place for a dwelling? These rich plains around us will not always be as peaceful as now; for their very richness will tempt the spoiler, and the song of the cicada will then give place to the din of battle. Even in times of peace you would hardly have a quiet hour here: for great herds of cattle come crowding down every day to my lake for water; the noisy ploughman, driving his team afield, disturbs the morning hour with his boorish shouts; and boys and dogs keep up a constant din, and make life in this place a burden."

"Fair nymph," said Apollo, "I had hoped to dwell here in thy happy vale, a neighbor and friend to thee. Yet, since this place is not what it seems to be, whither shall I go, and where shall I build my house?"

"Go to the cleft in Mount Parnassus," answered the nymph. "There thou canst dwell in peace, and men will come from all parts of the world to do thee honor."

And so Apollo went down to Parnassus, and there in the cleft of the mountain he laid the foundations of his shrine. Then he called the master architects of the world, Trophonius and Agamedes, and gave to them the building of the high walls and the massive roof. When they had finished their work, he said, "Say now what reward you most desire for your labor, and I will give it you."

"Give us," said the brothers, "that which is the best for men."

"It is well," answered Apollo. "When the full moon is seen above the mountain-tops, you shall have your wish."

But when the moon rose full and clear above the heights, the two brothers were dead.

Apollo was pleased with the place which he had chosen for a home; for there he found rest and quiet, and neither the hum of labor nor the din of battle was likely ever to enter. One thing, however, must needs be done before he could have perfect peace. There lived near the foot of the mountain a huge serpent called Python, which was the terror of all the land. Oftentimes, coming out of its den, this monster attacked the flocks and herds, and sometimes even their keepers; and it had been known to carry little children and helpless women to its den, and there devour them.

The men of the place came to Apollo, and prayed him to drive out or destroy their terrible enemy. So, taking in hand his silver bow, he sallied out at break of day to meet the monster when it should issue from its slimy cave. The vile creature shrank back when it saw its radiant enemy, and would fain have hidden itself in the deep gorges of the mountain. But Apollo quickly launched a swift arrow at it, crying, "Thou bane of man, lie thou upon the earth, and enrich it with thy dead body!" The never-erring arrow sped to the mark; and the great beast died, wallowing in its gore. And the people in their joy came out to meet the archer, singing paeans in his praise. They crowned him with wild flowers and wreaths of olives, and hailed him as the Pythian king; and the nightingales sang to him in the groves, and the swallows and cicadas twittered and tuned their melodies in harmony with his lyre.

But as yet there were no priests in Apollo's temple; and he pondered, long doubting, as to whom he should choose. One day he stood upon the mountain's topmost peak, whence he could view all Greece and the seas around it. Far away in the south, he spied a little ship sailing from Crete to sandy Pylos; and the men who were on board were Cretan merchants.

"These men shall serve in my temple!" he cried.

Upward he sprang, and high he soared above the sea; then swiftly descending like a fiery star, he plunged into the waves. There he changed himself into the form of a dolphin, and swam with speed to overtake the vessel.

Long before the ship had reached Pylos, the mighty fish came up with it, and struck its stern. The crew were dumb with terror, and sat still in their places; their oars were motionless; the sail hung limp and useless from the mast. Yet the vessel sped through the waves with the speed of the wind, for the dolphin was driving it forward by the force of his fins. Past many a headland, past Pylos and other pleasant harbors, they hastened. Vainly did the pilot try to land at each favorable place: the ship would not obey her helm. They rounded the headland of Araxus, and came into the long bay of Crissa; and there the dolphin left off guiding the vessel, and swam playfully around it, while a brisk west wind filled the sail, and bore the voyagers safely into port.

Then the dolphin changed into the form of a glowing star, which, shooting high into the heavens, lit up the whole world with its glory; and as the awe-stricken crew stood gazing at the wonder, it fell with the quickness of light upon Mount Parnassus. Into his temple Apollo hastened, and there he kindled an undying fire. Then, in the form of a handsome youth, with golden hair falling in waves upon his shoulders, he hastened to the beach to welcome the Cretan strangers.

"Hall, seamen!" he cried. "Who are you, and whence do you come? Shall I greet you as friends and guests, or shall I know you as robbers bringing death and distress to many a fair home?"

Then answered the Cretan captain, "Fair stranger, the gods have brought us hither; for by no wish of our own have we come. We are Cretan merchants, and we were on our way to Pylos with stores of merchandise, to barter with the tradesmen of that city. But some unknown being, whose might is greater than the might of men, has carried us far beyond our wished-for port, even to this unknown shore. Tell us now, we pray thee, what land is this? And who art thou who lookest so like a god?"

"Friends and guests, for such indeed you must be," answered the radiant youth, "think never again of sailing upon the wine-faced sea, but draw now your vessel high up on the beach. And when you have brought out all your goods and built an altar upon the shore, take of your white barley which you have with you, and offer it reverently to Phoebus Apollo. For I am he; and it was I who brought you hither, so that you might keep my temple, and make known my wishes unto men. And since it was in the form of a dolphin that you first saw me, let the town which stands around my temple be known as Delphi [Dolphin], and let men worship me there as Apollo Delphinius."

Then the Cretans did as he had bidden them: they drew their vessel high up on the white beach, and when they had unladen it of their goods, they built an altar on the shore, and offered white barley to Phoebus Apollo, and gave thanks to the ever-living powers who had saved them from the terrors of the deep. After they had feasted and rested from their long voyage, they turned their faces toward Parnassus; and Apollo, playing sweeter music than men had ever heard, led the way; and the folk of Delphi, with choirs of boys and maidens, came to meet them, singing songs of victory as they helped the Cretans up the steep pathway to the temple in the cleft of the mountain.

"I leave you now to have sole care of my temple," said Apollo. "I charge you to keep it well. Deal righteously with all men; let no unclean thing pass your lips; forget self; guard well your thoughts, and keep your hearts free from guile. If you do these things, you shall be blessed with length of days and all that makes life glad. But if you forget my words, and deal treacherously with men, and cause any to wander from the path of right, then shall you be driven forth homeless and accursed, and others shall take your places in the service of my house."

Then the bright youth left them and hastened away to Mount Olympus. But every year he came again, and looked into his house, and spoke words of warning and of hope to his servants; and men say that he has often been seen on Parnassus, playing his lyre to the listening Muses, or with his sister, Artemis, chasing the mountain deer.



"When I was younger than I am to-day," said the old chief, as they sat one evening in the light of the blazing brands—"when I was much younger than now, it was my fortune to take part in the most famous boar hunt the world has ever known.

"There lived at that time, in Calydon, a mighty chief named Oineus—and, indeed, I know not but that he still lives. Oineus was rich in vineyards and in orchards, and no other man in all Greece was happier or more blessed than he. He had married, early in life, the Princess Althea, fairest of the maidens of Acarnania; and to them a son had been born, golden-haired and beautiful, whom they called Meleager.

"When Meleager was yet but one day old, his father held him in his arms, and prayed to Zeus and the mighty powers above: 'Grant, Father Zeus, and all ye deathless ones, that this my son may be the foremost among the men of Greece. And let it come to pass, that when they see his valiant deeds, his countrymen shall say, "Behold, this youth is greater than his father," and all of one accord shall hail him as their guardian king.'

"Then his mother, Althea, weeping tears of joy, prayed that the boy might grow up to be pure-minded and gentle, the hope and pride of his parents, and the delight and staff of their declining years.

"Scarcely had the words of prayer died from her lips, when there came into her chamber the three unerring Fates who spin the destinies of men. White-robed and garlanded, they stood beside the babe, and with unwearied fingers drew out the lines of his untried life. Clotho held the golden distaff in her hand, and twirled and twisted the delicate thread. Lachesis, now sad, now hopeful, with her long white fingers held the hour-glass, and framed her lips to say, 'It is enough.' And Atropos, blind and unpitying as the future always is, stood ready, with cruel shears, to clip the twist in twain. Busily and silently Clotho spun; and the golden thread, thin as a spider's web, yet beautiful as a sunbeam, grew longer and more golden between her skilful fingers. Then Lachesis cried out, 'It is finished!' But Atropos hid her shears beneath her mantle, and said, 'Not so. Behold, there is a brand burning upon the hearth. Wait until it is all burned into ashes and smoke, and then I will cut the thread of the child's life. Spin on, sweet Clotho!'

"Quick as thought, Althea sprang forward, snatched the blazing brand from the hearth, and quenched its flame in a jar of water; and when she knew that not a single spark was left glowing upon it, she locked it safely in a chest where none but she could find it. As she did this, the pitiless sisters vanished from her sight, saying as they flitted through the air, 'We bide our time.'

"Meleager grew up to be a tall and fair and gentle youth; and when at last he became a man, he sailed on the ship Argo, with Jason and the great heroes of that day, in search of the Golden Fleece. Many brave deeds were his in foreign lands; and when he came home again to Calydon, he brought with him a fair young wife, gentle Cleopatra, daughter of Idas the boaster.

"Oineus had gathered in his harvest; and he was glad and thankful in his heart, because his fields had yielded plenteously; his vines had been loaded with purple grapes, and his orchards filled with abundance of pleasant fruit. Grateful, as men should always be, to the givers of peace and plenty, he held within his halls a harvest festival, to which he invited the brave and beautiful of all the country round. Happy was this feast, and the hours were bright with smiles and sunshine; and men forgot sorrow and labor, and thought only of the gladness of life.

"Then Oineus took of the first-fruits of his fields and his vineyards and his orchards, and offered them with much thankfulness to the givers of good. But he forgot to deck the shrine of Artemis with gifts, little thinking that the huntress queen cared for anything which mortal men might offer her. Ah, woful mistake was that! For, in her anger at the slight, Artemis sent a savage boar, with ivory tusks and foaming mouth, to overrun the lands of Calydon. Many a field did the monster ravage, many a tree uproot; and all the growing vines, which late had borne so rich a vintage, were trampled to the ground.

"Sadly troubled was Oineus, and he knew not what to do. For the fierce beast could not be slain, but with his terrible tusks he had sent many a rash hunter to an untimely death. Then the young man Meleager said, 'I will call together the heroes of Greece, and we will hunt the boar in the wood of Calydon.'

"So at the call of Meleager, the warriors flocked from every land, to join in the hunt of the fierce wild boar. Among them came Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers; and Idas, the boaster, the father-in-law of Meleager; and mighty Jason, captain of the Argo; and Atalanta, the swift-footed daughter of Iasus, of Arcadia; and many Acarnanian huntsmen led by the brothers of Queen Althea. Thither also did I hasten, although men spitefully said that I was far more skilful in taking tame beasts than in slaying wild ones.

"Nine days we feasted in the halls of Oineus; and every day we tried our skill with bows and arrows, and tested the strength of our well-seasoned spears. On the tenth, the bugles sounded, and hounds and huntsmen gathered in the courtyard of the chief, chafing for the hunt.

"Soon we sallied forth from the town, a hundred huntsmen, with dogs innumerable. Through the fields and orchards, laid waste by the savage beast, we passed; and Atalanta, keen of sight and swift of foot, her long hair floating in the wind behind her, led all the rest. It was not long until, in a narrow dell once green with vines and trees, but now strewn thick with withered branches, we roused the fierce creature from his lair.

"At first he fled, followed closely by the baying hounds. Then suddenly he faced his foes; with gnashing teeth and bloodshot eyes, he charged furiously upon them. A score of hounds were slain outright; and Cepheus, of Arcadia, rushing blindly onward, was caught by the beast, and torn in pieces by his sharp tusks. Then swift-footed Atalanta, bounding forward, struck the beast a deadly blow with her spear. He stopped short, and ceased his furious onslaught.

"Terrible were the cries of the wounded creature, as he made a last charge upon the huntsmen. But Meleager with a skilful sword-thrust pierced his heart and the beast fell weltering in his gore. Great joy filled the hearts of the Calydonians when they saw the scourge of their land laid low and helpless. They quickly flayed the beast, and the heroes who had shared in the hunt divided the flesh among them; but the head and the bristly hide they offered to Meleager.

"'Not to me does the prize belong,' he cried, 'but to Atalanta, the swift-footed huntress. For the first wound—the true death stroke, indeed—was given by her; and to her, woman though she be, all honor and the prize must be awarded.'

"With these words, he bore the grinning head and the bristly hide to the young huntress, and laid them at her feet. Then his uncles, the brothers of Queen Althea, rushed angrily forward, saying that no woman should ever bear a prize away from them; and they seized the hide, and would have taken it away, had not Meleager forbidden them. Yet they would not loose their hold upon the prize, but drew their swords, and wrathfully threatened Meleager's life.

"The hero's heart grew hot within him, and he shrank not from the affray. Long and fearful was the struggle—uncles against nephew; but in the end the brothers of Althea lay bleeding upon the ground, while the victor brought again the boar's hide, and laid it the second time at Atalanta's feet. The fair huntress took the prize, and carried it away with her to deck her father's hall in the pleasant Arcadian land. And the heroes, when they had feasted nine other days with King Oineus, betook themselves to their own homes.

"But the hearts of the Acarnanian hunters were bitter toward Meleager, because no part of the wild boar was awarded to them. They called their chiefs around them, and all their brave men, and made war upon King Oineus and Meleager. Many battles did they fight round Calydon; yet so long as Meleager led his warriors to the fray, the Acarnanians fared but ill.

"Then Queen Althea, filled with grief for her brothers' untimely fate, forgot her love for her son, and prayed that her Acarnanian kinsmen might prevail against him. Upon the hard earth she knelt: she beat the ground with her hands, and heaped the dust about her; and, weeping bitter tears, she called upon Hades to avenge her of Meleager. And even as she prayed, the pitiless Furies, wandering amid the darkness, heard her cries, and came, obedient to her wishes.

"When Meleager heard that his mother had turned against him, he withdrew in sorrow to his own house, and sought comfort and peace with his wife, fair Cleopatra; and he would not lead his warriors any more to battle against the Acarnanians. Then the enemy besieged the city: a fearful tumult rose about the gates; the high towers were assaulted, and everywhere the Calydonians were driven back dismayed and beaten.

"With uplifted hands and tearful eyes, King Oineus and the elders of the city came to Meleager, and besought him to take the field again. Rich gifts they offered him. They bade him choose for his own the most fertile farm in Calydon—at the least fifty acres, half for tillage and half for vines; but he would not listen to them.

"The din of battle thickened outside the gates; the towers shook with the thundering blows of the besiegers. Old Oineus with trembling limbs climbed up the stairway to his son's secluded chamber, and, weeping, prayed him to come down and save the city from fire and pillage. Still he kept silent, and went not. His sisters came, and his most trusted friends. 'Come, Meleager,' they prayed, 'forget thy grief, and think only of our great need. Aid thy people, or we shall all perish!'

"None of these prayers moved him. The gates were beaten down; the enemy was within the walls; the tide of battle shook the very tower where Meleager sat; the doom of Calydon seemed to be sealed. Then came the fair Cleopatra, and knelt before her husband, and besought him to withhold no longer the aid which he alone could give. 'O Meleager,' she sobbed, 'none but thou can save us. Wilt thou sit still, and see the city laid in ashes, thy dearest friends slaughtered, and thy wife and sweet babes dragged from their homes and sold into cruel slavery?'

"Then Meleager rose and girded on his armor. To the streets he hastened, shouting his well-known battle cry. Eagerly and hopefully did the Calydonian warriors rally around him. Fiercely did they meet the foe. Terrible was the bloodshed. Back from the battered gates and the crumbling wall the Acarnanian hosts were driven. A panic seized upon them. They turned and fled, and not many of them escaped the swords of Meleager's men.

"Again there was peace in Calydon, and the orchards of King Oineus blossomed and bore fruit as of old; but the gifts and large rewards which the elders had promised to Meleager were forgotten. He had saved his country, but his countrymen were ungrateful.

"Meleager again laid aside his war gear, and sought the quiet of his own home and the cheering presence of fair Cleopatra. For the remembrance of his mother's curse and his country's ingratitude weighed heavily on his mind, and he cared no longer to mingle with his fellow men.

"Then it was that Althea's hatred of her son waxed stronger, and she thought of the half-burned brand which she had hidden, and of the words which the Fatal Sisters had spoken so many years before.

"'He is no longer my son,' said she, 'and why should I withhold the burning of the brand? He can never again bring comfort to my heart; for the blood of my brothers, whom I loved, is upon his head.'

"And she took the charred billet from the place where she had hidden it, and cast it again into the flames. And as it slowly burned away, so did the life of Meleager wane. Lovingly he bade his wife farewell; softly he whispered a prayer to the unseen powers above; and as the flickering flames of the fatal brand died into darkness, he gently breathed his last.

"Then sharp-toothed remorse seized upon Althea, and the mother love which had slept in her bosom was reawakened. Too late, also, the folk of Calydon remembered who it was that had saved them from slavery and death. Down into the comfortless halls of Hades, Althea hastened to seek her son's forgiveness. The loving heart of Cleopatra, surcharged with grief, was broken; and her gentle spirit fled to the world of shades to meet that of her hero-husband. Meleager's sisters would not be consoled, so great was the sorrow which had come upon them; and they wept and lamented day and night, until kind Artemis in pity for their youth changed them into the birds which we call Meleagrides."

[1]Autolycus was a famous mountain chief who lived in rude state on the slopes of Parnassus and was noted for his courage and cunning. He was the grandfather of Odysseus (Ulysses), to whom the story is supposed to have been related.


When Hercules was a fair-faced youth, and life was all before him, he went out one morning to do an errand for his stepfather. But as he walked his heart was full of bitter thoughts; and he murmured because others no better than himself were living in ease and pleasure, while for him there was naught but a life of labor and pain.

As he thought upon these things, he came to a place where two roads met; and he stopped, not certain which one to take.

The road on his right was hilly and rough; there was no beauty in it or about it: but he saw that it led straight toward the blue mountains in the far distance.

The road on his left was broad and smooth, with shade trees on either side, where sang an innumerable choir of birds; and it went winding among green meadows, where bloomed countless flowers: but it ended in fog and mist long before it reached the wonderful blue mountains in the distance.

While the lad stood in doubt as to these roads, he saw two fair women coming toward him, each on a different road. The one who came by the flowery way reached him first, and Hercules saw that she was as beautiful as a summer day.

Her cheeks were red, her eyes sparkled; she, spoke warm, persuasive words. "O noble youth," she said, "be no longer bowed down with labor and sore trials, but come and follow me, I will lead you into pleasant paths, where there are no storms to disturb and no troubles to annoy. You shall live in ease, with one unending round of music and mirth; and you shall not want for anything that makes life joyous—sparkling wine, or soft couches, or rich robes, or the loving eyes of beautiful maidens. Come with me, and life shall be to you a day-dream of gladness."

By this time the other fair woman had drawn near, and she now spoke to the lad. "I have nothing to promise you," said she, "save that which you shall win with your own strength. The road upon which I would lead you is uneven and hard, and climbs many a hill, and descends into many a valley and quagmire. The views which you will sometimes get from the hilltops are grand and glorious, but the deep valleys are dark, and the ascent from them is toilsome. Nevertheless, the road leads to the blue mountains of endless fame, which you see far away on the horizon. They cannot be reached without labor; in fact, there is nothing worth having that must not be won by toil. If you would have fruits and flowers, you must plant them and care for them; if you would gain the love of your fellow men, you must love them and suffer for them; if you would enjoy the favor of Heaven, you must make yourself worthy of that favor; if you would have eternal fame, you must not scorn the hard road that leads to it."

Then Hercules saw that this lady, although she was as beautiful as the other, had a countenance pure and gentle, like the sky on a balmy morning in May.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Some call me Labor," she answered, "but others know me as Virtue."

Then he turned to the first lady. "And what is your name?" he asked.

"Some call me Pleasure," she said, with a bewitching smile, "but I choose to be known as the Joyous and Happy One."

"Virtue," said Hercules, "I will take thee as my guide! The road of labor and honest effort shall be mine, and my heart shall no longer cherish bitterness or discontent."

And he put his hand into that of Virtue, and entered with her upon the straight and forbidding road which leads to the fair blue mountains on the pale and distant horizon.


In Arcadia there is a little mountain stream called Alpheus. It flows through woods and meadows and among the hills for many miles, and then it sinks beneath the rocks. Farther down the valley it rises again, and dancing and sparkling, as if in happy chase of something, it hurries onward towards the plain; but soon it hides itself a second time in underground caverns, making its way through rocky tunnels where the light of day has never been. Then at last it gushes once more from its prison chambers; and, flowing thence with many windings through the fields of Elis, it empties its waters into the sea.

Years ago there was no river Alpheus; the channel through which it flows had not then been hollowed out, and rank grass and tall bending reeds grew thick where now its waters sparkle brightest. It was then that a huntsman, bearing the name of Alpheus, ranged through the woods, and chased the wild deer among the glades and glens of sweet Arcadia. Far away by the lonely sea dwelt his fair young wife, and his lovely babe Orsilochus; but dearer than home or wife or babe to Alpheus, was the free life of the huntsman among the mountain solitudes. For he loved the woods and the blue sky and the singing birds, and the frail flowers upon the hillside; and he longed to live among them always, where his ears could listen to their music, and his eyes look upon their beauty.

"O Artemis, huntress queen!" he cried, "I ask but one boon of thee. Let me ramble forever among these happy scenes!"

Artemis heard him, and answered his prayer. For, as he spoke, a bright vision passed before him. A sweet-faced maiden went tripping down the valley, culling the choicest flowers, and singing of hope and joy and the blessedness of a life pure and true. It was Arethusa, the Arcadian nymph, by some supposed to be a daughter of old Nereus, the elder of the sea.

Then Alpheus heard no more the songs of the birds, or the music of the breeze; he saw no longer the blue sky above him, or the nodding flowers at his feet: he was blind and deaf to all the world, save only the beautiful nymph. Arethusa was the world to him.

He reached out his arms to catch her; but, swifter than a frightened deer, she fled down the valley, through deep ravines and grassy glades and rocky caverns underneath the hills, and out into the grassy meadows, and across the plains of Elis, to the sounding sea. And Alpheus followed, forgetful of everything but the fleeing vision. When, at length, he reached the sea, he looked back; and, lo! he was no longer a huntsman, but a river doomed to meander forever among the scenes, for love of which he had forgotten his wife and his babe and the duties of life. It was thus that Artemis answered his prayer.

And men say that Arethusa, the nymph, was afterwards changed into a fountain; and that to this day, in the far-off island of Ortygia, that fountain gushes from the rocks in an unfailing, crystal stream. But Orsilochus, the babe forgotten by his father, grew to manhood, and in course of time became the king of the seafaring people of Messene.



"There is a cavern somewhere on Mount Pelion larger by far and a thousand times more beautiful than this; but its doorway is hidden to mortals, and but few men have ever stood beneath its vaulted roof. In that cavern the ever-living ones who oversee the affairs of men, once held high carnival; for they had met there at the marriage feast of King Peleus, and the woods and rocks of mighty Pelion echoed with the sound of their merry-making. But wherefore should the marriage feast of a mortal be held in such a place and with guests so noble and so great? I will tell you.

"After Peleus had escaped from a plot which some wicked men had made for his destruction, he dwelt long time with me, who am his grandfather. But the days seemed long to him, thus shut out from fellowship with men, and the sun seemed to move slowly in the heavens; and often he would walk around to the other side of the mountain, and sitting upon a great rock, he would gaze for long hours upon the purple waters of the sea. One morning as thus he sat, he saw the sea nymph Thetis come up out of the waves and walk upon the shore beneath him. Fairer than a dream was she—more beautiful than any picture of nymph or goddess. She was clad in a robe of green silk, woven by the sea maidens in their watery grottoes; and there was a chaplet of pearls upon her head, and sandals of sparkling silver were upon her feet.

"As Peleus gazed upon this lovely creature, he heard a voice whispering in his ear. It was the voice of wise Athena.

"'Most luckless of mortal men,' she said, 'there is recompense in store for those who repent of their wrong-doing, and who, leaving the paths of error, turn again to the road of virtue. The immortals have seen thy sorrow for the evil deeds of thy youth, and they have looked with pity upon thee in thy misfortunes. And now thy days of exile and of sore punishment are drawing to an end. Behold the silver-footed Thetis, most beautiful of the nymphs of the sea, whom even the immortals have wooed in vain! She has been sent to this shore, to be won and wedded by thee.'

"Peleus looked up to see the speaker of these words, but he beheld only a blue cloud resting above the mountain-top; he turned his eyes downward again, and, to his grief, the silver-footed Thetis had vanished in the waves. All day he sat and waited for her return, but she came not. When darkness began to fall he sought me in my cave hall, and told me what he had seen and heard; and I taught him how to win the sea nymph for his bride.

"So when the sun again gilded the crags of Pelion, brave Peleus hid himself among the rocks close by the sea-washed shore, and waited for the coming of the silver-footed lady of the sea. In a little time she rose, beautiful as the star of morning, from the waves. She sat down upon the beach, and dallied with her golden tresses, and sang sweet songs of a happy land in the depths of the sounding sea. Peleus, bearing in mind what I had taught him, arose from his hiding-place, and caught the beauteous creature in his arms. In vain did she struggle to leap into the waves. Seven times she changed her form as he held her: by turns she changed into a fountain of water, into a cloud of mist, into a burning flame, and into a senseless rock. But Peleus held her fast; and she changed then into a tawny lion, and then into a tall tree, and lastly she took her own matchless form again.

"Then Peleus held the lovely Thetis by the hand, and they walked long time together upon the beach, while the birds sang among the trees on Pelion's leafy slopes, and the dolphins sported in the waters at their feet. Thus Peleus wooed the silver-footed lady, and won her love, and she promised to be his bride. Then the immortals were glad; and they fitted up the great cavern on Mount Pelion for a banquet hall, and made therein a wedding feast, such as was never seen before. The vaulted roof of the cavern was decked with gems which shone like the stars of heaven; a thousand torches, held by lovely mountain nymphs, flamed from the niches in the high walls; and upon the floor of polished marble, tables for a thousand guests were ranged.

"When the wedding feast was ready, all those who live on high Olympus, and all the immortals who dwell upon the earth, came to rejoice with King Peleus and his matchless bride; and they brought rich presents for the bridegroom, such as were never given to another man. One gave him a suit of armor, rich and fair, a wonder to behold, which lame Vulcan with rare skill had wrought and fashioned. One bestowed on him the peerless horses, Ballos and Xanthos, and a deftly wrought chariot with trimmings of gold. And I, one of the least of the guests, gave him an ashen spear which I had cut on the mountain top and fashioned with my own hands.

"At the tables sat Zeus, the father of gods and men; and his wife, the white-armed Hera; and smile-loving Aphrodite; and gray-eyed Athena; and all the wisest and the fairest of the immortals. The nymphs of the sea danced in honor of Thetis their sister; and the Muses sang their sweetest songs; and Apollo played upon the lyre. The Fates, too, were there: sad Clotho, twirling her spindle; unloving Lachesis, with wrinkled lips ready to speak the fatal word; and pitiless Atropos, holding in her hand the unsparing shears. And around the table passed the youthful and joy-giving Hebe, pouring out rich draughts of nectar for the guests.

"But there was one among all the immortals who had not been invited to the wedding; it was Eris, the daughter of War and Hate. Her scowling features, and her hot and hasty manners, were ill suited to grace a feast where all should be mirth and gladness; yet in her evil heart she planned to be avenged for the slight which had been put upon her. While the merry-making was at its height, and the company were listening to the music from Apollo's lyre, she came unseen into the hall, and threw a golden apple upon the table. No one knew whence the apple came; but on it were written these words, 'FOR THE FAIREST.'

"'To whom does it belong?' asked Zeus, stroking his brows in sad perplexity.

"The music ceased, and mirth and jollity fled at once from the banquet. The torches, which lit up the scene, flickered and smoked; the lustre of the gems in the vaulted roof was dimmed; dark clouds canopied the great hall: for Eris had taken her place at the table, uninvited and unwelcome though she was.

"'The apple belongs to me,' said Hera, trying to snatch it; 'for I am the queen, and gods and men honor me as having no peer on earth.'

"'Not so!' cried red-lipped Aphrodite. 'With me dwell Love and Joy; and not only do gods and men sing my praises, but all nature rejoices in my presence. The apple is mine, and I will have it!'

"Then Athena joined in the quarrel. 'What is it to be a queen,' said she, 'if at the same time one lacks that good temper which sweetens life? What is it to have a handsome form and face, while the mind is uncouth and ill-looking? Beauty of mind is better than beauty of face; for the former is immortal, while the latter fades and dies. Hence no one has a better right than I to be called the fairest.'

"Then the strife spread among the guests in the hall, each taking sides with the one he loved best; and, where peace and merriment had reigned, now hot words and bitter wrangling were heard. And had not Zeus bidden them keep silence, thus putting an end to the quarrel, all Pelion would have been rent, and the earth shaken to its centre in the mellay that would have followed.

"'Let us waste no words over this matter,' he said. 'It is not for the immortals to say who of their number is most beautiful. But on the slopes of Mount Ida, far across the sea, the fairest of the sons of men—Paris, a prince of Troy—keeps his flocks; let him judge who is fairest, and let the apple be hers to whom he gives it.'

"Then Hermes, the swift-footed messenger, arose, and led the three goddesses over sea and land to distant Mount Ida, where Paris, with no thought of the wonderful life which lay before him, piped on his shepherd's reeds, and tended his flock of sheep."

[1]Cheiron the Centaur lived in a cavern on Mount Pelion and was reputed to be the wisest of mortals. All the young heroes of the time, Jason, Achilles, and others, were his pupils and spent their boyhood with him. He is sometimes represented as having the head of a man and the body of a horse; but it is probable that he was only one of a race of men noted for their skill in horsemanship. This story is supposed to have been related by him to young Odysseus (Ulysses), who visited him in his cavern.



"On the other side of the sea there stands a city, rich and mighty, the like of which there is none in Greece. The name of this city is Troy, although its inhabitants call it Ilios. There an old man, named Priam, rules over a happy and peace-loving people. He dwells in a great palace of polished marble, on a hill overlooking the plain; and his granaries are stored with corn, and his flocks and herds are pastured on the hills and mountain slopes behind the city.

"Many sons has King Priam; and they are brave and noble youths, well worthy of such a father. The eldest of these sons is Hector, who, the Trojans hope, will live to bring great honor to his native land.

"Just before the second son was born, a strange thing troubled the family of old Priam. The queen dreamed that her babe had turned into a firebrand, which burned up the walls and the high towers of Troy, and left but smouldering ashes where once the proud city stood. She told the king her dream; and when the child was born, they called a soothsayer, who could foresee the mysteries of the future, and they asked him what the vision meant.

"'It means,' said he, 'that this babe, if he lives, shall be a firebrand in Troy, and shall turn its walls and its high towers into heaps of smouldering ashes.'

"'But what shall be done with the child, that he may not do this terrible thing?' asked Priam, greatly sorrowing, for the babe was very beautiful.

"'Do not suffer that he shall live,' answered the soothsayer.

"Priam, the gentlest and most kind-hearted of men, could not bear to harm the babe. So he called his master shepherd, and bade him take the helpless child into the thick woods, which grow high up on the slopes of Mount Ida, behind the city, and there to leave him alone. The wild beasts that roam among those woods, he thought, would doubtless find him, or, in any case, he could not live long without care and nourishment; and thus the dangerous brand would be quenched while yet it was scarcely a spark.

"The shepherd did as he was bidden, although it cost his heart many a sharp pang thus to deal barbarously with the innocent. He laid the smiling infant, wrapped in its broidered tunic, close by the foot of an oak, and then hurried away that he might not hear its cries.

"But the nymphs who haunt the woods and groves, saw the babe, and pitied its helplessness, and cared for it so that it did not die. Some brought it yellow honey from the stores of the wild bees; some fed it with milk from the white goats that pastured on the mountain side; and others stood as sentinels around it, guarding it from the wolves and bears.

"Thus five days passed, and then the shepherd, who could not forget the babe, came cautiously to the spot to see if, mayhap, even its broidered cloak had been spared by the beasts. Sorrowful and shuddering he glanced toward the foot of the tree. To his surprise, the babe was still there; it looked up and smiled, and stretched its fat hands toward him. The shepherd's heart would not let him turn away the second time. He took the child in his arms, and carried it to his own humble home in the valley, where he cared for it and brought it up as his own son.

"The boy grew to be very tall and very handsome; and he was so brave, and so helpful to the shepherds around Mount Ida, that they called him Alexandros, or the helper of men; but his foster-father named him Paris. As he tended his sheep in the mountain dells, he met Oenone, the fairest of the river maidens, guileless and pure as the waters of the stream by whose banks she loved to wander. Day after day he sat with her in the shadow of her woodland home, and talked of innocence and beauty, and of a life of sweet contentment, and of love; and the maiden listened to him with wide-open eyes and a heart full of trustfulness and faith.

"By and by, Paris and Oenone were wedded; and their little cottage in the mountain glen was the fairest and happiest spot in Ilios. The days sped swiftly by, and neither of them dreamed that any sorrow was in store for them; and to Oenone her shepherd husband was all the world, because he was so noble and brave and handsome and gentle.

"One warm summer afternoon, Paris sat in the shade of a tree at the foot of Mount Ida, while his flocks were pasturing upon the hillside before him. The bees were humming lazily among the flowers; the cicadas were chirping among the leaves above his head; and now and then a bird twittered softly among the bushes behind him. All else was still, as if enjoying to the full the delicious calm of that pleasant day.

"Paris was fashioning a slender reed into a shepherd's flute; while Oenone, sitting in the deeper shadows of some clustering vines, was busy with some simple piece of needlework.

"A sound as of sweet music caused the young shepherd to raise his eyes. Before him stood the four immortals, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, and Hermes the messenger; their faces shone with a dazzling radiance, and they were fairer than any tongue can describe. At their feet rare flowers sprang up, crocuses and asphodels and white lilies; and the air was filled with the odor of orange blossoms. Paris, scarce knowing what he did, arose to greet them. No handsomer youth ever stood in the presence of beauty. Straight as a mountain pine was he; a leopard-skin hung carelessly upon his shoulders; his head was bare, but his locks clustered round his temples in sunny curls, and formed fit framework for his fair brows.

"Hermes spoke first: 'Paris, we have come to seek thy help; there is strife among the folk who dwell on Mount Olympus. Here are Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, each claiming to be the fairest, and each clamoring for this prize, this golden apple. Now we pray that you will judge this matter, and give the apple to the one whom you may deem most beautiful.'

"Then Hera began her plea at once: 'I know that I am fairest,' she said, 'for I am queen, and mine it is to rule among gods and men. Give me the prize, and you shall have wealth, and a kingdom, and great glory; and men in aftertimes shall sing your praises.'

"And Paris was half tempted to give the apple, without further ado, to Hera, the proud queen. But gray-eyed Athena spoke: 'There is that, fair youth, which is better than riches or honor or great glory. Listen to me, and I will give thee wisdom and a pure heart; and thy life shall be crowned with peace, and sweetened with love, and made strong by knowledge. And though men may not sing of thee in after-times, thou shall find lasting happiness in the answer of a good conscience towards all things."

"Then Oenone whispered from her place among the leaves, 'Give the prize to Athena; she is the fairest.' And Paris would have placed the golden apple in her hand, had not Aphrodite stepped quickly forward, and in the sweetest, merriest tones, addressed him.

"'You may look at my face, and judge for yourself as to whether I am fair,' said she laughing, and tossing her curls. 'All I shall say is this: Give me the prize, and you shall have for your wife the most beautiful woman in the world.'

"The heart of Oenone stood still as Paris placed the apple in Aphrodite's hand; and a nameless dread came over her, as if the earth were sinking beneath her feet. But the next moment the blood came back to her cheeks, and she breathed free and strong again; for she heard Paris say, 'I have a wife, Oenone, who to me is the loveliest of mortals, and I care not for your offer; yet I give to you the apple, for I know that you are the fairest among the deathless ones who live on high Olympus.'"

"On the very next day it happened that King Priam sat thoughtfully in his palace, and all his boys and girls—nearly fifty in number—were about him. His mind turned sadly to the little babe whom he had sent away, many years ago, to die alone on wooded Ida. And he said to himself, 'The child has been long dead, and yet no feast has been given to the gods that they may make his little spirit glad in the shadowy land of Hades. This must not be neglected longer. Within three days a feast must be made, and we will hold games in his honor.'

"Then he called his servants, and bade them go to the pastures on Mount Ida, and choose from the herds that were there the fattest and handsomest bull, to be given as a prize to the winner in the games. And he proclaimed through all Ilios, that on the third day there would be a great feast in his palace, and games would be held in honor of the little babe who had died twenty years before.

"Now, when the servants came to Mount Ida, they chose a bull for which Paris had long cared, and which he loved more than any other. He protested and would not let the beast be driven from the pasture until it was agreed that he might go to the city with it and contend in the games for the prize. But Oenone, the river nymph, wept and prayed him not to go.

"'Leave not the pleasant pasture lands of Ida, even for a day,' said she; 'for my heart tells me that you will not return.'

"'Think not so, my fair one,' said Paris. 'Did not Aphrodite promise that the most beautiful woman in the world shall be my wife? And who is more beautiful than my own Oenone? Dry now your tears; for when I have won the prizes in the games I will come back to you, and never leave you again.'

"Then the grief of Oenone waxed still greater. 'If you will go,' she cried, 'then hear my warning! Long years shall pass ere you shall come again to wooded Ida, and the hearts which now are young shall grow old and feeble by reason of much sorrow. Cruel war and many dire disasters shall overtake you, and death shall be nigh unto you; and then Oenone, although long forgotten by you, will hasten to your side, to help and to heal and to forgive, that so the old love may live again. Farewell!'

"Then Paris kissed his wife, and hastened, light of heart, to Troy. How could it be otherwise but that, in the games which followed, the handsome young shepherd should carry off all the prizes?

"'Who are you?' asked the king.

"'My name is Paris,' answered the shepherd, 'and I feed the flocks and herds on wooded Ida.'

"Then Hector, full of wrath because of his own failure to win a prize, came forward to dispute with Paris.

"'Stand there, Hector,' cried old Priam; 'stand close to the young shepherd, and let us look at you!' Then turning to the queen, he asked, 'Did you ever see two so nearly alike? The shepherd is fairer and of slighter build, it is true; but they have the same eye, the same frown, the same smile, the same motion of the shoulders, the same walk. Ah, what if the young babe did not die after all?'

"Then Priam's daughter, Cassandra, who had the gift of prophecy, cried out, 'Oh, blind of eye and heart, that you cannot see in this young shepherd the child whom you sent to sleep the sleep of death on Ida's wooded slopes!'

"And so it came about, that Paris was taken into his father's house, and given the place of honor which was his by right. And he forgot Oenone, his fair young wife, and left her to pine in loneliness among the woods and in the narrow dells of sunny Ida."



With troubled brow and anxious heart, Menelaus sat in Nestor's halls, and told the story of his wrongs. Behind him stood his brother, Agamemnon, tall and strong, and with eye and forehead like mighty Zeus. Before him, seated on a fair embroidered couch, was the aged Nestor, listening with eager ears. Close by his feet two heroes sat: on this side, Antilochus, the valiant son of Nestor; and on that, sage Palamedes, prince of Euboea's distant shores. The last had just arrived, and had not learned the errand that had brought Menelaus hither.

"Tell again the story of your visit to Troy," said Nestor. "Our guest, good Palamedes, would fain hear it; and I doubt not that he may be of service in your cause. Tell us the whole story, for we would all know more about the famous city and its kingly rulers."

Then Menelaus began once more at the beginning.


There is no need that I should speak of my long voyage to Troy, or of the causes which persuaded me to undertake it. When I drew near the lofty walls of the city, and through the gate, which is called Scaean, could see the rows of stately dwellings and the busy market-place and the crowds of people, I stopped there in wonder, hesitating to venture farther.

Then I sent a herald to the gate, who should make known my name and lineage and the errand upon which I had come; but I waited without in the shade of a spreading beech, not far from the towering wall. Before me stood the mighty city; behind me the fertile plain sloped gently to the sea; on my right hand flowed the sparkling waters of the river Scamander; while much farther, and on the other side, the wooded peak of Ida lifted itself toward the clouds.

But I had not long to view this scene; for a noble company of men led by Paris himself, handsome as Apollo, came out of the gate to welcome me. With words of greeting from the king, they bade me enter within the walls. They led me through the Scaean gate and along the well-paved streets, until we came, at last, to King Priam's hall.

It was a splendid house with broad doorways and polished porticos, and marble columns richly carved. Within were fifty chambers, joining one another, all walled with polished stone; in these abode the fifty sons of Priam with their wedded wives. On the other side, and opening into the court, were twelve chambers built for his daughters; while over all were the sleeping-rooms for that noble household, and around were galleries and stairways leading to the king's great hall below.

King Priam received me kindly, and, when he understood my errand, left naught undone to help me forward with my wishes. Ten days I abode as a guest in his halls, and when I would return to Greece he pressed me to tarry yet a month in Troy. But the winds were fair, and the oracles promised a pleasant voyage, and I begged that on the twelfth day he would let me depart. So he and his sons brought many gifts, rich and beautiful, and laid them at my feet—a fair mantle, and a doublet, and a talent of fine gold, and a sword with a silver-studded hilt, and a drinking-cup richly engraved that I might remember them when I pour libations to the gods.

"Take these gifts," said Priam, "as tokens of our friendship for you, and not only for you, but for all who dwell in distant Greece. For we too are the children of the immortals. Our mighty ancestor, Dardanus, was the son of Zeus. He it was who built Dardania on the slopes of Ida, where the waters gush in many silvery streams from underneath the rocky earth.

"A grandson of Dardanus was Ilus, famous in song and story, and to him was born Laomedon, who in his old age became my father. He, though my sire, did many unwise things, and brought sore distress upon the people of this land.

"One day Apollo and Poseidon came to Troy, disguised as humble wayfarers seeking some employment. This they did because so ordered by mighty Zeus.

"'What can you do?' asked my father, when the two had told their wishes.

"Poseidon answered, 'I am a builder of walls.'

"And Apollo answered, 'I am a shepherd, and a tender of herds.'

"'It is well,' answered Laomedon. 'The wall-builder shall build a wall around this Troy so high and strong that no enemy can pass it. The shepherd shall tend my herds of crook-horned kine on the wooded slopes of Ida. If at the end of a twelvemonth, the wall be built, and if the cattle thrive without loss of one, then I will pay you your hire: a talent of gold, two tripods of silver, rich robes, and armor such as heroes wear.'

"So the two served my father through the year for the hire which he had promised. Poseidon built a wall, high and fair, around the city; and Apollo tended the shambling kine, and lost not one. But when they claimed their hire, Laomedon drove them away with threats, telling them that he would bind their feet and hands together, and sell them as slaves into some distant land, having first sheared off their ears with his sharp sword. And they went away with angry hearts, planning in their minds how they might avenge themselves.

"Back to his watery kingdom, and his golden palace beneath the sea, went great Poseidon. He harnessed his steeds to his chariot, and rode forth upon the waves. He loosed the winds from their prison house, and sent them raging over the sea. The angry waters rushed in upon the land; they covered the pastures and the rich plain of Troy, and threatened even to beat down the walls which their king had built.

"Then little by little, the flood shrank back again; and the people went out of the city to see the waste of slime and black mud which covered their meadows. While they were gazing upon the scene, a fearful monster, sent by angry Poseidon, came up out of the sea, and fell upon them, and drove them with hideous slaughter back to the city gates; neither would he allow any one to come outside of the walls.

"Then my father, in his great distress, clad himself in mourning, and went in deep humility to the temple of Athena. In much distress, he called unto the goddess, and besought to know the means whereby the anger of Poseidon might be assuaged. And in solemn tones a voice replied, saying:

"'Every day one of the maidens of Troy must be fed to the monster outside of the walls. The shaker of the earth has spoken. Disobey him not, lest more cruel punishments befall thee.'

"Then in every house of Troy there was sore dismay and lamentation, for no one knew upon whom the doom would soonest fall. And every day a hapless maiden, young and fair, was chained to the great rock by the shore, and left there to be the food of the pitiless monster. And the people cried aloud in their distress, and cursed the mighty walls and the high towers which had been reared by the unpaid labors of Poseidon; and my father sat upon his high seat, and trembled because of the calamities which his own deeds had brought upon his people.

"At last, after many humbler victims had perished, the lot fell upon the fairest of my sisters, Hesione, my father's best-loved daughter. In sorrow we arrayed her in garments befitting one doomed to an untimely death; and when we had bidden her a last farewell, we gave her to the heralds and the priests to lead forth to the place of sacrifice.

"Just then, however, a noble stranger, taller and more stately than any man in Troy, came down the street. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, handsome and strong, he seemed a very god to all who looked upon him. Over his shoulder he wore the tawny skin of a lion, while in his hand he carried a club most wonderful to behold. And the people, as he passed, prayed him that he would free our city from the monster that was robbing us of our loved ones.

"'I know that thou art a god!' cried my father, when he saw the stranger. 'I pray thee, save my daughter, who even now is being led forth to a cruel death!'

"'You make mistake,' answered the fair stranger. 'I am not one of the gods. My name is Hercules, and like you I am mortal. Yet I may help you in this your time of need.'

"Now, in my father's stables there were twelve fair steeds, the best that the earth ever knew. So light of foot were they, that when they bounded over the land, they might run upon the topmost ears of ripened corn, and break them not; and when they bounded over the sea, not even Poseidon's steeds could glide so lightly upon the crests of the waves. Some say they were the steeds of North Wind given to my grandfather by the powers above. These steeds, my father promised to give to Hercules if he would save Hesione.

"Then the heralds led my fair sister to the shore, and chained her to the rock, there to wait for the coming of the monster. But Hercules stood near her, fearless in his strength. Soon the waves began to rise; the waters were disturbed, and the beast, with hoarse bellowings, lifted his head above the breakers, and rushed forward to seize his prey. Then the hero sprang to meet him. With blow upon blow from his mighty club, he felled the monster; the waters of the sea were reddened with blood; Hesione was saved, and Troy was freed from the dreadful curse.

"'Behold thy daughter!' said Hercules, leading her gently back to the city, and giving her to her father. 'I have saved her from the jaws of death, and delivered your country from the dread scourge. Give me now my hire.'

"Shame fills my heart as I tell this story, for thanklessness was the bane of my father's life. Ungrateful to the hero who had risked so much and done so much that our homes and our country might be saved from ruin, he turned coldly away from Hercules; then he shut the great gates in his face, and barred him out of the city, and taunted him from the walls, saying, 'I owe thee no hire! Begone from our coasts, ere I scourge thee hence!'

"Full of wrath, the hero turned away. 'I go, but I will come again,' he said.

"Then peace and plenty blessed once more the city of Troy, and men forgot the perils from which they had been delivered. But ere long, great Hercules returned, as he had promised; and with him came a fleet of white-sailed ships and many warriors. Neither gates nor strong walls could stand against him. Into the city he marched, and straight to my father's palace. All fled before him, and the strongest warriors quailed beneath his glance. Here, in this very court, he slew my father and my brothers with his terrible arrows. I myself would have fallen before his wrath, had not my sister, fair Hesione, pleaded for my life.

"'I spare his life,' said Hercules, in answer to her prayers, 'for he is but a lad. Yet he must be my slave until you have paid a price for him, and thus redeemed him.'

"Then Hesione took the golden veil from her head, and gave it to the hero as my purchase price. And thenceforward I was called Priam, or the purchased; for the name which my mother gave me was Podarkes, or the fleet-footed.

"After this Hercules and his heroes went on board their ships and sailed back across the sea, leaving me alone in my father's halls. For they took fair Hesione with them, and carried her to Salamis, to be the wife of Telamon, the father of mighty Ajax. There, through these long years she has lived in sorrow, far removed from home and friends and the scenes of her happy childhood. And now that the hero Telamon, to whom she was wedded, lives no longer, I ween that her life is indeed a cheerless one."

"When Priam had finished his tale, he drew his seat still nearer mine, and looked into my face with anxious, beseeching eyes. Then he said, 'I have long wished to send a ship across the sea to bring my sister back to Troy. A dark-prowed vessel, built for speed and safety, lies now at anchor in the harbor, and a picked crew is ready to embark at any moment. And here is my son Paris, handsome and brave, who is anxious to make voyage to Salamis, to seek unhappy Hesione. Yet our seamen have never ventured far from home, and they know nothing of the dangers of the deep, nor do they feel sure they can find their way to Greece. And so we have a favor to ask of you; and that is, that when your ship sails to-morrow, ours may follow in its wake across the sea."

Here Menelaus paused as if in deep thought, and not until his listeners begged him to go on, did he resume his story.

[1]Menelaus, king of Lacedaemon, was the husband of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. At the time of his marriage to Helen all the princes of Greece had vowed to support him against any enemy who should attempt to defraud him of his rights. This and the following story tell of his visit to Troy and its results.



"I was glad when King Priam made this request," continued Menelaus, "for, in truth, I was loath to part with Paris; and I arranged at once that he should bear me company in my own ship while his vessel with its crew followed not far behind.

"And so, being blessed with favoring winds, we made a quick voyage back to my own country. What followed is too sad for lengthy mention, and is in part already known to you. Need I tell you how I opened my halls to Paris, and left no act of courtesy undone that I might make him happy? Need I tell you how he was welcomed by fair Helen, and how the summer days fled by on golden wings; and how in the delights of Lacedaemon he forgot his errand to Salamis, and cared only to remain with me, my honored guest and trusted friend?

"One day a message came to me from my old friend Idomeneus. He had planned a hunt among the mountains and woods of Crete, and he invited me to join him in the sport. I had not seen Idomeneus since the time that we together, in friendly contention, sought the hand of Helen. I could not do otherwise than accept his invitation, for he had sent his own ship to carry me over to Crete.

"So I bade farewell to Helen, saying, 'Let not our noble guest lack entertainment while I am gone; and may the golden hours glide happily until I come again.' And to Paris I said, 'Tarry another moon in Lacedasmon; and when I return from Crete, I will go with you to Salamis, and aid you in your search for Hesione.'

"Then I went on board the waiting ship, and prospering breezes carried us without delays to Crete.

"Idomeneus received me joyfully, and entertained me most royally in his palace; and for nine days we feasted and made all things ready for the hunt. But, lo! on the evening of the last day, a vision came to me. Gold-winged Iris, the fleet-footed messenger of the gods, stood before me. 'Hasten back to Lacedaemon,' she cried, for thou art robbed of thy dearest treasure!' And even while she spoke, one of my own ships, came sailing into the harbor, bringing trusted heralds whom the elders of Lacedaemon had sent to me.

"They told me the fatal news. 'No sooner were you well on your way,' they said, 'than Paris began to put his ship in readiness to depart. Helen prayed him to tarry until your return, but he would not hearken, "I will stay no longer," he said. "My seamen rest upon their oars; the sails of my ship are spread; the breeze will soon spring up that will carry me across the sea. But you, beauteous Helen, shall go with me; for the deathless gods have spoken it. Aphrodite, long ago, promised that the most beautiful woman in the world should be my wife. And who is that most beautiful woman if it be not yourself? Come! fly over the sea, and be my queen. It is the will of the gods."'

"It was thus that the perfidious Trojan wrought the ruin of all that was dear to me.

"At first, Helen refused. But Paris is a handsome prince, and day after day he renewed his suit. Then on the sixth day she yielded. In the darkness of the night they went on board his waiting vessel, carrying with them the gold and jewels of my treasure house; and in the morning, when the sun arose on Lacedaemon, they were far out at sea.

"You know the rest: how in wrath and great sorrow I hurried home; how I first counselled with my own elders, and then with my brother Agamemnon. And now, O noble Nestor, we have come to Pylos, seeking thy advice. On these two things my mind is set: Helen must be mine again, and Paris must suffer the punishment due to traitors."

When Menelaus had ended, sage Nestor answered with many words of counsel. "Keep the thought of vengeance ever before you," he said. "Yet act not rashly. The power of Troy is very great; and, in case of war, all the tribes of Asia will make common cause with her. But an insult to Lacedaemon is an insult to all Greece, and every loyal Greek will hasten to avenge it. More than this, the chiefs of almost every state have already sworn to aid you. We have but to call upon them, and remind them of their oaths, and the mightiest warriors of our land will take up arms against the power of Troy."


After nearly ten years of preparation, the princes and warriors of Greece gathered their ships and men together at Aulis, ready to make war upon Troy. A thousand dark-hulled vessels were moored in the harbor; and a hundred thousand brave men were on board, ready to follow their leaders whithersoever they should order.

Chief of all that host was mighty Agamemnon, king of men. He was clad in flashing armor, and his mind was filled with overweening pride when he thought how high he stood among the warriors, and that his men were the goodliest and bravest of all that host.

Next to him was Menelaus, silent and discreet, by no means skilled above his fellows, and yet, by reason of his noble heart, beloved and honored by all the Greeks; and it was to avenge his wrongs that this mighty array of men and ships had been gathered together.

Odysseus came next, shrewd in counsels, earnest and active. He moved among the men and ships, inspiring all with zeal and courage.

There, also, was young Achilles, tall and handsome, and swift of foot. His long hair fell about his shoulders like a shower of gold, and his gray eyes gleamed like those of the mountain eagle. By the shore lay his trim ships—fifty in all—with thousands of gallant warriors on board.

One day it chanced that Agamemnon, while hunting, started a fine stag, and gave it a long chase among the hills and through the wooded dells, until it sought safety in a grove sacred to Artemis, the huntress queen. The proud king knew that this was a holy place, where beasts and birds might rest secure from harm; yet he cared naught for what Artemis had ordained, and with his swift arrows he slew the panting deer.

Then was the huntress queen moved with anger, and she declared that the ships of the Greeks should not sail from Aulis until the king had atoned for his crime. A great calm rested upon the sea, and not a breath of air stirred the sails at the mast-heads of the ships.

Day after day and week after week went by, and not a speck of cloud was seen in the sky above, and not a ripple on the glassy face of the deep. All the ships had been put in order, new vessels had been built, the warriors had burnished their armor and overhauled their arms a thousand times; and yet no breeze arose to waft them across the sea. And they began to murmur, and to talk bitterly against Agamemnon and the chiefs.

At last Agamemnon sent for Calchas, the soothsayer, and asked him in secret how the anger of the huntress queen might be appeased. And the soothsayer with tears and lamentations answered that in no wise could it be done save by the sacrifice to Artemis of the king's daughter, Iphigenia.

Then the king cried aloud in his grief, and declared that though Troy might stand forever, he would not do that thing; and he bade a herald go through the camp, and among the ships by the shore, and bid every man depart as he chose to his own country. But before the herald had gone from his tent, behold, his brother, Menelaus, stood before him with downcast eyes and saddest of hearts.

"After ten years of labor and hope," said he to Agamemnon, "wouldst thou give up this enterprise, and lose all?"

Then Odysseus came also into the tent, and added his persuasions to those of Menelaus. The king hearkened to him, for no man was more crafty in counsel; and the three recalled the herald, and formed a plan whereby they might please Artemis by doing as she desired. Agamemnon, in his weakness, wrote a letter to Clytemnestra his queen, telling her to bring the maiden, Iphigenia, to Aulis, there to be wedded to the bravest of all the Greeks.

"Fail not in this," added he, "for the godlike hero will not sail with us unless my daughter be given to him in marriage."

And when he had written the letter, he sealed it, and sent it by a swift messenger to Clytemnestra at Mycenas.

Nevertheless the king's heart was full of sorrow, and when he was alone he planned how he might yet save his daughter. Night came, but he could not sleep; he walked the floor of his tent; he wept and lamented like one bereft of reason. At length he sat down, and wrote another letter:

"Daughter of Leda, send not thy child to Aulis, for I will give her in marriage at another time."

Then he called another messenger, an old and trusted servant of the household, and put this letter into his hands.

"Take this with all haste to my queen, who, perchance, is even now on her way to Aulis. Stop not by any cool spring in the groves, and let not thine eyes close for sleep. And see that the chariot bearing the queen and Iphigenia pass thee not unnoticed."

The messenger took the letter and hastened away. But hardly had he passed the line of the tents when Menelaus saw him, and took the letter away from him. And when he had read it, he went before his brother, and reproached him with bitter words.

"Before you were chosen captain of the host," said he, "you were kind and gentle, and the friend of every man. There was nothing that you would not do to aid your fellows. Now you are puffed up with pride and vain conceit, and care nothing even for those who are your equals in power. Yet, for all, you are not rid of your well-known cowardice; and when you saw that your leadership was likely to be taken away from you unless you obeyed the commands of Artemis, you agreed to do this thing. Now you are trying to break your word, sending secretly to your wife, and bidding her not to bring her daughter to Aulis."

Then Agamemnon answered, "Why should I destroy my daughter in order to win back thy wife? Let those who wish go with thee to Troy. In no way am I bound to serve thee."

"Do as you will," said Menelaus, going away in wrath.

Soon after this, there came a herald to the king, saying, "Behold, your daughter Iphigenia has come as you directed, and with her mother and her little brother Orestes she rests by the spring close to the outer line of tents. The warriors have gathered around them, and are praising her loveliness, and asking many questions; and some say, 'The king is sick to see his daughter, whom he loves so deeply, and he has made up some excuse to bring her to the camp.' But I know why you have brought her here; for I have been told about the wedding, and the noble groom who is to lead her in marriage; and we will rejoice and be glad, because this is a happy day for the maiden."

Then the king was sorely distressed, and knew not what to do. "Sad, sad, indeed," said he, "is the wedding to which the maiden cometh. For the name of the bridegroom is Death."

At the same time Menelaus came back, sorrowful and repentant. "You were right, my brother," said he. "What, indeed, has Iphigenia to do with this enterprise, and why should the maiden die for me? Send the Greeks to their homes, and let not this great wrong be done."

"But how can I do that now?" asked Agamemnon. "The warriors, urged on by Odysseus and Calchas, will force me to do the deed. Or, if I flee to Mycenae, they will follow me, and slay me, and destroy my city. Oh, woe am I, that such a day should ever dawn upon my sight!"

Even while they spoke together, the queen's chariot drove up to the tent door, and the queen and Iphigenia and the little Orestes alighted quickly, and merrily greeted the king.

"It is well that you have sent for me, my father," said Iphigenia, caressing him.

"It may be well, and yet it may not," said Agamemnon. "I am exceeding glad to see thee alive and happy."

"If you are glad, why then do you weep?"

"I am sad because thou wilt be so long time away from me."

"Are you going on a very long voyage, father?"

"A long voyage and a sad one, my child. And thou, also, hast a journey to make."

"Must I make it alone, or will my mother go with me?"

"Thou must make it alone. Neither father nor mother nor any friend can go with thee, my child."

"But when shall it be? I pray that you will hasten this matter with Troy, and return home ere then."

"It may be so. But I must offer a sacrifice to the gods before we sail from Aulis."

"That is well. And may I be present?"

"Yes, and thou shalt be very close to the altar."

"Shall I lead in the dances, father?"

Then the king could say no more, for reason of the great sorrow within him; and he kissed the maiden, and sent her into the tent. A little while afterward, the queen came and spoke to him and asked him about the man to whom their daughter was to be wedded; and Agamemnon, still dissembling, told her that the hero's name was Achilles, and that he was the son of old Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis.

"And when and where is the marriage to be?" asked the queen.

"On the first lucky day in the present moon, and here in our camp at Aulis," answered Agamemnon.

"Shall I stay here with thee until then?"

"Nay, thou must go back to Mycenae without delay."

"But may I not come again? If I am not here, who will hold up the torch for the bride?"

"I will attend to all such matters," answered Agamemnon.

But Clytemnestra was not well pleased, neither could the king persuade her at all that she should return to Mycenae. While yet they were talking, Achilles himself came to the tent door, and said aloud to the servant who kept it, "Tell thy master that Achilles, the son of Peleus, would be pleased to see him."

When Clytemnestra overheard these words, she hastened to the door, and offered the hero her hand. But he was abashed and drew back, for it was deemed an unseemly thing for men to speak thus with women. Then Clytemnestra said, "Why, indeed, should you, who are about to marry my daughter, be ashamed to give me your hand?"

Achilles was struck with wonder, and asked her what she meant; and when she had explained the matter, he said:

"Truly I have never been a suitor for thy daughter, neither has Agamemnon or Menelaus spoken a word to me regarding her."

And now the queen was astonished in her turn, and cried out with shame that she had been so cruelly deceived. Then the keeper of the door, who was the same that had been sent with the letter, came forward and told the truth regarding the whole matter. And Clytemnestra cried to Achilles, "O son of silver-footed Thetis! Help me and help my daughter Iphigenia, in this time of sorest need! For we have no friend in all this host, and none in whom we can confide but thee."

Achilles answered, "Long time ago I was a pupil of old Cheiron, the most righteous of men, and from him I learned to be honest and true. If Agamemnon rule according to right, then I will obey him; but not otherwise. And now, since thy daughter was brought to this place under pretence of giving her to me as my bride, I will see that she shall not be slain, neither shall any one dare take her from me."

On the following day, while Agamemnon sat grief-stricken in his tent, the maiden came before him carrying the child Orestes in her arms; and she cast herself upon her knees at his feet, and caressing his hands, she thus besought him:

"Would, dear father, that I had the voice of Orpheus, to whom even the rocks did listen! then I would persuade thee. O father! I am thy child. I was the first to call thee 'Father,' and the first to whom thou saidst 'My child.'"

The father turned his face away, and wept; he could not speak for sadness. Then the maiden went on: "O father, hear me! thou to whom my voice was once so sweet that thou wouldst waken me to hear my prattle. And when I was older grown, then thou wouldst say to me, 'Some day, my birdling, thou shalt have a nest of thy own, a home of which thou shalt be the mistress.' And I did answer, 'Yes, dear father, and when thou art old I will care for thee, and pay thee with all my heart for the kindness thou dost show me.' But now thou hast forgotten it all, and art ready to slay my young life."

A deep groan burst from the lips of the mighty king, but he spoke not a word. Then, after a deathlike silence broken only by the deep breathings of father and child, Iphigenia spoke again: "My father, can there be any prayer more pure and more persuasive than that of a maiden for her father's welfare? And when, the cruel knife shall strike me down, thou wilt have one daughter less to pray for thee." A shudder shook the frame of Agamemnon, but he answered not a word.

At that moment Achilles entered. He had come in haste from the tents beside the shore, and he spoke in hurried, anxious accents.

"Behold," said he, "a great tumult has arisen in the camp; for Calchas has given out among the men that you refuse to do what Artemis has bidden, and that hence these delays and troubles have arisen. And the rude soldiers are crying out against you, and declaring that the maiden must die. When I would have stayed their anger, they took up stones to stone me—my own warriors among the rest. And now they are making ready to move upon your tent, threatening to sacrifice you also with your daughter. But I will fight for you to the utmost, and the maiden shall not die."

As he was speaking, Calchas entered, and, grasping the wrist of the pleading maiden, lifted her to her feet. She looked up, and saw his stony face and hard cold eyes; and turning again to Agamemnon, she said, "O father, the ships shall sail, for I will die for thee."

Then Achilles said to her, "Fair maiden, thou art by far the noblest and most lovely of thy sex. Fain would I save thee from this fate, even though every man in Greece be against me. Fly with me quickly to my long-oared ship, and I will carry thee safely away from this accursed place."

"Not so," answered Iphigenia: "I will give up my life for my father and this land of the Greeks, and no man shall suffer for me."

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