Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles - Padraic Colum

King Phineus's Counsel; The Landing in Lemnos

They came into King Phineus's hall, their bright swords in their hands. The Argonauts crowded around them and King Phineus raised his head and stretched out his thin hands to them. And Zetes and Calais told their comrades and told the king how they had driven the Harpies down to the Floating Island, and how Iris, the messenger of Zeus, had sworn the great oath that was by the Water of Styx that never again would the Snatchers show themselves in the palace.

Then a great golden cup brimming with wine was brought to the king. He stood holding it in his trembling hands, fearful even then that the Harpies would tear the cup out of his hands. He drank—long and deeply he drank—and the dread shapes of the Snatchers did not appear. Down amongst the heroes he came and he took into his the hands of Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind.

"O heroes greater than any kings," he said, "ye have delivered me from the terrible curse that the gods had sent upon me. I thank ye, and I thank ye all, heroes of the quest. And the thanks of Phineus will much avail you all."

Clasping the hands of Zetes and Calais he led the heroes through hall after hall of his palace and down into his treasure chamber. There he bestowed upon the banishers of the Harpies crowns and arm rings of gold and richly colored garments and brazen chests in which to store the treasure that he gave. And to Jason he gave an ivory-hilted and gold encased sword, and on each of the voyagers he bestowed a rich gift, not forgetting the heroes who had remained on the Argo, Heracles and Tiphys.

They went back to the great hall, and a feast was spread for the king and for the Argonauts. They ate from rich dishes and they drank from flowing wine cups. Phineus ate and drank as the heroes did, and no dread shapes came before him to snatch from him nor to buffet him. But as Jason looked upon the man who had striven to equal the gods in wisdom, and noted his blinded eyes and shrunken face, he resolved never to harbor in his heart such presumption as Phineus had harbored.

When the feast was finished the king spoke to Jason, telling him how the Argo  might be guided through the Symplegades, the dread passage into the Sea of Pontus. He told them to bring their ship near to the Clashing Rocks. And one who had the keenest sight amongst them was to stand at the prow of the ship holding a pigeon in his hands. As the rocks came together he was to loose the pigeon. If it found a space to fly through they would know that the Argo  could make the passage, and they were to steer straight toward where the pigeon had flown. But if it fluttered down to the sea, or flew back to them, or became lost in the clouds of spray, they were to know that the Argo  might not make that passage. Then the heroes would have to take their ship overland to where they might reach the Sea of Pontus.

That day they bade farewell to Phineus, and with the treasures he had bestowed upon them they went down to the Argo. To Heracles and Tiphys they gave the presents that the king had sent them. In the morning they drew the Argo  out of the harbor of Salmydessus, and set sail again.

But not until long afterward did they come to the Symplegades, the passage that was to be their great trial. For they landed first in a country that was full of woods, where they were welcomed by a king who had heard of the voyagers and of their quest. There they stayed and hunted for many days in the woods. And there a great loss befell the Argonauts, for Tiphys, as he went through the woods, was bitten by a snake and died. He who had braved so many seas and so many storms lost his life away from the ship. The Argonauts made a tomb for him on the shore of that land—a great pile of stones, in which they fixed upright his steering oar. Then they set sail again, and Nauplius was made the steersman of the ship.

The course was not so clear to Nauplius as it had been to Tiphys. The steersman did not find his bearings, and for many days and nights the Argo  was driven on a backward course. They came to an island that they knew to be that Island of Lemnos that they had passed on the first days of the voyage, and they resolved to rest there for a while, and then to press on for the passage into the Sea of Pontus.

They brought the Argo  near the shore. They blew trumpets and set the loudest voiced of the heroes to call out to those upon the island. But no answer came to them, and all day the Argo  lay close to the island.

There were hidden people watching them, people with bows in their hands and arrows laid along the bowstrings. And the people who thus threatened the unknowing Argonauts were women and young girls.

There were no men upon the Island of Lemnos. Years before a curse had fallen upon the people of that island, putting strife between the men and the women. And the women had mastered the men and had driven them away from Lemnos. Since then some of the women had grown old, and the girls who were children when their fathers and brothers had been banished were now of an age with Atalanta, the maiden who went with the Argonauts.

They chased the wild beasts of the island, and they tilled the fields, and they kept in good repair the houses that were built before the banishing of the men. The older women served those who were younger, and they had a queen, a girl whose name was Hypsipyle.

The women who watched with bows in their hands would have shot their arrows at the Argonauts if Hypsipyle's nurse, Polyxo, had not stayed them. She forbade them to shoot at the strangers until she had brought to them the queen's commands.

She hastened to the palace and she found the young queen weaving at a loom. She told her about the ship and the strangers on board the ship, and she asked the queen what word she should bring to the guardian maidens.

"Before you give a command, Hypsipyle," said Polyxo, the nurse, "consider these words of mine. We, the elder women, are becoming ancient now; in a few years we will not be able to serve you, the younger women, and in a few years more we will have gone into the grave and our places will know us no more. And you, the younger women, will be becoming strengthless, and no more will be you able to hunt in the woods nor to till the fields, and a hard old age will be before you.

"The ship that is beside our shore may have come at a good time. Those on board are goodly heroes. Let them land in Lemnos, and stay if they will. Let them wed with the younger women so that there may be husbands and wives, helpers and helpmeets, again in Lemnos."

Hypsipyle, the queen, let the shuttle fall from her hands and stayed for a while looking full into Polyxo's face. Had her nurse heard her say something like this out of her dreams, she wondered? She bade the nurse tell the guardian maidens to let the heroes land in safety, and that she herself would put the crown of King Thoas, her father, upon her head, and go down to the shore to welcome them.

And now the Argonauts saw people along the shore and they caught sight of women's dresses. The loudest voiced amongst them shouted again, and they heard an answer given in a woman's voice. They drew up the Argo  upon the shore, and they set foot upon the land of Lemnos.

Jason stepped forth at the head of his comrades, and he was met by Hypsipyle, her father's crown upon her head, at the head of her maidens. They greeted each other, and Hypsipyle bade the heroes come with them to their town that was called Myrine and to the palace that was there.

Wonderingly the Argonauts went, looking on women's forms and faces and seeing no men. They came to the palace and went within. Hypsipyle mounted the stone throne that was King Thoas's and the four maidens who were her guards stood each side of her. She spoke to the heroes in greeting and bade them stay in peace for as long as they would. She told them of the curse that had fallen upon the people of Lemnos, and of how the menfolk had been banished. Jason, then, told the queen what voyage he and his companions were upon and what quest they were making. Then in friendship the Argonauts and the women of Lemnos stayed together—all the Argonauts except Heracles, and he, grieving still for Hylas, stayed aboard the Argo.