Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Good Ship Argo

"I am tired of going to school," said Jason. "I am a man now, and I shall go and claim my kingdom from my uncle." His father had been a king, but had given up his kingdom to his half-brother. "Keep it until my son if of age," he said. "When he is old enough to reign, yield him the throne as now I yield it to you." The brother promised, but never meant to keep his word.

Jason had been put to Chiron's school. Chiron was a centaur; that is, he had a man's head and chest and arms, joined to the body and four legs of a horse. He was an excellent teach and had many famous pupils.

Jason dressed for his journey, put on a pair of handsome sandals that had belonged to his father, said farewell to teacher, and fellow-pupils, and set out to gain his kingdom.

On the way e came to a wide river running very swiftly. On the bank stood a feeble, poor old woman, who was wringing her hands and saying, "Oh, I must get over! Who will help me over?"

Jason was not very willing but he had been taught at school to always be kind to the poor and old, in fact to everybody who needed help. So he knelt down and said, "Climb on my back, good mother, and I will carry you over if I can."

She got on his broad young shoulders, and he plunged into the stream. Its bed was very rocky and uneven, and the rushing current was very powerful, but he fought his way through, and put down the old woman on the other side. She thanked him kindly, but he was vexed to see that one of his feet was bare because he had lost a sandal in the river.

The old woman said, "Never mind, my kind young friend. Some things are better lost than found. My blessing goes with you, and it may bring you good fortune."

He went on and reached the city where his uncle held his court. People looked at the lad with wonder, as he limped along the streets with one foot shod and the other bare. Some began to call after him, "One sandal! One sandal! See the man with one sandal!" The cry rang through the city, and the king heard it in his palace.

An oracle had once told him to beware of a man with one sandal. He sent a servant to bring this stranger before him.

"Who are you?" the king asked, "and what are you doing in my kingdom?"

"If you are Pelias," answered the youth, "I am your nephew. My name is Jason; this is my kingdom, and I have come to claim my rights."

The king replied, "If you are a king you must do kingly deeds. If you will go and bring me the Golden Fleece, you will prove yourself a hero, and the kingdom shall be yours."

Jason was pleased with the thought. "I shall need a ship and men," he said. His uncle replied, "The best shipbuilder in the world lives here. His name is Argus. I will give you money for the vessel; you can easily find men."

Jason went to the oracle of the speaking oak at Dodona, and it told him to hire Argus to build the vessel. He cut off a bought of the oak and took it to Argus.

"Here," he said, "is the first timber of a ship I wish you to build for me. It must be long and strong, with room for fifty rowers. This branch you must put into the prow, that it may always see where we are going and warn us of danger."

No such large vessel had ever yet been built but Argus went to work upon her, and, while he was busy, Jason sent out heralds to all the cities of Greece, telling of his large ship, and inviting brave young men to join him in the search for the Golden Fleece.

Many were willing to go. They went to the city where Jason was, and waited until the new ship was finished. She was called "Argo," after her builder. When she was ready they all laid hold upon her and pushed and pulled, trying to launch her. But she did not move; she was too heavy.

They were almost in despair when Jason thought of the oak branch. "Child of Dodona," he cried, "you see how helpless we are. Tell us what to do!"

The branch answered, "Take your place at the oars, and let Orpheus play upon his harp."

Orpheus was a famous musician, of whom we shall presently learn more.

The Argonauts, as they were called, went on board and took their oars; fifty rowers sitting in a boat under forest trees far from the water. Orpheus lifted his harp and struck the strings. The ship gave a little leap and started for the sea. Out of the woods and down the shore she went, Orpheus playing all the way, until the bow struck the water, the spray dashed over the oak branch, and the big ship was afloat.