Hercules, My Shipmate

Robert Graves


Hercules, My Shipmate
Copyright © 1945 by Robert Graves, renewed 1973 by Robert Graves
Cover art, special contents, and Electronic Edition © 2014 by RosettaBooks LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cover jacket design by Carly Schnur
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795337031




Chapter 1: The Parching of the Barley

Chapter 2: The Loss of the Fleece

Chapter 3: The Rise of the Olympians

Chapter 4: Jason Claims His Kingdom

Chapter 5: The White Goddess Approves the Voyage

Chapter 6: Zeus Approves the Voyage

Chapter 7: The Building of the Argo

Chapter 8: The Arrival of Hercules

Chapter 9: The Choosing of the Argonauts

Chapter 10: The Argo Is Launched

Chapter 11: The Argo Sails

Chapter 12: The Camp-fires at Castanthaea

Chapter 13: To Lemnos, By Way of Athos

Chapter 14: The Women’s Island

Chapter 15: Farewell to Lemnos

Chapter 16: Orpheus Sings of the Creation

Chapter 17: The Great Mysteries of Samothrace

Chapter 18: Through the Hellespont

Chapter 19: The Wedding Feast of King Cyzicus

Chapter 20: The Funeral of King Cyzicus

Chapter 21: Hylas Is Lost

Chapter 22: Pollux Boxes with King Amycus

Chapter 23: Orpheus Tells of Daedalus

Chapter 24: King Phineus and the Harpies

Chapter 25: The Passage of the Bosporus

Chapter 26: A Visit to the Mariandynians

Chapter 27: The Minyans of Sinope

Chapter 28: The Fat Mosynoechians and Others

Chapter 29: The Argo Reaches Colchis

Chapter 30: Up the Phasis River

Chapter 31: King Aeëtes Receive the Argonauts

Chapter 32: Jason Speaks with Medea

Chapter 33: The Seizure of the Fleece

Chapter 34: The Flight from Aea

Chapter 35: Away from Colchis

Chapter 36: The Pursuit

Chapter 37: The Argo Is Trapped

Chapter 38: The Parley

Chapter 39: The Colchians are Outwitted

Chapter 40: The Argo Dismisses Jason

Chapter 41: Reunion at Aeaea

Chapter 42: The Argo Is Again Overtaken

Chapter 43: The Colchians Are Again Outwitted

Chapter 44: To Sicily and Southward

Chapter 45: The Argonauts Abandon Hope

Chapter 46: The Argonauts Are Rescued

Chapter 47: The Argo Comes Home

Chapter 48: The Death of Pelias

Chapter 49: The Fleece Is Restored to Zeus

Chapter 50: What Became of the Argonauts

Maps and Diagrams:

The Stem of the Aeolians

Outward Voyage of the Argo

Homeward Voyage of the Argo


Ancaeus, Little Ancaeus, oracular hero, last survivor (it is said) of all the Argonauts who sailed to Colchis with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece, speak to us visitants, speak clearly from your rocky tomb by the Goddess’s fountain in cool Hesperidean Deia. First tell us how you came there, so far from your home in Flowery Samos; and next, if it pleases you, unfold the whole story of that famous voyage, starting from the very beginning. Come, we will pour you libations of honey water to sweeten your throat! But remember, no lies! The dead may speak the truth only, even when it discredits themselves.


Ancaeus the Lelegian, of Flowery Samos, was marooned one summer evening on the sandy southern shore of Majorca, the largest of the Islands of the Hesperides, or, as some call them, the Islands of the Slingers, or the Islands of the Naked Men, which lie close together in the far west of the sea, not above a day’s sail from Spain when the wind is fair. The islanders, astonished by his appearance, refrained from putting him to death and conducted him, with undisguised contempt for his Greek sandals, short travel-stained tunic, and heavy seaman’s cloak, to the Chief Priestess and Governess of Majorca, who lived in the cave of the Drachë, the most distant from Greece of the many entrances to the Underworld.

Since she happened to be preoccupied with some work of divination, the Chief Priestess sent Ancaeus across the island to be judged and disposed of by her daughter, the Nymph of the sacred orange-grove at Deia. A party of naked Goat men escorted him across the plain and over the rough mountains; but by the order of the Chief Priestess they refrained from conversing with him by the way. They did not pause for a moment in their trotting journey, except to prostrate themselves at a massive cromlech, standing beside their path, where as boys they had been initiated into the rites of the Goat fraternity. Three times they came to places where three ways met, and each time made a wide circuit to avoid the triangular thicket marked out with stones. Ancaeus was pleased to find such respect paid to the Triple Goddess, to whom these enclosures are sacred.

Very weary and footsore by the time that he reached Deia, Ancaeus found the Orange Nymph seated upright on a stone near a copious spring of water which burst from the granite rock and watered the grove. Here the mountain, which was shaggy with wild olive and esculent oak, sloped sharply down to the sea, five hundred feet below, at that time dappled with small banks of mist, like sheep grazing, as far as the horizon-line.

Ancaeus, when the Nymph had addressed him, replied reverently, using the Pelasgian language and keeping his eyes fixed on the ground. Every priestess of the Triple Goddess has the double-eye which, as Ancaeus knew, can turn a man’s spirit to water and his body to stone and can blast to death any animal that crosses her path. The oracular serpents which these priestesses tend have the same terrible power over birds, mice, and rabbits. Ancaeus also knew that he should say nothing to the Nymph except in answer to her questions, and then speak briefly and in the humblest possible tones.

The Nymph dismissed the Goat men, who went a little apart and perched in a row on the edge of a rock until she should summon them again. They were a calm, simple people, with blue eyes and short muscular legs. Instead of warming their bodies with clothes, they smeared them with the juice of the mastic plant mixed with hogs’ grease. Each wore at his side a goat-skin wallet full of wave-worn stones, and held a sling in his hand, with another sling wound about his head, and a third serving as a loin strap. They expected that the Nymph would soon give them orders to despatch the stranger, and already were debating in a friendly fashion among themselves who should have the first cast, and who the second, and whether they should allow him a fair start in a lively hunt down the mountain-side, or whether they should knock him to pieces as he approached them, each aiming at a different part of his body.

The orange-grove, which contained fifty trees, surrounded a rock shrine inhabited by an unusually large serpent, which the other nymphs, the fifty Hesperides, fed daily with barley-flour worked into a very thin paste with goats’ milk. The shrine was sacred to an ancient hero who had brought the orange into Majorca from some land or other on the distant shores of the Ocean. His name was forgotten and they spoke of him only as ‘The Benefactor’; the serpent, being bred from the marrow of his spine and animated by his ghost, went by the same name. The orange is a round, scented fruit, unknown elsewhere in the civilized world, which grows green at first, then golden, with a hot rind and cold, sweet, sharp flesh. It is found on a smooth tree with glossy leaves and prickly branches, and ripens in mid-winter, unlike any other fruit. It is not eaten indiscriminately in Majorca, but once a year only, at the winter solstice, after ritual chewing of buckthorn and other purgative herbs; thus eaten, it confers long life. At other times, the slightest taste of an orange will result in immediate death, so sacred a fruit is it; unless the Orange Nymph herself dispenses it.

In these islands, by virtue of the orange, both men and women live as long as they please; in general, it is only when they find that they are becoming burdensome to their friends, because of the slowness of their movements or the dullness of their talk, that they decide on death. Then, for the sake of politeness, they do not say goodbye to their dear ones, nor make any commotion in the cave—for they all live in caves—but slip out quietly and fling themselves head-foremost from a rock; as is pleasing to the Goddess, who hates any unnecessary grief or complaint, and who rewards these suicides with distinguished and joyful funerals.

The Orange Nymph was tall and beautiful. She wore a flounced bell-shaped skirt in the Cretan fashion, of linen dyed the colour of orange with heather dye, and no upper garment, except a short-sleeved green waistcoat that did not fasten in front but showed the glory of her full breasts. Her badges of office were a belt of countless small pieces of gold linked together in the form of a serpent with jewelled eyes, a necklace of dried green oranges, and a high caul-cap embroidered in pearls and surmounted by the golden disc of the Full Moon. She had borne four handsome girls, the youngest of whom would one day succeed to her office, as she herself, being the youngest of her sisters, would one day succeed her mother, the Chief Priestess at Drachë. These four girls, not being yet old enough to be nymphs, were maiden huntresses, very skilful slingers, who went out with the men to bring them good luck in the chase. Maiden, Nymph, and Mother are the eternal royal Trinity of the island, and the Goddess, who is worshipped there in each of these aspects, as New Moon, Full Moon, and Old Moon, is the Sovereign Deity. It is she who induces fertility in those trees and plants upon which human life depends. Is it not well known that all green things shoot while the Moon waxes and cease while the Moon wanes, that only the hot rebellious onion does not obey her monthly phases? Yet the Sun, her man-child, yearly born and yearly dying, assists her with his warm emanations. It was for this reason that the only man-child born to the Orange Nymph, being the Sun incarnate, had been sacrificed to the Goddess, as the custom was, and his torn morsels thereupon mixed with the seed-barley to ensure a bountiful harvest.

The Nymph was surprised to find that the Pelasgian language, which Ancaeus spoke, closely resembled that of the Islands. Though she was pleased that she could question him without the troublesome necessity of gesturing and scratching pictures on clay with a stick, she was a little troubled in her mind that he might have been conversing with the Goat men on matters about which it was her policy, and that of her mother’s, to keep them in innocence. She asked first: ‘Are you a Cretan?’

He answered: ‘No, Holy One, I am a Pelasgian from the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, and therefore no more than a cousin of the Cretans. But my overlords are Greeks.’

‘You are an ugly little old wretch,’ she said.

‘Forgive me, Holy One,’ he answered. ‘I have led a hard life.’

When she asked why he had been set ashore on Majorca, he answered that he was exiled from Samos because of his obstinate adherence to the ancient ritual of the Goddess—the Samians having lately introduced new Olympian ritual which vexed his religious soul—and that, being aware that in Majorca the Goddess was worshipped with primitive innocence, he had asked the master of the vessel to set him ashore there.

‘Indeed,’ remarked the Nymph. ‘Your story reminds me of a champion named Hercules, who visited our island many years ago when my mother was the Nymph of this grove. I cannot tell you the ins and outs of his story, because my mother was secretive about it in my childhood, but this much I know: Hercules was being sent around the world by his overlord, King Eurystheus of Mycenae (wherever Mycenae may be), to perform a number of seemingly impossible Labours, and all because, so he said, of his obstinate devotion to the ancient ritual of the Goddess. He landed on the island from a canoe and announced with surprising boldness that he was come in the name of the Goddess to fetch a basketful of sacred oranges from this grove. He was a Lion man, which made him conspicuous in Majorca, where we have no Lion fraternity or sorority, and also gifted with colossal strength and a miraculous appetite alike for food, drink, and the pleasures of love. My mother took a fancy to him, and freely gave him the oranges, and also did him the honour of companying with him at the spring sowing. Have you ever heard tell of this Hercules?’

‘I was once a shipmate of his, if you mean Hercules of Tiryns,’ replied Ancaeus. ‘That was when I sailed to the Stables of the Sun aboard the famous Argo, and I am sorry to tell you that the old rogue must have deceived your mother. He had no right to ask for the fruit in the name of the Goddess, who detested him.’

The Nymph was amused by his heat and assured him that she was now satisfied with his credentials: he might lift his eyes to her face and converse with her a trifle more familiarly, if he pleased. But she was careful not to put him formally under the protection of the Goddess. She asked him to what fraternity he belonged, and he answered that he was a Dolphin man.

‘Ah,’ said the Nymph. ‘The very first time that I was initiated into nymph-hood and companied with men, in the open furrow of the field after the sowing, it was with nine Dolphin men. The first of my choice became Sun Champion, or War King, for the ensuing year, as is customary here. Our Dolphins are a small, very ancient fraternity, and distinguished for musical skill even above the Seals.’

‘The dolphin is delightfully responsive to music,’ Ancaeus agreed.

The Nymph continued: ‘Yet, when I bore my child, it was not a girl, to be preserved, but a boy; and in due course back he went, torn in pieces, to the furrow from which he had sprung. The Goddess gave and the Goddess took away again. I have never since had the heart to company with a Dolphin man, judging that the society is an unlucky one for me. No male child of our family is permitted to live beyond the second sowing season.’

Ancaeus was bold enough to ask: ‘Has no nymph or other priestess ever (since priestesses are so powerful in this island) smuggled away her own male child to a foster-mother and reared this mother’s female child in his place, so that both might live?’

She answered severely: ‘A trick of this sort may be practised in your island, Ancaeus, but not in ours. No woman here ever deceives the Triple Goddess.’

Ancaeus said: ‘Indeed, Holy One, nobody can possibly deceive the Goddess.’ But he asked again: ‘Is it not perhaps your custom, if a royal nymph has an inordinate affection for her male child, to sacrifice a male calf or kid in his stead, swaddling it in infant’s clothing and putting sandals on its feet? In my island it is supposed that the Goddess will turn a blind eye to the substitution and that the fields will yield no less abundantly. It is only after a bad season, when the corn is stunted or blighted, that a male child is sacrificed at the next sowing. And even so, he is a child of poor parents, not of the royal stock.’

The Nymph answered again in the same severe voice: ‘Not in our island. No woman here ever trifles with the Triple Goddess. That is the reason why we prosper. Ours is the island of innocence and of calm.’

Ancaeus assented that it was by far the most pleasant island of all the hundreds that he had visited in his travels, his own island of Samos, called The Flowery Island, not excepted.

The Nymph then said: ‘I am at leisure to hear a story, if it is not tedious. How is it that your cousins the Cretans have ceased to visit these islands as they once did, in my great-grandmother’s time, conversing with us politely in a language which, though not our own, we could readily understand? Who are these Greeks, your overlords, who come in the same ships as the Cretans once used, and with the same goods for sale—vases and olive oil and dyes and jewels and linen and emery whetstones and fine bronze weapons—but use the Ram, not the Bull for their figure-heads and speak an unintelligible language, and bargain in a rude and threatening fashion, and leer shamelessly at the women and pilfer any small object that they find lying about? We are not eager to trade with them and often send them away empty-handed breaking their teeth with sling-shot and dinting their brazen helmets with large stones.’

Ancaeus explained that the mainland, to the north of Crete, which had once been known as Pelasgia, was now named Greece after its new overlords. It was inhabited by a remarkably mixed population. The most ancient people were the earthborn Pelasgians, said to have sprung from the scattered teeth of the Serpent Ophion when the Triple Goddess had torn him into shreds. To these were added, first, Cretan settlers from Cnosssos; next, Henetian settlers from Asia Minor, mixed with Aethiopians from Egypt, whose rich King Pelops gave his name to the southern part of the land, the Peloponnese, and who built cities with enormous stone walls, and white marble tombs in the bee-hive shape of African huts; lastly, the Greeks, a barbarous pastoral people from the north, beyond the river Danube, who came down by way of Thessaly, in three successive invasions, and eventually possessed themselves of all the strong Pelopian cities. These Greeks ruled the other peoples in an insolent and arbitrary manner. ‘And alas, Holy One,’ said Ancaeus, ‘our overlords worship the Father God as their sovereign Deity and secretly despise the Triple Goddess.’

The Nymph wondered whether she had misheard his words. She asked: ‘Who may the Father God be? How can any tribe worship a Father? What are fathers but the occasional instruments that a woman uses for her pleasure and for the sake of becoming a mother?’ She began to laugh contemptuously and cried: ‘By the Benefactor, I swear that this is the most absurd story that ever I heard. Fathers, indeed! I suppose that these Greek fathers suckle the children and sow the barley and caprify the fig-trees and make the laws and, in short, undertake all the other responsible tasks proper to women?’ She tapped impatiently with her foot on a stone and the hot blood darkened her face.

When the Goat men observed this, each silently took a pebble from his wallet and laid it in the leathern pocket of his sling. But Ancaeus answered mildly and gently, casting down his eyes again. He remarked that there were many strange customs in this world, and many tribes who seemed to others to be insane. ‘I should like to show you the Mosynoechians of the Black Sea coast, Holy One,’ he said, ‘with their wooden castles and their enormously fat tattooed boys, fed on chestnut cakes. They live next to the Amazons, who are as queer as they… As for the Greeks, they argue as follows: since women are dependent on men for their maternity—for the wind alone will not quicken their wombs as it quickens those of Iberian mares—men are consequently more important than they.’

‘But that is an insane argument,’ cried the Nymph. ‘You might as well pretend that this splinter of pine-wood is of more importance than myself, because I employ it to pick my teeth. The woman, not the man, is always the principal: she is the agent, he the tool always. She gives the orders, he obeys. Is it not the woman who chooses the man, and overcomes him by the sweetness of her perfumed presence and orders him to lie down in the furrow on his back, and there riding upon him, as upon a wild horse tamed to her will, takes her pleasure of him and, when she has done, leaves him lying like a dead man? Is it not the woman who rules in the cave, and if any of her lovers displeases her by his surly or lazy behaviour, gives him the three times repeated warning to take up all his gear and begone to his fraternity lodge?’

‘With the Greeks,’ said Ancaeus in a low, hurried voice, ‘the custom is exactly the contrary. Each man chooses the woman whom he wishes to make the mother of his child (as he calls it) and overcomes her by the strength of his desire, and orders her to lie upon her back wherever it may suit him best, and then, mounting, takes his pleasure of her. In the house he is the master, and if the woman vexes him by her nagging or lewd behaviour he beats her with his hand, and if that does not make her alter her ways he packs her back to her father’s house with all the gear that she has brought and gives her children to a slave woman to rear for him. But, Holy One, do not be angry, I charge you by the Goddess! I am a Pelasgian; I detest the Greeks and their ways, and am dutifully obeying your instructions by answering these questions.’

The Nymph contented herself by saying that the Greeks must be the most impious and disgusting people in the world, worse than African apes—if Ancaeus were not indeed mocking her. She questioned him again about the sowing of barley and the caprification of figs: how did the men of the Greeks manage to obtain bread or figs without the intervention of the Goddess?

He answered: ‘Holy One, when the Greeks first arrived in Pelasgia they were a pastoral people, living only on roast meat, cheese, milk, honey, and wild salads. They therefore knew nothing of the ritual of planting barley or of the cultivation of any fruits whatever.’

She asked, interrupting him: ‘These insane Greeks, then (I suppose), came down from the North without their own women, as sometimes the drones, who are the idle fathers among the bees, make a sortie from the hive and form a colony apart from their Queen and eat filth instead of honey?’

‘No,’ said Ancaeus, ‘they brought their own women with them; but these women were accustomed to what will seem to you a topsy-turvy and indecent way of life. They tended the cattle, and were bought and sold by the men as though they were themselves cattle.’

‘I refuse to believe that men could ever buy and sell women,’ cried the Nymph. ‘You have evidently been misinformed on this point. But did the filthy Greeks continue long in this way of life, once they were settled in Pelasgia?’

Ancaeus answered: ‘The first two tribes of invaders, the Ionians and the Aeolians, who were armed with bronze weapons, soon yielded to the might of the Goddess when she consented to adopt their male gods as her sons. They relinquished many of their barbarous ways. And when they were presently persuaded to eat the bread baked by the Pelasgians, and when they found that it had an agreeable taste and holy qualities, one of them, named Triptolemus, asked leave of the Goddess to plant barley himself, for he was confident that men could do so almost as successfully as women. He said that he wished, if possible, to spare the women needless labour and anxiety; and the Goddess indulgently consented.’

The Nymph laughed until the sides of the mountain re-echoed with the noise, and the Goat men laughed sympathetically from their rock, rolling about in merriment, though they had not the least idea why she laughed. She said to Ancaeus: ‘A fine crop indeed this Triptolemus must have reaped—all poppy and henbane and thistle!’

Ancaeus was wise enough not to contradict her. He began to tell her about the third tribe of Greeks, the iron-weaponed Achaeans, and of their insolent bearing towards the Goddess and how they instituted the Divine Family of Olympus; but he observed that she was not listening, and desisted. She asked with a sneer: ‘Come now, Ancaeus, tell me, how are clans reckoned among the Greeks? You surely will not tell me that there are male clans instead of female, with the generations reckoned through the fathers rather than the mothers?’

Ancaeus nodded his head slowly, as though forced into admitting an absurdity by the shrewdness of the Nymph’s cross-examination. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘since the coming of the iron-weaponed Achaeans, which happened many years ago, male clans have supplanted female clans in most parts of Greece. The Ionians and Aeolians had already introduced great innovations; the arrival of the Achaeans turned everything upside-down. The Ionians and the Aeolians had by then learned to reckon descent from the mother; but to the Achaeans paternity was, and is, the only consideration in tracing genealogy, and they have lately converted most of the Aeolians and some of the Ionians to their view.’

The Nymph cried: ‘No, no, that is manifestly absurd. Though it is plain and indisputable, for example, that little Korë is my daughter forasmuch as the midwife drew her out of my body, how can it be known certainly who was her father? For the impregnation does not necessarily come from the first man whom I enjoy at our sacred orgies. It may come from the first or it may come from the ninth.’

‘That uncertainty the Greeks attempt to dispel,’ said Ancaeus, ‘by each man choosing what he calls a wife—a woman who is forbidden to company with any but himself. Then, if she conceives, his own paternity is not to be disputed.’

The Nymph looked earnestly into Ancaeus’s face and said: ‘You have an answer for everything. But do you expect me to believe that women can be so ruled and watched and guarded as to be prevented from enjoying any man whom they please? Suppose that a young woman became wife to an old, ugly, or blemished man like yourself: How could she ever consent to company with him?’

Ancaeus, meeting her gaze, answered: ‘The Greeks profess that they can so control their wives. But, I grant you, it often happens that they cannot, and that a woman secretly mates with a man to whom she is not wife. Then her husband is jealous and tries to kill both the wife and her lover, and if both the men are kings, their peoples are drawn into war and great bloodshed ensues.’

‘That I can well imagine,’ said the Nymph. ‘They should not tell lies in the first place, nor afterwards undertake more than they can perform, and so give themselves occasion for jealousy. I have often noticed that men are absurdly jealous: indeed, next to their dishonesty and talkativeness, it appears to be their chief characteristic. But tell me, what happened to the Cretans?’

‘They were overthrown by Theseus the Greek, who was helped to victory by one Daedalus, a famous craftsman and inventor,’ said Ancaeus. ‘What did he invent?’ asked the Nymph.

‘Among other things,’ Ancaeus replied, ‘he constructed brazen bulls that bellowed artificially when a fire was lighted beneath their bellies; also, lifelike wooden statues of the Goddess, the jointed limbs of which could be moved in any direction, so that it seemed a miracle—and what was more, the eyes could be made to open and shut by the pulling of a concealed cord.’

‘Is this Daedalus still living?’ asked the Nymph. ‘I should like to make his acquaintance.’

‘Alas, no,’ replied Ancaeus. ‘All these events happened long before my time.

She pressed him: ‘Yet can you tell me how the joints of the statues were constructed, so that the limbs could be moved in any direction whatsoever?’

‘Doubtless they rolled in ball-sockets,’ he said, doubling his right fist and rolling it in the clasp of the fingers of his left hand, so that she readily understood his meaning. ‘For Daedalus invented the ball-socket. At all events, it was by means of a Daedalian invention that the navy of the Cretans was destroyed, so that they no longer visit your island, but only the Greeks and a few chance Pelasgians and Thracians and Phrygians.’

‘I heard from my mother’s mother,’ said the Nymph, ‘that though the Cretans worshipped the Goddess almost as reverently as ourselves, they differed from us in many religious particulars. For example, the Chief Priestess did not choose a Sun Champion for one year only. The man she chose reigned sometimes for nine years or more, refusing to resign his office, on the ground that experience brings sagacity. He was called the Priest of Minos, or the Bull King. For the Bull fraternity had become supreme on the island: the Stag men and Horse men and Ram men and such-like never dared to contend for the war-kingship, and the Chief Priestess companied only with Bull men. Here my mother and I distribute our favours evenly among all the fraternities. It is not wise to let any one fraternity secure the supremacy, nor to let a king reign beyond two or three years at the utmost: men have a great capacity for insolence if they are not kept in their proper place, and fancy themselves to be almost the equals of women. By insolence they destroy themselves and cause vexation to the women into the bargain. I do not doubt but that the same happened in Crete.’

Still conversing, she secretly signed to the Goat men that they should take Ancaeus and lead him away from her sight, and then hunt him to death with their slings. For she decided that a man who could relate such disturbing and indecent stories must not be allowed to remain alive on the island, even for a short time longer, now that he had told her what she wished to know about the principle of jointing the wooden statues. She feared what mischief he might do by unsettling the minds of the men. Besides, he was a bent, bald, ugly old fellow, an exile, and a Dolphin man, who would bring no luck to the grove.

The Goat men prostrated themselves in reverence before the Orange Nymph and then, rising up, obeyed her command with joy. The chase was not a long one.


When the first body of invading Greeks, the Ionian tribe, moving down from the upper reaches of the Danube through Istria and lllyria, passed at last into Thessaly, all the natives, such as Satyrs, Lapiths, Aethics, Phlegyans and Centaurs, withdrew into their mountain fastnesses. The invaders, who were very numerous, brought their own gods with them and all the sacred instruments of worship. The Centaurs, the aboriginal inhabitants of Mount Pelion, watched them move slowly with their flocks and herds into the plain of Pagasae, far below to the west, where they remained for a few days; but then, lured by reports of yet richer pasturage to the southward, the Ionians resumed their journey towards the fortress of Phthia and passed out of sight. At Iolcos, near the foot of Pelion, stood an ancient college of Fish nymphs whose Chief Priestess legislated in sacred matters for the whole of Phthiotis. They did not run off at the approach of the Ionians but made Gorgon grimaces at them, sticking out their tongues and hissing; the Ionians prudently passed on into Boeotia.

The Ionians found a hospitable race living in Pelasgia, as Greece was then called: of native Pelasgians mixed with Henetian and Cretan and Egyptian settlers, all of whom worshipped the Triple Moon Goddess under one name or another. Envoys, sent out from Mycenae, Argos, Tiryns, and the other cities to the venerable shrine of the Goddess at Olympia, were instructed by her to make the Ionians welcome, but on the strict condition that they respected the religious customs prevailing in her dominions. The Ionians were impressed by the civility and firm bearing of the envoys and by the colossal walls of the cities from which they had been sent out. Loth to return to Thessaly, yet despairing of conquest, they prudently allowed their gods to make submission to the Goddess and to become her sons by adoption. The first Ionian chieftain to urge this submission was named Minyas, whom the Goddess thereafter favoured beyond all others; his father, Chryses, had founded the settlement of Aeaea, on the island of that name opposite to Pola, at the head of the Adriatic Sea. When Minyas died, the Goddess awarded him the title of hero and instructed fifty nymphs to tend his great white shrine at the Boeotian city of Orchomenos, beside Lake Copaïs, and to legislate in sacred matters for the whole countryside. These nymphs did not marry but took lovers on days of festival, in the Pelasgian style. Cecrops the Egyptian had already brought the institution of marriage into Attica, and the Goddess had condoned the innovation only so long as it should be practised without disrespect to herself or injury to her Pelasgian people; the Ionians practised marriage too, but finding that the most honourable of the natives considered the custom indecent, most of them discontinued it from shame.

Presently followed another Greek invasion, this time by the Aeolian tribe, who were more vigorous than the Ionians, and came by way of Thrace. They passed Iolcos by, as the Ionians had done, but seized the Boeotian city of Orchomenos, which they found unguarded at a time of festival. Their chieftains won the right to be considered the military guardians of the land by persuading the nymphs of the shrine of Minyas to accept them as husbands; and thereafter called themselves Minyans. They became the aristocracy of that part of eastern Greece, but were unable to press into Attica or the Peloponnese because the strong city of Cadmean Thebes barred their passage. Aeolus, their great ancestor, was also awarded the title of hero, and from the Thracian cave, or cleft in the earth, in which his bones were buried would graciously send out snake-tailed winds at the request of his visitants. This power over the winds was delegated to him by the Triple Goddess.

When Theseus, King of Ionian Athens, had secretly built a fleet and sacked Cnossos in Crete, the Minyans also took to the sea. They fitted out a hundred ships or more, which they drew up near Aulis on the protected beaches of the Euboean Gulf. Theseus, rather than engage them in a naval war, made a treaty with them by which the two states peaceably shared the carrying trade that had been wrested from the Cretans and took joint action against pirates. The Athenians traded with the south and the east—with the cities of Egypt, Africa, Phoenicia and Asia Minor, and with Phrygian Troy, the prime market of the far east; the Minyans traded with Thessaly and Thrace in the north, and with Sicily, Corfu, Italy, and Gaul in the west. For convenience of their western trade the Minyans stationed a part of their fleet at Sandy Pylos, a possession of theirs on the western side of the Peloponnese, and by this means avoided the difficult circuit of Cape Malea. The winds supplied by Aeolus, which the nymphs who tended his shrine had the art of confining in pigs’ bladders, were of great service to the masters of the Minyan ships.

The Minyans grew rich, and were not at first disturbed in the enjoyment of their kingdom, chiefly because they did as much as possible to please the Goddess. Their Sky God, Dios, whom they worshipped on Mount Laphystios in the form of a ram, they publicly acknowledged to be the son of the Mother Goddess. She therefore renamed him Zagreus, or Zeus, after the child whom, it was said, she used to bear every year, as a proof of her fertility, in the Dictean Cave of Crete, but who was yearly sacrificed for the good of the land. This sacrifice was now discontinued and Zeus enjoyed the privileges of adult godhead. Though in some matters he was granted precedence of the Nymph Goddess and the Maiden Goddess, her daughters, the Mother Goddess remained the sovereign Deity.

The next event in the history of the Minyans, as it concerns this Argonautic story, was that they extended their kingdom to the Pagasaean Gulf and as far northward as Larisa in Thessaly. A haughty Minyan King named Athamas invited Ino, the Chief Priestess of the college at Iolcos, to celebrate a marriage with him, and her nymphs a simultaneous marriage with his chieftains. Ino could not well refuse to marry Athamas, a tall, fine, yellow-haired man, because he brought great gifts for her and the other women, and because the Minyans were more numerous and better armed than her own people of Phthiotis. Yet if she consented to the marriage this would be an infringement of the rights of the Centaurs of Pelion: the Centaurs of the Horse fraternity had always been the chosen lovers of the Fish nymphs of Iolcos, just as the Centaur College of Wryneck nymphs who tended the shrine of the hero Ixion took lovers only from the Leopard fraternity of the Magnesians. Ino consulted the Goddess, asking whether she and her nymphs should destroy their husbands on the bridal night, as the Danaids of Argos had done long before in similar circumstances, or whether they should destroy themselves by leaping into the sea, as the Pallantids of Athens had done. Or what other orders had the Goddess to give? The Goddess answered in a dream: ‘Pour unmixed wine to the Horse men and leave the rest to my contrivance.’

The marriage was celebrated with great splendour, and upon Ino’s insistence the Horse men were invited down from their mountain caves to join in the festivities. When they arrived, brimming cups of Lemnian wine were dispensed to them. The Centaurs honour a Thessalian hero, named Sabazius, as the inventor of barley-ale, their ritual drink, which causes great jollity at first and then sends the worshippers fast asleep. They now assumed this unfamiliar liquor, wine, to be a sort of ale, seeing that it was of a pale golden colour, though of a sharper scent than ale and not needing to be drunk through straws, as they drank ale, since it had no mash floating thickly about in it. They tossed the wine off unsuspectingly, crying out ‘Io Sabazius, Io, Io!’; found that it tasted sweet and called for more. But instead of sending them to sleep the wine presently inflamed them, so that they bucked about uncontrollably, rolling their eyes and whinnying for lust. The Fish nymphs felt the pangs of pity, and suddenly quitting the sober Minyans, who had mixed their wine with four parts of water, darted out into the woods and there companied with the Centaurs in love.

This capricious behaviour vexed the Minyan husbands, who pursued their wives and killed a dozen Centaurs with their bronze swords. The next day Athamas led an attack on the Centaurs’ mountain fastness. They withstood him as best they could with their pine-wood spears and with boulders sent toppling down the mountain-side; but he defeated and drove them away to the northward. To discourage their return he removed from her shrine the mare-headed image of the White Goddess and, taking it down to Iolcos to the Fish College, daringly rededicated the shrine on Pelion to Zeus the Ram, or Rain-Making Zeus. For a time he broke the spirit of the Centaurs; but Ino, by the hand of one of her nymphs, secretly conveyed the mare-headed image to a cave in a wooded valley half-way to Mount Ossa, where the Centaurs reassembled and prayed to her for revenge.

King Athamas was unaware that Ino had restored the image to the Centaurs; otherwise he would have addressed her even more insolently than he did. ‘Wife,’ he said, ‘I have banished your horsey lovers from Mount Pelion, because they profaned our bridal night. If any of them, seeking out the image of the Goddess, dares to descend again into the meadows of Iolcos he will be destroyed without pity. Mount Pelion has now become the abode of our Aeolian God, Zeus; it is worthier of him than Mount Laphystios, which by comparison is inconsiderable in height.’

‘Be careful what you say, husband,’ replied Ino, ‘if husband I must call you. How will the Goddess regard your driving her down from Pelion? And how do you suppose that the barley will grow, if the Horse men are not present at the sowing festival to company with me and my Fish women in the sight of the White Goddess?’

Athamas laughed and replied: ‘The Goddess will not grudge Pelion to her son. And now that each of your women has a husband from among my followers, and you have me, what more can you desire? We are all tall, sturdy men, immeasurably superior in every way to those mad and naked Centaurs; and we shall be pleased to company with you in the fields at the sowing festival if the itch customarily takes you at that season.’

Ino asked: ‘Are you so ignorant as to believe that our Goddess will allow us to accept the embraces of your Ram men on so holy an occasion as that? She will never bless the barley if we do so. No, no! We are content to be your wives for the better part of the year, but if our affairs are to prosper we must company not only with the Centaurs in the sowing season, but with the visiting Satyr Goat men at the ceremony of caprification, when we ripen the figs by the stinging of the gall-insect; and with lovers from other fraternities upon such appropriate occasions as may from time to time be revealed to me by the Goddess.’

Athamas answered: ‘Are you so ignorant as to believe that any right-minded Greek would allow his wife to enjoy the embraces of another man, either at the sowing festival or at any other? Your chatter is nonsensical. Figs ripen by themselves without artificial aid, as may be observed in deserted orchards where the ceremony has been omitted. And what need of women have we Minyans, even for the sowing of our barley? The hero Triptolemus demonstrated that men can sow barley as successfully as women.’

‘He did so by gracious permission of the Goddess,’ said Ino, ‘whose luminary, the Moon, is the power that makes all seeds grow and all fruits ripen.’

‘It was unnecessary to ask her permission,’ said Athamas. ‘The Goddess has no true power over grain or fruits of any sort. All that is necessary is that the barley-corns should be planted carefully while the strength of the sun is languishing, in the furrows of a well-ploughed field, and then harrowed over with a thorn-harrow, and then rained upon in due season. Zeus will supply the rain at my intercession and the revived Sun will genially ripen the ears. The Moon is cold and dead: she has no creative virtue at all.’

‘And what of the holy dew?’ asked Ino. ‘I suppose that the dew is also a gift of the Sun?’

‘At least it is no gift of the Moon,’ he answered, ‘who often does not rise before the grass is hoary with dew.’

‘I wonder,’ said Ino, ‘that you dare speak in this way of the Goddess; as I wonder that without asking my leave you have removed her venerable white image from its shrine and replaced it with the image of her adopted son. A terrible fate is in store for you, Athamas, if you do not mend your ways before another day passes and do not approach the Goddess as a penitent. If the sowing of Triptolemus was rewarded with a good harvest, you may be sure that this was because he had first gained the Goddess’s favour by his humility, and because he did not omit any of the usual love-ceremonies at the sowing. Besides, it is untrue that figs ripen in deserted orchards without caprification. There is a complete register of fig-trees in this country, and each tree is tended by one of my nymphs, however lonely or remote its place of growth may be.

‘I am not accustomed to be ruled by women,’ Athamas answered passionately. ‘My Boeotian wife, Nephele, who waits for me at Orchomenos, has learned by experience to avoid my displeasure and to busy herself with her own affairs, leaving me to mine. I would be a fool indeed if I visited the shrine where you are Chief Priestess, and asked you (of all women) to intercede with her for my pardon.’

Ino pretended to be overawed by Athamas’s male violence. Caressing his head and stroking his beard, she cried: ‘Forgive me, husband, for confessing my religious scruples. I will obey you in all things. But grant me this, that your followers will themselves sow the barley, in the manner of Triptolemus, without the help of my women. We all fear the anger of our Goddess if we plant the barley without the customary fertility rites, for which the loving company of the Centaurs seems to us essential.’

She thus placated Athamas. He had insufficient respect for the Goddess and trusted rather in the power of Zeus, who in his former name of Dios had been the chief deity of his tribe when first they came down into Thessaly. To the newly dedicated shrine of Rain-Making Zeus on Pelion he transferred a particularly holy object from Mount Laphystios. This was the figure of the Ram God, carved from an oak root, over which was hooked a great ram’s fleece, dyed with sea-purple to match the colour of those rain-clouds which it could magically conjure up even at the height of summer. Because of the saying ‘rain is gold,’ and also because of the golden pollen which colours the fleeces of the sheep on Ida, where Zeus is said to have been reared by shepherds, a precious fringe had been sewn along the edges of the fleece, of thinly drawn gold wire arranged in locks like wool, so that it became known as the Golden Fleece. Huge, curling golden horns were attached to the head of the Fleece, which fitted over the wooden stump of the image’s head. This Golden Fleece was wonderful to look at, and never failed to draw down rain, whenever the appropriate sacrifice was made to the God. The priests declared that Zeus levitated the image on such occasions: it rose they said, on the smoke of the sacrifice through the smoke-hole in the roof of the shrine, and presently descended again, wringing wet with the first drops of rain.

At Iolcos the harvest was brought in and the season of autumn sowing approached. Ino waited for a sign from the White Goddess, who presently appeared again to her in a dream and said: ‘Ino, you have done well, but you shall do better. Take all the seed-barley from the jars where it is stored in my sacred precinct, and secretly distribute it among the women of Phthiotis. Order them to parch it in front of their domestic fires, each of them two or three harvest-baskets full, but not to let any of the men know what is being done, under pain of my deathly displeasure.’

Ino in the dream trembled and asked: ‘Mother, can you ask me to do this? Will not the fire destroy the life in the sacred seed?’

The Goddess replied: ‘Do it, nevertheless. At the same time poison the water of the Minyan sheep-troughs with agaric and spotted hemlock. My son Zeus has robbed me of my home on Pelion and I will punish him by destroying his herds.’

Ino obeyed the Goddess faithfully, though with some disquiet of heart. The women carried out the tasks assigned to them, and not unwillingly, because they hated their Minyan conquerors. The Minyans did not suspect, when their sheep died, that it was these women who had poisoned them, but complained among themselves against Athamas. Since their law forbade the eating of any beast that had died except by ritual slaughter, they were forced to eat more bread than was their custom, and whatever game they could hunt down in the forests; but they did not excel in hunting.

Ino said to Athamas: ‘I hope, husband, that you will have good luck with your sowing. Here is the barley-seed, stored in these jars. Look and smell how excellently dry it is: mildewed seed, as perhaps you know, does not raise plentiful crops.’

The moon was on the wane; yet Minyan men, with Athamas at their head, sowed the seed in the furrows of ploughed earth. They did so without any ceremony or prayer, while Ino’s nymphs watched from a distance and laughed silently together. It happened to be an unusually dry season, and when the barley did not show green above the soil at the expected time, Athamas with a few companions ascended the mountain, and invoked Rain-Making Zeus. This they did with rain-rattles and bull-roarers, and with the sacrifice of a black ram, burning the sacred thigh-bones rolled in fat and merrily eating every morsel of the carcase.

That same evening a pleasant shower of rain fell. ‘It will bring up the barley, wife, never fear,’ said Athamas to Ino.

Ten days went by and still there was no glint of green in the fields. Ino told Athamas: ‘The shower which Zeus sent was insufficient. It did not sink far enough into the soil. You planted the seed too deep, I fear. You must invoke Zeus again; and why not send to the Thracian shrine of your ancestor Aeolus for a few puffs of the rain-bringing northeastern wind?’

Athamas, growing anxious, again ascended Pelion. This time he propitiated the God with a sacrifice of fifty white rams and one black one, burning them to cinders on pine-wood bonfires, and not himself eating anything, to demonstrate his humility of heart; he whirled the bull-roarer and rattled the rain-gourd until his arms ached. Zeus that night duly thundered and lightened, and a deluge of rain fell, so that Athamas and his people were nearly smothered by it on their return to Iolcos. The Anauros brook rose in a sudden flood and washed away the foot-bridge by which they had crossed, so that they had to wait for the waters to subside before they could regain the city.

A week later the fields, though thick with weeds which the rain brought up, did not show a single barley-blade. Ino said to Athamas: ‘Since you have persuaded me that the omission of the fertility rites of which I spoke cannot have caused a failure of the crops, I must conclude that Zeus has sent the wrong sort of rain. If by the next new moon no barley is showing, some of us must die of starvation. It is too late to sow another crop, most of your flocks are dead, and your men have made greedy inroads on our stores of grain. As for the fish, they have all deserted the gulf since the arrival of your Minyans, as was only to be expected: they regard our College as desecrated.’