I. THE YOUTH JASON
A man dressed as a slave went up the side of a mountain covered with forest, Mountain Pelion. He carried in his arms a little child.
When it was midday the slave came into a clearing of the forest. He laid the child down on the soft moss, and then, trembling with the fear of what might appear before him, he raised a horn to his lips and blew three blasts upon it.
Then he waited. The blue sky was above him, the great trees stood away from him, and the little child lay at his feet. He waited, and then he heard the thud of great hooves. And then from between the trees he saw coming toward him the strangest of all beings, one who was half man and half horse; this was Chiron the centaur.
Chiron came toward the trembling slave. Chiron was bigger than any horse, taller than any man. The hair of his head flowed back into his horse’s mane, his great beard flowed over his horse’s chest; in his man’s hand he held a great spear.
He came slowly, but the slave could see that in those great legs of his there was speed like the wind’s. The slave fell upon his knees. And with eyes that were full of majesty and wisdom and limbs that were full of strength and speed, the king-centaur stood above him. “O my lord,” the slave said, “I have come before you sent by Æson, my master, who told me where to come and what blasts to blow upon the horn. And Æson, once King of Iolcus, told me to tell you that if you remember his friendship with you,you will take this child and guard and bring him up, and, as he grows, teach him with your wisdom.”
“For Æson friendship I will rear this child,” said Chiron the king-centaur in a deep voice.
The child lying on the moss had been looking up at the four-footed and two-handed centaur. Now the slave lifted him up and placed him in the centaur’s arms. He said:
“Æson told me to tell you that the child’s name is Jason. He told me to give you this ring with the great ruby in it so that you may give it to the child when he is grown. By this ring with its ruby and the images engraved on it Æson may know his son when they meet after many years and many changes. And another thing Æson told me to say to you, my lord Chiron is that this child is watched over by the Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus.”
Chiron held Æson’s son in his arms, and the little child put hands into his great beard. Then the centaur said, “Let Æson know that his son will be reared by me, and that, when they meet again, there will be ways by which they will be known to each other.”
Saying this Chiron the centaur, holding the child in his arms, went swiftly into the forest. Then the slave took up the horn and went down the side of Mount Pelion. He came to where a horse was hidden, and he mounted and rode, first to a city, and then to a village that was beyond the city.
All this was before the famous walls of Troy were built; before King Priam had come to the throne of his father and while he was still known, not as Priam, but as Podarces. All of this began in Iolcus, a city in Thessaly.
Cretheus founded the city and had ruled over it in days before King Priam was born. He left two sons, Æson and Pelias. Æson succeeded his father. However he was a mild and gentle man so the men of war did not love Æson; they wanted a hard king who would lead them to victories over other countries.
Pelias, the brother of Æson, was always with the men of war. He knew what they thought of Æson and he plotted with them to overthrow his brother. This they did, and they made Pelias king in Iolcus.
The people loved Æson and they feared Pelias. And because the people loved him and would be maddened by his slaying, Pelias and the men of war didn’t dare kill him. With his wife, Alcimide, and his infant son, Æson went from the city, and in a village that was far from Iolcus he found a hidden house and went to live in it.
Æson would have lived contentedly there if it were not that he was fearful for Jason, his infant son. Jason, he knew, would grow into a strong and brave youth, and Pelias, the king, would be uncomfortable with this. Pelias would slay the son, and perhaps would slay the father too. Æson thought hard about this, and he pondered on ways to have his son reared away from Iolcus and the power of King Pelias.
He had for a friend one who was the wisest of all creatures Chiron the centaur. Chiron who was half man and half horse had lived and was yet to live measureless years. Chiron had brought up Hercules, and perhaps he would not refuse to do the same for Jason, Æson’s child.
Chiron lived hidden away on Mount Pelion. Once Æson had been with him and had seen the centaur hunt with his great bow and his great spears. Æson knew a way to find him. Chiron himself had told him the way.
Now there was a slave in his house who had been a huntsman and who knew Mount Pelion well. Æson talked with this slave one day, and after he had talked with him he sat for a long time over the cradle of his sleeping infant. Then he spoke to Alcimide, his wife, telling her what he planned to do. That evening the slave came in and Æson took the child from the arms of the sad mother and put him in the slave’s arms. Also he gave him a horn and a ring with a great ruby in it and mystical images engraved on its gold. Then when it was dark the slave mounted a horse, and, with the child in his arms, rode through the city that King Pelias ruled over. In the morning he came to the mountain. That evening he came back to the village and to Æson’s hidden house, and he told his master what had happened.
Æson was content even though he and his wife were lonely. But the time came when they rejoiced that their child had been sent into an unreachable place for messengers from King Pelias came inquiring about the boy. They told the king’s messengers that the child had run away off from his nurse, and that whether he had been slain by a wild beast or had been drowned in the swift River Anaurus they did not know.
The years went by and Pelias felt secure upon the throne he had taken from his brother. Once he sent to the oracle of the gods to ask of it whether he should be fearful of anything. What the oracle answered was this: that King Pelias had but one thing to dread—the coming of a man with one shoe.
The centaur nourished the child Jason on roots and fruits and honey. For shelter they had a great cave that Chiron had lived in for numberless years. When he had grown big enough to leave the cave Chiron would let Jason mount on his back and with the child holding on to his great mane he would trot gently through the forest.
Jason began to know the creatures of the forest. Sometimes Chiron would bring his great bow with him and then Jason, on his back, would hold the quiver and would hand him the arrows. The centaur would let the boy see him kill with a single arrow the bear, the boar, or the deer. And soon Jason, running beside him, hunted too.
No heroes were ever better trained than those whose childhood had been spent with Chiron the king-centaur. He made them faster than any other of the children of men. He made them stronger and better with the spear and bow. Jason was trained by Chiron as Hercules just before him had been trained, and as Achilles was to be trained afterward.
Moreover, Chiron taught him the knowledge of the stars and the wisdom that had to do with the ways of the gods.
Once, when they were hunting together, Jason saw a figure in the distance. It was a woman who had on her head a shining crown. Never had Jason dreamt of seeing a person so wonderful. He wasn’t very near, but he thought the woman smiled upon him. She vanished in an instant, and Jason knew that he had looked upon one of the immortal goddesses.
All day Jason was filled with thoughts of who he had seen. At night, when the stars were out, and when they were seated outside the cave, Chiron and Jason talked together, and Chiron told the youth that she was none other than Hera, the wife of Zeus, who was very fond of his father Æson.
So Jason grew up on the mountain and in the forest. When he had grown tall and had shown himself swift in the hunt and strong with the spear and bow, Chiron told him that the time had come when he should go back to the world of men and make his name famous by the doing of great deeds.
When Chiron told him about his father Æson—about how he had been overthrown by Pelias, his uncle a great desire came upon Jason to see his father and a fierce anger grew up in his heart against Pelias.
Then the time came when he said goodby to Chiron his great instructor. He went from the centaur’s cave for the last time, and went through the forest and down the side of Mount Pelion. He came to the river, to the swift Anaurus, and he found it in flood. The stones by which one might cross were almost all washed over and far apart.
Now as he stood there pondering on what he might do an old woman who had on her back a load of brushwood appeared. “Do you want to cross?” asked the old woman. “Do you want to cross and get to the city of Iolcus, Jason, where so many things await you?”
The young man was astonished to hear his name spoken by this old woman, and to hear her give the name of the city he was headed for. “Do you want to cross the Anaurus?” she asked again. “Then mount upon my back, holding on to the wood I carry, and I will carry you over the river.”
Jason smiled. How foolish this old woman was to think that she could carry him across the flooded river! She came up to him and she took him in her arms and lifted him up on her shoulders. Then, before he knew what she was about to do, she had stepped into the water.
From stone to stepping-stone she went, Jason holding on to the wood that she had on her shoulders. She left him down upon the opposite bank. As she was putting him down one of his feet touched the water and the swift current swept away a sandal.
He stood on the bank knowing that she who had carried him across the flooded river had strength from the gods. He looked at her, and she was transformed. Instead of an old woman there stood before him was a woman who had on a golden robe and a shining crown. Around her was a light—the light of the sun when it is most golden. Then Jason knew that she who had carried him across the broad Anaurus was the goddess he had seen in the forest—Hera, great Zeus’s wife.
“Go into Iolcus, Jason,” said Hera to him, “go into Iolcus, and no matter what happens we will be watching over you.
She spoke and then once more she vanished. Then Jason went on his way to the city that Cretheus, his grandfather, had founded and that his father Æson had once ruled over. He came into that city, a tall, strong youth, and having just one sandal on.