7. POLYDEUCES’ VICTORY AND HERCULES’ LOSS
It is not necessary to mention all the places the Argonauts visited—Meliboea, where they escaped a stormy beach; Homole, from where they were able to see Ossa and holy Olympus; Lemnos, the island that they were to return to; the unnamed country where the Earth-born Men live, each having six arms, two growing from his shoulders, and four fitting close to their terrible sides; and then the Mountain of the Bears, where they climbed, to make sacrifice there to Rhea, the mighty mother of the gods.
Afterward, for a whole day, no wind blew and the sail of the Argo hung slack. But the heroes swore to each other that they would make their ship go as swiftly as if the storm-footed horses of Poseidon were racing to overtake her. They pulled hard at the oars, and no one wanted to be the first to leave his rower’s bench.
Then, just as the breeze of the evening came up, and just as the rest of the heroes were leaning back exhausted, the oar that Hercules still pulled at broke, and half of it was carried away by the waves. Hercules sat there in a bad mood, for he did not know what to do.
All through the night they went on with a good breeze filling their sails, and next day they came to the mouth of the River Cius. There they landed so that Hercules could get himself an oar. No sooner had they set their feet upon the shore than the hero went off into the forest, to pull up a tree that he might shape into an oar.
Where they had landed was near to the country of the Bebrycians, a rude people whose king was named Amycus. Now while Hercules was away from them this king came with his followers, huge, rude men, all armed with clubs, down to where the Argonauts were lighting their fires on the beach.
He did not greet them courteously, asking them what manner of men they were and where they were headed, nor did he offer them hospitality. Instead, he shouted at them insolently:
“Listen to something that you people had better know. I am Amycus, and any stranger that comes to this land has to have a boxing match with me. That’s the law that I have laid down. Unless you have one among you who can stand up to me you won’t be let go back to your ship. If you don’t obey my law, look out, for something’s going to happen to you.”
His followers raised their clubs and growled approval of what their master had said. But the Argonauts were not bothered at the words of Amycus. One of them stepped toward the Bebrycians. He was Polydeuces, who was good at boxing.
Polydeuces said, “We are ready to obey the law. I willingly take up your challenge, and will box with you.”
The Argonauts cheered when they saw Polydeuces, a good boxer, step forward, and when they heard what he had to say. Amycus turned and shouted to his followers, and one of them brought up two pairs of boxing gloves. The Argonauts feared that Polydeuces’ hands might have been made numb with pulling at the oar, and some of them went to him, and took his hands and rubbed them; others took from off his shoulders his beautifully colored cloak.
Amycus straightaway put on his gloves and threw off his cloak.He stood there amongst his followers with his great arms crossed, glowering at the Argonauts as a wild beast might glower. When the two faced each other Amycus seemed like one of the Earthborn Men, dark and hugely shaped, while Helen’s brother stood there light and beautiful.
Like the wave that breaks over a ship and gives the sailors no rest Amycus came on at Polydeuces. He pushed in upon him, thinking to overwhelm him. But as the skillful steersman keeps the ship from being overwhelmed by the monstrous wave, so did Polydeuces, all skill and lightness, baffle the charges of Amycus. At last Amycus, standing on the tips of his toes and rising high above him, tried to bring down his great fist upon the head of Polydeuces. The hero swung aside and took the blow on his shoulder. Then he struck his blow. It was a strong one, and the king of the Bebrycians staggered and fell down. “You see,” said Polydeuces, “that we keep your law.”
The Argonauts shouted, but the rude Bebrycians raised their clubs to attack them. Then the heroes would have been forced to get back to the Argo. But suddenly Hercules appeared, coming from the forest.
He carried a pine tree in his hands with all its branches still upon it, and seeing this mighty man appear with the great tree in his hands, the Bebrycians hurried off, carrying their fallen king with them. Then the Argonauts gathered around Polydeuces, cheered him as their champion, and put a crown of victory upon his head. Hercules, meanwhile, cut off the branches of the pine tree and began to make it into an oar.
The fires were lighted upon the shore, and the thoughts of all were turned to supper. Then young Hylas, who used to sit by Hercules and polish the hero’s weapons and armor, took a bronze pitcher and went to fetch water.
Never was there a boy so beautiful as young Hylas. He had golden curls that tumbled over his brow. He had deep blue eyes and a face that smiled at every glance that was given him, at every word that was said to him. Now as he walked through the flowering grasses, with his knees bare, and with the bright pitcher swinging in his hand, he looked most lovely. Hercules had brought the boy with him from the country of the Dryopians. He had him sit beside him on the bench of the Argo, and the bad moods that often came upon him would vanish at the words and the smile of Hylas.
Now the spring that Hylas was going to was called Pegae, and it was inhabited by the nymphs. They were dancing around it when they heard Hylas singing. They went softly off to watch him. Hidden behind trees the nymphs saw the boy come near, and they felt such love for him that they thought they could never let him go from their sight.
They went back to their spring, and they sank down below its clear surface. Then Hylas came singing a song that he had heard from his mother. He bent down to the spring, and the brimming water flowed into the pitcher. Then hands came out of the water. One of the nymphs caught Hylas by the elbow while another put her arms around his neck ,and another took the hand that held the bronze pitcher. The pitcher sank down to the depths of the spring. The hands of the nymphs clasped Hylas tighter, tighter; the water bubbled around him as they drew him down. Down, down they drew him, and into the cold and glimmering cave where they lived.
There Hylas stayed. But although the nymphs kissed him and sang to him, and showed him lovely things, Hylas was not content to be there.
The moon rose, and still Hylas did not return. Then they began to fear in case a wild beast had killed the boy. One went to Hercules and told him that young Hylas had not come back, and that they were fearful for him. Hercules flung down the pine tree that he was making into an oar, and he dashed along the way that Hylas had gone. “Hylas, Hylas,” he cried. But Hylas, in the cold and glimmering cave that the nymphs had drawn him into, did not hear the call of his friend Hercules.
All the Argonauts went searching, calling as they went through the island, “Hylas, Hylas, Hylas!” But only their own calls came back to them. The morning star came up, and Tiphys, the steersman, called to them from the Argo. When they came to the ship Tiphys told them that they would have to go aboard and make ready to sail from that place.
They called to Hercules, and Hercules at last came down to the ship. They told him that they would have to sail away. Hercules would not go on board. “I will not leave this island,” he said, “until I find young Hylas or learn what has happened to him.”
Then Jason arose to give the command to depart. But before the words were said Telamon stood up and faced him. “Jason,” he said angrily, “you do not tell Hercules to come on board, and you would have the Argo leave without him. You would leave Hercules here so that he may not be with us on the quest where his glory might overshadow your glory, Jason.”
Jason said nothing, but he sat back on his bench with head bowed. Then, even as Telamon said these angry words, a strange figure rose up out of the waves of the sea.
It was the figure of a man, wrinkled and old, with seaweed in his beard and his hair. There was a majesty about him, and the Argonauts all knew that this was one of the immortals—he was Nereus, the ancient one of the sea.
“To Hercules, and to you, the rest of the Argonauts, I have a thing to say,” said the ancient one, Nereus. “Know, first, that Hylas has been taken by the nymphs who love him and who think to win his love, and that he will stay forever with them in their cold and glimmering cave. Do not seek Hylas anymore. To you, Hercules, I will say this: Go aboard the Argo again for the ship will take you to where a great labor awaits you, and which, in accomplishing it, you will understand the will of Zeus. You will know what this labor is when a spirit seizes you.” So the ancient one of the sea said, and he sank back beneath the waves.
Hercules went aboard the Argo once more, and he took his place on the bench, the new oar in his hand. He was sad to think that young Hylas who used to sit at his knee would never be there again. The breeze filled the sail, the Argonauts pulled at the oars, and in sadness they watched the island where young Hylas had been lost to them disappear from their view.