VIII. KING PHINEUS’S COUNSEL; THE LANDING IN LEMNOS
They came into King Phineus’s hall with 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. Zetes and Calais told their friends and the king how they had driven the Harpies down to the Floating Island, and how Iris, the messenger of Zeus, had sworn that never again would the Snatchers return to the palace.
Then a great golden cup filled 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 dreadful Snatchers did not appear. He took the hands of Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind.
“Heroes greater than any kings,” he said, “You have rescued me from the terrible curse that the gods had placed on me. I thank you, and I thank you all, heroes of the quest. The thanks of Phineus will help 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 gave Zetes and Calais crowns and arm rings of gold and richly-colored garments and chests in which to store the treasure that he gave. To Jason he gave an ivory-hilted and golden-cased sword, and to each of the voyagers he gave a rich gift, not forgetting the heroes who had remained on the Argo, Hercules 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 to snatch from him or to beat him. But as Jason looked upon the man who had attempted to equal the gods in wisdom, and noted his blinded eyes and shrunken face, he decided never to wish for what Phineus had wished for.
When the feast was finished the king spoke to Jason, telling him how the Argo could 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. The one who had the best sight among them was to stand at the prow of the ship holding a pigeon in his hands. As the rocks came together he was to let the pigeon go. 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 should understand that the Argo could 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 said farewell to Phineus, and with the treasures he had given them they went down to the Argo. They gave the presents to Hercules and Tiphys that the king had sent them. In the morning they took the Argo out of the harbor of Salmydessus, and set sail again.
But it was a long time before they came to the Symplegades, the passage that was to be their great trial. Before that they landed 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. There the Argonauts suffered a great loss for Tiphys, was bitten by a snake and died as he went through the woods. 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. 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 way and for many days and nights the Argo sailed in the wrong direction. They came to an island that they knew to be the Island of Lemnos that they had passed on the first days of the voyage, and they decided to rest there for a while, and then to head for the passage into the Sea of Pontus.
They brought the Argo near the shore. They blew trumpets and had the loudest voiced of the heroes call out to those on 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 on the bowstrings. The people who threatened the unknowing Argonauts were women and young girls.
There were no men on the Island of Lemnos. Years before a curse had fallen on the people of that island, causing trouble between the men and the women. The women had defeated 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 the same age as Atalanta, the maiden who went with the Argonauts.
They hunted the wild animals of the island, and they ploughed the fields. They kept in good repair the houses that were built before the men left. 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 stopped them. She forbade them to shoot at the strangers until she had told the queen.
She hurried to the palace and 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 she should tell the guardian maidens.
“Before you give a command, Hypsipyle,” said Polyxo, the nurse, “consider these words of mine. We, the elder women, are becoming very old 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 to the grave. You, the younger women, will be become older too and no longer will you be able to hunt in the woods or work in the fields and you will have a hard old age.
“The ship that is at our shore may have come at a good time. Those on board are good heroes. Let them land in Lemnos, and stay if they will. Let them marry the younger women so that there may be husbands , wives and children again in Lemnos.”
Hypsipyle, the queen, stayed for a while looking into Polyxo’s face. Had her nurse heard her say something like this out of her dreams, she wondered? She told the nurse to 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.
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 sailed the Argo to the shore, and they set foot on the land of Lemnos.
Jason stood at the head of his friends, 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 asked the heroes to come with them to their town that was called Myrine and to the palace that was there.
Curious the Argonauts went, seeing only women and no men. They came to the palace and entered. Hypsipyle sat on the stone throne that was King Thoas’s and the four maidens who were her guards stood on each side of her. She spoke to the heroes in greeting and asked them stay in peace for as long as they would. She told them of the curse that had fallen on the people of Lemnos, and of how the men had been driven away. Jason, then, told the queen what voyage he and his companions were on and what quest they were making. Then in friendship the Argonauts and the women of Lemnos stayed together—all the Argonauts except Hercules because he was still grieving for Hylas, and stayed aboard the Argo.