14. THE PASSAGE OF THE SYMPLEGADES
They came near Salmydessus, where Phineus, the wise king, ruled, and they sailed past it. They sighted the pile of stones, with the oar upright on it that they had raised on the seashore over the body of Tiphys, the skillful steersman whom they had lost. They sailed on until they heard a sound that grew more and more thunderous, and then the heroes said to each other, “Now we come to the Symplegades and the dread passage into the Sea of Pontus.”
It was then that Jason cried out, “Ah, when Pelias spoke of this quest to me, why did I not refuse to listen? I haven’t been able to sleep well since we came near this passage. As for you who have come with me, you need care only for your own lives. But I have to care for you all, and to try to win for you all a safe return to Greece. Ah, how greatly am I worried now, knowing how I have brought you to such peril!”
Jason said this in order to test the determination of the heroes. They, on their part, were not dismayed, but shouted back cheerful words to him. Then he said: “Friends of mine, your high spirits encourage me. Now if I knew that I was being carried down into the black hole of Hades, I should fear nothing, knowing that you are so loyal and faithful.”
As he said this they came into water that seethed all around the ship. Then Jason put the pigeon that Hypsipyle had given him into the hands of Euphemus, a youth of Iolcus, who was the keenest-eyed amongst the Argonauts, He told him stand by the prow of the Argo, ready to release the pigeon as the ship came near that dreadful gate of rock.
They saw the spray being dashed around in showers. They saw the sea foaming. They saw the high, black rocks rush together, sounding thunderously as they met. The caves in the high rocks rumbled as the sea surged into them, and the foam of the dashing waves spurted high up the rocks.
Jason shouted to each man to grip hard on the oars. The Argo dashed on as the rocks rushed toward each other again. Then there was such noise that no man’s voice could be heard above it.
As the rocks met, Euphemus released the pigeon. With his keen eyes he watched her fly through the spray. Would she, not finding an opening to fly through, turn back? He watched, and meanwhile the Argonauts gripped hard on the oars to save the ship from being dashed on the rocks. The pigeon fluttered as though she would sink down and let the spray drown her. And then Euphemus saw her raise herself and fly forward. He pointed toward the place where she had flown. The rowers gave a loud cry, and Jason called on them to pull with all their might.
The rocks were parting, to the right and left. Then suddenly a huge wave rose before them, and at the sight of it they all uttered a cry and bent their heads. It seemed to them that it would crash down on the whole ship’s length and sink them. However, Nauplius was quick to take control of the ship, and the wave rolled away beneath the keel, and at the stern it raised the Argo and carried her away from the rocks.
They felt the sun as it streamed down on them through the rocks. They strained at the oars until the oars bent like bows in their hands. The ship sprang forward. Surely they were now in the wide Sea of Pontus!
The Argonauts shouted. They saw the rocks behind them .Surely they were in the Sea of Pontus—the sea that had never been entered before through the Rocks Wandering. The rocks no longer crashed together. Each remained fixed in its place, for it was the will of the gods that these rocks should no more crash together after a mortal’s ship had passed between them.
They were now in the Sea of Pontus, the sea into which flowed the river that Colchis was on—the River Phasis. And now above Jason’s head the bird of peaceful days, the Halcyon, fluttered, and the Argonauts knew that this was a sign from the gods that the voyage would not anymore be troublesome.