15. THE MOUNTAIN CAUCASUS
They rested in the harbor of Thynias, the desert island, and sailing from there they came to the land of the Mariandyni, inhabited by a people who were constantly at war with the Bebrycians.There the hero Polydeuces was welcomed as a god. Twelve days afterward they passed the mouth of the River Callichorus and then they came to the mouth of that river that flows through the land of the Amazons, the River Thermodon. Fourteen days from that place brought them to the island that is filled with the birds of Ares, the god of war. These birds dropped upon the heroes heavy, pointed feathers that would have pierced them as arrows if they had not covered themselves with their shields. Then by shouting, and striking their shields with their spears, they raised such a clamor which drove the birds away.
They sailed on, carried by a gentle breeze, until a gulf of the sea opened before them, and there before them was a mighty mountain. Orpheus, looking at its peak said, “This is Mount Caucasus!”
When he spoke the name the heroes all stood up and looked at the mountain with awe. And in awe they cried out a name, and that name was “Prometheus!”
For on that mountain the Titan god was held. His limbs chained to the hard rock. Even as the Argonauts looked up at the mountain a great shadow fell on their ship, and looking up they saw a monstrous bird flying overhead. The beat of the bird’s wings filled out the sail and drove the Argo swiftly onward. “It is the bird sent by Zeus,” Orpheus said. “It is the vulture that every day devours the liver of the Titan god.” They cowered down on the ship as they heard those words—all the Argonauts except Hercules. He stood upright and looked out toward where the bird was flying. Then, as the bird came near to the mountain, the Argonauts heard a great cry of anguish go up from the rocks.
“It is Prometheus crying out as the bird of Zeus flies down on him,” they said to one another. Again they cowered down on the ship, all except Hercules, who stayed looking toward where the great vulture had flown.
The night came and the Argonauts sailed on in silence, thinking in awe of the Titan god and of the punishment that Zeus tortured him with. Then, as they sailed on under the stars, Orpheus told them of Prometheus, of his gift to men, and of the fearful punishment that had been meted out to him by Zeus.
The gods more than once made a race of men. The first was a Golden Race. This Golden Race was very close to the gods who live on Olympus. They lived justly although there were no laws to compel them. In the time of the Golden Race the earth knew only one season, and that season was everlasting Spring. The men and women of the Golden Race lived a life that was far longer than that of the men and women of our day. They didn’t need to work but had everything they could want, for the earth provided fruits and crops for them. They lived peacefully, and after they had passed away their spirits remained above the earth, inspiring the men of the race that came after them to do great and gracious things and to act justly and kindly to one another.
After the Golden Race had passed away, the gods made a second race—a Silver Race. This Silver Race was less noble in spirit and in body, and the seasons that visited them were not as pleasant. In the time of the Silver Race the gods made the seasons—Summer and Spring, and Autumn and Winter. They knew parching heat, and the bitter winds of winter, and snow and rain and hail. It was the men of the Silver Race who first built houses for shelter. They lived a length of life that was longer than ours, but it was not long enough to give them wisdom. Children were brought up at their mothers’ sides for a hundred years, playing childishly. When they were over a hundred years old they quarreled with one another, and hurt one another, and did not know enough to pay respect to the immortal gods. Then, by the will of Zeus, the Silver Race passed away as the Golden Race had passed away. Their spirits stay in the Underworld, and they are called by men the blessed spirits of the Underworld.
Then the third race was made—the Race of Bronze. They were a tall, strong and terrible race. Their armor was of bronze, their swords were of bronze, their implements were of bronze, and even their houses were made of bronze. They didn’t live long because with the weapons that they took in their terrible hands they slayed one another. Thus they passed away, and went down under the earth to Hades, forgotten by everyone.
Then the gods created a fourth race—our own: a Race of Iron. We do not have the justice that the men of the Golden Race had, nor the simplicity that the men of the Silver Race had, nor the size or great strength that the men of the Bronze Race possessed. We are of iron so that we may last long. It is our doom that we must never stop working and that we must very quickly grow old.
But miserable as we are today, there was a time when the life of men was more miserable. They had to labor on hard ground with poor implements. There was less justice and kindness amongst men in those days than there is now.
Once, Zeus decided that he would destroy the fourth race and leave the earth to the nymphs and the satyrs. He would destroy it by a great flood. But Prometheus, the Titan god who had given aid to Zeus against the other Titans, could not agree to the race of men being destroyed utterly, and he came up with a way of saving some of them. He told a man and a woman, Deucalion and Pyrrha, about what Zeus planned, and he showed them how to make a ship that would carry them through the flood.
Then Zeus shut up in their cave all the winds except for the wind that brings rain and clouds. He told this wind, the South Wind, to sweep over the earth, flooding it with rain. He called upon Poseidon and told him to let the sea pour over the land. Poseidon commanded the rivers to use all their strength, and sweep dykes away, and overflow their banks.
The clouds and the sea and the rivers poured over the earth. The flood rose higher and higher, men in their boats caught fish out of the tops of elm trees, and the water nymphs were amazed to come across men’s cities under the waves.
Soon even the men and women who had boats were overwhelmed by the rise of water and all perished then except Deucalion and Pyrrha, his wife because they were in a ship that Prometheus had shown them how to build. The flood went down at last, and Deucalion and Pyrrha climbed up to high and dry ground. Zeus saw that two of the race of men had been left alive. But he saw that these two were just and kind, and had the right respect for the gods. He spared them, and he saw their children again populating the earth.
Prometheus, who had saved them, looked on the men and women of the earth with compassion. Their work was hard, and they worked much to gain little. They were cold at night in their houses, and the winds that blew in the daytime made the old men and women bend double like a wheel. Prometheus thought to himself that if men and women had the element that only the gods knew of—the element of fire—they could make for themselves implements for labor; they could build houses that would keep out the chilly winds, and they could warm themselves.
But the gods had not permitted men to have fire, and to go against the will of the gods would be wrong. Prometheus went against the will of the gods. He stole fire from the altar of Zeus, and he hid it in a hollow stalk, and he brought it to men.
Then men were able to hammer iron into tools, and cut down forests with axes, and sow grain where the forests had been. Then were they able to make houses that the storms could not destroy, and they were able to warm themselves at fireplaces. They could sometimes rest from their work. They built cities and became beings who no longer had heads and backs bent but were able to raise their faces even to the gods.
Zeus spared the race of men who had now the sacred element of fire. But he knew that Prometheus had stolen this fire from his own altar and had given it to men. He thought about how he might punish the great Titan god for his wrongdoing.
He brought back from the Underworld the giants that he had put there to guard the Titans that had been hurled down to Tartarus. He brought back Gyes, Cottus, and Briareus, and he commanded them to seize Prometheus and to fasten him with chains to the highest, blackest crag upon Caucasus. Briareus, Cottus, and Gyes seized the Titan god, and carried him to Caucasus, and chained him to the highest, blackest crag with chains of bronze that could not be broken. There they left the Titan stretched, under the sky, with the cold winds blowing on him, and with the sun streaming down on him. So that his punishment might exceed all other punishments Zeus had sent a vulture to prey on him—a vulture that tears at his liver each day.
However ,Prometheus does not cry out that he regrets his gift to man. Although the cold winds blow on him, and the sun streams down on him, and the vulture tears at his liver, Prometheus will not cry out his regret. Zeus may not utterly destroy him. For Prometheus the Foreseer knows a secret that Zeus would rather he didn’t disclose. He knows that even as Zeus overthrew his father and made himself the ruler in his place, so, too, another will overthrow Zeus. One day Zeus will have to have the chains broken from around the limbs of Prometheus, and will have to bring into the Council of the Olympians, the unyielding Titan god.
When the light of the morning came the Argo was very near to Mount Caucasus. The voyagers looked in awe at its black crags. They saw the great vulture circling over a high rock, and from beneath where the vulture circled they heard a weary cry. Then Hercules, who all night had stood by the mast, cried out to the Argonauts to bring the ship near to a landing place.
But Jason would not let them go near for fear of the anger of Zeus. Instead, he told the Argonauts to put all their strength into their rowing, and get far away from that forbidden mountain. Hercules, not listening to what Jason ordered, declared that he had decided to make his way up to the black crag, and, with his shield and his sword in his hands, slay the vulture that preyed on the liver of Prometheus.
Then Orpheus in a clear voice spoke to the Argonauts, “Surely some spirit possesses Hercules,” he said. “Despite all we do or say he will make his way to where Prometheus is chained to the rock. Do not try to stop him! Remember what Nereus, the ancient one of the sea, declared! Didn’t Nereus say that a great labor awaited Hercules and that in the doing so he would be doing what Zeus wants? Let him go! How just it would be if he who is the son of Zeus freed from his torments the much-enduring Titan god!”
They drew near to Mount Caucasus. Then Hercules, gripping the sword and shield that were the gifts of the gods, leaped onto the landing place. The Argonauts shouted farewell to him. But he, filled with an overwhelming desire, did not hear them.
A strong breeze drove them onward and darkness came down.The Argo went on through the night. With the morning light those who were sleeping were awakened by the cry of Nauplius—”Look! The Phasis,!” They sprang up, and looked uneasily at the broad river they had come to.
Here was the Phasis emptying itself into the Sea of Pontus! Up that river was Colchis and the city of King Æetes, the end of their voyage, the place where the Golden Fleece was kept! Quickly they let down the sail, lowered the mast and they laid it along the deck. They grasped the oars and swung the Argo around. Then they entered the broad stream of the Phasis.
Up the river they went with the Mountain Caucasus on their left hand, and on their right the groves and gardens of Aea, King Æetes’s city. As they went up the river, Jason poured from a golden cup an offering to the Gods .The Argonauts prayed to the dead heroes of that country for good fortune for their adventure.
It was Jason’s plan that they should not at once appear before King Æetes, but visit him after they had seen the strength of his city. They drew their ship into a shaded backwater, and there they stayed until the sun went down.
Night came, and the heroes slept upon the deck of Argo. Many things came back to them in their dreams or through their half-sleep. They thought of the Lemnian maidens they had parted from, the Clashing Rocks they had passed between and of the look in the eyes of Hercules as he raised his face to the high, black peak of Caucasus. They slept, and they thought they saw before them The Golden Fleece; darkness surrounded it. It seemed to the dreaming Argonauts that the darkness was the magic power that King Æetes possessed.