20. MEDEA COMES TO CIRCE
They sailed up the River Ister until they came to the river Eridanus, across which no bird can fly. Leaving the Eridanus they entered the Rhodanus, a river that rises in the extreme north, where Night herself lives. Voyaging up this river they came to the Stormy Lakes. A mist lay on the lakes night and day. Sailing through them, the Argonauts at last brought their ship out onto the Sea of Ausonia.
It was Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind, who brought the Argo safely along this dangerous course. Iris, the messenger of the gods, appeared to Zetes and Calais and revealed to them where Circe’s island lay.
Deep blue water was all around that island, and on its highest point was a marble house. But a strange haze covered everything like a veil. As the Argonauts came near they saw what looked to them like great dragonflies. When they were near the shore, they saw that they were maidens in gleaming dresses.
The maidens waved their hands to the voyagers, calling them to come onto the island. Strange beasts came up to where the maidens were and made whimpering cries.
The Argonauts drew the ship close and would have sprung onto the island but Medea cried out to them. She pointed at them the beasts that whimpered around the maidens, and then, as the Argonauts looked at them, they saw that these were not beasts of the wild. There was something strange and fearful about them. The heroes gazed at them with troubled eyes. They brought the ship near, but they stayed upon their benches, holding the oars in their hands.
Medea stepped onto the island and spoke to the maidens so that they shrank away. Then the beasts came and whimpered around her. “Do not land here, Argonauts,” Medea cried, “for this is the island where men are changed into beasts.” She called to Jason to come. She would only allow Jason on the island.
They went toward the marble house, and the beasts followed them, looking up at Jason and Medea with pitiful human eyes. They went into the marble house of Circe, and they seated themselves respectfully at the hearth.
Circe stood at her loom, weaving her many-colored threads. She turned to them looking for something strange in them, for just before they came the walls of her house dripped with blood and the flame ran over and into her pot, burning up all the magic herbs she was brewing. She went toward where they sat, Medea with her face hidden by her hands, and Jason, with his head bent,—holding with its point in the ground the sword with which he had slain the son of Æetes When Medea took her hands away from before her face, Circe knew that, like herself, this maiden was of the race of Helios. Medea spoke to her, telling her first of the voyage of the heroes and of their experiences telling her then of how she had given help to Jason against the will of Æetes her father and then, fearfully, of the killing of Apsyrtus. She covered her face with her robe as she spoke of it. Then she told Circe she had come, warned by the judgment of Zeus, to ask of Circe, the daughter of Helios, to purify her from the stain of her brother’s blood.
Like all the children of Helios, Circe had eyes that were wide and full of life, but she had stony lips—lips that were heavy and motionless. Bright golden hair hung smoothly along each of her sides. First she held a cup to them that was filled with pure water, and Jason and Medea drank from that cup.
Then Circe stayed by the hearth; she burnt cakes in the flame, and all the while she prayed to Zeus to be gentle with them. She brought both to the seashore. There she washed Medea’s body and her garments with the spray of the sea.
Medea pleaded with Circe to tell her of the life she foresaw for her, but Circe would not speak about it. She told Medea that one day she would meet a woman who knew nothing about enchantments but who had much human wisdom. She was to ask her what she was to do in her life or what she was to leave undone. Whatever this wise woman told her, then that was what Medea should do. Once more Circe offered them the cup filled with clear water, and when they had drunk it she left them on the seashore. As she went toward her marble house the strange beasts followed Circe, whimpering as they went. Jason and Medea went aboard the Argo, and the heroes drew away from Circe’s island.