21. IN THE LAND OF THE PHAEACIANS
The heroes were weary now. They would have gladly gone onto the island of Circe to rest there away from the oars and the sound of the sea. But the wisest of them, looking at the beasts that were once men, kept the Argo far off the shore. Then Jason and Medea came aboard, and with heavy hearts and wearied arms they turned to the open sea again.
They no longer had such high spirits as when they drove the Argo between the Clashers and into the Sea of Pontus. Now their heads drooped as they went on, and they sang such songs as slaves sing in their hopeless labor. Orpheus grew fearful for them now.
For Orpheus knew that they were drawing closer to a danger. There was no other way for them, he knew, but past the Island Anthemoessa in the Tyrrhenian Sea where the Sirens were.
Once they had been nymphs and had looked after Persephone before she was carried off by Aidoneus to be his queen in the Underworld. They had been kind, but now they were changed, and they cared only for the destruction of men.
The island where they were was surrounded by rocks. As the Argo came near, the Sirens, always on watch to lure sailors to their destruction, saw them and came to the rocks and sang to them, holding each other’s hands.
They sang all together their lulling song. That song made the wearied voyagers long to let their oars go with the waves, and drift, drift to where the Sirens were. Bending down to them the Sirens, with soft hands and white arms, would lift them to soft resting places. Then each of the Sirens sang a clear, piercing song that called to each of the voyagers. Each man thought that his own name was in that song. “Oh how good it is that you have come so near,” each one sang, “how good it is that you have come near where I have awaited you, having everything wonderful prepared for you!”
Orpheus took up his lyre as the Sirens began to sing. He sang to the heroes of their own adventures. He sang to them, of how, even though they were weary, they were still men, men who were the strength of Greece, men who had been nurtured by the love and hope of their country. They were the winners of the Golden Fleece and their story would be told forever. Why should they not work, they who were born for great labors and to face dangers that other men might not face? Soon hands would be stretched out to them—the welcoming hands of the men and women of their own land.
Orpheus sang, and his voice and the music of his lyre overcame the Sirens’ voices. Men dropped their oars, but other men remained at their benches, and pulled steadily, if wearily, on. Only one of the Argonauts, Butes, a youth from Iolcus, threw himself into the water and swam toward the rocks from which the Sirens sang.
Toward the end of the day they saw another island—an island that seemed very pleasant. They longed to land and rest themselves there and eat the fruits of the island. But Orpheus would not let them land. The island, he said, was Thrinacia. On that island the Cattle of the Sun grazed, and if one of the cattle perished because of them they might never return home. They heard the lowing of the cattle through the mist, and a deep longing for the sight of their own fields, with flocks and herds grazing, came over the heroes. They came near the Island of Thrinacia, and they saw the Cattle of the Sun feeding in the meadows .Not one of them was black. All were white as milk, and the horns on their heads were golden. They saw the two nymphs who herded the cattle—Phaethusa and Lampetia, one with a staff of silver and the other with a staff of gold.
Driven by the breeze that came over the Thrinacian Sea the Argonauts came to the land of the Phaeacians. They saw it was a good land when they drew near; a land of orchards and fresh pastures, with a white and sun-lit city on a hill. Their spirits came back to them as they drew into the harbor. They tied up the ship and went into the city.
Then they saw everywhere around them the dark faces of Colchian soldiers. These were the men of King Æetes, and they had come overland to the Phaeacian city, hoping to cut off the Argonauts. When Jason saw the soldiers, he shouted to those who had been left on the Argo, and they drew out of the harbor, in case the Colchians should attack the ship and take from them the Fleece of Gold. Then Jason made an encampment on the shore, and the captain of the Colchians went around, gathering together his men.
Medea left Jason’s side and hurried through the city. She went to the palace of Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians,. Within the palace she found Arete, the queen. Arete was sitting by her hearth, spinning golden and silver threads.
Arete was young at that time, as young as Medea, and as yet had no children. But she had the clear eyes of someone who understands. Arete was stately, too, for she had been brought up in the house of a great king. Medea came and fell upon her knees before her, and told her how she had fled from the house of her father, King Æetes.
She told Arete, too, how she had helped Jason to win the Golden Fleece, and how because of her, her brother had been led to his death. As she told this part of her story she wept and prayed at the knees of the queen.
Arete was greatly moved by Medea’s tears and prayers. She went to Alcinous in his garden, and she begged of him to save the Argonauts from the great force of the Colchians that had come to cut them off. “The Golden Fleece,” said Arete, “has been won by the tasks that Jason performed. If the Colchians should take Medea, it would be to bring her back to Aea to a bitter doom. The maiden,” said the queen, “has touched my heart with her prayers and tears.”
King Alcinous said, “Æetes is strong, and although his kingdom is far from ours, he can bring war on us.” But still Arete pleaded with him to protect Medea from the Colchians. Alcinous went inside and raised Medea up from where she crouched on the floor of the palace, and he promised her that the Argonauts would be protected in his city.
Then the king mounted his chariot. Medea went with him, and they came down to the seashore where the heroes had made their encampment. The Argonauts and the Colchians were drawn up against each other, and the Colchians far outnumbered the weary heroes.
Alcinous drove his chariot between the two armies. The Colchians asked him to make the strangers surrender to them. But the king drove his chariot to where the heroes stood, and he took the hand of each, and received them as his guests. Then the Colchians knew that they could not make war on the heroes. They backed off. The next day they marched away.
It was a rich land that they had come to. Once Aristaeus lived there, the king who discovered how to make bees store up their honey for men and how to make the olive tree grow. Macris, his daughter, looked after Dionysus, the son of Zeus. She cared for him in a cave in the Phaeacian land, and ever afterward the Phaeacians were blessed with all the good things.
Now as the heroes marched to the palace of King Alcinous the people came to meet them, bringing them sheep and calves and jars of wine and honey. The women brought them fresh clothes. They gave Medea fine linen and golden ornaments.
The heroes stayed for a long time amongst the Phaeacians who loved music and games and telling stories. There were dances, and Orpheus played on his lyre to the Phaeacians who honored him as a god. Every day, for the seven days that they stayed amongst them, the Phaeacians brought rich presents to the heroes.
Medea, looking into the clear eyes of Queen Arete, knew that she was the woman who Circe had prophesied, the woman who knew nothing of enchantments, but who had much human wisdom. She had to ask of her what she was to do in her life and what she was to leave undone. And what this woman told her Medea was to follow. Arete told her that she was to forget all the witcheries and enchantments that she knew, and that she was never to practice against the life of any one. This she told Medea on the shore, before Jason lifted her aboard the Argo.