23. THE CARRYING OUT OF THE ARGO
With the terrible weight of the ship on their shoulders the Argonauts made their way across the desert, following the tracks of Poseidon’s golden-maned horse. They went day after day across that endless land.
The day came when they couldn’t see the great tracks of the horse anymore. A wind had come up and had covered them with sand. With the mighty weight of the ship on their shoulders, with the sun beating on their heads, and with no tracks on the desert to guide them, the heroes stood there, and it seemed to them that they would perish.
Then Zetes and Calais, sons of the North Wind, rose up on their wings to try to get sight of the sea. Up, up, they soared and then, Zetes and Calais, looking over the measureless land, saw the gleam of water. They shouted to the Argonauts and marked the way for them. Wearily, but with much encouragement, the heroes went on their way.
They came at last to the shore of what seemed to be a wide inland sea. They set Argo down from off their weary shoulders and they let her keel feel water once more.
That water was all salt and brackish. They dipped their hands into and tasted the salt. Orpheus was able to name the water they had come to. It was named after Triton, the son of Nereus, the ancient one of the sea. They set up an altar and made sacrifices in thanks to the gods.
They had come to water at last, but now they had to look for other water that they could drink. They looked all around them, but they saw no sign of a spring. Then they felt a wind blow on them—a wind didn’t have the dust of the desert but the fragrance of growing things. They went toward where that wind blew from.
As they went on they saw a great shape against the sky. They saw mountainous shoulders bowed. Orpheus told them to stop and turn their faces with respect toward that great shape for this was Atlas the Titan, the brother of Prometheus, who stood there to hold up the sky on his shoulders.
Then they reached the place that the fragrance had blown from. There was a garden with a silver fence that ran around it. “Surely there are springs in the garden,” the Argonauts said. “We will enter this garden now and have a drink.”
Orpheus told them to walk respectfully, for all around them, he said, was sacred ground. This garden was the Garden of the Hesperides that was watched over by the Daughters of the Evening Land. The Argonauts looked through the silver fence. They saw trees with lovely fruit, and three maidens moving through the garden with watchful eyes. In this garden grew the tree that had the golden apples that Zeus gave to Hera as a wedding gift.
They saw the tree on which the golden apples grew. The maidens went to it and then looked carefully all around them. They saw the faces of the Argonauts looking through the silver fence and they cried out and they joined their hands around the tree.
But Orpheus called to them, and the maidens understood the divine speech of Orpheus. He made the Daughters of the Evening Land understand that they were men who respected the gods, and who would not attempt to enter the forbidden garden. The maidens came toward them. Their voices were as beautiful as Orpheuses, but what they said was a complaint and a lament.
Their lament was for the dragon with a hundred heads Ladon, that guarded sleeplessly the tree that had the golden apples. Now that dragon was killed with arrows that had been dipped in the poison of the Hydra’s blood.
The Daughters of the Evening Land sang of how a mortal had come into the garden that they watched over. He had a great bow, and with his arrow he killed the dragon that guarded the golden apples. He had taken away the golden apples but they had come back to the tree they had been plucked from, for no mortal might keep them in his possession. So the maidens Hespere, Eretheis, and Aegle sang and complained that now, unhelped by the hundred-headed dragon, they had to keep guard over the tree.
The Argonauts knew who they were talking about—Hercules, their friend. If only Hercules were with them now!
The Hesperides told them of Hercules—of how the springs in the garden dried up because he took the golden apples. He came out of the garden thirsty He couldn’t find a spring of water anywhere. He went to that great rock. He kicked it with his foot and water poured out. Then, leaning on his hands and with his chest on the ground, he drank from the water that flowed from the split rock.
The Argonauts looked where the rock stood. They caught the sound of water. They carried Medea over and then, one after another, they stooped down and drank their fill of the clear water. They cried to each other, “Hercules! Although he is not with us, Hercules has saved his friends from deadly thirst!”
They saw his footsteps printed upon the rocks, and they followed them until they led to the sand where no footsteps stay. Hercules! How glad his comrades would have been if they could have had sight of him then! But it was long ago before he had sailed with them—that Hercules had been here.
They turned back to the garden, to where the Daughters of the Evening Land stood. The Daughters of the Evening Land bent their heads to listen to what the Argonauts told one another, and, seeing them listening, Orpheus told a story about someone who was a hero like Hercules who had gone across the Libyan desert.