Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica

Book III

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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Erato, tell me, standing by my side,

How, aided by the passion of his bride,

Medea, Jason brought the fleece from there

To Colchis. Aphrodite’s power you share

For charming unwed maidens – hence your name

Of love. Thus in thick reeds those men of fame

In ambush hid. However, they were spied

By Hera and Athene who, aside

From Zeus and the other gods, in a chamber weighed

Their options. Hera, first to speak, assayed 10

Athene: “Zeus’s daughter, let me see

Your counsel first. What’s to be done? Tell me

Of some device to take the golden fleece

Away from Aeëtes and back to Greece.

Or shall they sway the king with gentleness

Of speech? For he is full of haughtiness.

There is no scheme that ought to stay untried.”

She spoke. Athene speedily replied:

“Hera, these things I too was pondering

As you spoke out. As yet, though, not a thing 20

Has struck me that will help these noble men,

Though I’ve weighed many strategies.” So then

Both fixed their eyes upon the ground as they

Brooded apart. Then Hera straightaway

Expressed the thoughts she had: “Pray come with me

To Aphrodite that together we

Might get her to persuade her son to dart

One of his shafts at the enchantress’ heart,

Aeëtes’ daughter, causing love to spring

In her for Jason. That’s the very thing! 30

Her schemes will bring the fleece to Greece,” said she.

Athene liked this clever strategy

And gently answered: “Hera, born to learn

No lessons from the darts which make folk burn,

I know no love-charms but, if what you say

Contents you, I’ll agree in every way,

Though you must speak first at our rendezvous.”

She spoke and they set off, journeying to

Cypris’ large home, which her lame husband wrought

When first from Zeus, to be his wife, he brought 40

The goddess. To the court they came and there

They stood beneath the gallery, just where

The goddess had prepared Hephaestos’ bed,

But he had gone, as soon as night had fled,

To his forge and anvil on a floating isle,

In a broad cave, where he in many a style

And with the blast of flame had shaped much art;

Upon an inlaid seat she sat apart,

Facing the door, her snow-white shoulders cloaked

With locks that with a golden comb she stroked, 50

About to braid their length. She saw them there

And called them in, ceasing to comb her hair,

And rose and sat them down. When she’d done that,

Starting to bind her uncombed locks, she sat

As well, then smiled and hailed them craftily:

“Dear friends, what brings you here so tardily?

You were not frequent visitors before,

Since you are goddesses superior

To all of us. Why come now? This address

Hera rejoined: “You mock us. But distress 60

Disturbs us. Argo, Jason’s ship, is moored

Upon the River Phasis, and on board

Are all the other heroes. For each one

We greatly fear – the labour to be done

Is close at hand – but more specifically

We fear for Jason. That man I will free

Even if he to Hades were to sail

To rescue Ixion from his golden gaol

Of fetters, while my limbs possess the might,

That Pelias, having dodged an evil plight, 70

May not make mock – for his pomposity

Denied me sacrifice. Yet previously

Was Jason loved by me: at the gateway

Of the Anaurus’ flood I made essay

Of mortal righteousness, and there he met

Me, coming from the hunt. The snow had wet

The peaks and lengthy ridges, down which poured

The torrents that, cascading, rolled and roared.

I had assumed the similarity

Of an old crone and, thus, he pitied me: 80

He hoisted me and carried me straight through

The strong tide on his back -  I will value

Him always for that. Pelias will not pay

For his outrage unless you pave the way

For Jason’s safe return.” She spoke. At that

Was Cypris rendered dumb as she looked at

The pleading Hera, she with awe and dread

Was struck, and thus with friendly words she said:

“Queen, goddess, may there be no viler thing

Than is Cypris if, at your hankering, 90

I undervalue you in word or deed,

Whatever my weak hands can do. I need

No favour in return.” Hera replied

With prudence: “Our quest you need not provide

With might. No, call your boy-child quietly

To captivate with love’s intensity

For Jason young Medea. I surmise

That, should she kindly aid him, being wise

In guile, with ease he’ll snatch the fleece of gold

And sail to Iolcus.” This was Cypris told, 100

Who said to both of them: “You he will heed

Rather than me: bold-faced he is indeed,

But there will be some small shame in his eyes

Before you, while he will not recognize

My worth but always in contentiousness

Disdains me. Angry at his naughtiness,

His bow and his ill-sounding darts I mean

To break within his sight. For he has been

So angry that he threatens that, if I

Do not keep off him while he makes a try 110

At stifling his temper, he will do

Me mischief.” Thus she spoke, and then those two

Smiled, looking at each other. Cypris, though,

Said in vexation: “Others find my woe

Amusing. I should not tell it to all –

I know it all too well – but, since you call

It pleasant, I’ll appeal to and beguile

The boy. He’ll not deny me.” With a smile,

Then Hera took her by her slender hand

And gently said: “O goddess from the land 120

Of Cythera, do just that immediately.

Do not be angry at your progeny:

He will not vex you now.” That’s what she said.

She left her seat and, with Athene, sped

Back home. Then Cypris went to search the ground

In the Olymplan glens, and then she found

The boy among Zeus’s large apple-trees,

Apart but not alone – Ganymedes

Was with him, whom Zeus once brought through the air

To live among the gods, for he was fair 130

And Zeus was smitten. They were gambling

With golden dice, which is a common thing

For boys together. Eros stood upright

And greedily was holding very tight

Many dice in his left hand close to his chest,

His cheek with rosy colour sweetly blessed.

The other crouched nearby, both taciturn

And sad. The two he had he threw in turn,

Made angry by Eros’s laughing tone.

He lost those, too, then wandered off alone, 140

Helpless and empty-handed, unaware

Of the approach of Cypris. Standing there

Before him, she now held him by the chin

And said: “You dreadful rogue, why do you grin

In triumph? Did you cheat and sinfully

Defeat the innocent lad? Come, do for me

A task I’ll tell you of, and that fine toy

Of Zeus I’ll give you (when he was a boy

With boyish ways in the Idaean cave,

His dear nurse Adrasteia made and gave 150

It to him). It is a well-rounded ball.

You’ll get no better love-gift, not at all,

From Hephaestus. All its zones are gold, and round

Each one of them a double seam is bound.

Each stitch is hidden; over everything

Is a dark-blue spiral. Toss it – it will zing

Just like a flaming star. This gift from me

You’ll get, but you must charm the progeny

Of Aeëtes with an arrow from your bow

With love for Jason. You must not be slow 160

Or else I’ll thank you less.” He heard her say

These words and revelled, then he cast away

All of his toys. He grasped her eagerly

And clung on to her robe. He made a plea

To give it him at once. But she then drew

His cheeks to her and cordially, too,

She, smiling, said: “I swear, by you and me,

I’ll give this present – no chicanery –

If that Medea’s heart will be injected

With love by you.” She spoke. Then he collected 170

His dice, then counted all of them, then flung

Them in his mother’s shining lap, then hung

Around his frame his quiver which he’d leant,

With its gold sash, against a trunk, then went

With his bow straight through the apple-trees which bear

Much fruit near Zeus’s hall, high in the air

Passing through Olympus’ gates. Twin poles on high,

The highest peaks on earth, held in the sky

Steep mountains where the sun, with its first rays,

Begins to redden. He could cast his gaze 180

From here upon life-giving earth as well

As sacred streams, the peaks, the ocean’s swell,

As through the air he flew. A marshy part

Of the river held the heroes all apart

In ambush on their benches, meeting there

In council. Jason spoke. The very air

Was hushed as they attended silently,

Row upon row in place: “What pleases me,

My friends, I’ll tell you; and you all must do

The task in hand, common to all the crew, 190

As is free speech: let him who locks away

His views know that it’s he alone this day

Who thwarts the army’s safe return to Greece.

The rest, stay with your arms, enjoy some peace

Upon the ship, but I’ll be on my way

To the palace of Aeëtes to assay

The man with words to see if cordially

He’ll give the fleece to us or not – if he

Trusts in his power, he will snub our quest.

The sons of Phrixus and, among the rest, 200

Two others I’ll take with me. Since we know

His former badness, whether we should go

To battle or devise some other scheme

In lieu of battle-cries shall be our theme.

Till we test him with words, let us not wrest

The fleece from him by force: it is far best

To win him verbally. For frequently

That’s often met a need, when potency

Could hardly win: apt mellowness and ease

Prevailed. When his stepmother’s knaveries 210

And father’s plan to sacrifice him he

Escaped, Aeëtes’ hospitality

The noble Phrixus had. The wickedest

Of men – yes, all – revere Zeus’s behest

(For he’s the god of strangers).” With one voice

The youths cheered what he said. No other choice

Of action could be heard among the men.

He called upon the sons of Phrixus then,

Telamon and Augeias. He held the wand

Of Hermes. Then at once they passed beyond 220

The reeds and water onto the dry land

And where the plain rose up – I understand

They call it Circe’s. There, line after line

Grow many willows, and, attached with twine,

Corpses hung from their tops – at this late date

It’s still considered evil to cremate

Dead men by the Colchians, while burial

And monuments are likewise criminal.

Instead, wrapped in untanned oxhides, they are

Suspended from the trees some distance far 230

From the city, thereby making earth and air

Share equal portions, for the women there

Are buried – that’s their law. As on they went,

In kindly thoughtfulness Queen Hera sent

A heavy mist throughout the town that they

Might not be seen, as they went on their way,

By the vast horde of Colchians. Then again,

When they came to the city from the plain

And the palace of Aeëtes, she diffused

The mist. They stood at the entrance, quite bemused 240

At the king’s courts, the broad gates and, around

The walls in rows, the columns, while they found,

High up, a stone cornice resting upon

Its bronze triglyphs. In silence they passed on

Beyond the threshold. There were vines nearby,

Blooming with dark-green foliage on high;

Four ever-flowing fountains stood below

(Hephaestus had acquired them). A flow

Of milk gushed out of one, another teemed

With wine, while odiferous oil outstreamed 250

From a third, the fourth poured water which became,

At the Pleiads’ setting, warm, yet that selfsame

Liquid, when they arose, would bubble out

Of the hollow rock, a crystalled, icy spout.

In the palace of Cytaian Aeëtes

Craftsman Hephaestus had built all of these

Wonderful things. Bulls he had made, their feet

Of bronze, their mouths as well – a scorching heat

Breathed out of them. He’d also forged a plough

Of rigid adamant in one piece, a vow 260

Of thanks to Helios, who took him upon

His chariot to rest, when he was wan

From fighting. There was built an inner square

With well-built doors and chambers here and there;

On either side there was a gallery,

Cunningly fashioned, and, diagonally,

There were yet higher homes that faced each other.

Aeëtes and his wife lived in another,

The loftiest. Another housed his son

Apsyrtus, born to a Caucasian, 270

The nymph Asteropodeia, before he

Took young Eidyia into matrimony,

Tethys’ and Ocean’s youngest girl. The name

Phaëthon was chosen, since his fame

Outstripped all other young men, by the sons

Of the Colchians, and then the other ones

Housed servants and the two girls of the king –

They came upon Medea wandering

From room to room, seeking Chalciope,

Her sister, who was kept in custody 280

By Hera, unaccustomed to frequent

The halls before because all day she’d spent,

As priestess, at the shrine of Hecate.

She saw them and cried out. Chalciope

Picked up the sound at once. Their yarn and thread

The maids threw at their feet, then out they sped

In droves. When she saw in that company

Her sons, she raised her hands in ecstasy.

They greeted her likewise; in joy they swept

Her up in their embrace and then she wept 290

And said: “So it was not your destiny

To travel far and leave me heedlessly

And cause me grief. Ah, what a mad desire

To travel far to Greece set you afire

At your father Phrixus’ urging! As he died,

He caused my heart sorely to sorrow. Why’d

You go to the city of Orchomenus,

Whatever that is, and cause calamitous

Grief to your mother, for the property

Of Athamas?” She spoke. Then finally 300

Aeëtes ventured out, his wife as well,

Hearing Chalciope. Then such a swell

Of people now were thronging the courtyard.

Some slaves with a huge bull were working hard,

Some chopping kindling, some bringing to boil

Bath-water. None of them left off his toil

That served the king. Then, through the murky air,

Unseen, flew Eros, causing everywhere

Confusion, as a gadfly on a herd

Of heifers (oxherds call it by the word 310

Myops) brings havoc. Once he’d strung his bow,

From his quiver a virgin arrow, full of woe,

He took beneath the lintel. Speedily,

Unseen, he crossed the threshold, cannily

Looking about, then, gliding nearer to

The son of Aeson, notched the cord and drew

The bow apart with both his hands, let go

And struck Medea, who was by this blow

Then rendered speechless. Eros laughingly

Flew back home from the high-roofed palace; she 320

Had been profoundly pierced, deep in the heart,

The bolt like flame. Her eyes would often dart

A flashing glance at Jason; from her breast

Her heart would thickly pant in its unrest;

Her memory was gone and in sweet ache

She melted, as a poor woman will take

Around a blazing brand some kindling

While spinning wool, that in the evening

She may have light within the house when she

Had been roused early; this small quantity 330

Of flame with wondrous blaze reduced to ash

Each stick of wood; so in a hidden flash

Destructive Eros round about her twined;

Her delicate cheeks, through her distracted mind,

Alternately grew sickly pale, then red.

After the servants had laid out a spread

And they had bathed, they revelled merrily

In meat and drink, and then accordingly

Aeëtes to his sons-in-law said: “You

Sons of Medea and of Phrixus, who 340

Was my most honoured guest, why are you back

In Aia? Were you put upon the rack

By Fate in your escape? You paid no mind

To me when your long journey I outlined.

When Helios my father hurried me

Behind his steeds I could not fail to see

Its length. My sister Circe to the west

He was conveying; so we came to rest

On the             Tyrrhenian shore, where still today

She dwells, from Colchis many miles away. 350

What joy is there in words? Then lucidly

Say what befell you, who these men may be

Who travel with you, and where you touched shore

Upon your hollow ship.” Argos, before

His kin in fear for the son of Aeson’s quest,

Replied (for he was older than the rest)

With gentle words: “Aeëtes, she was split

By violent squalls, and then the crew was spit

On dry land by a wave in murky night

(We’d crouched under the beams) then to alight 360

On Euryalios Isle. We were rescued

By some god. In that island’s solitude

Even the Arian birds that, before then,

Had dwelt there we could not find, for these men

Had driven them off when they had come ashore

The previous day. Then Zeus felt pity for

Our plight (or else some Fate), for he delayed

Them there, since straightaway a gift they made

Of plenteous food and clothes, once the renowned

“Phrixus” they heard, and your name, for they’re bound 370

For your own city. If you wish to know

Their quest, I’ll not withhold it. Longing so

To drive this man far from his property

And native land because in toughness he

Outstrips all of the house of Aeolus,

A king contrives a fruitless venture thus

For him and threatens Aeolus’s line

Will not break free from Zeus incarnadine

And his great wrath until the fleece is brought

To Greece. This ship Pallas Athene wrought, 380

Not one like those you might in Colchis see

(We chanced upon its worst epitome

Which blasts and fierce winds shattered). This, however,

Her bolts hold firm should every squall endeavour

To buffet her. She speeds before the breeze

As fast as when her oarsmen beat the seas

Unceasingly. So Jason chose the best

Of Greece’s heroes, sailing without rest

Through many towns across the angry foam

To your domain to take the fleece back home. 390

It shall be as you wish – to use duress

He is not here; payment of worthiness

He’ll give to you, for he has heard from me

Of the Sauromatae, your greatest enemy:

He’ll crush them to your sway. In answer to

Your wish to know their names and race, to you

I’ll tell all. This man, for whose sake did all

The others gather out of Greece, they call

Jason, grandson of Cretheus, who begat

His father Aeson. If it’s genuine that 400

He’s of the lineage of Cretheus, he

Is our kin from the father’s family –

Both Athamas and Cretheus Aiolos

Begat, and Athamas begat Phrixos.

You’ve heard of Helios’ seed? Well then behold

Augeias. Here is Telamon, the bold

Aeacos’ son and Zeus’ grandson. The rest

With him can trace their lineage to the blessed

Immortals.” Thus spoke Argos. Nonetheless

This irked the king, angry tempestuousness 410

Causing his heart to rise, so testily

He spoke, his anger aimed especially

At Chalciope’s sons. For it was his surmise

The Argo came because of them. His eyes

Flashed in his fury. “Sinners, disappear

At once, you and your tricks. Begone from here

Lest someone to his sorrow see the fleece

And Phrixus! You and these men came from Greece

Not for the fleece but kingly dignity –

My sceptre! Had my hospitality 420

Not fed your stomachs, then I would have cut

Your tongues and hands off, sending you with but

Your feet upon your way and hindering

Your setting forth again and perjuring

Yourselves before the blessed gods.” Thus he

In his displeasure spoke. Then mightily

The heart of Telamon began to swell

Deep down and in his soul he longed to tell

A deadly tale to him in confrontation,

But Jason hindered him and, in placation, 430

Spoke in his stead: “Aeëtes, with this crew

Have patience, please. We have not come to you

To do what you surmise. Who’d cross the sea

So far to steal a stranger’s property?

No, no, fate and a ruthless king’s command

Compelled me. Grant our prayer and through the land

Of Greece I’ll publish your great prominence.

We’re ready now to pay swift recompense

In war, should you desire to overthrow

The Sauromatae or any other foe.” 440

He spoke with words both mild and flattering.

Yet with a two-fold purpose did the king

Sit brooding. Should he slay them instantly

Or test their strength? The latter seemed to be

The better choice to him, so in reply

He said: “Why must you tell all, stranger? Why,

If you indeed are of the heavenly line,

Your stock thus not inferior to mine,

I’ll give the fleece and gratify your will

Once you’ve been tested. For I bear no ill 450

To honest men, such as the one you say

Rules Greece. There’ll be a contest to assay

Your strength which I can compass though it be

A lethal one. Two bulls belong to me,

Bronze-footed, grazing on Ares’ plateau

And breathing flame. I yoke them and we go

Through his severe four-acre field. With speed

I cleave it to its edge and cast the seed

In the furrows – not the corn of Mother Earth

But a dread serpent’s teeth which then give birth 460

To armed men whom I slaughter with my spear

As they attack me from both front and rear.

At dawn I yoke my oxen and at close

Of day I cease to plough. If feats like those

You master, you shall take that very day

This fleece back to your king. I’ll say you nay

Till then, you may be sure. The valorous

Should not surrender to the timorous.”

He spoke, and Jason sat there silently,

His eyes fixed downward, his extremity 470

Leaving him helpless. Brooding long, his mind

Turned now this way, now that, he could not find

His courage for the deed (it seemed so vast).

With crafty words he answered him at last:

“Aeëtes, you restrict me with your plea

Of right. I’ll take your challenge, though it be

A great one, even if it is the will

Of the gods that I should die: no harsher ill

Befalls a man than ruinous privation,

Which brought me, through a kingly proclamation, 480

To you.” He spoke, with helplessness laid low.

Aeëtes, though, with words that fit a foe,

Replied: “Go to the meeting, since for sweat

You yearn, but if you shake with fear to set

The yoke upon the bulls or should you shy

From deadly harvesting, you’ll see that I

Shall be the victor in all this: in fact

Another man may quake to interact

With a better.” This was his abrupt response.

Then Jason rose up from his seat at once, 490

Augeias and Telamon too. Argos, as well,

Followed alone and gave a sign to tell

His brothers to remain. They left the hall,

And Jason’s grace and beauty through them all

Shone out; the maid with sidelong glances cast

Her eyes on him and held her bright veil tight

To one side, while her heart was smouldering

With pain. Her soul, dream-like, was slithering

And flitting in his tracks. In sore distress

They left the palace. Now with speediness 500

Chalciope to her room had made repair

With all her sons, for she was taking care

To keep far from Aeëtes’ indignation.

Medea went as well, in rumination

About those things the Loves arouse. To her

He still appeared – his clothes, his character,

His words, the way he sat, the way he went

Towards the door: it was her sentiment

That there was none like him, while constantly

His voice, the honeyed words he spoke would be 510

Upon her ears. For him she worried lest

The oxen or the king himself would best

And kill him, grieving as though he were slain

Outright already, while in her great pain

There trickled down her cheek a soft, sad tear.

She wept and softly spoke up loud and clear:

“Why am I melancholy? Should he die

The best or worst of all the heroes, I

Say let him meet his doom. O would that he

Were safe; however, o Queen Hecate, 520

And sailed back home unharmed. If the gods ordain,

However, that by oxen he’ll be slain,

Let him know in this dread calamity

I’ll take no pleasure. So oppressed was she

By love’s bite. When the others left the town

And people by the path they’d travelled down

From the plain, Jason by Argos was addressed:

“Jason, you’ll hate my plan but so oppressed

Are we that I don’t think that we should shun

The contest. You have heard me talk of one 530

Young maid who practises some sorcery

Through Hecate’s advice. It seems to me

That, if we trust in her, no longer will

We fear to be defeated thus. But still

I greatly dread my mother won’t agree

To do this thing, but, since calamity

Is hanging over us, then back I’ll go

To meet her.” These kind words he answered so:

“If you believe in what you say, my friend,

I’ll not refuse. Go to your mother, bend 540

Her ear with crafty words. Wretched indeed

Is hope of reaching Hellas if we need

To turn to women.”  Thus he spoke and then

They quickly reached the backwater. The men,

When they came close, made question joyfully,

And Jason answered them disconsolately:

“My friends, there’s anger in Aeëtes’ soul

At us and we will never reach our goal,

Nor I nor you. He says on the lowland

Of Ares graze two bulls, bronze-footed and                            550

Exhaling fire. This four-acre field

He bade me plough and said that he would yield

To me a serpent’s seed, which he will take

Out of its jaws and which will later make

Earth-born, bronze-armoured men. That very day

I must subdue them. This without delay

I took upon me, for no better plan

Existed.” Thus he spoke, and every man

Deemed it impossible, while silently

Regarding one another, tragedy 560

And helplessness oppressing them. But then

At last Peleus spoke up among the men

Who led the quest. He boldly stated: “It

Is time to plan our move. Yet benefit

Comes less from talk than might. If you’re intent

On yoking Aeëtes’ oxen, Jason, bent

On tackling this toil, to your vow you’ll hold

And in your preparations yet be bold,

But if you do not trust implicitly

Her skill, don’t go ahead nor try to see, 570

As you sit there, some other man to take

The task upon him. I shan’t shrink or quake

Since merely death will be the bitterest

Of pain for me.” He spoke, and Telamon’s breast

Was stirred. He rose, agog, immediately,

Then Idas in his pride made Number Three,

Tyndareus’ sons and Oineus’ son as well,

A mighty man, though yet there did not dwell

Soft down upon his cheek, so did his breast

With courage swell. In silence sat the rest, 580

Taking no part. Then Argos instantly

Said to the men who hungered eagerly

For the contest: “Friends, it’s we who in the end

Must act. My mother, I believe, will lend

Her timely aid. Now stay a short while more

On board, though eager, as you did before –

It’s better to refrain than carelessly

To end up with a tragic destiny.

Aeëtes’ halls have nurtured a young maid

Who learnt to master ably, with the aid 590

Of Hecate, the herbs that Nature grows

On land and in the flowing waters: those

Can quench a blast of endless flame, impede

At once the roaring rivers as they speed

Upon their way and exercise control

Over the holy moon from pole to pole

And all the stars. We thought of her as we

Went from the hall with the expectancy

My mother, her own sister, might prevail

Upon her now to offer some avail 600

For this contest. If this pleases you, this day

To make the trial I’ll be on my way

Back to Aeëtes’ palace. I’ll succeed

Perhaps with some god’s help.” He spoke. Indeed

The gods gave him a sign of their goodwill:

As he fled from a mighty falcon’s bill,

A dove, trembling with fear, fell from on high

Into the lap of Jason. From the sky

The falcon fell upon the figurehead,

Impaled. Prophetically then Mopsus said: 610

‘My friends, this sign is heaven’s divination

And there is only one interpretation:

We must seek out the maid and skilfully

Try to persuade her, and it seems to me

She’ll not deny us if Phineus did say

That our return on Aphrodite lay.

This gentle bird of hers escaped his fate,

So by this falcon I prognosticate

My victory. My friends, invoke the shield

Of Cytherea and to Argos yield 620

Yourselves.” These words were praised by the young men

Recalling Phineus’s advice. But then

Idas, the son of Aphareus, of all

The only one, leapt up and, filled with gall,

Yelled: “Travellers with women, o for shame!

We call on Cypris, not the warlike fame

Of Ares, look to doves and hawks to stay

Away from toil! Don’t think of war! Away!

Beguile weak girls!” He shouted eagerly.

Though many of his comrades quietly 630

Murmured, not one replied. Back down again

He sat in indignation. Jason then

Spoke his own mind with this encouragement:

“Since all approve this, let Argos be sent

Ashore. But we will leave the river and

In full view tie our hawsers to the land.

We should no longer hide, far from the shout

Of battle.” Thus he spoke and summoned out

Argos at once with orders with all speed

To go back to the city and decreed 640

That they draw up their anchors and then row

A little from the marsh, and they did so.

At once Aeëtes held a convocation

With the Colchians far away from the location

Of the palace, where they’d sat before, so he

Could plan distress and ruthless treachery

For the Minyans. When the oxen tore asunder

Him who this heavy task had knuckled under,

He threatened that above the leafy height

He’d hew the oak-grove down and set alight 650

The ship with all its men, that they might vent

Their grief for being proudly insolent

In all their schemes. Though he had been distressed,

He would not have had Phrixus as a guest –

A man in warmth and grace beyond compare –

Had Zeus not sent a herald through the air,

Hermes, that he might meet a friendly host,

He stated, nor would pirates live to boast

That they were scatheless there – men resolute

On seizing others’ goods, who plan astute 660

And wily schemes and with strident sorties

Burn peasants’ stables. Also, penalties

Were due from Phrixus’ sons for coming there

With sinners and taking, without a care,

His honour and his sceptre: earlier, he

Had from his father heard a prophecy

Most dreadful: Helios told him he must shun

The cunning tricks and tactics of each son

Of his and their crafty iniquity.

So, as they wished, by fatherly decree 670

He sent them to Achaia, far away:

His daughters caused no little fear – did they

Plan something vile? – and his male progeny,

Apsyrtus. But upon the family

Of Chalciope this foul curse would be brought

And to these folk he spoke dread things, all wrought

In rage. He threatened to keep in his sight

The ship and all the crew that no-one might

Escape his death. Meanwhile, Argos, who’d gone

To Aeëtes’ palace, on and on 680

His mother to entreat Medea’s aid:

She’d thought to do this earlier, afraid,

However, lest she pointlessly should seek

To beg a maid who feared the fatal pique

Of her own father or, should her request

Be met, her deeds would all be manifest.

Deep sleep had soothed the maid, taking away

Her love-distress as on her couch she lay.

But fearful, crafty, grievous dreams appeared:

The foreigner had taken on, she feared, 690

The contest not to take away the fleece –

He had not travelled from his native Greece

To Aeëtes’ town, she thought, for this – oh no,

He’d hither come to choose a bride and go

Back home: she fought the oxen easily,

She thought: her parents for their guarantee

Had no regard, for her they did not dare

To yoke the beasts but Jason, and from there

Arose between her father and these men

Contention of a doubtful issue: then 700

They told her that she should herself decide

What she should do and, setting them aside,

She chose the stranger. Wretched misery

Assailed them and they shouted angrily.

Sleep left her with a cry. Quaking with dread,

She leapt up, looking, as she lay in bed,

At those four walls and barely summoning

Her spirit as before and bellowing:

“Alas, these gloomy dreams have frightened me ;

I fear great ill comes from this odyssey 710

Of men. My heart is fluttering with fear

For the stranger. Let him far away from here

Among his own woo some Achaean maid;

Let maidenhood and life at home be laid

Upon me. Recklessly, however, I

No more shall stay aloof. No, I will try

My sister so that I may see if she

Will ask my help in the contest, misery

Assailing her for her own sons. This may

Quench all my grief. “ That’s what she had to say.  720

She rose, opened the door, barefoot and clad

In just one tunic and – for now she had

A yen to go and see her sister – went

Across the threshold. Standing there, she spent

A long time, checked by shame. She turned back then,

Then exited once more, then back again

She stole; her feet would go hither and yon

In vain; as often as she went straight on,

Shame kept her in the room. Shame held her fast,

Then bold love urged her on again. At last, 730

After three times of turning either way,

She fell upon her bed, in her dismay

Writhing. Just as a bride within her room

Sits grieving for her young husband to whom

Her parents and her brother gave her, nor

Yet has conversed with all her servants, for

Shame and reserve preclude such things. So she

Sits on her own and grieves; some tragedy

Has taken him before they can delight

In each one’s body. At the very sight 740

Of the empty bed she weeps inaudibly,

Her heart on fire, lest the women see

And mock her. Thus Medea showed her woe.

A maid who served her saw her crying so

When she came near and told Chalciope

Who sat among her sons in reverie

On how to coax her sister. When she heard

The maid’s strange tale, she trusted every word.

She rushed straight to her sister’s room, alarmed;

She lay there in her grief, where she had harmed 750

Her cheeks by clawing. When she saw each eye

Tear-filled, she said to her: “Why do you cry,

Medea? What is wrong? What dire distress

Affects you? Has some god-inspired sickness

Assailed your body? Have you maybe heard

Your father tell you of some dreadful word

Of menace to my progeny and me?

Would that my parents’ home I may not see,

The city neither; rather let me dwell

In this earth’s limits, where there never fell 760

‘Colchis’ on human ears.” That’s what she said.

Chalciope with maiden shame blushed red;

Though keen to speak, she dared not. Now would speech

Rise up to her tongue’s tip, now flit to reach

Her breast’s abyss. It often searched about

To leave her lovely lips, but nought came out.

At last she spoke with guile, for she was pressed

By the swift Loves: “Chalciope, my breast

Is trembling for my children, for I dread

My father speedily will have them dead 770

Along with all the strangers. Recently,

While sleeping for a brief while, did I see

Such dreadful dreams. May some god see they go

Unrealized and you from dire woe

About your sons are free.” Thus did she try

Her sister, hoping she would first supply

Succour. Her sister in oppressive pain

And fear was caught at what she said. Again

She spoke: “I, too, to set all this in motion,

Have come to you. Do you have any notion 780

That you may put to use? Swear now by Ge

And Ouranus that what I say may be

Our secret and you’ll work with me. I pray

By the gods, yourself, your parents, too, that they

Will not before your very eyes be fated

Unjustly to be foully extirpated,

Or else with my dear sons may I die, too,

Then afterwards from Hades come to you,

A vengeful Fury.” Thus she spoke. A tide

Of tears then coursed her cheeks. On either side 790

Her hands embraced both of her sister’s knees,

She laid her head upon her breast, then these

Two women shared their grief. The distant sound

Of women sorrowing was heard around

The halls. Medea answered in the sting

Of anguish: “Wretched maid, what can I bring

To ease what you have spoken of to me,

Your Furies and your dire calamity?

Would I could help your sons. The potent vow

Of Colchis you urged me to swear just now 800

Be witness, great Ouranos, Mother Ge,

You shall not, while there is some strength in me,

Lack my support, should all the gods comply

With your appeals.” She spoke, and in reply

Chalciope said: “Have you some device

To give the stranger who needs your advice,

Some ruse that he might win the tournament

And aid my sons? From him Argos was sent

To urge my help. I left him and came here.”

She spoke. Medea’s heart capered with cheer, 810

At once her fair cheeks flushed, here eyes aglow

Though wrapped in mist, and thus she answered: “O

Chalciope, as is to yours and you

Sweet and delightful, even so I’ll do.

May I no longer see daylight, not live

A moment longer if I ever give

A thought to ought before what will set free

You and your sons, who are my family,

My brothers, kinsmen, young comrades. It’s true

I am your sister, and your daughter, too, 820

Because, like them, you took me to your breast

When I was tiny, as Mother confessed

So often in the past. But hide this act

Of mine so that I may fulfil my pact

Without our parents’ knowledge. At daybreak

Some sorcery to charm the bulls I’ll take

To Hecate’s temple.” Then Chalciope,

That she might relay to her progeny

Her sister’s aid, back to her room repaired.

Medea, left alone, was greatly scared 830

And wracked with guilt that she had hatched a plan

Against her father’s will to help this man.

Night closed the earth. The sailors on the sea

Saw from their ships the stars of Helice

And of Orion, while a hankering

For sleep assailed those who were travelling

And the gatekeepers, and, her children gone

Across the Styx, a mother slumbered on;

No dogs barked in the town, there was no sound

Of men, and pitchy blackness all around 840

Was wrapped in silence. To Medea, though,

No sweet sleep came. The son of Aeson’s woe

Kept her awake: she feared the bulls’ fierce might

Through which his wretched doom was endless night

Upon the field of Ares, while her heart

Seethed fiercely as a beam of light may dart

Across a house, flung up from water splashed

From a cauldron or a bucket, swiftly flashed

And dancing here and there, a rapid whirl;

So whirled beneath the bosom of the girl 850

Her heart. Here eyes shed tears of sympathy

And in her soul there smouldered agony,

Round her fine nerves and neck where penetrate

The deepest pains, when never the Loves abate

From piercing shafts of torture. Now would she

Intend to give to him the sorcery

To charm the bulls, now would she change her mind

And plan herself to die, but then she’d find

Her thoughts had turned again – she would remain

Alive, not give the charms but bear the pain 860

In silence. Down she sat, still wavering,

And said: “Poor wretch, must all these troubles fling

Me back and forth? My heart’s in misery

On every side, and there’s no remedy.

A constant burn lives there. Would that a dart

From Artemis’ swift bow had pierced my heart

Before I’d seen that man, before that band

Of my own sister’s sons had reached the land

Of Greece. Some Fury or a god has brought

To us from thence this torture which has wrought  870

Full many a tear. In the contest may he die

If he must perish there. For how can I,

Without my parents knowing it, prepare

The charms? What story can I give them? Where

Is there a cunning, beneficial plan?

Should I give greeting when I see the man

Without his friends? Poor wretch, I can’t foresee

That I shall rest from misery, though he

Be dead: when he’s bereft of life, then woe

Will come; now shame, begone, begone, all glow. 880

Saved by my art, let Jason go away

And wander where he will, but on that day

When he’s the victor in the contest, I

Shall die, either by fixing way up high

A rope to stretch my neck and swallowing

Destructive drugs. Still then people will fling

Their taunts at me. All cities far away

Will shout my destiny. My name shall play

In Colchian women’s mouths and here and there

They’ll mock me foully – ‘that’s the maid whose care890

For a stranger was so great she died; that’s she

Who shamed her home and parents; lunacy

Destroyed her.’ What disgrace shall not adhere

To me? It would be better far right here,

Alas, to end my life this very night

Through some strange fate, for in this way I might

Avoid all taunts, thus never having wrought

Such dreadful shame.” She spoke, and then she brought

A box wherein drugs that were remedies

And those that kill were kept. Upon her knees 900

She settled it and wept. Incessantly

The tears bedewed her bosom; copiously

They flowed as there she sat and at her fate

Wailed bitterly. She longed to designate

A fatal drug to taste. The box’s string

She now untied, poor creature, hankering

To extricate the drug. But suddenly

Her heart was filled with dread anxiety

Concerning hateful Hades. Checking long

This urge, she sat while all around a throng 910

Of life’s sweet cares appeared. She contemplated

The joys the living share and meditated

Her joyous friends, as maids are apt to do;

The sun now seemed much sweeter in her view

Than heretofore – for every joy she yearned.

The box she now put down, her judgment turned

By Hera. Wavering no more, daybreak

She longed to look upon that she might take

The charms to Jason as she’d vowed to do

And meet him face-to-face. Longing to view 920

The dawn, she often locked the bolts. Dayspring

Now shed its welcome light that it might bring

The people to the streets. Argos then told

His brothers to remain there to unfold

Medea’s plans, though he himself turned round

And went back to the ship. Medea bound

Her golden hair, which fell in disarray

About her, when she first espied the day,

And bathed her tear-stained cheeks. Her skin now shone

With honeyed salve; a fine robe she put on, 930

Well clasped with brooches, and above her head

She placed a shining veil, and then she sped

Throughout the palace, heedless of the woes

That heaven sent to her and all of those

Which were to come. She called her maids to her –

The same age as herself, twelve maids there were,

Who in the fragrant chamber’s portico

Would sleep, for whom it was not yet to know

A man – and ordered them to speedily

Yoke to the chariot mules that she might be 940

To the fair temple of Hecate conveyed.

While they prepared the chariot, the maid

Took from the hollow box the talisman

They call Promethean (if any man

Should smear himself with it at night when he

Makes sacrifice, appeasing Hecate,

The only-begotten maid, there will be no

Wound made upon him by a bronze sword’s blow

Nor shall he flinch away from fire; that day

He’ll prove superior in every way, 950

In prowess and in might). From earth it grew,

First-born, when the ravening eagle, as it flew,

Upon the vales of Caucasus let fall

Tortured Prometheus’ blood-like ichor. All

Of one full cubit high it bloomed, in hue

Like the Corycian crocus, upon two

Stalks rising. But the root, within earth’s bed,

Resembled new-cut flesh. She harvested

Its liquid, like a mountain-oak’s dark juice,

And placed it in a Caspian shell for use 960

In her enchantment, after she had soaked

In seven endless rivers and invoked

Full seven times Brimo, youth-nurturing,

Queen of the dead, in Hades wandering,

In gloomy night, all clothed in black, and when

The Titanian root was cut, the dark earth then

Shook with a bellow; then Prometheus made

A heart-charged groan. She took the charm and laid

It in the fragrant band that circled round

Her lovely breast. She went outside and found 970

The speedy chariot which she mounted, two

Handmaids on either side; she drove straight through

The city, having seized the reins, one hand

Holding a well-made whip. The rest of the band

Of handmaids laid their hands upon the back

As they now ran over the ample track,

Their flimsy tunics all secured aloft

Above their snow-white knees. As by the soft

Parthenian waters or, bathed in the rills

Of River Amnisus, across the hills 980

Queen Artemis sped in her golden car

Behind her swift roes, coming from afar

That she may greet a tasty offering,

Her nymphs with her; some gathered at the spring

Of Amnisus, some gathered in the dales

And spring-packed peaks, as beasts kept low their tails

In fear at her approach, thus did they speed

Straight through the town. The people, taking heed

That they not look straight at the royal maid,

Made way for her. But when the streets, well-laid, 990

Of the city were behind them and the shrine

Beyond the plains was reached, down from the fine

Chariot she stepped at once impatiently

And to her maids said: “My iniquity

Is great: I was not heedful to restrain

From foreigners who wander our terrain.

The whole city is smitten with dismay;

None of the women who’d meet here each day

Is present. But since we alone are here,

Let us not spare to soothe our hearts with cheer 1000

By singing and let’s pluck fair flowers that grow

Upon the tender grass and straightway go

Back home. You’ll leave with many gifts that day

If you perform the thing for which I pray.

Argos has changed my mind, Chalciope

As well. But keep these words you hear from me

A secret lest my father hear what I

Have said. As for the stranger, who will try

To quell the bulls, I must receive, they state,

The gifts he brings to me and liberate 1010

Him from the fatal toil. This gladdened me.

I summoned him to come alone that we

Might portion out the gifts – mine he will bring

While I will give to him a different thing,

A deadly charm. When he comes, stand apart.”

She spoke, and this device pleased every heart.

Then was it that Argos rapidly drew

Jason from his companions when he knew

From his brothers that Medea now had gone

To Hecate’s holy shrine, then led him on  1020

Across the plain, and in their company

Went also Mopsus, good at augury,

Ampycus’ son, who counselled well all men

Who travelled. Never had there been till when

The bride of Zeus made Jason on that day

A man like him, to see or have parlay

With. His comrades themselves, as they all gazed

Upon the son of Aeson, were amazed

To look upon those graces as they shone

Out of the man, and as they journeyed on 1030

Mopsus rejoiced, already reckoning

The end. There was a poplar, burgeoning

With leaves, upon the footpath and near by

The temple, whither cawing crows would fly

To roost. One, on the branches way up high,

Now shook her feathers and was heard to cry

Hera’s counsels: “You do not understand,

Poor seer, what children know – in all the land

No maid will speak sweet nothings to a beau

When strangers are about. Non-prophet, go, 1040

You witless thing! No generosity

From Cypris or the gentle Loves shall be

Breathed on you.” Thus did Hera reprehend,

And Mopsos smiled a smile that she should send

A bird-borne message, so he said: “Repair

To Hecate’s temple, son of Aeson, where

You’ll find Medea. Thanks to Cypris, who

Will in the contest be a help to you

(As Phineus, son of Agenor, had foretold),

Medea will with kindliness enfold 1050

You to her heart. Argos and I will wait

Right here till you return. Propitiate

The maid, yourself alone, and cleverly

Win her to you.” He spoke sagaciously.

Both praised him then. Despite Medea’s song,

She did not shift her thoughts; never for long

Did such amusement bring her much delight.

Perplexed, she faltered, though, so that her sight

Upon her handmaids wavered, and she tried

To see the far-off path, turning aside 1060

Her cheek. Her heart was often quivering

When she thought that she heard the hurrying

Of feet or else the wind. But by and by

Into her eager purview, striding high,

He came, like Sirius coming from the sea,

Which rises fine and clear, though misery

That’s infinite it brings to flocks. Thus fair

To see walked Jason. But a love-sick care,

Along with him, came to her. Her heart’s core

Then tumbled from her breast and, furthermore, 1070

Her eyes were misted, while a reddening

Suffused her burning cheeks. She could not bring

Her knees up, for her feet seemed bound to stay

Upon the ground. Her handmaids moved away

From them. They stood there, silent, face to face,

Like oaks or lofty pines which stand in place

Upon the mountains when there is no hint

Of wind, in silence, but will, without stint,

Murmur when winds breathe on them. Similarly

Would they converse, moved by the agency 1080

Of Love’s sweet breath. And Jason knew a woe

Sent down from heaven troubled her, and so

He said to her: “Pray tell to me, fair maid,

Why, since I’m here alone, are you afraid?

I’m not an idle boaster, as some are,

Nor was I when in my own land afar.

Don’t be abashed before me to enquire

About whatever is your heart’s desire

Or speak your mind. But to this hallowed place,

Where sin cannot be sanctioned, face to face 1090

We have arrived, therefore you must feel free

To ask and speak; and do not hoodwink me

With honeyed words, for at the first you swore

To your sister that the drugs I hankered for

You would bestow on me. I beg of you

By Hecate, my children, Lord Zeus, too,

Who holds his hand out to those who implore

And strangers also, for my need is sore

And I am both of these. Without avail

From you, in this fell test I’ll not prevail. 1100

Later I’ll show you my appreciation,

For that befits men of another nation.

I’ll spread your name and make you glorious;

You’ll be ennobled by the rest of us,

Their wives and mothers, too, on our return,

Who now perhaps sit on the shores and yearn

In grief for us. Their painful misery

You may dispel. Once in antiquity

Minoan Ariadne loosed the bond

Of grim contests for Theseus in her fond 1110

Indulgence, daughter of Pasiphaë

(Her father was the sun god who held sway

Up in the sky). When Minos quelled his spleen,

She boarded ship and sailed with Theseus, keen

To leave her native-land. She was held dear

Even by the gods; each night one sees appear

A starry crown up high, which people call

The Crown of Ariadne; like a ball

It rolls along, a holy constellation

All night. And thus the gods’ appreciation 1120

Will you receive if only you’ll redeem

This mighty host of heroes, for you seem,

By your allure, in gentle courtesy

To shine.” He spoke, bestowing dignity

Upon her, and she cast her eyes aside

And sweetly smiled, her heart melted with pride

At his acclaim, then faced him, having no

Idea how she should start to speak, although

She yearned to blurt out all immediately.

She from her fragrant girdle willingly 1130

Pulled out the charm, which forthwith in delight

He took from her, and now her soul she might

Have drawn from out her breast in her elation

At his desire and made it a donation

To him. Such was Love’s honeyed flames that gleamed

From Jason’s golden head; her eyes now beamed,

So captivated was she. Through and through

Her heart grew melting-warm just like the dew

Upon the roses; by the bright sunrise

Made warm. Now would they shyly drop their eyes,1140

Now drink each other in, beneath each brow

With rapture smiling. Finally, somehow

She managed: “Take heed now, that I may frame

Aid for you. Since my father, when you came,

Gave you the dragon’s deadly teeth for you

To sow, wait till the night is split in two,

Wash in the endless stream, then move away

From all your comrades, dressed in the array

Of dark-blue clothes, and dig a rounded pit,

Thereafter slay a female lamb in it, 1150

Then sacrifice it whole, accumulate

A pyre above the pit and then placate

The only-begotten daughter of Perses

And pour the hive-stored industry of bees

From a cup, seek her goodwill and let no sound

Of steps behind you make you turn around,

Or barking dogs, in case you should undo

All rites; don’t go back duly to the crew.

When dawn appears, moisten the charm, undress

And smear yourself with oil. Then will prowess 1160

And mighty strength be yours – you’ll have to say

You’re like the gods, not men. Then you must spray

Your spear, your shield, your sword. The earthborn men

Will not transfix you with their spear-points then,

Nor the flame of deadly bulls, which cruelly

Darts quickly onward. But you shall not be

This way for long – just one day. Do not quail,

However, from the contest. More avail

I’ll tell you of. You must immediately,

After the bulls are yoked, your energy 1170

And strength apply to sow the stubborn land.

The Giants will be springing up to stand

Among the rows, the serpent’s teeth now sown

Upon the dusky clods. Throw a large stone,

Unseen, should you observe a massive pack

Arising from the field, for they’ll attack

Each other over it, as over food

Wild dogs will fight. Then join them in this mood.

From out of Aia you shall take the fleece

By this device away from here to Greece. 1180

Go where you please after you’ve left this place.”

She spoke and silently levelled her face

Towards the ground and wept exceedingly

And moistened her fair cheeks in misery,

For he’d sail far away and leave her there.

Taking his hand, she spoke in her despair,

For shame had left her eyes. “Should you reach home,

Remember me. Though far across the foam,

I will remember you. Pray tell to me,

Where is your home? Whither across the sea 1190

Shall you be bound? Will you perhaps go by

Wealthy Orchomenus? Or shall you ply

Your oars close to Aeaea Island? Pray,

Tell of the daughter of Pasiphaë,

The noble maid you named, who is related

To my father.” Deadly Love insinuated

Himself, at what she spoke and at her tears,

In him as well. He said: “If all my fears

Are groundless and I conquer, I can say

That I shall not forget you night and day, 1200

Should I get home to Greece, so long as there

Is not a viler toil that I must bear

At Aeëtes’ hands. But if it pleases you

To know where is my home, I’ll tell you true,

As I feel bound to do. There is a land

Where all around it lofty mountains stand,

Rich in both sheep and pasture: in that place

Deucalion, a hero full of grace,

Was fathered by Prometheus, progeny

Of Iapetus, who was the first to be 1210

A city-founder and who shrines created

To the immortals and who delegated

Himself as ruler. Those who dwell nearby

Have called this land Haemonia, where my

City, Iolcus, stands, and many more;

Aiaia Isle is unknown on that shore.

It’s said that Minyas, son of Aiolus,

Left there and built the town Orchomenus,

Which borders Thebes. What is the use to tell

To you these petty details? – where I dwell, 1220

Of Minos’ progeny, fair and far-famed

(You asked of her, who is for Minos named)

As for her sake Minos was well inclined

To Theseus, may your father turn his mind

Benignly to us.” Thus he spoke, allaying

Her fears with those soft words that he was saying.

Her heart was stirred with anguish unrelenting

As she addressed him, grievously lamenting:

“No doubt in Greece such covenants as these

Are recognized; however, Aeëtes 1230

Is not such as you claim Minos to be,

My husband and Pasiphaë’s progeny,

And I’m no Ariadne. Do not, then,

Discourse on hospitality but, when

You reach Iolcus, think of me, as I

Shall think of you: my parents I defy.

And may a rumour from afar reach me

Or an avian herald, if your memory

Of me has lapsed or else across the foam

May swift squalls snatch and take me to your home 1240

In Iolcus that before your eyes I might

Reproach you and remind you that your flight

Was due to my goodwill; may I then be

Your unexpected guest.” With these words she

Shed piteous tears. Then Jason said: “To hell

With empty blasts, that courier-bird as well,

My dear: your talk is vain. If to the land

Of Greece you travel, you will surely stand

In everyone’s respect and admiration;

They’ll treat you with a goddess’ veneration 1250

Because by virtue of your strategy

Their sons came home, and from calamity

Their brothers, kinsmen, stalwart spouses, too,

Were saved. Within the bridal chamber you

Shall then prepare our couch, and not a thing

Shall come between our love until the ring

Of Death’s grim knell.“ He spoke, at which, inside,

Her soul at what he’d spoken liquefied.

And yet she shuddered at the ruination

To come. Poor wretch! For her repudiation 1260

Of living in Hellas could not endure

For very long, for Hera made quite sure

Medea from Aeaea was to go

To holy Iolcus as a source of woe

To Pelias, leaving her native land.

Now, watching from a distance, her whole band

Of handmaids mutely grieved. She must now set

Off back to her mother’s home. She did not yet

Think of departure, for she filled with cheer

To look upon his beauty and to hear 1270

His winsome words. But Jason finally

With prudence said to her: “It’s time that we

Departed lest the setting of the sun

Should catch us unawares and then someone

From an alien land may know our strategy.

But we’ll return and meet.” To this degree

They tested out each other as they voiced

Soft words, then parted. Jason now rejoiced

As he returned to Argo hurriedly

To join his friends, while to the company 1280

Of her handmaids she went. They came to her

As one, but as they pressed her close, they were

Unseen by her, for high up in the air

Her soul was hovering. Right then and there

She mounted the swift car robotically;

With reins and well-made whip in each hand, she

Urged on the mules, which to the palace raced.

As she approached the city, she was faced

With questions from Chalciope, distressed

About her sons. Medea, though, oppressed 1290

With changing fancies, didn’t hear a word,

Nor would she have replied if she had heard.

She sat upon a low stool which was set

At the bed’s foot and, with eyes that were wet,

Laid her left hand upon her cheek and thought

Upon the evil deeds that would be wrought

Through her advice. When Jason had repaired

To where he’d left his comrades, he prepared

To go with them, telling them all he’d done,

Back to the other heroes. So, as one, 1300

They went to the ship. They hastened to enfold

Him in their arms and questioned him. He told

Them of the maid’s devices, having shown

The dreadful charm to them. But, all alone

Sat Idas, from the others separated,

Biting his wrath. The crew, though, were elated

And, when night’s darkness hindered them, they went

About their evening business. Jason sent

Two men at dawn to ask of Aeëtes

For the seed – Telamon, who loved hostilities, 1310

And Aethalides, Hermes’s famous son.

Nor did their journey prove a useless one,

For Lord Aeëtes gave them straightaway

The Aonian dragon’s fell teeth for the fray

(In Ogygian Thebes had Cadmos, following

Europe, killed that guardian of the spring

Of Ares). There he settled , for Apollo

Had given him a cow that he might follow,

By his prophetic word, and she had led

Him thither. From the jaws within its head 1320

The goddess tore them all, delivering

Them to Aeëtes as an offering

And to the slayer. After dissemination

On the Aonian plains, an earthborn nation

Aeëtes founded of those who stayed free

From death at Ares’ sowing. Readily

He gave them to take back to the Argo,

Thinking he’d not complete the task, although

He’d yoke the oxen. In the west the day

Was sinking through the dark earth far away 1330

Beyond the further Aethiopian height,

While all her steeds were being yoked by Night

And all the heroes now prepared to lie

On pallets by the hawsers. In the sky

The stars of gleaming Helice, the Bear,

Had set and under heaven’s girth the air

Was still, when Jason went immediately

To a bare place with all the secrecy

Of a thief and all his needs. He’d taken thought

Of everything. Now Argos came and brought 1340

A ewe and sheep’s milk, both of which he’d got

From Argo. But when Jason saw the spot,

Far from the haunt of men, a meadow still

And bright, to start with in the sacred rill

He washed his tender body solemnly,

Put on a dark robe which Hypsipyle

Of Lemnos gave to him, commemorating

For him full many an amatory mating.

Then, eighteen inches deep, he dug a pit

And then he heaped wood-billets over it. 1350

He cut the sheep’s throat and above the height

Of wood he duly stretched it, set alight

The billets, pouring on the offering

Mixed wine, asked Brimo Hecate to bring

Him triumph in the contests, and then drew

Away and, from the utmost depths, she knew

His voice, that dread goddess, and came to find

His sacrifice, while her dread serpents twined

Round the oak boughs; a multiplicity

Of torches were agleam, and one could see 1360

The hellhounds sharply barking all about;

The meadows trembled at her step; a shout

Rose from the nymphs who to each marsh resort

And every river, too, and who cavort

Round Amarantian Phasis. Now a dread

Seized Jason; even so, with forward tread,

He never looked back till he came upon

His comrades once again. Now early Dawn

Above the snowy Caucasos showed light.

Aeëtes then around his chest pulled tight  1370

His stiff breastplate which, having liquidated

Phlegraian Mimas, Ares had donated

To him, and then upon his head he fit

His golden helmet with the four plumes – it

Flashed like the rolling sun when up it slides

From Ocean. Now his shield of many hides

And grim, resistless spear he swung, whose blow

No hero could withstand, now there was no

Heracles with them – for he alone could stand

Its shock in war. Phaëthon was at hand, 1380

Holding the rapid steeds that he might go

Onto the well-built chariot: he did so

And grasped the reins. On the broad thoroughfare

He travelled from the city, out to where

The contest would be held, and, right along

With him, there went the multitudinous throng.

Just as Poseidon on his car would cross

The land to the Isthmian Games, or Tainarus,

Or Lerne’s water, or Hyantian

Onchestos’ grove or with those horses ran 1390

To Calaureia, or the promontory

Of Harmonia, or Garaistus’ grove – thus he,

Lord of Colchis, appeared. Jason submerged

The charm in water, as Medea urged,

Then both his shield and heavy spear he sprayed

With it, and then his sword. His friends displayed

Great strength in trying out his arms, but they

Could not contort even a little way

That spear: in their robust hands quite intact

And firm it stayed. Now it was wildly whacked 1400

By Idas with his mighty sword, for he

Was angry at them, and its apogee,

Like a hammer on an anvil, was repelled

And leapt back. Now the heroes happily yelled,

Their hopes enlarged, and then each body part

Did Jason spray, whereon into his heart

A terrible strength, dauntless, unspeakable.

Entered. On both sides were his hands filled full

Of vigour. As a war horse, hankering

For battle, beats the ground while whinnying 1410

And leaping, ears pricked up in haughtiness,

So Aeson’s son was filled with happiness

At his own strength; often high-leaping here

And there, he brandished in his hands his spear

Of ash and shield. You’d say a wintry glare

Kept scintillating through the gloomy air

Out of the clouds, when they bring on the rain

In blackest storm. His men would soon refrain

From the contest, but, on benches row on row,

They swiftly reached the Arian plains and lo! 1420

It stood beyond the town, as far away

As the turning-point is from the starting-bay

In chariot-races, when the family

Of some dead lord holds games for soldiery

And knights. They found Aeëtes and the rest

Of the Colchians – they had settled on the crest

Of Caucasus, he on the winding lip

Of the river. When the crew had moored the ship

With hawsers, Jason leapt down, on the way,

With both his spear and buckler, to the fray. 1430

At once he took his shining helmet, made

Of bronze, filled with sharp teeth, his bow displayed

Around his shoulders, stripped, now like the bold

Ares, now Phoebus with his sword of gold.

He looked across the grassland and espied

The bulls’ bronze yokes and, lying by their side,

The plough, unsectioned, rock-hard. He came near,

Then through the butt he fixed his mighty spear

And, doffing his helmet, this he reclined

Against it, then , with just his shield, to find 1440

The countless bull-tracks, he advanced. From some

Dark recess in the earth he saw them come,

Leaving their staunch, smoke-filled abode, and flame

Shot out of all four nostrils as they came.

The heroes quailed at this, but he withstood

Their onrush as a rocky sea-reef would

Withstand the waves by countless squalls propelled.

His shield before his body Jason held.

Both roaring bulls with mighty horns attacked

The man but made upon him no impact 1450

At all. As when the armourer’s bellows glow

All through the furnace and thereby bestow

Strength to the ravening flame, then blows no more,

And from it emanates a dreadful roar

As up it leaps, so, fiercely breathing flame,

The deadly heat like lightning as they came,

Those bulls roared out. The maid’s charms, though, protected

The man, who now with all his strength connected

With the horn of the right-hand bull and then he tugged

It nearer to the bronze-cast yoke and lugged 1460

The bull down to the ground. Then straightaway

He kicked the bronze foot. In the self-same way,

With just one blow, the other bull he downed.

His ample shield he threw down on the ground,

Then grasped their foreknees, striding here and there,

From side to side, and swiftly through the glare

Of flame he rushed. The king was startled by

The hero’s strength. Now the Tyndaridae –

For it had been predicted long ago –

Took up the yoke and gave it him to throw 1470

About them. Then a bronze-made pole he placed

Between them both and to the yoke he laced

It by its point. Leaving the fire, those two

Returned then to the ship. But Jason drew

His shield onto his back; he now put on

His sharp-toothed helm and took his spear, which none

Could shun, and, like a worker of the earth

With an Argive goad, he struck the bulls’ wide girth

And pricked them, well directing the plough’s blade

Of adamant. The animals now made 1480

A raging din and breathed fierce fire, their breath

Like howling winds which men, in fear of death

While sailing on the sea, shrink from, thereat

Their great sail furling. Not long after that

They yielded to the spear, the rugged land

Now broken up, cleft by the ploughshare and

The vigorous bulls. The clods groaned dreadfully,

Rent by the furrows, each a misery

To man, while he, far from him, cast the teeth

Incessantly among the clods beneath, 1490

And often turning round lest that the yield

Of earth-born men should rise up in the field

Against him, while the beasts, bronze-hoofed, went on

In toil. The third part of the day still shone

When weary workers call out for that sweet

Ox-loosing hour – now ploughing was complete,

The tireless ploughman finishing the field,

Though four plough-gates were measured in the yield.

He then unyoked the bulls which, at his shout,

Fled to the plain in fright. He turned about, 1500

Returning to the ship, while he could see

The earth-born men. His comrades heartily

Encouraged him. He then drew from the rill

His helmet and with water drank his fill,

Then bent his nimble knees, replenishing

His mighty heart with courage, quivering

With ardour, like a boar who hones his teeth

On hunters, while upon the ground beneath

Much foam flows from his angry mouth. Around

The entire field the earth-born men were found 1510

Already rising. Many a stout shield,

Two-pronged spear, shining helmet caused the field

Of dread Ares to bristle. Through the air

From earth up to Olympus flashed the glare.

As when the wintry clouds are put to flight

By hurricanes beneath the murky night

After a mighty snowfall, and a mass

Of shining stars throughout the gloom can pass,

So did they shine as they began to spring

Above the earth. But the wise counselling 1520

Of sly Medea Jason once again

Recalled: he seized a boulder from the plain,

Huge, round, the quoit of Ares, God of War:

This quoit could not be lifted up by four

Stalwart young men one inch. Then instantly

He cast it in their midst and secretly

Crouched, confident, beneath his shield. As when

The sea roars over jagged rocks, just then

The Colchians cried aloud; meanwhile the king

Was speechless at that hard rock’s hurtling. 1530

The Earthborn, like swift hounds with gnashing teeth,

Fell on and killed each other and, beneath

Their spears, like pines or oaks which by a squall

Are devastated, now began to fall.

Just as a fiery star leaps from the sky,

Blazing, a sign to mortals who descry

Throughout the gloomy air its vividness,

So did the son of Jason start to press

In on the earthborn men, his weapon free

Of its sheath, and, smiting indiscriminately, 1540

Mowed them all down, many face to the ground

Or on their side – there were some that were found

Upright up to their shoulders, others quite

Erect, while others en route to the fight

Were caught. As in a war for property,

A husbandman fears that his fields might be

Mowed down, he grasps his sickle in his hands

New-honed and curved, then darts across his lands

And cuts the unripe crops, with no delay

Until the sun should parch them, in this way 1550

He slashed the earthborn crop. Their blood was spilled

Upon those rows, as fountains’ grooves are filled

With water. So, some biting on the land

Headlong, some backward, some on side or hand,

They fell, seeming like monsters of the sea.

Many were hit before their feet were free

From the earth; as far as they rose in the air,

They bent towards the ground, reclining there

With sopping brows. When heavy rain is sent

By Zeus, thus new-grown orchard-shoots are bent, 1560

I think, down to the ground, pulled clean apart

From their roots, the toil of gardening men. Then heart-

Onerousness and deadly misery

Comes to the landlord/planter, similarly

A heavy misery assailed the king.

To the Colchians he went back, pondering

How swiftly he might strike them. Now the sun

Had set and Jason’s trials were all done.