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The Golden Fleece

Robert Graves


  The Golden Fleece





  Ancaeus at the Orange-Grove

  Chapter One The Parching of the Barley

  Chapter Two The Loss of the Fleece

  Chapter Three The Rise of the Olympians

  Chapter Four Jason Claims His Kingdom

  Chapter Five The White Goddess Approves the Voyage

  Chapter Six Zeus Approves the Voyage

  Chapter Seven The Building of the Argo

  Chapter Eight The Arrival of Hercules

  Chapter Nine The Choosing of the Argonauts

  Chapter Ten The Argo is Launched

  Chapter Eleven The Argo Sails

  Chapter Twelve The Camp-Fires at Castanthaea

  Chapter Thirteen To Lemnos, by Way of Athos

  Chapter Fourteen The Women’s Island

  Chapter Fifteen Farewell to Lemnos

  Chapter Sixteen Orpheus Sings of the Creation

  Chapter Seventeen The Great Mysteries of Samothrace

  Chapter Eighteen Through the Hellespont

  Chapter Nineteen The Wedding Feast of King Cyzicus

  Chapter Twenty The Funeral of King Cyzicus

  Chapter Twenty-One Hylas is Lost

  Chapter Twenty-Two Pollux Boxes with King Amycus

  Chapter Twenty-Three Orpheus Tells of Daedalus

  Chapter Twenty-Four King Phineus and the Harpies

  Chapter Twenty-Five The Passage of the Bosphorus

  Chapter Twenty-Six A Visit to the Mariandynians

  Chapter Twenty-Seven The Minyans of Sinope

  Chapter Twenty-Eight The Fat Mosynoechians and Others

  Chapter Twenty-Nine The Argo Reaches Colchis

  Chapter Thirty Up The Phasis River

  Chapter Thirty-One King Aeëtes Receives the Argonauts

  Chapter Thirty-Two Jason Speaks with Medea

  Chapter Thirty-Three The Seizure of the Fleece

  Chapter Thirty-Four The Flight from Aea

  Chapter Thirty-Five Away from Colchis

  Chapter Thirty-Six The Pursuit

  Chapter Thirty-Seven The Argo is Trapped

  Chapter Thirty-Eight The Parley

  Chapter Thirty-Nine The Colchians are Outwitted

  Chapter Forty The Argo Dismisses Jason

  Chapter Forty-One Reunion at Aeaea

  Chapter Forty-Two The Argo is Again Overtaken

  Chapter Forty-Three The Colchians are Again Outwitted

  Chapter Forty-Four To Sicily and Southward

  Chapter Forty-Five The Argonauts Abandon Hope

  Chapter Forty-Six The Argonauts are Rescued

  Chapter Forty-Seven The Argo Comes Home

  Chapter Forty-Eight The Death of Pelias

  Chapter Forty-Nine The Fleece is Restored to Zeus

  Chapter Fifty What Became of the Argonauts

  The Stem of the Aeolians


  The Golden Fleece

  Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, the son of Irish writer Perceval Graves and Amalia Von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme. After that, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926, he earned his living by writing. His mostly historical novels include I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Count Belisarius; Wife of Mr Milton; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy; and The Isles of Unwisdom. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929, and it was soon established as a modern classic. The Times Literary Supplement acclaimed it as ‘one of the most candid self-portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted’, as well as being of exceptional value as a war document. His two most discussed non-fiction works are The White Goddess, a study of poetic inspiration, and The Nazarine Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), an examination of primitive Christianity. He also translated or co-translated Apuleius, Lucan, Suetonius and The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám for Penguin, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961 and made an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, in 1971.

  Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, ‘He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memoirist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, “the greatest love poet in English since Donne”.’ His Complete Poems, as well as many of his novels, is published in Penguin Classics.


  Ancaeus, Little Ancaeus, oracular hero, last survivor (it is said) of all the Argonauts who sailed to Colchis with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece, speak to us visitants, speak clearly from your rocky tomb by the Goddess’s fountain in cool Hesperidean Deia. First tell us how you came there, so far from your home in Flowery Samos; and next, if it pleases you, unfold the whole story of that famous voyage, starting from the very beginning. Come, we will pour you libations of honey water to sweeten your throat! But remember, no lies! The dead may speak the truth only, even when it discredits themselves.


  Ancaeus at the Orange-Grove

  Ancaeus the Lelegian, of Flowery Samos, was marooned one summer evening on the sandy southern shore of Majorca, the largest of the Islands of the Hesperides, or, as some call them, the Islands of the Slingers, or the Islands of the Naked Men, which lie close together in the far west of the sea, not above a day’s sail from Spain when the wind is fair. The islanders, astonished by his appearance, refrained from putting him to death and conducted him, with undisguised contempt for his Greek sandals, short travel-stained tunic, and heavy seaman’s cloak, to the Chief Priestess and Governess of Majorca, who lived in the cave of the Drachë, the most distant from Greece of the many entrances to the Underworld.

  Since she happened to be preoccupied with some work of divination, the Chief Priestess sent Ancaeus across the island to be judged and disposed of by her daughter, the Nymph of the sacred orange-grove at Deia. A party of naked Goat men escorted him across the plain and over the rough mountains; but by the order of the Chief Priestess they refrained from conversing with him by the way. They did not pause for a moment in their trotting journey, except to prostrate themselves at a massive cromlech, standing beside their path, where as boys they had been initiated into the rites of the Goat fraternity. Three times they came to places where three ways met, and each time made a wide circuit to avoid the triangular thicket marked out with stones. Ancaeus was pleased to find such respect paid to the Triple Goddess, to whom these enclosures are sacred.

  Very weary and footsore by the time that he reached Deia, Ancaeus found the Orange Nymph seated upright on a stone near a copious spring of water which burst from the granite rock and watered the grove. Here the mountain, which was shaggy with wild olive and esculent oak, sloped sharply down to the sea, five hundred feet below, at that time dappled with small banks of mist, like sheep grazing, as far as the horizon-line.

  Ancaeus, when the Nymph had addressed him, replied reverently, using the Pelasgian language and keeping his eyes fixed on the ground. Every priestess of the Triple Goddess has the double-eye which, as Ancaeus knew, can turn a man’s spirit to water and his body to stone and can blast to death any animal that crosses her path. The oracular serpents which these priestesses tend have the same terrible power over birds, mice, and rabbits. Ancaeus also knew that he should say nothing to the Nymph except in answer to her questions, and then speak briefly and in the humblest possible tones.

  The Ny
mph dismissed the Goat men, who went a little apart and perched in a row on the edge of a rock until she should summon them again. They were a calm, simple people, with blue eyes and short muscular legs. Instead of warming their bodies with clothes, they smeared them with the juice of the mastic plant mixed with hogs’ grease. Each wore at his side a goat-skin wallet full of wave-worn stones, and held a sling in his hand, with another sling wound about his head, and a third serving as a loin strap. They expected that the Nymph would soon give them orders to despatch the stranger, and already were debating in a friendly fashion among themselves who should have the first cast, and who the second, and whether they should allow him a fair start in a lively hunt down the mountain-side, or whether they should knock him to pieces as he approached them, each aiming at a different part of his body.

  The orange-grove, which contained fifty trees, surrounded a rock shrine inhabited by an unusually large serpent, which the other nymphs, the fifty Hesperides, fed daily with barley-flour worked into a very thin paste with goats’ milk. The shrine was sacred to an ancient hero who had brought the orange into Majorca from some land or other on the distant shores of the Ocean. His name was forgotten and they spoke of him only as ‘The Benefactor’; the serpent, being bred from the marrow of his spine and animated by his ghost, went by the same name. The orange is a round, scented fruit, unknown elsewhere in the civilized world, which grows green at first, then golden, with a hot rind and cold, sweet, sharp flesh. It is found on a smooth tree with glossy leaves and prickly branches, and ripens in mid-winter, unlike any other fruit. It is not eaten indiscriminately in Majorca, but once a year only, at the winter solstice, after ritual chewing of buckthorn and other purgative herbs; thus eaten, it confers long life. At other times, the slightest taste of an orange will result in immediate death, so sacred a fruit is it; unless the Orange Nymph herself dispenses it.

  In these islands, by virtue of the orange, both men and women live as long as they please; in general, it is only when they find that they are becoming burdensome to their friends, because of the slowness of their movements or the dullness of their talk, that they decide on death. Then, for the sake of politeness, they do not say goodbye to their dear ones, nor make any commotion in the cave – for they all live in caves – but slip out quietly and fling themselves head-foremost from a rock; as is pleasing to the Goddess, who hates any unnecessary grief or complaint, and who rewards these suicides with distinguished and joyful funerals.

  The Orange Nymph was tall and beautiful. She wore a flounced bell-shaped skirt in the Cretan fashion, of linen dyed the colour of orange with heather dye, and no upper garment, except a short-sleeved green waistcoat that did not fasten in front but showed the glory of her full breasts. Her badges of office were a belt of countless small pieces of gold linked together in the form of a serpent with jewelled eyes, a necklace of dried green oranges, and a high caul-cap embroidered in pearls and surmounted by the golden disc of the Full Moon. She had borne four handsome girls, the youngest of whom would one day succeed to her office, as she herself, being the youngest of her sisters, would one day succeed her mother, the Chief Priestess at Drachë. These four girls, not being yet old enough to be nymphs, were maiden huntresses, very skilful slingers, who went out with the men to bring them good luck in the chase. Maiden, Nymph, and Mother are the eternal royal Trinity of the island, and the Goddess, who is worshipped there in each of these aspects, as New Moon, Full Moon, and Old Moon, is the Sovereign Deity. It is she who induces fertility in those trees and plants upon which human life depends. Is it not well known that all green things shoot while the Moon waxes and cease while the Moon wanes, that only the hot rebellious onion does not obey her monthly phases? Yet the Sun, her man-child, yearly born and yearly dying, assists her with his warm emanations. It was for this reason that the only man-child born to the Orange Nymph, being the Sun incarnate, had been sacrificed to the Goddess, as the custom was, and his torn morsels thereupon mixed with the seed-barley to ensure a bountiful harvest.

  The Nymph was surprised to find that the Pelasgian language, which Ancaeus spoke, closely resembled that of the Islands. Though she was pleased that she could question him without the troublesome necessity of gesturing and scratching pictures on clay with a stick, she was a little troubled in her mind that he might have been conversing with the Goat men on matters about which it was her policy, and that of her mother’s, to keep them in innocence. She asked first: ‘Are you a Cretan?’

  He answered: ‘No, Holy One, I am a Pelasgian from the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, and therefore no more than a cousin of the Cretans. But my overlords are Greeks.’

  ‘You are an ugly little old wretch,’ she said.

  ‘Forgive me, Holy One,’ he answered. ‘I have led a hard life.’

  When she asked why he had been set ashore on Majorca, he answered that he was exiled from Samos because of his obstinate adherence to the ancient ritual of the Goddess – the Samians having lately introduced new Olympian ritual which vexed his religious soul – and that, being aware that in Majorca the Goddess was worshipped with primitive innocence, he had asked the master of the vessel to set him ashore there.

  ‘Indeed,’ remarked the Nymph. ‘Your story reminds me of a champion named Hercules, who visited our island many years ago when my mother was the Nymph of this grove. I cannot tell you the ins and outs of his story, because my mother was secretive about it in my childhood, but this much I know: Hercules was being sent around the world by his overlord, King Eurystheus of Mycenae (wherever Mycenae may be), to perform a number of seemingly impossible Labours, and all because, so he said, of his obstinate devotion to the ancient ritual of the Goddess. He landed on the island from a canoe and announced with surprising boldness that he was come in the name of the Goddess to fetch a basketful of sacred oranges from this grove. He was a Lion man, which made him conspicuous in Majorca, where we have no Lion fraternity or sorority, and also gifted with colossal strength and a miraculous appetite alike for food, drink, and the pleasures of love. My mother took a fancy to him, and freely gave him the oranges, and also did him the honour of companying with him at the spring sowing. Have you ever heard tell of this Hercules?’

  ‘I was once a shipmate of his, if you mean Hercules of Tiryns,’ replied Ancaeus. ‘That was when I sailed to the Stables of the Sun aboard the famous Argo, and I am sorry to tell you that the old rogue must have deceived your mother. He had no right to ask for the fruit in the name of the Goddess, who detested him.’

  The Nymph was amused by his heat and assured him that she was now satisfied with his credentials: he might lift his eyes to her face and converse with her a trifle more familiarly, if he pleased. But she was careful not to put him formally under the protection of the Goddess. She asked him to what fraternity he belonged, and he answered that he was a Dolphin man.

  ‘Ah,’ said the Nymph. ‘The very first time that I was initiated into nymph-hood and companied with men, in the open furrow of the field after the sowing, it was with nine Dolphin men. The first of my choice became Sun Champion, or War King, for the ensuing year, as is customary here. Our Dolphins are a small, very ancient fraternity, and distinguished for musical skill even above the Seals.’

  ‘The dolphin is delightfully responsive to music,’ Ancaeus agreed.

  The Nymph continued: ‘Yet, when I bore my child, it was not a girl, to be preserved, but a boy; and in due course back he went, torn in pieces, to the furrow from which he had sprung. The Goddess gave and the Goddess took away again. I have never since had the heart to company with a Dolphin man, judging that the society is an unlucky one for me. No male child of our family is permitted to live beyond the second sowing season.’

  Ancaeus was bold enough to ask: ‘Has no nymph or other priestess ever (since priestesses are so powerful in this island) smuggled away her own male child to a foster-mother and reared this mother’s female child in his place, so that both might live?’

  She answered severely: ‘A trick of thi
s sort may be practised in your island, Ancaeus, but not in ours. No woman here ever deceives the Triple Goddess.’

  Ancaeus said: ‘Indeed, Holy One, nobody can possibly deceive the Goddess.’ But he asked again: ‘Is it not perhaps your custom, if a royal nymph has an inordinate affection for her male child, to sacrifice a male calf or kid in his stead, swaddling it in infant’s clothing and putting sandals on its feet? In my island it is supposed that the Goddess will turn a blind eye to the substitution and that the fields will yield no less abundantly. It is only after a bad season, when the corn is stunted or blighted, that a male child is sacrificed at the next sowing. And even so, he is a child of poor parents, not of the royal stock.’

  The Nymph answered again in the same severe voice: ‘Not in our island. No woman here ever trifles with the Triple Goddess. That is the reason why we prosper. Ours is the island of innocence and of calm.’

  Ancaeus assented that it was by far the most pleasant island of all the hundreds that he had visited in his travels, his own island of Samos, called The Flowery Island, not excepted.

  The Nymph then said: ‘I am at leisure to hear a story, if it is not tedious. How is it that your cousins the Cretans have ceased to visit these islands as they once did, in my great-grandmother’s time, conversing with us politely in a language which, though not our own, we could readily understand? Who are these Greeks, your overlords, who come in the same ships as the Cretans once used, and with the same goods for sale – vases and olive oil and dyes and jewels and linen and emery whetstones and fine bronze weapons – but use the Ram, not the Bull for their figure-heads and speak an unintelligible language, and bargain in a rude and threatening fashion, and leer shamelessly at the women and pilfer any small object that they find lying about? We are not eager to trade with them and often send them away empty-handed breaking their teeth with sling-shot and dinting their brazen helmets with large stones.’