once a king of
Athens whose name was Aegeus. He had no son; but he had fifty nephews,
and they were waiting for him to die, so that one of them might be king
in his stead. They were wild, worthless fellows, and the people of
looked forward with dread to the day when the city should be in their
Yet so long as Aegeus lived they could not do much harm, but were
to spend their time in eating and drinking at the king's table and in
happened one summer
that Aegeus left his kingdom in the care of the elders of the city and
went on a voyage across the Saronic Sea to the old and famous city of
which lay nestled at the foot of the mountains on the opposite shore.
was not fifty miles by water from Athens, and the purple-peaked island
of Aegina lay between them; but to the people of that early time the
seemed very great, and it was not often that ships passed from one
to the other. And as for going by land round the great bend of the sea,
that was a thing so fraught with danger that no man had ever dared try
Pittheus of Troezen
was right glad to see Aegeus, for they had been boys together, and he
him to his city and did all that he could to make his visit a pleasant
one. So, day after day, there was feasting and merriment and music in
marble halls of old Troezen, and the two kings spent many a happy hour
in talking of the deeds of their youth and of the mighty heroes whom
had known. And when the time came for the ship to sail back to Athens,
Aegeus was not ready to go. He said he would stay yet a little longer
Troezen, for that the elders of the city would manage things well at
and so the ship returned without him.
tarried, not so
much for the rest and enjoyment which he was having in the home of his
old friend, as for the sake of Aethra, his old friend's daughter. For
was as fair as a summer morning, and she was the joy and pride of
and Aegeus was never so happy as when in her presence. So it happened
some time after the ship had sailed, there was a wedding in the halls
King Pittheus; but it was kept a secret, for Aegeus feared that his
if they heard of it, would be very angry and would send men to Troezen
to do him harm.
by, and still Aegeus lingered with his bride and trusted his elders to
see to the affairs of Athens. Then one morning, when the gardens of
were full of roses and the heather was green on the hills, a babe was
to Aethra-a boy with a fair face and strong arms and eyes as sharp and
as bright as the mountain eagle's. And now Aegeus was more loth to
home than he had been before, and he went up on the mountain which
Troezen, and prayed to Athena, the queen of the air, to give him wisdom
and show him what to do. Even while he prayed there came a ship into
harbor, bringing a letter to Aegeus and alarming news from Athens.
were words of the letter which the elders had sent-"come home quickly,
or Athens will be lost. A great king from beyond the sea, Minos of
is on the way with ships and a host of fighting men; and he declares
he will carry sword and fire within our walls, and will slay our young
men and make our children his slaves. Come and save us!"
"It is the
call of duty,"
said Aegeus; and with a heavy heart he made ready to go at once across
the sea to the help of his people. But he could not take Aethra and her
babe, for fear of his lawless nephews, who would have slain them both.
wives," he said,
when the hour for parting had come, "listen to me, for I shall never
your father's halls, nor dear old Troezen, nor perhaps your own fair
again. Do you remember the old plane tree which stands on the mountain
side, and the great flat stone which lies a little way beyond it, and
no man but myself has ever been able to lift? Under that stone, I have
hidden my sword and the sandals which I brought from Athens. There they
shall lie until our child is strong enough to lift the stone and take
for his own. Care for him, Aethra, until that time; and then, and not
then, you may tell him of his father, and bid him seek me in Athens."
kissed his wife
and the babe, and went on board the ship; the sailors shouted; the oars
were dipped into the waves; the white sail was spread to the breeze;
Aethra from her palace window saw the vessel speed away over the blue
towards Aegina and the distant Attic shore.
II. SWORD AND SANDALS
year went by,
and yet no word reached Aethra from her husband on the other side of
sea. Often and often she would climb the mountain above Troezen, and
there all day, looking out over the blue waters and the purple hills of
Aegina to the dim, distant shore beyond. Now and then she could see a
ship sailing in the offing; but men said that it was a Cretan vessel,
very likely was filled with fierce Cretan warriors, bound upon some
errand of war. Then it was rumored that King Minos had seized upon all
the ships of Athens, and had burned a part of the city, and had forced
the people to pay him a most grievous tribute. But further than this
was no news.
babe had grown to be a tall, ruddy-cheeked lad, strong as a mountain
and she had named him Theseus. On the day that he was fifteen years old
he went with her up to the top of the mountain, and with her looked out
over the sea.
only your father
would come!" she sighed.
father?" said Theseus.
"Who is my father, and why are you always watching and waiting and
that he would come? Tell me about him."
answered: "My child,
do you see the great flat stone which lies there, half buried in the
and covered with moss and trailing ivy? Do you think you can lift it?"
try, mother," said
Theseus. And he dug his fingers into the ground beside it, and grasped
its uneven edges, and tugged and lifted and strained until his breath
hard and his arms ached and his body was covered with sweat; but the
was moved not at all. At last he said, "The task is too hard for me
I have grown stronger. But why do you wish me to lift it?"
are strong enough
to lift it," answered Aethra, "I will tell you about your father."
the boy went out
every day and practiced at running and leaping and throwing and
and every day he rolled some stone out of its place. At first he could
move only a little weight, and those who saw him laughed as he pulled
puffed and grew red in the face, but never gave up until he had lifted
it. And little by little he grew stronger, and his muscles became like
iron bands, and his limbs were like mighty levers for strength. Then on
his next birthday he went up on the mountain with his mother, and again
tried to lift the great stone. But it remained fast in its place and
"I am not
yet strong enough,
mother," he said.
patience, my son,"
So he went
on again with
his running and leaping and throwing and lifting; and he practiced
also, and tamed the wild horses of the plain, and hunted the lions
the mountains; and his strength and swiftness and skill were the wonder
of all men, and old Troezen was filled with tales of the deeds of the
Theseus. Yet when he tried again on his seventeenth birthday, he could
not move the great flat stone that lay near the plane tree on the
patience, my son,"
again said Aethra; but this time the tears were standing in her eyes.
So he went
back again to
his exercising; and he learned to wield the sword and the battle ax and
to throw tremendous weights and to carry tremendous burdens. And men
that since the days of Hercules there was never so great strength in
body. Then, when he was a year older, he climbed the mountain yet
time with his mother, and he stooped and took hold of the stone, and it
yielded to his touch; and, lo, when he had lifted it quite out of the
he found underneath it a sword of bronze and sandals of gold, and these
he gave to his mother.
now about my father,"
SHE BUCKLED THE SWORD TO
knew that the time
had come for which she had waited so long, and she buckled the sword to
his belt and fastened the sandals upon his feet. Then she told him who
his father was, and why he had left them in Troezen, and how he
said that when the lad was strong enough to lift the great stone, he
take the sword and sandals and go and seek him in Athens.
glad when he
heard this, and his proud eyes flashed with eagerness as he said: "I am
ready, mother; and I will set out for Athens this very day."
walked down the
mountain together and told King Pittheus what had happened, and showed
him the sword and the sandals. But the old man shook his head sadly and
tried to dissuade Theseus from going.
you go to Athens
in these lawless times?" he said. "The sea is full of pirates. In fact,
no ship from Troezen has sailed across the Saronic Sea since your
father went home to the help of his people, eighteen years ago."
finding that this only
made Theseus the more determined, he said: "But if you must go, I will
have a new ship built for you, stanch and stout and fast sailing; and
of the bravest young men in Troezen shall go with you; and mayhap with
fair winds and fearless hearts you shall escape the pirates and reach
the most perilous
way?" asked Theseus-"to go by ship or to make the journey on foot round
the great bend of land?"
is full enough
of perils," said his grandfather, "but the landway is beset with
tenfold greater. Even if there were good roads and no hindrances, the
round the shore is a long one and would require many days. But there
rugged mountains to climb, and wide marshes to cross, and dark forests
to go through. There is hardly a footpath in all that wild region, nor
any place to find rest or shelter; and the woods are full of wild
and dreadful dragons lurk in the marshes, and many cruel robber giants
dwell in the mountains."
said Theseus, "if
there are more perils by land than by sea, then I shall go by land, and
I go at once."
will at least take
fifty young men, your companions, with you?" said King Pittheus.
shall go with me,"
said Theseus; and he stood up and played with his sword hilt, and
at the thought of fear.
there was nothing
more to say, he kissed his mother and bade his grandfather good-by, and
went out of Troezen towards the trackless coastland which lay to the
and north. And with blessings and tears the king and Aethra followed
to the city gates, and watched him until his tall form was lost to
among the trees which bordered the shore of the sea.
III. ROUGH ROADS AND
brave heart Theseus
walked on, keeping the sea always upon his right. Soon the old city of
Troezen was left far behind, and he came to the great marshes, where
ground sank under him at every step, and green pools of stagnant water
lay on both sides of the narrow pathway. But no fiery dragon came out
the reeds to meet him; and so he walked on and on till he came to the
mountain land which bordered the western shore of the sea. Then he
one slope after another, until at last he stood on the summit of a gray
peak from which he could see the whole country spread out around him.
downward and onward he went again, but his way led him through dark
glens, and along the edges of mighty precipices, and underneath many a
frowning cliff, until he came to a dreary wood where the trees grew
and close together and the light of the sun was seldom seen.
forest there dwelt
a robber giant, called Club-carrier, who was the terror of all the
For oftentimes he would go down into the valleys where the shepherds
their flocks, and would carry off not only sheep and lambs, but
children and the men themselves. It was his custom to hide in the
of underbrush, close to a pathway, and, when a traveler passed that
leap out upon him and beat him to death. When he saw Theseus coming
the woods, he thought that he would have a rich prize, for he knew from
the youth's dress and manner that he must be a prince. He lay on the
where leaves of ivy and tall grass screened him from view, and held his
great iron club ready to strike.
had sharp eyes
and quick ears, and neither beast nor robber giant could have taken him
by surprise. When Club-carrier leaped out of his hiding place to strike
him down, the young man dodged aside so quickly that the heavy club
the ground behind him; and then, before the robber giant could raise it
for a second stroke, Theseus seized the fellow's legs and tripped him
and tried to strike again; but Theseus wrenched the club out of his
and then dealt him such a blow on the head that he never again harmed
passing through the forest. Then the youth went on his way, carrying
huge club on his shoulder, and singing a song of victory, and looking
around him for any other foes that might be lurking among the trees.
the ridge of the
next mountain he met an old man who warned him not to go any farther.
said that close by a grove of pine trees, which he would soon pass on
way down the slope, there dwelt a robber named Sinis, who was very
said the old man; "for when he has caught a traveler, he bends two
lithe pine trees to the ground and binds his captive to them-a hand and
a foot to the top of one, and a hand and a foot to the top of the
Then he lets the trees fly up, and he roars with laughter when he sees
the traveler's body torn in sunder."
to me," said Theseus,
"that it is full time to rid the world of such a monster;" and he
the kind man who had warned him, and hastened onward, whistling merrily
as he went down towards the grove of pines.
came in sight of
the robber's house, built near the foot of a jutting cliff. Behind it
a rocky gorge and a roaring mountain stream; and in front of it was a
wherein grew all kinds of rare plants and beautiful flowers. But the
of the pine trees below it were laden with the bones of unlucky
which hung bleaching white in the sun and wind.
On a stone
by the roadside
sat Sinis himself; and when he saw Theseus coming, he ran to meet him,
twirling a long rope in his hands and crying out:
have you?" asked Theseus. "Have you a pine tree bent down to the ground
and ready for me?"
"Ay; two of
them!" said the
robber. "I knew that you were coming, and I bent two of them for you."
As he spoke
he threw his
rope towards Theseus and tried to entangle him in its coils. But the
man leaped aside, and when the robber rushed upon him, he dodged
his hands and seized his legs, as he had seized Club-carrier's, and
him heavily to the ground. Then the two wrestled together among the
but not long, for Sinis was no match for his lithe young foe; and
knelt upon the robber's back as he lay prone among the leaves, and tied
him with his own cord to the two pine trees which were already bent
"As you would have done unto me, so will I do unto you," he said.
Pine-bender wept and
prayed and made many a fair promise; but Theseus would not hear him. He
turned away, the trees sprang up, and the robber's body was left
from their branches.
had a daughter named Perigune, who was no more like him than a fair and
tender violet is like the gnarled old oak at whose feet it nestles; and
it was she who cared for the flowers and the rare plants which grew in
the garden by the robber's house. When she saw how Theseus had dealt
her father, she was afraid and ran to hide herself from him.
me, dear plants!"
she cried, for she often talked to the flowers as though they could
her. "Dear plants, save me; and I will never pluck your leaves nor harm
you in any way so long as I live."
one of the plants
which up to that time had had no leaves, but came up out of the ground
looking like a mere club or stick. This plant took pity on the maiden.
It began at once to send out long feathery branches with delicate green
leaves, which grew so fast that Perigune was soon hidden from sight
them. Theseus knew that she must be somewhere in the garden, but he
not find her, so well did the feathery branches conceal her. So he
he said, "you
need not fear me; for I know that you are gentle and good, and it is
against things dark and cruel that I lift up my hand."
peeped from her
hiding-place, and when she saw the fair face of the youth and heard his
kind voice, she came out, trembling, and talked with him. And Theseus
that evening in her house, and she picked some of her choicest flowers
for him and gave him food. But when in the morning the dawn began to
in the east, and the stars grew dim above the mountain peaks, he bade
farewell and journeyed onward over the hills. And Perigune tended her
and watched her flowers in the lone garden in the midst of the piny
but she never plucked the stalks of asparagus nor used them for food,
when she afterwards became the wife of a hero and had children and
and great-grandchildren, she taught them all to spare the plant which
taken pity upon her in her need.
which Theseus followed
now led him closer to the shore, and by and by he came to a place where
the mountains seemed to rise sheer out of the sea, and there was only
narrow path high up along the side of the cliff. Far down beneath his
he could hear the waves dashing evermore against the rocky wall, while
above him the mountain eagles circled and screamed, and gray crags and
barren peaks glistened in the sunlight.
went on fearlessly
and came at last to a place where a spring of clear water bubbled out
a cleft in the rock; and there the path was narrower still, and the low
doorway of a cavern opened out upon it. Close by the spring sat a
giant, with a huge club across his knees, guarding the road so that no
one could pass; and in the sea at the foot of the cliff basked a huge
its leaden eyes looking always upward for its food. Theseus knew-for
had told him-that this was the dwelling-place of a robber named Sciron,
who was the terror of all the coast, and whose custom it was to make
wash his feet, so that while they were doing so, he might kick them
the cliff to be eaten, by his pet turtle below.
Theseus came up, the
robber raised his club, and said fiercely: "No man can pass here until
he has washed my feet! Come, set to work!"
Theseus smiled, and
said: "Is your turtle hungry to-day? and do you want me to feed him?"
robber's eyes flashed fire, and he said, "You shall feed him, but you
wash my feet first;" and with that he brandished his club in the air
rushed forward to strike.
was ready for
him. With the iron club which he had taken from Club-carrier in the
he met the blow midway, and the robber's weapon was knocked out of his
hands and sent spinning away over the edge of the cliff. Then Sciron,
with rage, tried to grapple with him; but Theseus was too quick for
He dropped his club and seized Sciron by the throat; he pushed him back
against the ledge on which he had been sitting; he threw him sprawling
upon the sharp rocks, and held him there, hanging half way over the
enough!" cried the
robber. "Let me up, and you may pass on your way."
"It is not
Theseus; and he drew his sword and sat down by the side of the spring.
"You must wash my feet now. Come, set to work!"
Sciron, white with fear,
washed his feet.
when the task was ended, "as you have done unto others, so will I do
There was a
scream in mid
air which the mountain eagles answered from above; there was a great
in the water below, and the turtle fled in terror from its lurking
Then the sea cried out: "I will have naught to do with so vile a
and a great wave cast the body of Sciron out upon the shore. But it had
no sooner touched the ground than the land cried out: "I will have
to do with so vile a wretch!" and there was a sudden earthquake, and
body of Sciron was thrown back into the sea. Then the sea waxed
a raging storm arose, the waters were lashed into foam, and the waves
one mighty effort threw the detested body high into the air; and there
it would have hung unto this day had not the air itself disdained to
it lodging and changed it into a huge black rock. And this rock, which
men say is the body of Sciron, may still be seen, grim, ugly, and
and one third of it lies in the sea, one third is embedded in the sandy
shore, and one third is exposed to the air.
IV. WRESTLER AND WRONG-DOER
the sea always in
view, Theseus went onward a long day's journey to the north and east;
he left the rugged mountains behind and came down into the valleys and
into a pleasant plain where there were sheep and cattle pasturing and
there were many fields of ripening grain. The fame of his deeds had
before him, and men and women came crowding to the roadside to see the
hero who had slain Club-carrier and Pine-bender and grim old Sciron of
shall live in peace,"
they cried; "for the robbers who devoured our flocks and our children
Theseus passed through
the old town of Megara, and followed the shore of the bay towards the
city of Eleusis.
"Do not go
but take the road which leads round it through the hills," whispered a
poor man who was carrying a sheep to market.
I do that?" asked
and I will tell
you," was the answer. "There is a king in Eleusis whose name is
and he is a great wrestler. He makes every stranger who comes into the
city wrestle with him; and such is the strength of his arms that when
has overcome a man he crushes the life out of his body. Many travelers
come to Eleusis, but no one ever goes away."
"But I will
both come and
go away," said Theseus; and with his club upon his shoulder, he strode
onward into the sacred city.
Cercyon, the wrestler?"
he asked of the warden at the gate.
is dining in his
marble palace," was the answer. "If you wish to save yourself, turn now
and flee before he has heard of your coming."
I flee?" asked
Theseus. "I am not afraid;" and he walked on through the narrow street
to old Cercyon's palace.
was sitting at his
table, eating and drinking; and he grinned hideously as he thought of
many noble young men whose lives he had destroyed. Theseus went up
to the door, and cried out:
come out and wrestle
the king, "here
comes another young fool whose days are numbered. Fetch him in and let
him dine with me; and after that he shall have his fill of wrestling."
was given a place
at the table of the king, and the two sat there and ate and stared at
other, but spoke not a word. And Cercyon, as he looked at the young
sharp eyes and his fair face and silken hair, had half a mind to bid
go in peace and seek not to test his strength and skill. But when they
had finished, Theseus arose and laid aside his sword and his sandals
his iron club, and stripped himself of his robes, and said:
Cercyon, if you
are not afraid; come, and wrestle with me."
two went out into
the courtyard where many a young man had met his fate, and there they
until the sun went down, and neither could gain aught of advantage over
the other. But it was plain that the trained skill of Theseus would, in
the end, win against the brute strength of Cercyon. Then the men of
who stood watching the contest, saw the youth lift the giant king
into the air and hurl him headlong over his shoulder to the hard
have done to others,
so will I do unto you!" cried Theseus.
old Cercyon neither
moved nor spoke; and when the youth turned his body over and looked
his cruel face, he saw that the life had quite gone out of him.
people of Eleusis
came to Theseus and wanted to make him their king. "You have slain the
tyrant who was the bane of Eleusis," they said, "and we have heard how
you have also rid the world of the giant robbers who were the terror of
the land. Come now and be our king; for we know that you will rule over
us wisely and well."
"I will be your king, but not now; for there are other deeds for me to
do." And with that he donned his sword and his sandals and his princely
cloak, and threw his great iron club upon his shoulder, and went out of
Eleusis; and all the people ran after him for quite a little way,
"May good fortune be with you, O king, and may Athena bless and guide
V. PROCRUSTES THE PITILESS
now not more
than twenty miles away, but the road thither led through the Parnes
and was only a narrow path winding among the rocks and up and down many
a lonely wooded glen. Theseus had seen worse and far more dangerous
than this, and so he strode bravely onward, happy in the thought that
was so near the end of his long journey. But it was very slow traveling
among the mountains, and he was not always sure that he was following
right path. The sun was almost down when he came to a broad green
where the trees had been cleared away. A little river flowed through
middle of this valley, and on either side were grassy meadows where
were grazing; and on a hillside close by, half hidden among the trees,
there was a great stone house with vines running over its walls and
Theseus was wondering
who it could be that lived in this pretty but lonely place, a man came
out of the house and hurried down to the road to meet him. He was a
man, and his face was wreathed with smiles; and he bowed low to Theseus
and invited him kindly to come up to the house and be his guest that
"This is a
he said, "and it is not often that travelers pass this way. But there
nothing that gives me so much joy as to find strangers and feast them
my table and hear them tell of the things they have seen and heard.
up, and sup with me, and lodge under my roof; and you shall sleep on a
wonderful bed which I have-a bed which fits every guest and cures him
the man's ways, and as he was both hungry and tired, he went up with
and sat down under the vines by the door; and the man said:
"Now I will go
in and make
the bed ready for you, and you can lie down upon it and rest; and
when you feel refreshed, you shall sit at my table and sup with me, and
I will listen to the pleasant tales which I know you will tell."
When he had
gone into the
house, Theseus looked around him to see what sort of a place it was. He
was filled with surprise at the richness of it-at the gold and silver
beautiful things with which every room seemed to be adorned-for it was
indeed a place fit for a prince. While he was looking and wondering,
vines before him were parted and the fair face of a young girl peeped
stranger," she whispered,
"do not lie down on my master's bed, for those who do so never rise
Fly down the glen and hide yourself in the deep woods ere he returns,
else there will be no escape for you."
your master, fair
maiden, that I should be afraid of him?" asked Theseus.
or the Stretcher," said the girl-and she talked low and fast. "He is a
robber. He brings hither all the strangers that he finds traveling
the mountains. He puts them on his iron bed. He robs them of all they
No one who comes into his house ever goes out again."
they call him the
Stretcher? And what is that iron bed of his?" asked Theseus, in no wise
"Did he not
tell you that
it fits all guests?" said the girl; "and most truly it does fit them.
if a traveler is too long, Procrustes hews off his legs until he is of
the right length; but if he is too short, as is the case with most
then he stretches his limbs and body with ropes until he is long
It is for this reason that men call him the Stretcher."
that I have heard
of this Stretcher before," said Theseus; and then he remembered that
one at Eleusis had warned him to beware of the wily robber, Procrustes,
who lurked in the glens of the Parnes peaks and lured travelers into
hark!" whispered the
girl. "I hear him coming!" And the vine leaves closed over her
next moment Procrustes
stood in the door, bowing and smiling as though he had never done any
to his fellow men.
young friend," he
said, "the bed is ready, and I will show you the way. After you have
a pleasant little nap, we will sit down at table, and you may tell me
the wonderful things which you have seen in the course of your travels."
arose and followed
his host; and when they had come into an inner chamber, there, surely
was the bedstead, of iron, very curiously wrought, and upon it a soft
which seemed to invite him to lie down and rest. But Theseus, peering
saw the ax and the ropes with cunning pulleys lying hidden behind the
and he saw, too, that the floor was covered with stains of blood.
dear young friend,"
said Procrustes, "I pray you to lie down and take your ease; for I know
that you have traveled far and are faint from want of rest and sleep.
down, and while sweet slumber overtakes you, I will have a care that no
unseemly noise, nor buzzing fly, nor vexing gnat disturbs your dreams."
your wonderful bed?"
"and you need but to lie down upon it, and it will fit you perfectly."
must lie upon it
first," said Theseus, "and let me see how it will fit itself to your
"for then the spell would be broken," and as he spoke his cheeks grew
"But I tell
you, you must
lie upon it," said Theseus; and he seized the trembling man around the
waist and threw him by force upon the bed. And no sooner was he prone
the couch than curious iron arms reached out and clasped his body in
embrace and held him down so that he could not move hand or foot. The
man shrieked and cried for mercy; but Theseus stood over him and looked
him straight in the eye.
the kind of bed
on which you have your guests lie down?" he asked.
Procrustes answered not
a word. Then Theseus brought out the ax and the ropes and the pulleys,
and asked him what they were for, and why they were hidden in the
He was still silent, and could do nothing now but tremble and weep.
true," said Theseus,
"that you have lured hundreds of travelers into your den only to rob
Is it true that it is your wont to fasten them in this bed, and then
off their legs or stretch them out until they fit the iron frame? Tell
me, is this true?"
true! it is true!"
sobbed Procrustes; "and now kindly touch the spring above my head and
me go, and you shall have everything that I possess."
"You are caught," he said, "in the trap which you set for others and
me. There is no mercy for the man who shows no mercy;" and he went out
of the room, and left the wretch to perish by his own cruel device.
looked through the
house and found there great wealth of gold and silver and costly things
which Procrustes had taken from the strangers who had fallen into his
He went into the dining hall, and there indeed was the table spread
a rich feast of meats and drinks and delicacies such as no king would
but there was a seat and a plate for only the host, and none at all for
girl whose fair
face Theseus had seen among the vines, came running into the house; and
she seized the young hero's hands and blessed and thanked him because
had rid the world of the cruel Procrustes.
month ago," she said,
"my father, a rich merchant of Athens, was traveling towards Eleusis,
I was with him, happy and care-free as any bird in the green woods.
robber lured us into his den, for we had much gold with us. My father,
he stretched upon his iron bed; but me, he made his slave."
Theseus called together
all the inmates of the house, poor wretches whom Procrustes had forced
to serve him; and he parted the robber's spoils among them and told
that they were free to go wheresoever they wished. And on the next day
he went on, through the narrow crooked ways among the mountains and
and came at last to the plain of Athens, and saw the noble city and, in
its midst, the rocky height where the great Temple of Athena stood;
a little way from the temple, he saw the white walls of the palace of
Theseus entered the
city and went walking up the street everybody wondered who the tall,
youth could be. But the fame of his deeds had gone before him, and soon
it was whispered that this was the hero who had slain the robbers in
mountains and had wrestled with Cercyon at Eleusis and had caught
in his own cunning trap.
"Tell us no
said some butchers who were driving their loaded carts to market. "The
lad is better suited to sing sweet songs to the ladies than to fight
and wrestle with giants."
silken black hair!"
girlish face!" said
long coat dangling
about his legs!" said a third.
said a fourth.
laughed the first;
"I wager that he never lifted a ten-pound weight in his life. Think of
such a fellow as he hurling old Sciron from the cliffs! Nonsense!"
heard all this talk
as he strode along, and it angered him not a little; but he had not
to Athens to quarrel with butchers. Without speaking a word he walked
up to the foremost cart, and, before its driver had time to think, took
hold of the slaughtered ox that was being hauled to market, and hurled
it high over the tops of the houses into the garden beyond. Then he did
likewise with the oxen in the second, the third, and the fourth wagons,
and, turning about, went on his way, and left the wonder-stricken
staring after him, speechless, in the street.
the stairway which
led to the top of the steep, rocky hill, and his heart beat fast in his
bosom as he stood on the threshold of his father's palace.
the king?" he asked
of the guard.
see the king,"
was the answer; "but I will take you to his nephews."
The man led
the way into
the feast hall, and there Theseus saw his fifty cousins sitting about
table, and eating and drinking and making merry; and there was a great
noise of revelry in the hall, the minstrels singing and playing, and
slave girls dancing, and the half-drunken princes shouting and cursing.
As Theseus stood in the doorway, knitting his eyebrows and clinching
teeth for the anger which he felt, one of the feasters saw him, and
tall fellow in the
doorway! What does he want here?"
'GREAT KING,' HE SAID, 'I
AM A STRANGER
said another, "what do you want here?"
here," said Theseus,
"to ask that hospitality which men of our race never refuse to give."
"Nor do we
they. "Come in, and eat and drink and be our guest."
come in," said Theseus,
"but I will be the guest of the king. Where is he?"
the king," said
one of his cousins. "He is taking his ease, and we reign in his stead."
through the feast hall and went about the palace asking for the king.
last he found AEgeus, lonely and sorrowful, sitting in an inner
The heart of Theseus was very sad as he saw the lines of care upon the
old man's face, and marked his trembling, halting ways.
king," he said, "I
am a stranger in Athens, and I have come to you to ask food and shelter
and friendship such as I know you never deny to those of noble rank and
of your own race."
are you, young man?"
said the king.
Theseus," was the answer.
Theseus who has
rid the world of the mountain robbers, and of Cercyon the wrestler, and
of Procrustes, the pitiless Stretcher?"
"I am he,"
"and I come from old Troezen, on the other side of the Saronic Sea."
started and turned
Troezen!" he cried.
Then checking himself, he said, "Yes! yes! You are welcome, brave
to such shelter and food and friendship as the King of Athens can give."
Now it so
happened that there
was with the king a fair but wicked witch named Medea, who had so much
power over him that he never dared to do anything without asking her
So he turned to her, and said: "Am I not right, Medea, in bidding this
young hero welcome?"
right, King Aegeus,"
she said; "and let him be shown at once to your guest chamber, that he
may rest himself and afterwards dine with us at your own table."
learned by her
magic arts who Theseus was, and she was not at all pleased to have him
in Athens; for she feared that when he should make himself known to the
king, her own power would be at an end. So, while Theseus was resting
in the guest chamber, she told Aegeus that the young stranger was no
at all, but a man whom his nephews had hired to kill him, for they had
grown tired of waiting for him to die. The poor old king was filled
fear, for he believed her words; and he asked her what he should do to
save his life.
manage it," she said.
"The young man will soon come down to dine with us. I will drop poison
into a glass of wine, and at the end of the meal I will give it to him.
Nothing can be easier."
the hour came, Theseus
sat down to dine with the king and Medea; and while he ate he told of
deeds and of how he had overcome the robber giants, and Cercyon the
and Procrustes the pitiless; and as the king listened, his heart
strangely towards the young man, and he longed to save him from Medea's
poisoned cup. Then Theseus paused in his talk to help himself to a
of the roasted meat, and, as was the custom of the time, drew his sword
to carve it-for you must remember that all these things happened long
before people had learned to use knives and forks at the table. As the
sword flashed from its scabbard, Aegeus saw the letters that were
upon it-the initials of his own name. He knew at once that it was the
which he had hidden so many years before under the stone on the
side above Troezen.
"My son! my
son!" he cried;
and he sprang up and dashed the cup of poisoned wine from the table,
flung his arms around Theseus. It was indeed a glad meeting for both
and son, and they had many things to ask and to tell. As for the wicked
Medea, she knew that her day of rule was past. She ran out of the
and whistled a loud, shrill call; and men say that a chariot drawn by
came rushing through the air, and that she leaped into it and was
away, and no one ever saw her again.
next morning, Aegeus
sent out his heralds, to make it known through all the city that
was his son, and that he would in time be king in his stead. When the
nephews heard this, they were angry and alarmed.
us out of our heritage?" they cried; and they made a plot to waylay and
kill Theseus in a grove close by the city gate.
cunningly did the wicked
fellows lay their trap to catch the young hero; and one morning, as he
was passing that way alone, several of them fell suddenly upon him,
swords and lances, and tried to slay him outright. They were thirty to
one, but he faced them boldly and held them at bay, while he shouted
help. The men of Athens, who had borne so many wrongs from the hands of
the nephews, came running out from the streets; and in the fight which
followed, every one of the plotters, who had lain in ambush was slain;
and the other nephews, when they heard about it, fled from the city in
haste and never came back again.