Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 110
Publication Date: 1880
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IN ancient days, when the life of men upon earth was simple, and when war and the chase were the occupation of the young, and the words of the aged were hearkened to like the oracles of the gods, there reigned in Iolchos a haughty king--Pelias, the son of Kretheus and Tyro--whose court became famous among the neighbour princes for his four fair daughters, Peisidike, Pelopeia, Hippothoe, and Alcestis. Of all the four by far the loveliest was f Alcestis, for she was not only beautiful in form and face like her sisters, but so sweet a soul dwelt in her that her natural beauty was made ten times greater by the light that streamed forth from within. The king, Pelias, loved all his daughters, but to Alcestis, the youngest, his heart clung with the tenderest affection, for she was the crown and comfort of his age, abundant in love and tender care for him; so that Pelias, unable to bear the thought of parting with her, declared that he would give her in marriage to no one who did not come to claim her in a chariot drawn by boars and lions.
Lovely as Alcestis was, this haughty mandate had the effect of keeping many a gallant chief away, for who was so wise or so strong as to tame the lion and make him run obedient to the rein as a yoke fellow to the tusked boar? But there was one who had gazed upon Alcestis until the thought of her was present to him night and day, and to want her seemed as bad as to want the light and air of heaven, Admetus, the son of Pheres, King of Pherae, who had stood by Meleager when he smote the Kalydonian boar, and had sailed with Jason into the Black Euxine in search of the golden fleece; but now he cared no longer for the chase or travel, all he wished for was to rest in his father's house and rule his people, if only he could win Alcestis to be his wife. Day and night the thought of her troubled him, so that his sleep departed from him, and all the business and pleasure of his life seemed unprofitable and dull.
"O thou Far-darter," he prayed, stretching out his hands to the sun-god, when his first beams smote the earth, "thou who hast thyself sorrowed for thy lost Daphne, thou who sendest hope and joy to men, be thou my helper, and teach me how to obey the mandate of the haughty king, or thyself take away this life which is bitter to me!"
Thus he prayed in his chamber when there was none but Phoebus to hearken; thus he prayed at midday aloud in the temple, amid the savour of burnt sacrifices, and the son of Latona heard him as he sat in the groves of his beloved Cynthus--heard him and pitied him. And he taught him how to win the noble nature of the lion to accept the guidance of his hand, and gave him a subtle charm to tame the fierce anger of the boar, so that the two princes of the forest submitted to be yoked to the polished chariot, and bore the son of Pheres on his happy journey through the flowery Thessalian land, obedient to his word and hand as well trained horses.
King Pelias was much amazed to be informed that a suitor had come to seek the princess Alcestis, driving in his chariot a lion and a boar; but when he came forth and beheld the brave Admetus, a neighbour prince and an honoured friend, he was well content, and, dearly as he loved Alcestis, he gave her with a good grace to the wooer, who had proved his courage and his skill, and, what was better yet in the eyes of a loving father, whom the gods who live for ever honoured with their counsel and help.
The nuptials were celebrated with joy and feasting, and Pelias bade adieu to his beloved child whom he was never to behold again; for before a year was over the happiness of Admetus and Alcestis was broken by t the terrible news that Medeia, the dark-browed wife whom Jason had brought home from Kolchis, having by her magic restored youth to Aeson, the father of Jason, had been entreated by the daughters of Pelias to bestow the same boon upon their father; but the cruel woman, having made the credulous girls slay their father, with a view to raising him again in all his youthful vigour, forsook them, and, mocking their agony, left them to weep in vain over the mangled corpse.
This bitter sorrow was for many years the only trouble that darkened the life of Alcestis; in all else she was blessed beyond the common lot of women. Admetus loved her as a husband, and he trusted her as a friend. Two happy, healthy children were the crown of their wedded lives, and in house and field all went well with them.
Now there came to Pherae a stranger, noble in face and bearing, but clad like a poor countryman, who begged of Admetus to give him shelter and employment among his flocks and herds for a season, during which a stern fate compelled him to live an exile from his home. Admetus was too noble to ask him any question, he knew that some calamity was the cause--some homicide, perhaps for in those stormy days, when weapons were for ever in the hands of men, it was no strange thing for the life of a hero to be darkened by the slaughter of a friend or kinsman in sudden anger or even by mischance, and he would fain have made much of the stranger, and kept him in his own palace and at his own table; but he chose rather to dwell in the fields among the quiet cattle, and to hide the sorrow that was darkening his life from the eyes of men. Then all things prospered more than ever at Pherae, and such a splendid race of horses grew up in the royal pastures that men began to wonder at the strange shepherd, and to whisper to each other that never man nor hero had such creative power as to make out of common horses creatures so divine that, but for the lack of wings, they might have matched with Pegasus himself, and that the strains of music that came from the fields where the shepherd dwelt were sweeter and purer than any music which mortal bard could make.