For Arcesilas of Cyrene
462 B. C.
Today you must stand beside a beloved man, Muse, the king of Cyrene with its fine horses, so that while Arcesilas celebrates his triumph you may swell the fair wind of song that is due to the children of Leto and to Pytho
, where once the priestess seated beside the golden eagles of Zeus,
on a day when Apollo happened to be present, gave an oracle naming Battus as the colonizer of fruitful Libya
, and telling how he would at once leave the holy island and found a city of fine chariots on a shining white breast of the earth,
and carry out
in the seventeenth generation the word spoken at Thera
by Medea, which once the inspired daughter of Aeetes, the queen of the Colchians, breathed forth from her immortal mouth. She spoke in this way to the heroes who sailed with the warrior Jason: “Hear me, sons of high-spirited men and of gods. For I say that from this wave-washed land one day the daughter of Epaphus
will have planted in her a root of cities that are 1
dear to men, in the temple of Zeus Ammon.
Instead of short-finned dolphins they will have swift horses, and reins instead of oars, and they will drive storm-footed chariot teams. That token shall make
the mother-city of great cities, the token which once, beside the out-flowing waters of lake Tritonis, Euphemus received as he descended from the prow, a clod of earth as a gift of friendship from a god in the likeness of a man. And as a sign of favor, Zeus the son of Cronus sounded a peal of thunder,
when the stranger found us hanging the bronze-jawed anchor
, the bridle of the swift Argo
, against the ship. Before that we had been dragging our seafaring ship for twelve days from the Ocean over the deserted back of the land, having drawn it ashore by my counsels. And then the solitary god approached, who had assumed the splendid appearance of an honored man. He began to speak friendly words,
such as beneficent hosts use when they first invite arriving strangers to a meal.
But we could not stay, for the plea of our sweet homecoming prevented us from lingering. He said that he was Eurypylus, the son of the holder of the earth, the immortal earth-shaker Poseidon. He realized that we were hurrying on our way, and straightaway with his right hand he snatched up a piece of earth,
the first thing to come to hand, and sought to present it as a gift of hospitality. He did not fail to persuade Euphemus; the hero leapt down onto the shore, and, pressing his hand in the hand of the stranger, received the divine clod of earth. But now I learn that it was washed out of the ship into the sea by a wave
at evening, following the watery tide. Truly, I often urged the sailors who relieve their masters from toil to guard it; but their minds were forgetful, and now on this island the immortal seed of spacious Libya
is washed ashore before the proper time. For if only Euphemus had gone to his home in holy Taenarus and cast the clod beside the earthly mouth of Hades—
Euphemus the son of lord Poseidon, ruler of horses, whom once Europa the daughter of Tityus bore beside the banks of the Cephisus—
the blood of the fourth generation descended from him would have taken possession of that broad continent together with the Danaans; for then they will be uprooted from Lacedaemon
and the Argive
gulf and Mycenae
As it is, Euphemus shall find in the beds of foreign women a chosen race, who, with the honor of the gods, will come to this island and beget a man who will be master of the dark-clouded plains; whom one day Phoebus, in his home rich in gold, will mention in his oracles
when he goes into the Pythian shrine at a later time; Phoebus will tell him to carry cities in his ships to the fertile precinct of the son of Cronus beside the Nile
.” Indeed, these were the oracular verses of Medea. And the godlike heroes bowed down motionless and in silence, listening to her shrewd words of wisdom. Battus, blessed son of Polymnestus, it was you that, in accord with this word of prophecy,
the oracle glorified by the spontaneous cry of the Delphic Bee, who three times loudly bid you hail, and declared that you were the destined king of Cyrene,
when you came to ask the oracle what relief the gods would grant you for your stammering voice. And even now, in later days, as in the prime of red-blossoming spring,
eighth in the line of Battus' descendants flourishes Arcesilas. To him Apollo and Pytho
gave glory in the chariot race above those that live around. I will offer him, and the all-golden fleece of the ram, to the Muses as a theme for song. For when the Minyans sailed after that fleece, divinely-sent honors were planted for his race.
What beginning of their seafaring welcomed them? What danger bound them with strong bolts of adamant? There was a divine prophecy that Pelias would be killed by the illustrious descendants of Aeolus, either at their hands or through their unflinching counsels; and an oracle came to him that chilled his shrewd spirit, spoken beside the central navel of well-wooded mother earth:
to be on careful guard in every way against a man with one sandal, whenever he should come from the homesteads in the steep mountains to the sunny land of famous Iolcus,
whether he be stranger or citizen. And in time he arrived: an awesome man armed with two spears. He wore two different types of clothing:
his native Magnesian dress fitted to his marvellous limbs, and a leopard-skin wrapped around him protected him from shivering showers. His splendid locks of hair had not been cut away, but flowed shining down his back. He quickly went straight ahead, making trial of his dauntless2
spirit, and stood
in the marketplace crowded with people.
They did not recognize him. Nevertheless, one of the awed onlookers said even this: “Surely this is not Apollo, nor Ares, the husband of Aphrodite, with his bronze chariot. And they say that the sons of Iphimedeia—Otus and you, bold lord Ephialtes—died in splendid Naxos
And indeed Tityus was hunted down by the swift arrow of Artemis, which she sped from her unconquerable quiver, so that men might desire to touch only the loves that are within their reach.”
They said such things among themselves; and Pelias arrived, rushing headlong with his mule team and his polished chariot.
He was instantly astonished, looking at the single sandal, plain to see on the stranger's right foot. But he hid his fear in his heart and said: “What country, stranger, do you claim as your fatherland? And what woman, of mortals on earth, bore you from her aged womb? Do not befoul your story with most hateful lies,
but tell me of your birth.”
And the stranger boldly answered him with gentle words, in this way: “I say that I am going to bring the teaching of Cheiron; for I come from his cave, from the presence of Chariclo and Philyra, where the holy daughters of the Centaur raised me. Living twenty years without
having said or done anything shameful in their house, I have come to my home to recover the ancient honor of my father, now held improperly, which once Zeus granted to Aeolus, the leader of the people, and to his sons.
For I hear that lawless Pelias, yielding to his empty3
violently robbed it from my parents, who were the rulers by right. When I first saw the light, they feared the arrogance of the monstrous ruler, and made a show of dark mourning in the home, with the wailing of women as if someone had died, and sent me away secretly, in purple swaddling clothes,
making the night my escort on the journey, and gave me to Cheiron the son of Cronus to rear.
But you know the chief points of this story. Good citizens, show me clearly the home of my ancestors, who rode on white horses. For I am the son of Aeson, and a native; I do not arrive4
in a strange foreign land. The divine centaur called me by the name Jason.”
So he spoke; and as he entered his father's eyes recognized him, and tears burst forth from his aged eyelids, for his soul rejoiced when he saw his son, the choicest and most handsome of men.
And both his father's brothers
came when they heard the report of Jason. Pheres was near by; he came from the Hypereian spring, and Amythaon came from Messene
. Admetus and Melampus came quickly, showing kindness to their cousin. And while they joined in the banquet, Jason, welcoming them with gentle words and offering them fitting hospitality, extended every kind of joyfulness,
reaping the sacred bloom of good living for five full nights and as many days.
But on the sixth day, speaking in earnest, Jason confided the entire story from the beginning to his kinsmen; and they took his side. At once he hurried from the camp with them, and they came to the hall of Pelias.
They rushed in, and took their stand. And when Pelias heard them he came to meet them himself, the son of Tyro with beautiful hair. And Jason, with his soothing voice distilling gentle language, laid the foundation of skillful words: “Son of Poseidon, Cleaver of the Rock,
the minds of mortals are all too swift
to praise crafty gain rather than justice, although they are moving towards a harsh reckoning. But you and I must govern our tempers rightly and weave our future prosperity. You know what I am going to say. A single cow was mother to Cretheus and to bold-thinking Salmoneus. And now we, sprung from them in the third generation, look on the golden strength of the sun.
May the Fates withdraw if there is any hatred between members of the same family, which blots out reverence.
It is not right for us to resort to swords of sharp bronze or spears in dividing the great honors of our ancestors. I leave you the flocks, and the golden herds of cattle, and all the fields, which you keep, having stolen them
from my ancestors, feeding fat your wealth; and it does not grieve me that they provide for your household beyond all measure. But as for the royal scepter and the throne, in which Aeson son of Cretheus once sat, and dispensed straight justice for a nation of horsemen: without any distress between us,
release these to me, lest some more disturbing evil arise from them.” So he spoke. And Pelias answered softly: “I will be such a man as you ask. But already old age attends me, while the flower of your youth is now swelling. You have it in your power to remove the anger of the gods below. For Phrixus asks us to bring his soul home,
going to the halls of Aeetes, and to recover the deep-fleeced hide of the ram, on which he was once saved from the sea
and from the impious weapons of his stepmother. A marvellous dream came and told me these things, and I have asked the oracle at Castalia whether it must be pursued; and the oracle urges me to make ready as soon as possible a ship to escort him home.
Willingly fulfill this quest, and I swear that I will deliver up to you the royal power and the kingdom. And, as a mighty oath, may Zeus, who is ancestor to us both, be our witness.” They approved this agreement, and they parted. And Jason himself at once
sent messengers everywhere to announce the voyage. Soon there came the three sons, untiring in battle, whom dark-eyed Alcmena and Leda bore to Zeus son of Cronus; and two high-haired men, sons of the earth-shaker, obeying their innate valor, one from Pylos
and the other from the headland of Taenarus; you both achieved
noble fame, Euphemus and wide-ruling Periclymenus. And from Apollo the lyre-player came, the father of songs, much-praised Orpheus.
And Hermes of the golden wand sent two sons to take part in the unabating toil, Echion and Erytus, bursting with youth. Swiftly
came those that dwell around the foothills of Mount Pangaeon, for with a smiling spirit their father Boreas, king of the winds, quickly and willingly equipped Zetes and Calais
with purple wings bristling down their backs. And Hera kindled in the demigods an all-persuasive sweet longing
for the ship Argo, so that no one would be left behind to stay by his mother's side, nursing a life without danger, but even at the risk of death would find the finest elixir of excellence together with his other companions. When the choicest seamen came down to Iolcus, Jason reviewed and praised them all; and
the seer Mopsus, making his prophecy from birds and the casting of sacred lots, gladly gave the men the signal to set out. And when they hung the anchor over the ship's ram,
the leader, standing at the stern, took in his hands a golden goblet and called on the father of Uranus' descendants, Zeus whose spear is the thunderbolt; and he called on the
swift-rushing waves and winds, and on the nights, and the paths of the sea, and the propitious days, and on the kindly fortune of their homecoming.. And from the clouds there answered an auspicious peal of thunder, and bright flashes of lightning came bursting forth, and the heroes drew a breath of relief, trusting in the sign of the god.
The seer shouted to them
to throw themselves into the oars, announcing that their hopes were sweet; and the rowing sped on under their swift hands, insatiably. Escorted by the breezes of the South wind, they reached the mouth of the Inhospitable Sea, and there they set up a holy precinct to Poseidon, god of the sea;
there was a herd of red Thracian bulls, and a newly-built hollow of altar stones. And as they rushed into deep danger, they entreated the lord of ships
that they might escape the irresistible onset of the clashing rocks. There was a pair of them; they were alive, and they rolled onward more swiftly
than the battle-lines of the loud-thundering winds. But that voyage of the demigods put an end to them. And then the Argonauts came to Phasis
, where they clashed with the dark-faced Colchians in the realm of Aeetes himself. And the queen of sharpest arrows brought the dappled wryneck from Olympus
, bound to the four spokes
of the indissoluble wheel:
Aphrodite of Cyprus
brought the maddening bird to men for the first time, and she taught the son of Aeson skill in prayerful incantations, so that he could rob Medea of reverence for her parents, and a longing for Greece
would lash her, her mind on fire, with the whip of Persuasion.
And she quickly revealed the means of performing the labors set by her father; and she mixed drugs with olive oil as a remedy for hard pains, and gave it to him to anoint himself. They agreed to be united with each other in sweet wedlock.
But when Aeetes placed in their midst the adamantine plough
and the oxen, who breathed the flame of burning fire from their golden jaws and stamped at the earth in turn with their bronze hoofs, he led them along and single-handedly brought them under the yoke. And he drove them, stretching the furrows straight, and split the back of the clodded earth, a fathom deep. Then he spoke in this way: “Let your king,
whoever commands the ship, complete this work for me; then let him carry off the immortal coverlet,
the fleece gleaming with its golden fringe.” When he had spoken thus, Jason threw off his saffron cloak and, trusting in the god, set his hand to the task. The fire did not touch him; he followed the advice of the foreign woman who knew every kind of remedy. He grasped the plough, and bound the necks of the oxen in the irresistible
harness, and prodding their strong-ribbed bulk with the unceasing goad the powerful man accomplished the allotted measure of his task. And Aeetes wailed, though his cry was silent, amazed at Jason's strength.
His companions stretched their friendly hands towards the mighty man,
and crowned him with garlands of laurel, and greeted him with gentle words. But at once the marvellous son of Helios spoke of the shining fleece, telling where the sword of Phrixus had stretched it out. He expected that Jason would not be able to accomplish this further labor. For the fleece lay in a thicket, held in the ravening jaws of a serpent,
which in thickness and length surpassed a ship with fifty oars, built by the blows of a hammer.
It is too long a way for me to go by the beaten track; for time presses, and I know a shortcut. In poetic skill I am a guide to many others. Jason killed the gray-eyed serpent with its dappled back by cunning,
Arcesilas, and stole away Medea, with her own help, to be the death of Pelias. And they reached the expanses of Ocean, and the Red Sea
, and the race of the Lemnian women, who killed their husbands. There they displayed their prowess of limbs in athletic contests with a cloak for a prize,
and they went to bed with the women. In foreign
fields then the fated day, or night, received the seed of your shining prosperity; for there the race of Euphemus was planted, to continue forever. And having gone to share the home of the Lacedaemonians, in time they left to settle the island once called Calliste
. From there the son of Leto granted that your race should bring prosperity to the plain of Libya
, with the honor of the gods, and govern the divine city of golden-throned Cyrene,
having discovered the wisdom of right counsel. Now, learn the skill of Oedipus: if a man, with a sharp-cutting axe, cuts the branches from a great oak, and spoils its marvellous beauty,
even with its fruit destroyed it votes for its own worth, if it comes at last to the winter fire; or if it is placed with upright columns belonging to a ruler, performing a slavish service among foreign walls, having deserted its native place.
But you are a most opportune healer, and Apollo Paean honors your light. One must apply a gentle hand to tend a sore wound: it is easy even for weak men to shake a city to its foundations, but to set it in its place again is indeed a difficult struggle, unless a god suddenly comes to guide its rulers.
These blessings are woven out for you: be bold, and apply all earnestness for the sake of fortunate Cyrene.
Of the sayings of Homer, take to heart and heed this one: “a noble messenger,” he said, “brings the greatest honor to every business.” Even the Muse is exalted by a correct message. Cyrene
and the most renowned hall of Battus recognized the just mind of Damophilus; a young man among boys, and in counsels like an elder who has lived a hundred years, he robs the evil tongue of its brash voice, and he has learned to hate the arrogant;
he does not struggle against good men, or postpone any decisive action, for the right moment has a brief measure in the eyes of men. He recognizes it well, and he serves it as an attendant, not a slave. But they say that this is the most grievous thing of all, to recognize what is good and to be debarred from it by compulsion. And truly he, like Atlas,
now strains against the weight of the sky, far from his ancestral land and his possessions. But immortal Zeus freed the Titans; and in time, when the wind ceases, there are changes
of sails. But he prays that at some time, when he has drained to the dregs his cup of ruinous affliction, he will see his home, and, joining the symposium near the spring of Apollo,
yield his spirit often to the joys of youth, and attain peace, holding the well-made lyre among his skillful fellow citizens, bringing no pain to anyone, and himself unharmed by his townsmen. Then he would tell you, Arcesilas, what a fountain of immortal song he found, when he was recently entertained by his host at Thebes