Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – How Jason Went to School

This is the tale of a boy who became a hero. Now if a boy is to become a hero when he is a man, he must have good training first. So this is the tale of Jason’s training, which he had from the strangest schoolmaster ever heard of. Jason was the little lad who, when he was grown, called together a band of heroes called Argonauts and, as their leader, sailed away with them to a distant land to win the Golden Fleece.

Whither they sailed no one knows exactly. It all happened so long ago that it has grown dim, like a dream of last year. Why they went, or what the Golden Fleece was, we cannot tell ; some say that the Fleece was just yellow gold. Perhaps it was, but we know there is a better thing on earth than wealth, a better thing than life itself, and that is, to have done something, before you die, for which good men may honor you and God your Father smile upon you.

Therefore we will believe — why should we not ? — that the Argonauts were noble men who planned and did a noble deed, and that because of this their fame has lived and been told in story and song, mixed up, no doubt, with dreams and fables and yet true and right at heart. So we like to know how Jason got his training, for each of us has a Golden Fleece to seek, and a wild sea to sail over ere we reach it, and dragons to fight ere it be ours.

The father of this little lad was called Aeson, and he was king of a kingdom by the sea, and ruled over many heroes. But he had a stepbrother named Pelias, who grew up fierce and lawless and did many a fearful deed. At last he drove out AEson and took the kingdom to himself, and he ruled over the heroes by the sea.

And Aeson, when he was driven out, went sadly away out of the town, leading his little son by the hand. He said to himself, ” I must hide the child in the mountains, or Pelias will surely kill him, because he is the heir.”

So he went up from the sea, through the vine-yards and the olive groves, toward Pelion, the ancient mountain whose brows are white with snow.

He went up and up into the mountain, till the boy was tired and footsore and Aeson had to bear him in his arms. At last he came to the mouth of a lonely cave at the foot of a mighty cliff.

From the mouth of the cave came the sound of music and a man’s voice singing to the harp.

Then Aeson put down the lad and whispered, ” Fear not, but go in, and whomsoever you shall find, lay your hand upon his knees and say, `In the name of Zeus, the father of gods and men, I am your guest from this day forth.’ ”

Then the lad went in without trembling, for he too was a hero’s son. But when he was within, he stopped in wonder, to listen to that magic song.

There he saw the singer lying upon bearskins and fragrant boughs. It was Chiron, the ancient centaur, the wisest of all beings beneath the sky. Down to the waist he was a man, but below he was a noble horse. His white hair rolled down over his broad shoulders, and his white beard over his broad brown chest, and his eyes were wise and mild, and his forehead was like a mountain wall.

And in his hand he held a harp of gold, and struck it with a golden key, and as he struck he sang till his eyes glittered and filled all the cave with light. And he sang of the birth of time, and of the heavens and the dancing stars, and of the ocean, and the fire, and the shaping of the wondrous earth. And he sang of the treasures of the hills, and the hidden jewels of the mine, and the veins of fire and metal, and the virtues of all healing herbs, and of the speech of birds, and of prophecy, and of hidden things to come.

Then he sang of health and strength and man-hood and a valiant heart, and of music and hunting, and of wrestling and all the games which heroes love, and of travel and wars and sieges and a noble death in fight ; and then he sang of peace and plenty, and of equal justice in the land. And as he sang the boy listened wide-eyed and forgot his errand in the song.

At last old Chiron was silent, and with a soft voice called the lad. And the lad ran trembling to him and would have laid his hand upon his knees, but Chiron smiled and said : ” Call hither your father Aeson, for I know you and all that has happened. I saw you both afar in the valley, even before you left the town.”

Then Aeson came in sadly, and Chiron asked him, ” Why came you not yourself to me, Aeson ? ”

And AEson said : ” I thought, `Chiron will pity the lad if he sees him come alone,’ and I wished to try whether he was fearless and dare venture like a hero’s son. But now I entreat you by Father Zeus, let the boy be your guest till better times, and train him among the sons of the heroes, that he may do his work in the land.”

Then Chiron smiled and drew the lad to him, and laid his hand upon his golden locks and said, ” Are you afraid of my horse’s hoofs, fair boy, or will you be my pupil from this day? ”

” I would gladly have horse’s hoofs like you, if I could sing such songs as yours,” answered the boy.

And Chiron laughed and said, ” Sit here by me till sundown, when your playfellows will come home, and you shall learn like them to be a king worthy to rule over gallant men.”

Then he turned to AEson and said : ” Go back in peace and bend before the storm. like a prudent man. This boy shall become a glory to you and to the house of your fathers.”

And Aeson wept over his son and went away, but the boy did not weep, so full was his fancy of that strange cave, and the centaur, and his song, and the playfellows whom he was to see.

Then Chiron put the lyre into his hands and taught him how to play it, till the sun sank low behind the cliff and a shout was heard outside.

And then in came the sons of the heroes, AEneas and Hercules and Theseus and many another mighty name. And great Chiron leaped up joyfully, and his hoofs made the cave resound as the boys shouted : ” Come out, Father Chiron, come out and see our game. Come and hear what we have done.”

And Chiron praised them all, each according to his deserts.

Then some of the lads brought in wood and split it and lighted a blazing fire ; others prepared the meat and set it to roast before the fire. And while the meat was cooking they bathed in the snow torrent and washed away the dust and sweat. And then all ate till they could eat no more (for they had tasted nothing since the dawn) and drank of the clear spring water. And when the remnants were put away, they all lay down upon the skins and leaves about the fire, and each took the lyre in turn and sang and played with all his heart.

And after a while they all went out to a plot of grass at the cave’s mouth, and there they boxed and ran and wrestled and laughed till the stones fell from the cliffs. Then Chiron took his lyre, and all the lads joined hands, and as he played they danced to the music, in and out and round and round.

And the little lad danced with them, delighted, and then slept a wholesome sleep upon fragrant leaves of bay and myrtle and marjoram and flowers of thyme, and rose at the dawn and bathed in the torrent, and became a schoolfellow to the heroes’ sons and forgot all his former life. But he grew strong and brave upon the pleasant fields of Pelion, in the keen mountain air. And he learned to wrestle and to box and to hunt and to play upon the harp ; and next he learned to ride, for old Chiron used to mount him on his back ; and he learned the virtues of all herbs and how to cure all wounds, and Chiron called him Jason the Healer, and that is his name until this day.

And ten years came and went, and Jason was grown to be a mighty man. Hercules was gone to Thebes, to fulfill those famous labors which have become a proverb among men. And Aeneas was gone home to Troy, whence he sailed, as you will read, to discover Italy and lay the foundation for a great Roman empire.

So Chiron sent Jason forth, for he knew that his time had come. But first he asked him to promise two things : to speak harshly to no soul whom he met, and to stand by every word he should speak.

Jason wondered, but he promised, and then he leaped down the mountain, to take his fortune like a man. Adapted from The Argonauts ”

Jason (ja son). — Argonauts (ar’go nauts) : the fifty heroes who followed Jason ; so called because they sailed in a ship called the Argo. — .A Eson (e’son). — Pelias (pelf as). Pelion (pelf on). — Chiron (ki ron). —centaur (sen’taur). Notice the rhythmical swing of Kingsley’s prose. —.Aeneas (e ne’as) : the founder of Rome. — Hercules (her’cu lez) : a mighty Greek hero of great courage and physical strength. —Theseus (the’sus): one of the Argonauts and a great hero; he was a king of Athens.—Theseum (the se’um): a temple in Athens where it was supposed Theseus was buried.