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Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome

Page: 145

Arrived after a long and painful pilgrimage at the river Achelous, he discovered, to his unspeakable joy, a beautiful and fertile island, which had but lately emerged from beneath the water. Here he took up his abode; and in this haven of rest he was at length freed from his sufferings, and finally purified of his crime by the river-god Achelous. But in his new-found home where prosperity smiled upon him, Alcmæon soon forgot the loving wife and child he had left behind, and wooed Calirrhoë, the beautiful daughter of the river-god, who became united to him in marriage.

For many years Alcmæon and Calirrhoë lived happily together, and two sons were born to them. But [279]unfortunately for the peace of her husband, the daughter of Achelous had heard of the celebrated necklace and veil of Harmonia, and became seized with a violent desire to become the possessor of these precious treasures.

Now the necklace and veil were in the safe-keeping of Arsinoë; but as Alcmæon had carefully concealed the fact of his former marriage from his young wife, he informed her, when no longer able to combat her importunities, that he had concealed them in a cave in his native country, and promised to hasten thither and procure them for her. He accordingly took leave of Calirrhoë and his children, and proceeded to Psophis, where he presented himself before his deserted wife and her father, king Phegeus. To them he excused his absence by the fact of his having suffered from a fresh attack of madness, and added that an oracle had foretold to him that his malady would only be cured when he had deposited the necklace and veil of Harmonia in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Arsinoë, deceived by his artful representations, unhesitatingly restored to him his bridal gifts, whereupon Alcmæon set out on his homeward journey, well satisfied with the successful issue of his expedition.

But the fatal necklace and veil were doomed to bring ruin and disaster to all who possessed them. During his sojourn at the court of king Phegeus, one of the servants who had accompanied Alcmæon betrayed the secret of his union with the daughter of the river-god; and when the king informed his sons of his treacherous conduct, they determined to avenge the wrongs of their sister Arsinoë. They accordingly concealed themselves at a point of the road which Alcmæon was compelled to pass, and as he neared the spot they suddenly emerged from their place of ambush, fell upon him and despatched him.

When Arsinoë, who still loved her faithless husband, heard of the murder, she bitterly reproached her brothers for the crime which they had perpetrated, at which they were so incensed, that they placed her in a chest, and conveyed her to Agapenor, son of Ancæus, at Tegea. [280]Here they accused her of the murder of which they themselves were guilty, and she suffered a painful death.

Calirrhoë, on learning the sad fate of Alcmæon, implored Zeus that her infant sons might grow at once to manhood, and avenge the death of their father. The ruler of Olympus heard the petition of the bereaved wife, and, in answer to her prayer, the children of yesterday became transformed into bearded men, full of strength and courage, and thirsting for revenge.


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