Old Greek Stories
IV. WRESTLER AND WRONG-DOER.
Keeping the sea always in view, Theseus went onward a long day's journey to the north and east; and 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 where there were many fields of ripening grain. The fame of his deeds had gone 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 the cliff.
"Now we shall live in peace," they cried; "for the robbers who devoured our flocks and our children are no more."
Then Theseus passed through the old town of Megara, and followed the shore of the bay towards the sacred city of Eleusis.
"Do not go into Eleusis, but take the road which leads round it through the hills," whispered a poor man who was carrying a sheep to market.
"Why shall I do that?" asked Theseus.
"Listen, and I will tell you," was the answer. "There is a king in Eleusis whose name is Cercyon, 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 he 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.
"Where is Cercyon, the wrestler?" he asked of the warden at the gate.
"The king 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."
"Why should I flee?" asked Theseus. "I am not afraid;" and he walked on through the narrow street to old Cercyon's palace.
The king was sitting at his table, eating and drinking; and he grinned hideously as he thought of the many noble young men whose lives he had destroyed. Theseus went up boldly to the door, and cried out:
"Cercyon, come out and wrestle with me!"
"Ah!" said 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."
So Theseus was given a place at the table of the king, and the two sat there and ate and stared at each other, but spoke not a word. And Cercyon, as he looked at the young man's sharp eyes and his fair face and silken hair, had half a mind to bid him 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 and his iron club, and stripped himself of his robes, and said:
"Come now, Cercyon, if you are not afraid; come, and wrestle with me."