The Heroes or Greek Fairy Tales for my Children
Page: 70But of all the other heroes there is many a brave tale left, which I have no space to tell you, so you must read them for yourselves;—of the hunting of the boar in Calydon, which Meleager killed; and of Heracles’ twelve famous labours; and of the seven who fought at Thebes; and of the noble love of Castor and Polydeuces, the twin Dioscouroi—how when one died the other would not live without him, so they shared their immortality between them; and Zeus changed them into the two twin stars which never rise both at once.
And what became of Cheiron, the good immortal beast? That, too, is a sad story; for the heroes never saw him more. He was wounded by a poisoned arrow, at Pholoe among the hills, when Heracles opened the fatal wine-jar, which Cheiron had warned him not to touch. And the Centaurs smelt the wine, and flocked to it, and fought for it with Heracles; but he killed them all with his poisoned arrows, and Cheiron was left alone. Then Cheiron took up one of the arrows, and dropped it by chance upon his foot; and the poison ran like fire along his veins, and he lay down and longed to die; and cried, ‘Through wine I perish, the bane of all my race. Why should I live for ever in this agony? Who will take my immortality, that I may die?’
Then Prometheus answered, the good Titan, whom Heracles had set free from Caucasus, ‘I will take your immortality and live for ever, that I may help poor mortal men.’ So Cheiron gave him his immortality, and died, and had rest from pain. And Heracles and Prometheus wept over him, and went to bury him on Pelion; but Zeus took him up among the stars, to live for ever, grand and mild, low down in the far southern sky.
And in time the heroes died, all but Nestor, the silver-tongued old man; and left behind them valiant sons, but not so great as they had been. Yet their fame, too, lives till this day, for they fought at the ten years’ siege of Troy: and their story is in the book which we call Homer, in two of the noblest songs on earth—the ‘Iliad,’ which tells us of the siege of Troy, and Achilles’ quarrel with the kings; and the ‘Odyssey,’ which tells the wanderings of Odysseus, through many lands for many years, and how Alcinous sent him home at last, safe to Ithaca his beloved island, and to Penelope his faithful wife, and Telemachus his son, and Euphorbus the noble swineherd, and the old dog who licked his hand and died. We will read that sweet story, children, by the fire some winter night. And now I will end my tale, and begin another and a more cheerful one, of a hero who became a worthy king, and won his people’s love.