A Book of Myths

Page: 56

Perseus,” she said, “art thou of those whose dull souls forever dwell in pleasant ease, or wouldst thou be as one of the Immortals?”

And in his dream Perseus answered without hesitation:

“Rather let me die, a youth, living my life to the full, fighting ever, suffering ever,” he said, “than live at ease like a beast that feeds on flowery pastures and knows no fiery gladness, no heart-bleeding pain.”

Then Pallas Athené, laughing for joy, because she loved so well a hero’s soul, showed him a picture that made even his brave heart sick for dread, and told him a terrible story.

In the dim, cold, far west, she said, there lived three sisters. One of them, Medusa, had been one of her priestesses, golden-haired and most beautiful, but when Athené found that she was as wicked as she was lovely, swiftly had she meted out a punishment. Every lock of her golden hair had been changed into a venomous snake. Her eyes, that had once been the cradles of love, [Pg 109] were turned into love’s stony tombs. Her rosy cheeks were now of Death’s own livid hue. Her smile, which drew the hearts of lovers from their bosoms, had become a hideous thing. A grinning mask looked on the world, and to the world her gaping mouth and protruding tongue meant a horror before which the world stood terrified, dumb. There are some sadnesses too terrible for human hearts to bear, so it came to pass that in the dark cavern in which she dwelt, and in the shadowy woods around it, all living things that had met the awful gaze of her hopeless eyes were turned into stone. Then Pallas Athené showed Perseus, mirrored in a brazen shield, the face of one of the tragic things of the world. And as Perseus looked, his soul grew chill within him. But when Athené, in low voice, asked him:

Perseus, wilt even end the sorrow of this piteous sinful one?” he answered, “Even that will I do—the gods helping me.”

And Pallas Athené, smiling again in glad content, left him to dream, and Perseus awoke, in sudden fear, and found that in truth he had but dreamed, yet held his dream as a holy thing in the secret treasure-house of his heart.

Back to Seriphos he sailed, and found that his mother walked in fear of Polydectes the king. She told her son—a strong man now, though young in years—the story of his cruel persecution. Perseus saw red blood, and gladly would he have driven his keen blade far home in the heart of Polydectes. But his vengeance [Pg 110] was to be a great vengeance, and the vengeance was delayed.

The king gave a feast, and on that day every one in the land brought offerings of their best and most costly to do him honour. Perseus alone came empty-handed, and as he stood in the king’s court as though he were a beggar, the other youths mocked at him of whom they had ever been jealous.

“Thou sayest that thy father is one of the gods!” they said. “Where is thy godlike gift, O Perseus!”

And Polydectes, glad to humble the lad who was keeper of his mother’s honour, echoed their foolish taunt.

“Where is the gift of the gods that the noble son of the gods has brought me?” he asked, and his fat cheeks and loose mouth quivered with ugly merriment.

Then Perseus, his head thrown back, gazed in the bold eyes of Polydectes.

Son of Zeus he was indeed, as he looked with royal scorn at those whom he despised.

“A godlike gift thou shalt have, in truth, O king,” he said, and his voice rang out as a trumpet-call before the battle. “The gift of the gods shall be thine. The gods helping me, thou shalt have the head of Medusa.”

A laugh, half-born, died in the throats of Polydectes and of those who listened, and Perseus strode out of the palace, a glow in his heart, for he knew that Pallas Athené had lit the fire that burned in him now, and that though he should shed the last drop of his life’s blood [Pg 111] to win what he sought, right would triumph, and wrong must be worsted.

Still quivering with anger, Perseus went down to the blue sea that gently whispered its secrets to the shore on which he stood.

“If Pallas Athené would but come,” he thought—“if only my dreams might come true.”

For, like many a boy before and since, Perseus had dreamed of gallant, fearless deeds. Like many a boy before and since, he had been the hero of a great adventure.