Greek and Roman Mythology > Medea and Aeson

Medea and Aeson

Amid the rejoicings for the recovery of the golden Fleece, Jason
felt that one thing was wanting, the presence of AESON, his
father, who was prevented by his age and infirmities from taking
part in them. Jason said to Medea, "My wife, I would that your
arts, whose power I have seen so mighty for my aid, could do me
one further service, and take some years from my life to add them
to my father's." Medea replied, "Not at such a cost shall it be
done, but if my art avails me, his life shall be lengthened
without abridging yours." The next full moon she issued forth
alone, while all creatures slept; not a breath stirred the
foliage, and all was still. To the stars she addressed her
incantations, and to the moon; to Hecate (Hecate was a mysterious
divinity sometimes identified with Diana and sometimes with
Proserpine. As Diana represents the moonlight splendor of night,
so Hecate represents its darkness and terrors. She was the
goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, and was believed to wander by
night along the earth, seen only by the dogs whose barking told
her approach.), the goddess of the underworld, and to Tellus, the
goddess of the earth, by whose power plants potent for
enchantments are produced. She invoked the gods of the woods and
caverns, of mountains and valleys, of lakes and rivers, of winds
and vapors. While she spoke the stars shone brighter, and
presently a chariot descended through the air, drawn by flying
serpents. She ascended it, and, borne aloft, made her way to
distant regions, where potent plants grew which she knew how to
select for her purpose. Nine nights she employed in her search,
and during that time came not within the doors of her palace nor
under any roof, and shunned all intercourse with mortals.

She next erected two altars, the one to Hecate, the other to
Hebe, the goddess of youth, and sacrificed a black sheep, pouring
libations of milk and wine. She implored Pluto and his stolen
bride that they would not hasten to take the old man's life.
Then she directed that AESON should be led forth, and having
thrown him into a deep sleep by a charm, had him laid on a bed of
herbs, like one dead. Jason and all others were kept away from
the place, that no profane eyes might look upon her mysteries.
Then, with streaming hair, she thrice moved round the altars,
dipped flaming twigs in the blood, and laid them thereon to burn.
Meanwhile the caldron with its contents was got ready. In it she
put magic herbs, with seeds and flowers of acrid juice, stones
from the distant East, and sand from the shore of all-surrounding
ocean; hoar frost, gathered by moonlight, a screech-owl's head
and wings, and the entrails of a wolf. She added fragments of
the shells of tortoises, and the liver of stags, animals
tenacious of life, and the head and beak of a crow, that
outlives nine generations of men. These, with many other things
without a name, she boiled together for her purposed work,
stirring them up with a dry olive branch; and behold, the branch
when taken out instantly became green, and before long was
covered with leaves and a plentiful growth of young olives; and
as the liquor boiled and bubbled, and sometimes ran over, the
grass, wherever the sprinklings fell, shot forth with a verdure
like that of spring.

Seeing that all was ready, Medea cut the throat of the old man
and let out all his blood, and poured into his mouth and into his
wound the juices of her caldron. As soon as he had completely
imbibed them, his hair and beard laid by their whiteness and
assumed the blackness of youth; his paleness and emaciation were
gone; his veins were full of blood, his limbs of vigor and
robustness. AESON is amazed at himself, and remembers that such
as he now is he was in his youthful days, forty years before.

Medea used her arts here for a good purpose, but not so in
another instance, where she made them the instruments of revenge.
Pelias, our readers will recollect, was the usurping uncle of
Jason, and had kept him out of his kingdom. Yet he must have had
some good qualities, for his daughters loved him, and when they
saw what Medea had done for AESON, they wished her to do the same
for their father. Medea pretended to consent, and prepared her
caldron as before. At her request an old sheep was brought and
plunged into the caldron. Very soon a bleating was heard in the
kettle, and, when the cover was removed, a lamb jumped forth and
ran frisking away into the meadow. The daughters of Pelias saw
the experiment with delight, and appointed a time for their
father to undergo the same operation. But Medea prepared her
caldron for him in a very different way. She put in only water
and a few simple herbs. In the night she with the sisters
entered the bed-chamber of the old king, while he and his guards
slept soundly under the influence of a spell cast upon them by
Medea. The daughters stood by the bedside with their weapons
drawn, but hesitated to strike, till Medea chid their
irresolution. Then, turning away their faces and giving random
blows, they smote him with their weapons. He, starting from his
sleep, cried out, "My daughters, what are you doing? Will you
kill your father?:" Their hearts failed them, and the weapons
fell from their hands, but Medea struck him a fatal blow, and
prevented his saying more.

Then they placed him in the caldron, and Medea hastened to depart
in her serpent-drawn chariot before they discovered her
treachery, for their vengeance would have been terrible. She
escaped, however, but had little enjoyment of the fruits of her
crime. Jason, for whom she had done so much, wishing to marry
Creusa, princess of Corinth, put away Medea. She, enraged at his
ingratitude, called on the gods for vengeance, sent a poisoned
robe as a gift to the bride, and then killing her own children,
and setting fire to the palace, mounted her serpent-drawn chariot
and fled to Athens, where she married King AEgeus, the father of
Theseus; and we shall meet her again when we come to the
adventures of that hero.

The incantations of Medea will remind the reader of those of the
witches in Macbeth. The following lines are those which seem
most strikingly to recall the ancient model:

"Round about the caldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw.
* * * * * *
Fillet of a fenny snake
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog.
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing:
* * * * *
Maw of ravening salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digged in the dark."
Macbeth, Act IV., Scene 1

And again:

Macbeth. What is't you do?
Witches. A deed without a name.

There is another story of Medea almost too revolting for record
even of a sorceress, a class of persons to whom both ancient and
modern poets have been accustomed to attribute every degree of
atrocity. In her flight from Colchis she had taken her young
brother Absyrtus with her. Finding the pursuing vessels of
AEETES gaining upon the Argonauts, she caused the lad to be
killed and his limbs to be strewn over the sea. AEETES on
reaching the place found these sorrowful traces of his murdered
son; but while he tarried to collect the scattered fragments and
bestow upon them an honorable interment, the Argonauts escaped.

In the poems of Campbell will be found a translation of one of
the choruses of the tragedy of Medea, where the poet Euripides
has taken advantage of the occasion to pay a glowing tribute to
Athens, his native city. It begins thus:

"Oh, haggard queen! To Athens dost thou guide
Thy glowing chariot, steeped in kindred gore;
Or seek to hide thy damned parricide
Where Peace and Justice dwell for evermore?"

Myth Collection

Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

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