Padraic Colum > The Golden Fleece > Part I. > Chapter IX. The Lemnian Maidens > III
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Padraic Colum (1881–1972).  The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles.  1921.

Part I. The Voyage to Colchis
 
Chapter IX. The Lemnian Maidens
 
III
 
NO more did the Goddess Demeter give grain to men; no more did she bless their fields: weeds grew where grain had been growing, and men feared that in a while they would famish for lack of bread.   1
  She wandered through the world, her thought all upon her child, Persephone, who had been taken from her. Once she sat by a well by a wayside, thinking upon the child that she might not come to and who might not come to her.   2
  She saw four maidens come near; their grace and their youth reminded her of her child. They stepped lightly along, carrying bronze pitchers in their hands, for they were coming to the Well of the Maiden beside which Demeter sat.   3
  The maidens thought when they looked upon her that the goddess was some ancient woman who had a sorrow in her heart. Seeing that she was so noble and so sorrowful looking, the maidens, as they drew the clear water into their pitchers, spoke kindly to her.   4
  “Why do you stay away from the town, old mother?” one of the maidens said. “Why do you not come to the houses? We think that you look as if you were shelterless and alone, and we should like to tell you that there are many houses in the town where you would be welcomed.”   5
  Demeter’s heart went out to the maidens, because they looked so young and fair and simple and spoke out of such kind hearts. She said to them: “Where can I go, dear children? My people are far away, and there are none in all the world who would care to be near me.”   6
  Said one of the maidens: “There are princes in the land who would welcome you in their houses if you would consent to nurse one of their young children. But why do I speak of other princes beside Celeus, our father? In his house you would indeed have a welcome. But lately a baby has been born to our mother, Metaneira, and she would greatly rejoice to have one as wise as you mind little Demophoôn.”   7
  All the time that she watched them and listened to their voices Demeter felt that the grace and youth of the maidens made them like Persephone. She thought that it would ease her heart to be in the house where these maidens were, and she was not loath to have them go and ask of their mother to have her come to nurse the infant child.   8
  Swiftly they ran back to their home, their hair streaming behind them like crocus flowers; kind and lovely girls whose names are well remembered—Callidice and Cleisidice, Demo and Callithoë. They went to their mother and they told her of the stranger-woman whose name was Doso. She would make a wise and a kind nurse for little Demophoôn, they said. Their mother, Metaneira, rose up from the couch she was sitting on to welcome the stranger. But when she saw her at the doorway, awe came over her, so majestic she seemed.   9
  Metaneira would have her seat herself on the couch but the goddess took the lowliest stool, saying in greeting: “May the gods give you all good, lady.”   10
  “Sorrow has set you wandering from your good home,” said Metaneira to the goddess, “but now that you have come to this place you shall have all that this house can bestow if you will rear up to youth the infant Demophoôn, child of many hopes and prayers.”   11
  The child was put into the arms of Demeter; she clasped him to her breast, and little Demophoôn looked up into her face and smiled. Then Demeter’s heart went out to the child and to all who were in the household.   12
  He grew in strength and beauty in her charge. And little Demophoôn was not nourished as other children are nourished, but even as the gods in their childhood were nourished. Demeter fed him on ambrosia, breathing on him with her divine breath the while. And at night she laid him on the hearth, amongst the embers, with the fire all around him. This she did that she might make him immortal, and like to the gods.   13
  But one night Metaneira looked out from the chamber where she lay, and she saw the nurse take little Demophoôn and lay him in a place on the hearth with the burning brands all around him. Then Metaneira started up, and she sprang to the hearth, and she snatched the child from beside the burning brands. “Demophoôn, my son,” she cried, “what would this stranger-woman do to you, bringing bitter grief to me that ever I let her take you in her arms?”   14
  Then said Demeter: “Foolish indeed are you mortals, and not able to foresee what is to come to you of good or of evil! Foolish indeed are you, Metaneira, for in your heedlessness you have cut off this child from an immortality like to the immortality of the gods themselves. For he had lain in my bosom and had become dear to me and I would have bestowed upon him the greatest gift that the Divine Ones can bestow, for I would have made him deathless and unaging. All this, now, has gone by. Honor he shall have indeed, but Demophoôn will know age and death.”   15
  The seeming old age that was upon her had fallen from Demeter; beauty and stature were hers, and from her robe there came a heavenly fragrance. There came such light from her body that the chamber shone. Metaneira remained trembling and speechless, unmindful even to take up the child that had been laid upon the ground.   16
  It was then that his sisters heard Demophoôn wail; one ran from her chamber and took the child in her arms; another kindled again the fire upon the hearth, and the others made ready to bathe and care for the infant. All night they cared for him, holding him in their arms and at their breasts, but the child would not be comforted, becauses the nurses who handled him now were less skillful than was the goddess-nurse.   17
  And as for Demeter, she left the house of Celeus and went upon her way, lonely in her heart, and unappeased. And in the world that she wandered through, the plow went in vain through the ground; the furrow was sown without any avail, and the race of men saw themselves near perishing for lack of bread.   18
  But again Demeter came near the Well of the Maiden. She thought of the daughters of Celeus as they came toward the well that day, the bronze pitchers in their hands, and with kind looks for the stranger—she thought of them as she sat by the well again. And then she thought of little Demophoôn, the child she had held at her breast. No stir of living was in the land near their home, and only weeds grew in their fields. As she sat there and looked around her there came into Demeter’s heart a pity for the people in whose house she had dwelt.   19
  She rose up and she went to the house of Celeus. She found him beside his house measuring out a little grain. The goddess went to him and she told him that because of the love she bore his household she would bless his fields so that the seed he had sown in them would come to growth. Celeus rejoiced, and he called all the people together, and they raised a temple to Demeter. She went through the fields and blessed them, and the seed that they had sown began to grow. And the goddess for a while dwelt amongst that people, in her temple at Eleusis.   20

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