Padraic Colum (18811972). The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles. 1921.
Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
Chapter II. Peleus and His Bride from the Sea
NOW although a son was born to her, and although this son had something of the radiance of the immortals about him, Thetis remained forlorn and estranged. Nothing that her husband did was pleasing to her. Prince Peleus was in fear that the wildness of the sea would break out in her, and that some great harm would be wrought in his house.
One night he wakened suddenly. He saw the fire upon his hearth and he saw a figure standing by the fire. It was Thetis, his wife. The fire was blazing around something that she held in her hands. And while she stood there she was singing to herself a strange-sounding song.
Prince Peleus sprang from the bed and caught Thetis around the waist and lifted her and the child away from the blazing fire. He put them both upon the bed, and he took from her the child that she held by the heel. His heart was wild within him, for the thought that wildness had come over his wife, and that she was bent upon destroying their child. But Thetis looked on him from under those goddess brows of hers and she said to him: By the divine power that I still possess I would have made the child invulnerable; but the heel by which I held him has not been endued by the fire and in that place some day he may be stricken. All that the fire covered is invulnerable, and no weapon that strikes there can destroy his life. His heel I cannot now make invulnerable, for now the divine power is gone out of me.
When she said this Thetis looked full upon her husband, and never had she seemed so unforgiving as she was then. All the divine radiance that had remained with her was gone from her now, and she seemed a white-faced and bitter-thinking woman. And when Peleus saw that such a great bitterness faced him he fled from his house.
He traveled far from his own land, and first he went to the help of Heracles, who was then in the midst of his mighty labors. Heracles was building a wall around a city. Peleus labored, helping him to raise the wall for King Laomedon. Then, one night, as he walked by the wall he had helped to build, he heard voices speaking out of the earth. And one voice said: Why has Peleus striven so hard to raise a wall that his son shall fight hard to overthrow? No voice replied. The wall was built, and Peleus departed. The city around which the wall was built was the great city of Troy.
In whatever place he went Peleus was followed by the hatred of the people of the sea, and above all by the hatred of the nymph who is called Psamathe. Far, far from his own country he went, and at last he came to a country of bright valleys that was ruled over by a kindly kingby Ceyx, who was called the Son of the Morning Star.
Bright of face and kindly and peaceable in all his ways was this king, and kindly and peaceable was the land that he ruled over. And when Prince Peleus went to him to beg for his protection, and to beg for unfurrowed fields where he might graze his cattle, Ceyx raised him up from where he knelt. Peaceable and plentiful is the land, he said, and all who come here may have peace and a chance to earn their food. Live where you will, O stranger, and take the unfurrowed fields by the seashore for pasture for your cattle.
Peace came into Peleuss heart as he looked into the untroubled face of Ceyx, and as he looked over the bright valleys of the land he had come into. He brought his cattle to the unfurrowed fields by the seashore and he left herdsmen there to tend them. And as he walked along these bright valleys he thought upon his wife and upon his son Achilles, and there were gentle feelings in his breast. But then he thought upon the enmity of Psamathe, the woman of the sea, and great trouble came over him again. He felt he could not stay in the palace of the kindly king. He went where his herdsmen camped and he lived with them. But the sea was very near and its sound tormented him, and as the days went by, Peleus, wild looking and shaggy, became more and more unlike the hero whom once the gods themselves had honored.
One day as he was standing near the palace having speech with the king, a herdsman ran to him and cried out: Peleus, Peleus, a dread thing has happened in the unfurrowed fields. And when he had got his breath the herdsman told of the thing that had happened.
They had brought the herd down to the sea. Suddenly, from the marshes where the sea and land came together, a monstrous beast rushed out upon the herd; like a wolf this beast was, but with mouth and jaws that were more terrible than a wolfs even. The beast seized upon the cattle. Yet it was not hunger that made it fierce, for the beasts that it killed it tore, but did not devour. It rushed on and on, killing and tearing more and more of the herd. Soon, said the herdsman, it will have destroyed all in the herd, and then it will not spare to destroy the other flocks and herds that are in the land.
Peleus was stricken to hear that his herd was being destroyed, but more stricken to know that the land of a friendly king would be ravaged, and ravaged on his account. For he knew that the terrible beast that had come from where the sea and the land joined had been sent by Psamathe. He went up on the tower that stood near the kings palace. He was able to look out on the sea and able to look over all the land. And looking across the bright valleys he saw the dread beast. He saw it rush through his own mangled cattle and fall upon the herds of the kindly king.
He looked toward the sea and he prayed to Psamathe to spare the land that he had come to. But, even as he prayed, he knew that Psamathe would not harken to him. Then he made a prayer to Thetis, to his wife who had seemed so unforgiving. He prayed her to deal with Psamathe so that the land of Ceyx would not be altogether destroyed.
As he looked from the tower he saw the king come forth with arms in his hands for the slaying of the terrible beast. Peleus felt fear for the life of the kindly king. Down from the tower he came, and taking up his spear he went with Ceyx.
Soon, in one of the brightest of the valleys, they came upon the beast; they came between it and a herd of silken-coated cattle. Seeing the men it rushed toward them with blood and foam upon its jaws. Then Peleus knew that the spears they carried would be of little use against the raging beast. His only thought was to struggle with it so that the king might be able to save himself.
Again he lifted up his hands and prayed to Thetis to draw away Psamathes enmity. The beast rushed toward them; but suddenly it stopped. The bristles upon its body seemed to stiffen. The gaping jaws became fixed. The hounds that were with them dashed upon the beast, but then fell back with yelps of disappointment. And when Peleus and Ceyx came to where it stood they found that the monstrous beast had been turned into stone.
And a stone it remains in that bright valley, a wonder to all the men of Ceyxs land. The country was spared the ravages of the beast. And the heart of Peleus was uplifted to think that Thetis had harkened to his prayer and had prevailed upon Psamathe to forego her enmity. Not altogether unforgiving was his wife to him.
That day he went from the land of the bright valleys, from the land ruled over by the kindly Ceyx, and he came back to rugged Phthia, his own country. When he came near his hall he saw two at the doorway awaiting him. Thetis stood there, and the child Achilles was by her side. The radiance of the immortals was in her face no longer, but there was a glow there, a glow of welcome for the hero Peleus. And thus Peleus, long tormented by the enmity of the sea-born ones, came back to the wife he had won from the sea.