James Baldwin.

Hero Tales online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Al Haines




Author of "The Story of Siegfried," "The Story of Roland," "A Story of
the Golden Age," "Baldwin's Readers," etc.









In the world's literature there are certain stories which, told ages
ago, can never be forgotten. They have within them that which gives
pleasure to all intelligent men, women and children. They appeal to
the sympathies, the desires, and the admiration of all sorts and
conditions of mankind. These are the stories that are said to be
immortal. They have been repeated and re-repeated in many forms and to
all kinds of audiences. They have been recited and sung in royal
palaces, in the halls of mediaeval castles, and by the camp fires of
warring heroes. Parents have taught them to their children, and
generation after generation has preserved their memory. They have been
written on parchment and printed in books, translated into many
languages, abridged, extended, edited, and "adapted." But through all
these changes and the vicissitudes of time, they still preserve the
qualities that have made them so universally popular.

Chief among these masterpieces of imagination are the tales of gods and
heroes that have come down to us from the golden age of Greece, and
particularly the tales of Troy that cluster around the narratives of
old Homer in his "Iliad" and "Odyssey." Three thousand years or more
have passed since they were first recited, and yet they have lost none
of their original charm. Few persons of intelligence are unacquainted
with these tales, for our literature abounds in allusions to them; and
no one who pretends to the possession of culture or learning can afford
to be ignorant of them.

Second only in interest, especially to us of Anglo-Saxon descent, are
the hero tales of the ancient North and the stirring legends connected
with the "Nibelungen Lied." Of much later origin than the Greek
stories, and somewhat inferior to them in refinement of thought and
delicacy of imagery, these tales partake of the rugged, forceful
character of the people among whom they were composed. Yet, with all
their austerity and sternness, they are replete with vivid action, and
they charm us by their very strength and the lessons which they teach
of heroic endurance and the triumph of eternal justice.

Scarcely inferior to these latter, but not so well known to
English-speaking people, are the tales of knighthood and chivalry that
commemorate the romantic deeds of Charlemagne and his paladins.
Written in various languages, and at periods widely separated, these
tales present a curious mixture of fact and fiction, of the real and
the marvellous, of the beautiful and the grotesque, of pagan
superstition and Christian devotion. Although there were, in truth, no
knights in the time of Charlemagne, and the institution of chivalry did
not exist until many years later, yet these legends are of value as
portraying life and manners in that period of history which we call the
Dark Ages; and their pictures of knightly courage and generosity,
faithfulness, and loyalty, appeal to our nobler feelings and stir our
hearts with admiration.

To know something of these three great cycles, or groups, of classic
and romantic stories - the hero tales of Troy, those of the ancient
North, and those of Charlemagne - is essential to the acquirement of
refined literary tastes. For this knowledge will go far toward helping
its possessor to enjoy many things in our modern literature that would
otherwise be puzzling or obscure. The importance, therefore, of
placing some of the best of such tales early within the reach of school
children and all young readers cannot be disputed.

In three volumes somewhat larger than the present one - "A Story of the
Golden Age," "The Story of Siegfried," and "The Story of Roland" - I
have already endeavored to introduce young readers to the most
interesting portions of these great cycles of romance, narrating in
each the adventures of the hero who is the central figure in the group
of legends or tales under consideration. The present volume, made up
of selections from these earlier books, has been prepared in response
to repeated suggestions that certain portions of them, and especially
some of the independent shorter stories, are well adapted to use in
reading-classes at school. Of the seventeen stories herein presented,
nine are from the "Golden Age," four from "Siegfried," and four from
"Roland." They are, for the most part, episodes, complete in
themselves, and connected only by a slender thread with the main
narrative. Their intrinsic value is in no way diminished by being thus
separated from their former setting, and each tale being independent of
the others, they lend themselves more readily to the demands of the

It is well to observe that in no case have I endeavored to repeat the
story in its exact original form. To have done so would have defeated
the purpose in view; for without proper adaptation such stories are
usually neither interesting nor intelligible to children. I have
therefore recast and rearranged, using my own words, and adding here a
touch of color and here a fanciful idea, as the narrative has seemed to
permit or as my audience of school children may demand. Nevertheless,
in the end, the essential features of each tale - those which give it
value in its original form - remain unchanged.


How Apollo Came to Parnassus
The Hunt in the Wood of Calydon
The Choice of Hercules
Alpheus and Arethusa
The Golden Apple
Paris and Oenone
Paris and Helen
The Hoard of the Elves
The Forging of Balmung
Idun and Her Apples
The Doom of the Mischief-maker
The Hunt in the Wood of Puelle
Ogier the Dane and the Fairies
How Charlemagne Crossed the Alps
What Happened at Roncevaux


A very long time ago, Apollo was born in the island of Delos. When the
glad news of his birth was told, Earth smiled, and decked herself with
flowers; the nymphs of Delos sang songs of joy that were heard to the
utmost bounds of Greece; and choirs of white swans flew seven times
around the island, piping notes of praise to the pure being who had
come to dwell among men. Then Zeus looked down from high Olympus, and
crowned the babe with a golden head-band, and put into his hands a
silver bow and a sweet-toned lyre such as no man had ever seen; and he
gave him a team of white swans to drive, and bade him go forth to teach
men the things which are right and good, and to make light that which
is hidden in darkness.

So Apollo arose, beautiful as the morning sun, and journeyed through
many lands, seeking a dwelling place. He stopped for a time at the
foot of Mount Olympus, and played so sweetly upon his lyre that Zeus
and all his court were entranced. Then he wandered up and down through
the whole length of the Thessalian land; but nowhere could he find a
spot in which he was willing to dwell. At length he climbed into his
car, and bade his swan team fly with him to the country of the
Hyperboreans beyond the far-off northern mountains. Forthwith they
obeyed; and through the pure regions of the upper air they bore him,
winging their way ever northward. They carried him over many an
unknown land, and on the seventh day they came to the Snowy Mountains
where the griffins, with lion bodies and eagle wings, guard the golden
treasures of the North.

In these mountains, the North Wind has his home; and from his deep
caves he now and then comes forth, chilling with his cold and angry
breath the orchards and the fair fields of Greece, and bringing death
and dire disasters In his train. But northward this blustering Boreas
cannot blow, for the heaven-towering mountains stand like a wall
against him, and drive him back. Hence it is that beyond these
mountains the storms of winter never come, but one happy springtime
runs through all the year. There the flowers bloom, and the grain
ripens, and the fruits drop mellowing to the earth, and the red wine is
pressed from the luscious grape, every day the same.

The Hyperboreans who dwell in that favored land know neither pain nor
sickness, nor wearying labor nor eating care; but their youth is as
unfading as the springtime, and old age with its wrinkles and its
sorrows is evermore a stranger to them. The spirit of evil, which
would lead all men to err, has never found entrance among them, and
they are free from vile passions and unworthy thoughts; and among them
there is neither war, nor wicked deeds, nor fear of the avenging
Furies, for their hearts are pure and clean, and never burdened with
the love of self.

When the swan team of silver-bowed Apollo had carried him over the
Snowy Mountains, they alighted in the Hyperborean land. And the people
welcomed Apollo with shouts of joy and songs of triumph, as one for
whom they had long been waiting. He took up his abode there, and dwelt
with them one whole year, delighting them with his presence, and ruling
over them as their king. But when twelve moons had passed, he
bethought him that the toiling, suffering men of Greece needed most his
aid and care. Therefore he bade the Hyperboreans farewell, and again
went up into his sun-bright car; and his winged team carried him back
to the land of his birth.

Long time Apollo sought a place where he might build a temple to which
men might come to learn of him and to seek his help in time of need.
At length he came to a broad plain, by the shore of a beautiful lake;
and there he began to build a house, for the land was a pleasant one,
well-watered, and rich in grain and fruit. But the nymph that lived in
the lake liked not to have Apollo so near her, lest men seeing and
loving him should forget to honor her; and one day, garmented with
mosses and crowned with lilies, she came and stood before him in the

"Apollo of the silver bow," said she, "have you not made a mistake in
choosing this place for a dwelling? These rich plains around us will
not always be as peaceful as now; for their very richness will tempt
the spoiler, and the song of the cicada will then give place to the din
of battle. Even in times of peace you would hardly have a quiet hour
here: for great herds of cattle come crowding down every day to my lake
for water; the noisy ploughman, driving his team afield, disturbs the
morning hour with his boorish shouts; and boys and dogs keep up a
constant din, and make life in this place a burden."

"Fair nymph," said Apollo, "I had hoped to dwell here in thy happy
vale, a neighbor and friend to thee. Yet, since this place is not what
it seems to be, whither shall I go, and where shall I build my house?"

"Go to the cleft in Mount Parnassus," answered the nymph. "There thou
canst dwell in peace, and men will come from all parts of the world to
do thee honor."

And so Apollo went down to Parnassus, and there in the cleft of the
mountain he laid the foundations of his shrine. Then he called the
master architects of the world, Trophonius and Agamedes, and gave to
them the building of the high walls and the massive roof. When they
had finished their work, he said, "Say now what reward you most desire
for your labor, and I will give it you."

"Give us," said the brothers, "that which is the best for men."

"It is well," answered Apollo. "When the full moon is seen above the
mountain-tops, you shall have your wish."

But when the moon rose full and clear above the heights, the two
brothers were dead.

Apollo was pleased with the place which he had chosen for a home; for
there he found rest and quiet, and neither the hum of labor nor the din
of battle was likely ever to enter. One thing, however, must needs be
done before he could have perfect peace. There lived near the foot of
the mountain a huge serpent called Python, which was the terror of all
the land. Oftentimes, coming out of its den, this monster attacked the
flocks and herds, and sometimes even their keepers; and it had been
known to carry little children and helpless women to its den, and there
devour them.

The men of the place came to Apollo, and prayed him to drive out or
destroy their terrible enemy. So, taking in hand his silver bow, he
sallied out at break of day to meet the monster when it should issue
from its slimy cave. The vile creature shrank back when it saw its
radiant enemy, and would fain have hidden itself in the deep gorges of
the mountain. But Apollo quickly launched a swift arrow at it, crying,
"Thou bane of man, lie thou upon the earth, and enrich it with thy dead
body!" The never-erring arrow sped to the mark; and the great beast
died, wallowing in its gore. And the people in their joy came out to
meet the archer, singing paeans in his praise. They crowned him with
wild flowers and wreaths of olives, and hailed him as the Pythian king;
and the nightingales sang to him in the groves, and the swallows and
cicadas twittered and tuned their melodies in harmony with his lyre.

But as yet there were no priests in Apollo's temple; and he pondered,
long doubting, as to whom he should choose. One day he stood upon the
mountain's topmost peak, whence he could view all Greece and the seas
around it. Far away in the south, he spied a little ship sailing from
Crete to sandy Pylos; and the men who were on board were Cretan

"These men shall serve in my temple!" he cried.

Upward he sprang, and high he soared above the sea; then swiftly
descending like a fiery star, he plunged into the waves. There he
changed himself into the form of a dolphin, and swam with speed to
overtake the vessel.

Long before the ship had reached Pylos, the mighty fish came up with
it, and struck its stern. The crew were dumb with terror, and sat
still in their places; their oars were motionless; the sail hung limp
and useless from the mast. Yet the vessel sped through the waves with
the speed of the wind, for the dolphin was driving it forward by the
force of his fins. Past many a headland, past Pylos and other pleasant
harbors, they hastened. Vainly did the pilot try to land at each
favorable place: the ship would not obey her helm. They rounded the
headland of Araxus, and came into the long bay of Crissa; and there the
dolphin left off guiding the vessel, and swam playfully around it,
while a brisk west wind filled the sail, and bore the voyagers safely
into port.

Then the dolphin changed into the form of a glowing star, which,
shooting high into the heavens, lit up the whole world with its glory;
and as the awe-stricken crew stood gazing at the wonder, it fell with
the quickness of light upon Mount Parnassus. Into his temple Apollo
hastened, and there he kindled an undying fire. Then, in the form of a
handsome youth, with golden hair falling in waves upon his shoulders,
he hastened to the beach to welcome the Cretan strangers.

"Hall, seamen!" he cried. "Who are you, and whence do you come? Shall
I greet you as friends and guests, or shall I know you as robbers
bringing death and distress to many a fair home?"

Then answered the Cretan captain, "Fair stranger, the gods have brought
us hither; for by no wish of our own have we come. We are Cretan
merchants, and we were on our way to Pylos with stores of merchandise,
to barter with the tradesmen of that city. But some unknown being,
whose might is greater than the might of men, has carried us far beyond
our wished-for port, even to this unknown shore. Tell us now, we pray
thee, what land is this? And who art thou who lookest so like a god?"

"Friends and guests, for such indeed you must be," answered the radiant
youth, "think never again of sailing upon the wine-faced sea, but draw
now your vessel high up on the beach. And when you have brought out
all your goods and built an altar upon the shore, take of your white
barley which you have with you, and offer it reverently to Phoebus
Apollo. For I am he; and it was I who brought you hither, so that you
might keep my temple, and make known my wishes unto men. And since it
was in the form of a dolphin that you first saw me, let the town which
stands around my temple be known as Delphi [Dolphin], and let men
worship me there as Apollo Delphinius."

Then the Cretans did as he had bidden them: they drew their vessel high
up on the white beach, and when they had unladen it of their goods,
they built an altar on the shore, and offered white barley to Phoebus
Apollo, and gave thanks to the ever-living powers who had saved them
from the terrors of the deep. After they had feasted and rested from
their long voyage, they turned their faces toward Parnassus; and
Apollo, playing sweeter music than men had ever heard, led the way; and
the folk of Delphi, with choirs of boys and maidens, came to meet them,
singing songs of victory as they helped the Cretans up the steep
pathway to the temple in the cleft of the mountain.

"I leave you now to have sole care of my temple," said Apollo. "I
charge you to keep it well. Deal righteously with all men; let no
unclean thing pass your lips; forget self; guard well your thoughts,
and keep your hearts free from guile. If you do these things, you
shall be blessed with length of days and all that makes life glad. But
if you forget my words, and deal treacherously with men, and cause any
to wander from the path of right, then shall you be driven forth
homeless and accursed, and others shall take your places in the service
of my house."

Then the bright youth left them and hastened away to Mount Olympus.
But every year he came again, and looked into his house, and spoke
words of warning and of hope to his servants; and men say that he has
often been seen on Parnassus, playing his lyre to the listening Muses,
or with his sister, Artemis, chasing the mountain deer.



"When I was younger than I am to-day," said the old chief, as they sat
one evening in the light of the blazing brands - "when I was much
younger than now, it was my fortune to take part in the most famous
boar hunt the world has ever known.

"There lived at that time, in Calydon, a mighty chief named
Oineus - and, indeed, I know not but that he still lives. Oineus was
rich in vineyards and in orchards, and no other man in all Greece was
happier or more blessed than he. He had married, early in life, the
Princess Althea, fairest of the maidens of Acarnania; and to them a son
had been born, golden-haired and beautiful, whom they called Meleager.

"When Meleager was yet but one day old, his father held him in his
arms, and prayed to Zeus and the mighty powers above: 'Grant, Father
Zeus, and all ye deathless ones, that this my son may be the foremost
among the men of Greece. And let it come to pass, that when they see
his valiant deeds, his countrymen shall say, "Behold, this youth is
greater than his father," and all of one accord shall hail him as their
guardian king.'

"Then his mother, Althea, weeping tears of joy, prayed that the boy
might grow up to be pure-minded and gentle, the hope and pride of his
parents, and the delight and staff of their declining years.

"Scarcely had the words of prayer died from her lips, when there came
into her chamber the three unerring Fates who spin the destinies of
men. White-robed and garlanded, they stood beside the babe, and with
unwearied fingers drew out the lines of his untried life. Clotho held
the golden distaff in her hand, and twirled and twisted the delicate
thread. Lachesis, now sad, now hopeful, with her long white fingers
held the hour-glass, and framed her lips to say, 'It is enough.' And
Atropos, blind and unpitying as the future always is, stood ready, with
cruel shears, to clip the twist in twain. Busily and silently Clotho
spun; and the golden thread, thin as a spider's web, yet beautiful as a
sunbeam, grew longer and more golden between her skilful fingers. Then
Lachesis cried out, 'It is finished!' But Atropos hid her shears
beneath her mantle, and said, 'Not so. Behold, there is a brand
burning upon the hearth. Wait until it is all burned into ashes and
smoke, and then I will cut the thread of the child's life. Spin on,
sweet Clotho!'

"Quick as thought, Althea sprang forward, snatched the blazing brand
from the hearth, and quenched its flame in a jar of water; and when she
knew that not a single spark was left glowing upon it, she locked it
safely in a chest where none but she could find it. As she did this,
the pitiless sisters vanished from her sight, saying as they flitted
through the air, 'We bide our time.'

"Meleager grew up to be a tall and fair and gentle youth; and when at
last he became a man, he sailed on the ship Argo, with Jason and the
great heroes of that day, in search of the Golden Fleece. Many brave
deeds were his in foreign lands; and when he came home again to
Calydon, he brought with him a fair young wife, gentle Cleopatra,
daughter of Idas the boaster.

"Oineus had gathered in his harvest; and he was glad and thankful in
his heart, because his fields had yielded plenteously; his vines had
been loaded with purple grapes, and his orchards filled with abundance
of pleasant fruit. Grateful, as men should always be, to the givers of
peace and plenty, he held within his halls a harvest festival, to which
he invited the brave and beautiful of all the country round. Happy was
this feast, and the hours were bright with smiles and sunshine; and men
forgot sorrow and labor, and thought only of the gladness of life.

"Then Oineus took of the first-fruits of his fields and his vineyards
and his orchards, and offered them with much thankfulness to the givers
of good. But he forgot to deck the shrine of Artemis with gifts,
little thinking that the huntress queen cared for anything which mortal
men might offer her. Ah, woful mistake was that! For, in her anger at
the slight, Artemis sent a savage boar, with ivory tusks and foaming
mouth, to overrun the lands of Calydon. Many a field did the monster
ravage, many a tree uproot; and all the growing vines, which late had
borne so rich a vintage, were trampled to the ground.

"Sadly troubled was Oineus, and he knew not what to do. For the fierce
beast could not be slain, but with his terrible tusks he had sent many
a rash hunter to an untimely death. Then the young man Meleager said,
'I will call together the heroes of Greece, and we will hunt the boar
in the wood of Calydon.'

"So at the call of Meleager, the warriors flocked from every land, to
join in the hunt of the fierce wild boar. Among them came Castor and
Pollux, the twin brothers; and Idas, the boaster, the father-in-law of
Meleager; and mighty Jason, captain of the Argo; and Atalanta, the
swift-footed daughter of Iasus, of Arcadia; and many Acarnanian
huntsmen led by the brothers of Queen Althea. Thither also did I
hasten, although men spitefully said that I was far more skilful in
taking tame beasts than in slaying wild ones.

"Nine days we feasted in the halls of Oineus; and every day we tried
our skill with bows and arrows, and tested the strength of our
well-seasoned spears. On the tenth, the bugles sounded, and hounds and
huntsmen gathered in the courtyard of the chief, chafing for the hunt.

"Soon we sallied forth from the town, a hundred huntsmen, with dogs
innumerable. Through the fields and orchards, laid waste by the savage
beast, we passed; and Atalanta, keen of sight and swift of foot, her
long hair floating in the wind behind her, led all the rest. It was
not long until, in a narrow dell once green with vines and trees, but
now strewn thick with withered branches, we roused the fierce creature
from his lair.

"At first he fled, followed closely by the baying hounds. Then
suddenly he faced his foes; with gnashing teeth and bloodshot eyes, he
charged furiously upon them. A score of hounds were slain outright;
and Cepheus, of Arcadia, rushing blindly onward, was caught by the
beast, and torn in pieces by his sharp tusks. Then swift-footed
Atalanta, bounding forward, struck the beast a deadly blow with her
spear. He stopped short, and ceased his furious onslaught.

"Terrible were the cries of the wounded creature, as he made a last
charge upon the huntsmen. But Meleager with a skilful sword-thrust
pierced his heart and the beast fell weltering in his gore. Great joy
filled the hearts of the Calydonians when they saw the scourge of their

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryJames BaldwinHero Tales → online text (page 1 of 9)