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The Cranes of Ibycus.
EVERAL old writers mention a race of little men
called Pygmies, who lived far away toward the rising of the sun. These little people were afraid of some large birds called cranes, which had long bills and immense appetites. The Pygmies and the cranes had great battles, in which the little people were often beaten and eaten.
After awhile the birds came together by common consent in a great council, and it was agreed that they should all fly away. They formed in ranks like an army, put guards in the rear to keep the army in order and not let any weaker ones get lost. Then they appointed a leader, and rising high into the air where they could see far off into the distance and choose the pleasantest land, they set off with great screams.
It was evening when they started. They flew all night and rested in the daytime, when they hid themselves in tall grasses in marshy places. They appointed day-guards to watch while they slept.
They put a stone in the claw of each guard and told him that he would be punished if he let it fall.
When the guards were appointed, the birds tucked their heads under their wings, each standing on one foot, and dropped off into a slumber.
It is said that they slept all day, and when night * From Stories from Plato, by permission of Ginn & Co., publishers.
came they flew on again, so that no one should see them flying, and that they carried their crops full of sand, and stones in their claws to steady them in their flight, as a ship carries ballast.
As they journeyed along they looked down one bright moonlight night and saw a wandering musician, a minstrel, singing from door to door. He sang such songs as the birds sing, and the cranes stopped in their flight to listen.
Ibycus, for that was the wanderer's name, had started out to attend a chariot race, where all the tribes of the country came once a year to a festival. Here the poets met and the singers; and those who sang the sweetest songs were crowned with pine. Ibycus had learned his music from Apollo, the god of music, who was said to understand all harmonies, and to play on a harp with golden strings.
When Ibycus left the town and entered the forest he began to be afraid, for he did not know the way. But looking upward, he saw the gray squadron moving swiftly through the skies, and he called out, “Hail to thee, friendly band! I deem it a favorable sign that thou, too, art come from a distant coast, and dost go in the same direction with me.”
Ibycus hastened on in a joyous mood, and soon reached a little bridge where he was attacked by two robbers, who came to steal the gifts which travelers laid on the altars of the gods that were all about the groves. They were rough fellows, unable to understand the gentle poet, whose hand could tune the lyre, but could not string the deadly bow. The poet struggled to free himself, and cried out for help, but no one
came to his assistance. Then he called to the cranes, “Bear ye my dying song to the festival." And he lay down and died of the wounds the robbers had inflicted.
The news of the poet's death was received with great grief at the festival, and all the people hastened to pour wine on the ground that the spirit of the dead man might be at peace and pass to the happy fields of Elysium. But there was a band of furies who circled in a stately dance, chanting fearful songs of sorrow for the beloved Ibycus.
Suddenly the heavens became black as night, and a voice cried out, “See there! See there! Behold the cranes!" When the robbers saw the cranes, they were seized with trembling, and gave themselves up to punishment.
N the old mythology it was considered a great sin for
any mortal to enter into a contest with a god, and whenever any one did so he incurred a fearful penalty. The maiden Arachne early showed marvelous skill in embroidery and all kinds of needlework. So beautiful were her designs that the nymphs themselves would leave their groves and fountains, and come and gaze, delighted, upon her work. It was not only beautiful when it was done, but was beautiful in doing. As they watched the delicate touch of her fingers they declared that the goddess Minerva must have been her teacher. This Arachne denied, and, grown very vain of her many compliments, she said, “Let Minerva try her skill with mine, and if beaten, I will pay the penalty!"
Minerva heard this, and was greatly displeased with the vanity and presumption of the maiden. Assuming the form of an old woman, she went to Arachne and gave her some friendly advice. “I have much experience," she said, "and I hope you will not despise my counsel. Challenge mortals as much as you like, but do not try to compete with a goddess!" Arachne stopped her spinning, and angrily replied, “Keep your own counsel for your daughters, and handmaids; for my part, I know what I say and I stand to it, I am not afraid of the goddess."
* From Stories of Olden Time. Copyright by D. Appleton & Co., 1889.
Minerva then dropped her disguise, and stood before the company in her proper person. The nymphs at once paid her homage. Arachne alone had no fear. She stood by her resolve, and the contest proceeded. Each took her station, and attached the web to the
Both worked with speed; their skilful hands moved rapidly, and the excitement of the contest made the labor light.
Minerva wrought into her web the scene of her contest with Neptune. The gods are all represented in their most august forms, and the picture is noble in its perfect simplicity and chaste beauty. In the four corners she wrought scenes where mortals entered into the contest with gods and were punished for their presumption. These were meant as warnings to her rival to give up the contest before it was too late.
Arachne filled her web with subjects designedly chosen to exhibit the failings and errors of the gods. Every story to their discredit she appears to have treasured up.
The last scene she represented was that of Jupiter in the form of a bull carrying off Europa across the sea, leaving the heart-broken mother to wander in search of her child until she died.
Minerva examined the work of her rival, and doubly angry at the presumption and sacrilege manifested in her choice of subjects, struck her web with a shuttle and tore it from the loom. She then touched the forehead of Arachne and made her feel her guilt and shame. This she could not endure, and went out and hanged herself. Minerva pitied her, as she saw her hanging by a rope. “Live, guilty woman,” she said, "and that you may preserve the memory of this lesson,