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
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: