Tales of Greek Mythology Based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales.

01
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Tanglewood Tales

Nathaniel Hawthorne Portrait
Nathaniel Hawthorne Portrait from 1871 book "Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made," by James D. McCabe, Jr., Illustrated by G. F. and E. B. Bensell. Public Domain - Project Gutenberg

The Wayside. Introductory.

This passage introduces the 6 stories, which serve as a continuation of an earlier series of Greek myths re-told that is known as the Wonder Book. Hawthorne capably addresses the problem of making myths suitable for children.

02
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The Minotaur

Theseus and the Minotaur
Theseus and the Minotaur. CC one_dead_president at Flickr.com.

The Minotaur, by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary of The Minotaur

Theseus grows up in the palace of his maternal grandfather, King Pittheus of Troezene, instead of with his father, King Aegeus of Athens. Theseus' mother tells him Theseus can go to his father when he is strong enough to lift a big rock they use as a bench. When Theseus grows up, and is finally able to lift the rock, he finds a gift from his father: a sword and sandals.

Theseus' mother and her father try to talk Theseus into going to Aegeus by sea, since the roads are treacherous, but to Theseus, it just sounds like a hero-making adventure. Hawthorne quickly summarizes the glory-conferring adventures that await Theseus on the road to Athens, about which, see:

When Theseus arrives at the king's court, Medea is there, the only one aware of who Theseus is. She supports the king's nephews who have no love for the newcomer, seeing him as an intruder who will lessen their futures. Medea tries to persuade Aegeus that Theseus is plotting assassination. She prepares a poison for the king to give the young man the king has yet to recognize. At the last moment, the king sees the sword he had left his son, and so, Theseus is saved. Medea flies away; Theseus is treated to the honor he deserves.

Then Theseus learns about the Cretan Minotaur and its yearly tribute from Athens: 7 young men and 7 young women from Athens are sent as monster kibble. Theseus immediately volunteers to be the 7th. Aegeus agrees, but tells him to switch his ship's sails upon his return, should he defeat the Minotaur, so the king, who will be watching the sea, will be able to see the good sign as early as possible and be happy.

When the human tribute arrive in Crete, it becomes clear that the diet was selected by the king, Minos, not the monster. Minos looks over the 14 and selects Theseus to be the Minotaur's 1st victim to be consumed the next day. While they exchange taunts, Ariadne watches and develops an interest, or, as we might say, a crush. That night, while the 14 rest in prison, she leads Theseus out, gives him back his sword, and hands him one end of a silken string that she holds on to, so that he can find his way out of the labyrinth should he be successful with the Minotaur. Theseus then enters the labyrinth and finds the hideous, raging bull-headed beast. They fight. A horn scrapes Theseus, but then Theseus cuts off the monster's head.

Successful, Theseus easily finds his way out of the labyrinth to Ariadne, who helps further by getting Theseus and the other 13 prisoners back on board their ship before King Minos awakens and takes revenge.

Although Theseus wants Ariadne to come, too, Ariadne refuses to go, since her father still needs her. This lets Theseus off the hook for abandoning her, a crime he commits in other versions of the myth.

The youths set sail, but in their exhilaration, they forget to change the colors of the sails. The old King Aegeus has been watching from the cliffs for signs of his son. When he sees the sad color of the sails, he gives up all desire for life and plunges to his death in the sea.

03
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Pygmies

Heracles and Antaios on a chalice krater.
Heracles and Antaios on a chalice krater. Public Domain. Courtesy of Bibi Saint-Pol at Wikipedia.

Pygmies, by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary of The Pygmies

In this story, Hawthorne brings in 6-8 inch high pygmies as a foil to the cyclops-giant Antaeus.

Antaeus is the son of Mother Earth and a hateful creature to all but his friends, the pygmies, whose chief enemy is the crane. The pygmies see another giant approaching who though smaller than Antaeus looks fierce. They try to warn Antaeus, but he wants to nap. To motivate the giant, the pygmies sting his pride, so he stands up, holding a pinetree as a club to face the newcomer. He roars a request for the stranger to identify himself. The stranger says he is Hercules, en route to the apples of the Hesperides. Antaeus blocks his way and tells him to go back. Hercules responds to the challenge by asking how Antaeus will keep from his chosen path. The giant lifts his tree and tells Hercules he is too puny, so it would be shameful to strike. Instead the giant will only make a slave of Hercules. Hercules tells him to come get his club. Antaeus swings at Hercules, and Hercules responds in kind, not ill-matched at all.

Hercules' club shatters the pine tree, which sends slivers into the poor pygmies who have already lost their city due to the earthquakes the giants' battle has sent through it. Because of the broken tree, the pair switch method of fighting to wrestling. Here Antaeus has an advantage, since he gains strength from contact with his mother. Hercules deduces this and so grab the giant around his middle and holds him aloft until all his breath was gone. Then Hercules safely tosses him away.

Hercules then lies down for a nap. While he rests the pygmies decide to avenge the loss of Antaeus. They set fire to Hercules' hair, which he notices and wakes up. Then myriad pygmy bowmen shoot their arrows at him. With difficulty, Hercules locates the disturbance and listens to the pygmy complaints. And laughs. He promises not to harm the pygmies. Afterward, he either took the whole people with him to Greece or left them in place where they could boast that they had scared Hercules away.

04
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Dragon's Teeth

Europa carried off by Jupiter in the form of a white bull.
Europa and Jupiter, by Nöel-Nicolas Coypel. 1726-1727. Europa carried off by Jupiter in the form of a white bull. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Dragon's Teeth, by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary of The Dragon's Teeth

Europa and her older brothers are playing in the flowers. Then the boys go off to chase a butterfly. Alone, Europe spies a beautiful white bull when her older brothers are already some distance off. Since the bull invites her to sit on its back, Europa decides it would be a good way to travel to her brothers in style. The bull obliges and the children laugh, but then the bull takes off to the shore and the older children last see their sister clutching the bull horn in the middle of the sea.

When the boys come home running and crying, their father, King Agenor, orders them to find their sister and never to return until they have Europa. The queen, Telephassa, joins the boys and a friend in their quest.

The band goes off exchanging their labor for word of their sister. When they grow up, they start to split up. The boys set up homes and communities grew around them, with them as kings because of the presence of royal blood already in their veins. Soon only Cadmus and Telephassa are left, but Telephassa is worn out. When she is about to die, she tells Cadmus to head to the oracle at Delphi.

Arriving at Delphi, Cadmus makes inquiry. The response he receives is to stop looking for his sister. Instead, he should follow the cow and make his home where the cow lies down. Oracles are notoriously difficult to understand, so Cadmus doubts the words -- besides they had only been whispered on the wind, but then he sees a brindled cow. He follows the cow but can never quite reach her. The cow leads Cadmus along an exhausting path, but in time, people join him, alleviating his loneliness. They all pledge to follow the cow, which they do, and then eventually, the cow lies down on a fertile plain. His companions plan to settle with him, but first they go off for water. Cadmus hears a disturbance. He rushes to his companions' aid and sees a great dragon who has consumed all his followers.

The dragon rushes at Cadmus and Cadmus rushes right back, sword in hand, past the fierce teeth into the mouth of the beast from which vantage spot he slashes away, killing the dragon. A voice tells him to take the dragon teeth, which he does. He then plants half of them. They spring up as fully-armed soldiers. The voice orders Cadmus to throw a stone in the midst of the armed men, so Cadmus tosses one that strikes one of the men. The soldiers then fight amongst themselves. When only 5 men remain, the voice instructs Cadmus to have them sheathe their swords. They do so, follow Cadmus, and swear to obey him. Although these, the sown men, want to fight, they agree to Cadmus' orders to build him a city. They call him king.

He sees a woman in the distance whom he hopes is his sister, but the voice tells him it's not, it's Harmonia, who is the daughter of the sky and is recompense for the loss of Europa. Harmonia and he produce many children whom the five sown men help raise.

05
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Circe's Palace

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus, by John William Waterhouse
Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus. Oldham Art Gallery, Oxford, U.K. 1891, by John William Waterhouse. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hawthorne's Circe's Palace, by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary of Circe's Palace

Hawthorne summarizes the disasters of Ulysses, a Trojan War hero of the Greeks better known as Odysseus, before he arrives at the island of Circe. When Ulysses and his crew arrive at the island, they don't know where they are, but are leery because of their recent experiences. Hunger gets the better of them, so Ulysses scouts the area and sees what appears to be the palace of the nobility. He trusts that the residents will be hospitable, but on his way back to his men, a bird seems to try to warn him of something. Ulysses finds and kills a stag near the shore, which his hungry men cook and eat. The next day, hunger returns and a scouting party of half the men, under Eurylochus, is sent to palace Ulysses spotted the previous day. Ulysses stays on the shore with half the men. As the scouts near the palace, the same bird tries to chirp a warning, but only Eurylochus pays heed. When they approach to the palace steps, a pack of wild animals behaving like house pets approaches them. Soon they hear the pleasant singing of a group of women. Eurylochus keeps trying to focus the men on lessons they should have learned, but to no avail, so when the men join the women singing, only Eurylochus stays behind. Meanwhile, Circe prepares a feast for the hungry men. The men behave like swine, so Circe turns them into pigs and drives them out to the sty, where Eurylochus sees them. He returns to Ulysses, who wonders where his comrades are. He hadn't seen the transformation, but suspects foul play. Ulysses sets off for the palace, and on the way runs into "Quicksilver" (Mercury/Hermes) who tells him that the bird who has been trying to warn him used to be King Picus. Hermes also tells what happened to Ulysses' men. Hermes gives Ulysses a special flower that will keep Circe from changing him into a fox. Ulysses then proceeds to the palace where Circe greets him with a lavish show of hospitality. The cup of wine she offered, however, was poisoned. Fortunately, the scent of the flower was proof against its affects. Circe was enraged at her failure to change the man. He in turn, threatens to kill her. Circe begs for her life, promising real hospitality and the restoration of his men. He also has Circe restore the bird, but not the other wild animals whose form reflects their disposition.

06
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The Pomegranate Seeds

Rape of Persephone, by Luca Giordano. 1684-1686.
Rape of Persephone, by Luca Giordano. 1684-1686. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Pomegranate Seeds, by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary of The Pomegranate Seeds

Proserpina (Persephone) was to play with the sea nymphs while her mother Ceres (Demeter) went off to cause the grains of the world to grow. The nymphs wanted to play along the water and beach, but Proserpina wanted to bring them flowers. She ran off to gather them, but before she could return with her apron laden with flowers, she saw a flowering bush she just knew her mother would want to see, so she tugged it free from the ground, revealing a gaping hole beneath. From the hole sprang a 4-horse chariot led by a handsome, regal, but sullen man. He asked her to join him, but when she refused and tried to call for help, he grabbed her and pulled her into the chariot. He promised not to harm her and to give her gems more beautiful than flowers. Pluto is the name of the strange man. He gave her a tour of the Underworld, which is his kingdom. He ordered a feast for her, but she said she won't eat or drink until she is reunited with her mother.

Ceres returned to find her daughter missing and the sea nymphs ignorant of her fate. Ceres began a frantic search for her daughter. Hecate tells Ceres she heard the girl scream, but it's hopeless, so Ceres might as well join her in her dank cave. Ceres suggested that Hecate help her search and if all fails, she'll consent to be a room-mate, so the wretched pair went off. Ceres figured the sun would have seen what happened, so she asked Phoebus who tells her. Knowing where her daughter is turned out not to help Ceres.

Ceres tried to find the entrance to Pluto's realm. In her travels Ceres was mistaken for a nurse. When a sickly boy was thrust into her arms, she agreed to treat him, but insisted on privacy and autonomy. Ceres made the child strong, but the mother couldn't resist watching how she did it. Ceres was using a raked-over-coals method of conferring immortality on the child, but when the mother of the baby interrupted her, she quit and left, now more depressed than ever, so she forbade all plants to grow.

This was unacceptable, so Quicksilver (Hermes/Mercury) was dispatched to Pluto to ask for Proserpina. All the time Proserpina had been with him, he had tried to cajole her with gems and baked goods, but Proserpina wanted fruit and flowers. When he at this point realized this, he offered her a pomegranate. Proserpina didn't mean to, but she put 6 seeds in her mouth before Quicksilver could get her back to the light. When Ceres and her daughter had their reunion, the daughter confessed to the seeds, so it was determined that Proserpina would spend 6 months with her mother and 6 months with the dour king she had started to love.

07
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The Golden Fleece

Douris Cup. Athena and Jason, 5th Century B.C., at the Vatican Museum.
Douris Cup. Athena and Jason, 5th Century B.C., at the Vatican Museum. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hawthorne's Golden Fleece, by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary of The Golden Fleece

In this delightful re-telling for children of the story of Jason, Medea, the Argonauts and the Quest for the Golden Fleece, Hawthorne starts with the upbringing of Jason at the hands of the centaur Chiron. One day, Jason leaves the cave in which he has been instructed to play the harp, to use sword and shield, and cure diseases. He sets off to regain the throne that has wrongly been taken from his family. The queen of the gods tests Jason at the river. He succeeds by taking her across on his back, but in the process uses one of his sandals. He lands in the country of King Pelias amid a festival to Poseidon and excites comments because of his odd footwear. Little does Jason know that the Speaking Oak of Dodona has made a prophecy to King Pelias about the one-sandaled man that he would oust him from the throne. Pelias tricks Jason into sentencing himself to the most dangerous voyage in the world, the quest for the Golden Fleece. Jason agrees to go but on condition that Pelias give up his throne should he return successfully. The talking Oak advises Jason to construct the Argo, which he does and adds a figure head from the talking Oak. Jason gathers a crew of 49 brave young men and one woman and sets sail for Colchis and a series of adventures.

Hawthorne's story ends when the crew successfully seizes the Golden Fleece and heads for home.