LLR Books

The Lost Roman Legion (s)

After the Parthians of Persia defeated an underachieving Roman army led by General Crassus, legend has it a small band of POWs wandered through the desert and eventually were rounded up by the Han military. First-century Chinese historian Ban Gu wrote an account of a confrontation with a strange army that fought in a "fish-scale formation" unique to Roman forces. An Oxford historian who compared ancient records claimed that the lost roman legion founded a small town near the Gobi desert named Liqian, which in Chinese translates to Rome. DNA tests are being conducted to settle that claim and hopefully explain some of the residents' green eyes, blond hair and fondness of bullfighting.

Chinese villagers 'descended from Roman soldiers'

Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a 'lost legion' of Roman soldiers. 

Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin.
Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.
A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed by his friends and relatives Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.
Archeologists plan to conduct digs in the region, along the ancient Silk Route, to search for remains of forts or other structures built by the fabled army.
"We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China's early contacts with the Roman Empire," Yuan Honggeng, the head of a newly-established Italian Studies Centre at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, told the China Daily newspaper.
The genetic tests have leant weight to the theory that Roman legionaries settled in the area in the first century BC after fleeing a disastrous battle.
The clash took place in 53BC between an army led by Marcus Crassus, a Roman general, and a larger force of Parthians, from what is now Iran, bringing to an abrupt halt the Roman Empire's eastwards expansion.
Thousands of Romans were slaughtered and Crassus himself was beheaded, but some legionaries were said to have escaped the fighting and marched east to elude the enemy.
They supposedly fought as mercenaries in a war between the Huns and the Chinese in 36BC – Chinese chroniclers refer to the capture of a "fish-scale formation" of troops, a possible reference to the "tortoise" phalanx formation perfected by legionnaries. The wandering Roman soldiers are thought to have been released and to have settled on the steppes of western China.
The theory was first put forward in the 1950s by Homer Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University.
The Roman Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD, just as the Han empire was beginning to decline.
Most historians believe that the two empires had only indirect contact, as silk and spices were traded along the Silk Road through merchants in exchange for Roman goods such as glassware.
But some experts believe they could instead be descended from the armies of Huns that marauded through central Asia, which included soldiers of Caucasian origin.
Maurizio Bettini, a classicist and anthropologist from Siena University, dismissed the theory as "a fairy tale".
"For it to be indisputable, one would need to find items such as Roman money or weapons that were typical of Roman legionaries," he told La Repubblica. "Without proof of this kind, the story of the lost legions is just a legend." 

The other lost Legion 

Legio Nona Hispana (Ninth Spanish Legion)[1] was a Roman legion which operated from the 1st century BC until mid-2nd century AD. The legion's fate is unknown but has been the subject of considerable interest and research. It was based in York in 108. The theory that it was destroyed in action north of Hadrian's Wall around 117 was popularized by a 1954 novel but was somewhat discredited when tile stamps later found in Nijmegen show that the legion was still based there between 121 and 130. Dio Cassius records that a legion was destroyed in Armenia by the Parthians in 161; it was possibly the Ninth Legion. In any event, the Ninth does not appear in a list of legions compiled in 165.
The origin of the legion is uncertain, but Caesar is known to have found a Ninth Legion already based in Gaul in 58 BC, where it remained during the whole campaign of the Gallic wars.
According to Stephen Dando-Collins the legion was raised, along with the 6th, 7th and 8th, by Pompey in Hispania in 65 BC.
Caesar's Ninth Legion fought in the battles of Dyrrhachium and Pharsalus (48 BC) and in the African campaign of 46 BC. After his final victory, Caesar disbanded the legion and settled the veterans in the area of Picenum.
Following Caesar's assassination, Octavian recalled the veterans of the Ninth to fight against the rebellion of Sextus Pompeius in Sicily. After defeating Sextus, they were sent to the province of Macedonia. The Ninth remained with Octavian in his war of 31 BC against Mark Antony and fought by his side in the battle of Actium. With Octavian as sole ruler of the Roman world, the legion was sent to Hispania to take part in the large-scale campaign against the Cantabrians (25–13 BC). The nickname Hispana ("stationed in Hispania") is first found during the reign of Augustus and probably originated at this time.
After this, the legion was probably a member of the imperial army in the Rhine border that was campaigning against the Germanic tribes. Following the abandonment of the Eastern Rhine area (after the disaster of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – 9 AD), the Ninth was relocated in Pannonia.
In 43 AD they probably participated in the Roman invasion of Britain led by emperor Claudius and general Aulus Plautius, because they soon appear amongst the provincial garrison. In 50 AD, the Ninth was one of two legions that defeated the forces of Caratacus at Caer Caradoc. Around 50 AD, the legion constructed a fort, Lindum Colonia, at Lincoln. Under the command of Caesius Nasica they put down the first revolt of Venutius between 52 and 57. The Ninth suffered a serious defeat under Quintus Petillius Cerialis in the rebellion of Boudica (61) and was later reinforced with legionaries from the Germania provinces. Around 71 AD, they constructed a new fortress at York (Eboracum), as shown by finds of tile-stamps from the site.
It is often said that the legion disappeared in Britain about 117 AD. However, names of several high-ranking officers of the Ninth are known to serve with the legion after c. 120 (e.g., Lucius Aemilius Karus, governor of Arabia in 142/143), suggesting that the legion continued in existence after this date. It has been suggested that the legion may have been destroyed during the Bar Kochba Revolt in Iudaea Province, or possibly in the ongoing conflict with the Parthian Empire but there is no firm evidence for this.
The last testified activity of the Ninth in Britain is during the rebuilding in stone of the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum) in 108 AD. Its subsequent movements remain unknown, but there is crucial evidence, in the form of two stamped tiles, of the Legion's presence at Nijmegen (Noviomagus) in the Netherlands, which had been evacuated by X Gemina. As these were stamped by the legion, and not by a vexillation of the legion, they cannot relate to the known presence of a subunit of the legion on the Rhine frontier during the mid-80s when the emperor Domitian was fighting his war against the Chatti.
Two passages from ancient literature are thought to have a bearing on the problem. Evidence for substantial troop losses in Britain is supplied by the Roman historian Marcus Cornelius Fronto, writing in the 160s AD, who consoled the emperor Marcus Aurelius, by reminding him of past tragedies, “Indeed, when your grandfather Hadrian held imperial power, what great numbers of soldiers were killed by the Jews, what great numbers by the Britons”.
 Details of these casualties remain unknown, but, as the emperor Hadrian himself visited Britain around 122 AD, because, “the Britons could not be kept under Roman control”, it is plausible that Hadrian was responding to a military disaster.[14] It is equally likely that the building of Hadrian's Wall stirred up trouble in the area.
The Ninth was certainly no longer in existence by the mid-2nd century as a list of legions compiled during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD) fails to mention it. Sheppard Frere, an eminent Romano-British authority, has concluded that, "further evidence is needed before more can be said".
Nevertheless, Miles Russell (senior lecturer in Roman Archaeology at Bournemouth University) has claimed that "by far the most plausible answer to the question 'what happened to the Ninth' is that they fought and died in Britain, disappearing in the late 110s or early 120s when the province was in disarray".
Further speculation about a serious British war during the reign of Hadrian may be supported by a tombstone recovered from Vindolanda, Chesterholm in Northumberland. Here, the man commemorated, Titus Annius, a centurion of the First Cohort of Tungrians, had been, “killed in ... war” (in bello ... interfectus).
 Further afield, a tombstone from Ferentinum in Italy was set up to Titus Pontius Sabinus, who, amongst other things, had commanded detachments of the VII Gemina, VIII Augusta and XXII Primigenia Legions on the “British expedition”, taking reinforcements to the island after (or even during) a major conflict, probably early in the emperor Hadrian’s reign (117–138 AD).


At Iolcus, in Thessaly, there once reigned a virtuous king, Æson, with
his good wife, Alcimede. Their happiness, however, was soon disturbed
by Pelias, the king's brother, who, aided by an armed host, took
forcible possession of the throne. Æson and Alcimede, in fear of their
lives, were forced to resort to a hasty and secret flight, taking with
them their only son, Jason.

The king and queen soon found a place of refuge, but, afraid lest
their hiding place should be discovered and they should all be slain
by the cruel Pelias, they intrusted their son to the Centaur Chiron,
revealing to him alone the secret of the child's birth, and bidding
him train him up to avenge their wrongs.

Chiron discharged his duties most faithfully, trained the young prince
with great care, and soon made him the wisest and most skillful of his
pupils. The years spent by Jason in the diligent acquisition of
knowledge, strength, and skill, passed very quickly; and at last the
time came when Chiron made known to him the secret of his birth, and
the story of the wrongs inflicted by Pelias, the usurper, upon his
unfortunate parents.

[Sidenote: Jason's vow.]

This tale aroused the young prince's anger, and made him solemnly vow
to punish his uncle, or perish in the attempt. Chiron encouraged him
to start, and in parting bade him remember that Pelias alone had
injured him, but that all the rest of the human race were entitled to
any aid he could bestow. Jason listened respectfully to his tutor's
last instructions; then, girding his sword and putting on his sandals,
he set out on his journey to Iolcus.

It was early in the spring, and the young man had not gone very far
before he came to a stream, which, owing to the usual freshets of the
season, was almost impassable. Jason, however, quite undaunted by the
rushing, foaming waters, was about to attempt the crossing, when he
saw an aged woman not far from him, gazing in helpless despair at the
waters she could not cross.

Naturally kind-hearted and helpful, and, besides that, mindful of
Chiron's last recommendation, Jason offered the old woman his
assistance, proposing to carry her across on his back if she would but
lend him her staff to lean upon. The old woman gladly accepted this
offer; and a few moments later, Jason, bending beneath his strange
load, was battling with the rapid current.

After many an effort, breathless and almost exhausted, Jason reached
the opposite bank, and, after depositing his burden there, scrambled
up beside her, casting a rueful glance at the torrent, which had
wrenched off one of his golden sandals. He was about to part from the
old dame with a kindly farewell, when she was suddenly transformed
into a large, handsome, imperious-looking woman, whom, owing to the
peacock by her side, he immediately recognized as Juno, queen of
heaven. He bent low before her, and claimed her aid and protection,
which she graciously promised ere she vanished from his sight.

With eager steps Jason now pressed onward, nor paused until he came in
view of his native city. As he drew near, he noticed an unusual
concourse of people, and upon inquiry discovered that Pelias was
celebrating a festival in honor of the immortal gods. Up the steep
ascent leading to the temple Jason hastened, and pressed on to the
innermost circle of spectators, until he stood in full view of his
enemy Pelias, who, unconscious of coming evil, continued offering the

[Sidenote: The one sandal.]

At last the ceremony was completed, and the king cast an arrogant
glance over the assembled people. His eyes suddenly fell upon Jason's
naked foot, and he grew pale with horror as there flashed into his
memory the recollection of an ancient oracle, warning him to beware of
the man who appeared before him wearing but one sandal. Pelias
tremblingly bade the guards bring forth the uninvited stranger. His
orders were obeyed; and Jason, confronting his uncle boldly, summoned
him to make a full restitution of the power he had so unjustly seized.

[Sidenote: Phryxus and Helle.]

To surrender power and wealth and return to obscurity was not to be
thought of; but Pelias artfully concealed his displeasure, and told
his nephew that they would discuss the matter and come to an amicable
understanding after the banquet, which was already spread and awaiting
their presence. During the festive meal, bards sang of all the heroic
deeds accomplished by great men; and Pelias, by judicious flattery,
stimulated Jason to attempt similar feats. At last the musicians
recited the story of Phryxus and Helle, the son and daughter of
Athamas and Nephele, who, to escape the cruel treatment of their
stepmother, Ino (p. 174), mounted a winged, golden-fleeced ram sent by
Neptune to transport them to Colchis.

The ram flew over land and sea; but Helle, frightened at the sight of
the waves tossing far beneath her, suddenly lost her hold on the
golden fleece, and tumbled off the ram's back into a portion of the
sea since known as the Hellespont,

    "Where beauteous Helle found a watery grave."


Phryxus, more fortunate than his sister, reached Colchis in safety,
and in gratitude to the gods sacrificed the ram they had sent to
deliver him, and hung its golden fleece on a tree, near which he
stationed a dragon to guard it night and day. The bards then went on
to relate that the glittering trophy still hung there, awaiting a hand
bold enough to slay the dragon and bear it off.

[Sidenote: The golden fleece.]

This tale and his liberal potations greatly excited the youth Jason;
and Pelias, perceiving it, hypocritically regretted his inability to
win the golden fleece, and softly insinuated that young men of the
present generation were not brave enough to risk their lives in such
a glorious cause. The usurper's crafty remarks had the desired effect;
for Jason suddenly sprang from his seat, and vowed he would go in
quest of the golden fleece. Pelias, quite certain that the rash youth
would lose his life in the attempt, and thus cause no more trouble,
with much difficulty restrained all expressions of joy, and dared him
to make the attempt.

    "With terror struck, lest by young Jason's hand
    His crown should be rent from him, Pelias sought
    By machinations dark to slay his foe.
    From Colchis' realm to bring the golden fleece
    He charged the youth."

                         Orphic Argonautics.

[Sidenote: The Speaking Oak.]

When Jason, sobered and refreshed by a long night's rest, perceived
how foolish had been his vow, he would fain have recalled it; but,
mindful of Chiron's teachings ever to be true to his word, he resolved
to depart for Colchis. To secure Juno's assistance, he began by
visiting her shrine at Dodona, where the oracle, a Speaking Oak,
assured him of the goddess's good will and efficacious protection.
Next the Speaking Oak bade him cut off one of its own mighty limbs,
and carve from it a figurehead for the swift-sailing vessel which
Minerva, at Juno's request, would build for his use from pine trees
grown on Mount Pelion.

[Sidenote: The Argo and crew.]

Jason, having finished his figurehead, found that it too had the gift
of speech, and that it would occasionally vouchsafe sage counsel in
the direction of his affairs. When quite completed, Jason called his
vessel the Argo (swift-sailing), and speedily collected a crew of
heroes as brave as himself, among whom were Hercules, Castor, Pollux,
Peleus, Admetus, Theseus, and Orpheus, who were all glad to undertake
the perilous journey to lands unknown. To speed them on their way,
Juno then bargained with Æolus for favorable winds, and forbade any
tempest which might work them harm.

    "Then with a whistling breeze did Juno fill the sail,
    And Argo, self-impell'd, shot swift before the gale."

                  Onomacritus (Elton's tr.).

[Sidenote: Story of Hylas.]

On several occasions the heroes landed, either to renew their stock of
provisions or to recruit their strength, but in general every delay
brought them some misfortune. Once Hercules, having landed with a
youth named Hylas to cut wood for new oars, bade the youth go to a
neighboring spring and draw a pitcher of water to quench the thirst
produced by his exertions. The youth promptly departed; but as he bent
over the fountain, the nymphs, enamored with his beauty, drew him down
into their moist abode to keep them company. Hercules, after vainly
waiting for Hylas' return, went in search of him, but could find no
trace of him, and, in his grief and disappointment at the death of his
young friend, refused to continue the expedition, and, deserting the
Argonauts, made his way home alone and on foot.

[Sidenote: Phineus and the Harpies.]

On another occasion, when Jason visited Phineus, the blind king of
Thrace, he heard that this monarch's life was imbittered by the
Harpies, vile monsters, part woman, part bird, who ate or befouled all
the food placed before him, and never let him eat a mouthful in peace.
Having repeated this tale to his companions, the two sons of Boreas,
who were also in the Argo, begged permission to drive them away. Jason
could not refuse their request; and the two youths, with drawn swords,
pursued the Harpies to the Strophades Islands, where the birds
promised to remain.

Jason, sailing on in the mean while, was attacked by a flock of
brazen-feathered birds, which rained their sharp plumage down upon the
Argonauts, wounding many of them sorely. The captain of the
expedition, seeing weapons were of no avail against these foes,
consulted the figurehead, and, in obedience to its directions, clashed
his arms against his shield, until, terrified by the din, the
brazen-feathered birds flew rapidly away, uttering discordant cries of

[Sidenote: The Symplegades.]

Some time during the course of their journey the Argonauts came to the
Symplegades,--floating rocks which continually crashed together, and
ground to powder all objects caught between them. Jason knew he was
obliged to pass between these rocks or give up the expedition: so,
calculating that the speed of his vessel was equal to that of a dove
on the wing, he sent one out before him. The dove flew safely between
the rocks, losing only one of its tail feathers as they again clashed
together. Watching his opportunity, therefore, Jason bade his men row
swiftly. The Argo darted through the opening, and, when the rocks
again came into contact, they merely grazed the rudder. As a vessel
had passed between them unharmed, their power for evil left them, and
they were chained fast to the bottom of the sea, near the mouth of the
Bosporus, where they remained immovable like any other rocks.

[Sidenote: Arrival at Colchis.]

The Argonauts, after other adventures far too numerous to recount in
detail, reached the Colchian shores, and presented themselves before
Æetes, the king, to whom they made known their errand. Loath to part
with his golden treasure, Æetes declared, that, before Jason could
obtain the fleece, he must catch and harness two wild, fire-breathing
bulls dedicated to Vulcan, and make use of them to plow a stony piece
of ground sacred to Mars. This done, he must sow the field with some
dragon's teeth, as Cadmus had done (p. 48), conquer the giants which
would spring up, and, last of all, slay the guardian dragon, or the
fleece would never be his.

[Sidenote: Medea's aid.]

One of these tasks would have sufficed to dismay many a brave youth;
but Jason was of the dauntless kind, and merely hastened down to his
vessel to ask the figurehead how he had better proceed. On his way to
the seashore he met the king's daughter, Medea, a beautiful young
sorceress, who had been charmed by his modest but firm bearing, and
who was quite ready to bring her magic to his aid if he would but
promise to marry her. Jason, susceptible to her attractions, and free
from any conflicting ties, readily agreed to her proposal, and,
carrying out her directions, caught and harnessed the fiery bulls,
plowed the field, and sowed it with the dragon's teeth.

    "And how he yoked the bulls, whose breathings fiery glow'd,
    And with the dragons' teeth the furrow'd acres sow'd."

                  Onomacritus (Elton's tr.).

But when he saw glittering spears and helmets grow out of the ground,
and beheld the close ranks of giants in full armor, he was filled with
dismay, and would have fled had it been possible. However, aware that
such a performance would insure his ruin, he stood his ground, and,
when the phalanx was quite near him, threw a handful of dust full in
the giants' faces. Blinded with the sand, the giants attacked one
another, and in a short time were exterminated.

                    "They, like swift dogs,
    Ranging in fierceness, on each other turn'd
    Tumultuous battle. On their mother earth
    By their own spears they sank; like pines, or oaks,
    Strew'd by a whirlwind in the mountain dale."

           Apollonius Rhodius (Elton's tr.).

[Sidenote: The fleece captured.]

Accompanied by Medea, Jason next hastened to the tree where the dragon
kept guard over his treasure. An opiate prepared by Medea's magic
skill soon made the dragon forget his charge in a profound sleep, and
enabled Jason to draw near enough to sever his frightful head from his
hideous trunk. Jason then tore the coveted fleece from the branch
where it had hung for many a year, and bore it in triumph to the Argo.

    "Exulting Jason grasped the shining hide,
    His last of labors, and his envied pride.
    Slow from the groaning branch the fleece was rent."

                      Flaccus (Elton's tr.).

His companions, who had made ready for a hasty departure, were already
seated at their oars; and, as soon as he had embarked with Medea and
her attendants, the Argo shot out of the Colchian harbor.

  [Illustration: JASON AND THE DRAGON.--Salvator Rosa.]

      "How softly stole from home the luckless-wedded maid,
    Through darkness of the night, in linen robe array'd;
    By Fate to Argo led, and urged by soft desire,
    Nor yet regarding aught her father's furious ire."

                  Onomacritus (Elton's tr.).

When morning dawned and Æetes awoke, he heard that the dragon was
slain, the fleece stolen, his daughter gone, and the Grecian ship far
out of sight. No time was lost in useless wailing, but a vessel was
hurriedly launched and manned, and the king in person set out in
pursuit of the fugitives, who had, moreover, taken his most precious
treasure, his only son and heir, Absyrtus. Although the Colchian men
were good sailors and skillful rowers, they did not catch sight of the
Argo until they came near the mouth of the Danube, and Æetes wildly
called to his daughter to return to her home and to her father.

      "'Stay thy rash flight! and, from the distant main,--
    For oh! thou canst, my daughter,--turn again.
    Whither depart? the vessel backward steer;
    Thy friends, thy still fond father, wait thee here.'"

                      Flaccus (Elton's tr.).

[Sidenote: Death of Absyrtus.]

But Medea had no wish to be torn away from Jason's arms, and, instead
of listening to her father's entreaties, urged the Argonauts to
redoubled efforts. Little by little the distance between the two
vessels grew less; the Colchian rowers were gaining upon the Greek;
and Medea saw, that, unless she found means to delay her father, he
would overtake her and compel her to return. With her own hands she
therefore slew her little brother, Absyrtus, and cut his body into
pieces, which she dropped over the side of the vessel one by one.
Æetes, a helpless witness of this cruel, awful deed, piously collected
his son's remains, and, in pausing to do so, lost sight of the Argo,
and all hope of recovering his unnatural daughter: so he returned
sadly to Colchis, where he buried his son's remains with due

  [Illustration: MEDEA.--Sichel.]

[Sidenote: Pelias dethroned.]

In the mean while, Pelias had reigned contentedly over Thessaly,
confident that Jason would never return. Imagine his dismay,
therefore, when he heard that the Argo had arrived, bearing Jason, now
the proud possessor of the renowned golden fleece. Ere he could take
measures to maintain his usurped authority, Jason appeared, and
compelled him to resign the throne in favor of the rightful king,

Unfortunately, Æson was now so old and decrepit, that power had no
charms for him: so Jason begged Medea to use her magic in his behalf,
and restore him to the vigor and beauty of his early manhood. To
gratify Jason, Medea called all her magic into play, and by some
mysterious process restored Æson to all his former youth, strength,
activity, and grace.

    "Medea's spells dispersed the weight of years,
    And Æson stood a youth 'mid youthful peers."


[Sidenote: The magic recipe.]

As soon as Pelias' daughters heard of this miraculous transformation,
they hastened to Medea and implored her to give them the recipe, that
they might rejuvenate their father also. The sorceress maliciously
bade them cut their father's body into small pieces, and boil them in
a caldron with certain herbs, declaring that, if the directions were
carefully carried out, the result would be satisfactory; but, when the
too credulous maidens carried out these instructions, they only slew
the father whom they had so dearly loved.

Days and years now passed happily and uneventfully for Jason and
Medea; but at last their affection for each other cooled, and Jason
fell in love with Glauce, or Creusa. Frantic with jealousy, Medea
prepared and sent the maiden a magic robe, which she no sooner donned
than she was seized with terrible convulsions, in which she died.
Medea, still full of resentment against Jason, then slew her own
children, and, mounting her dragon car, departed, leaving a message
for Jason, purporting that the Argo would yet cause his death.

[Sidenote: Death of Jason.]

Jason, a victim of remorse and despair, now led a weary and sorrowful
life, and every day he wandered down to the shore, where he sat under
the shade of the Argo's hulk, which was slowly rotting away. One day,
while he was sitting there musing over his youthful adventures and
Medea's strange prophecy, a sudden gale detached a beam, which,
falling on his head, fractured his skull and caused instantaneous

The Argonautic expedition is emblematic of the first long maritime
voyage undertaken by the Greeks for commercial purposes; while the
golden fleece which Jason brought back from Colchis is but a symbol of
the untold riches they found in the East, and brought back to their
own native land.



[Sidenote: Birth of Meleager.]

Œneus and Althæa, King and Queen of Calydon, in Ætolia, were very
happy in the possession of a little son, Meleager, only a few days
old, until they heard that the Fates had decreed the child should live
only as long as the brand then smoking and crackling on the hearth.
The parents were motionless with grief, until Althæa, with true
mother's wit, snatched the brand from the fire, plunged it into an
earthen jar filled with water, quenched the flames which were
consuming it, and, carefully laying it aside, announced her intention
to keep it forever.

Meleager, thus saved from an untimely death by his mother's presence
of mind, grew up a brave and handsome youth, and joined the Argonautic
expedition. While he was absent, his father omitted the yearly
sacrifice to Diana, who, enraged at his neglect, sent a monstrous boar
to devour his subjects and devastate his realm. Meleager, on his
return, gathered together all the brave men of the country, and
instituted a great hunt, whose main object was the capture or death of
the obnoxious boar.

[Sidenote: The hunters.]

Jason, Nestor, Peleus, Admetus, Theseus, Pirithous, and many other
noted heroes, came at his call; but the attention of all the
spectators was specially attracted by Castor and Pollux, and by the
fair Atalanta, daughter of Iasius, King of Arcadia. This princess had
led a very adventurous life; for when but a babe, her father,
disappointed to see a daughter instead of the longed-for son, had
exposed her on Mount Parthenium to the fury of the wild beasts. Some
hunters, passing there shortly after this, found the babe fearlessly
nursing from a she-bear, and in compassion carried her home, where
they trained her to love the chase.

The grand Calydonian Hunt was headed by Meleager and Atalanta, who
were very fond of each other, and who boldly led the rest in pursuit
of the boar. From one end of the Calydonian forest to the other the
boar fled, closely pursued by the hunt, and was at last brought to bay
by Atalanta, who succeeded in dealing him a mortal wound. But even in
his dying struggles the boar would have killed her, had not Meleager
come to her rescue and given him his deathblow.

[Sidenote: Meleager slays his uncles.]

All the hunt now gathered around the boar's corpse, and watched
Meleager take its spoil, which he gallantly bestowed upon Atalanta.
Althæa's two brothers were present at the hunt; and, as they wished to
possess the skin, they bitterly reproved their nephew on their way
home for giving it to a stranger. They added taunts to this reproof,
which so angered Meleager, that, in a sudden fit of passion, he slew
them both. When Althæa saw her brothers' corpses, and heard that they
had been slain by her son, she vowed to avenge their death, drew the
carefully cherished brand from its hiding place, and threw it upon the
fire burning brightly on her hearth. When the last bit of the precious
wood crumbled away into ashes, Meleager died. All Althæa's affection
for her son returned when his lifeless corpse was brought to her, and
in her despair she committed suicide.

  [Illustration: ATALANTA'S RACE.--Poynter.]

[Sidenote: Atalanta's race.]

In the mean while, Atalanta, proud of her skill and of her spoil, had
returned to her father's court, where, no other heir having appeared,
she was joyfully received, and entreated to marry. Many suitors came
to woo the fair princess, but most of them refrained from pressing
their suit when they heard what conditions were imposed upon all who
would obtain her hand; for Atalanta disapproved of marriage, and,
anxious to keep her freedom, decreed that she should marry only on
condition that her suitor would beat her in a foot race. If he were
beaten, however, he must pay for his defeat by forfeiting his life.

[Sidenote: The golden apples.]

In spite of these barbarous terms, a few youths had tried to outrun
her; but they failed, and their lifeless heads were exposed on the
racing ground to deter all other suitors. Undaunted by these ghastly
trophies, Hippomenes, or Milanion, once came to Atalanta and expressed
a desire to race with her. This youth had previously obtained Venus'
protection, and concealed under his garment her gift of three golden
apples. Atalanta prepared for her race as usual, and, as usual, passed
her rival; but just as she did so, one of the golden apples rolled at
her feet. For a moment she paused, then stooped and picked it up ere
she resumed the race. Her adversary had passed her and won some
advance; but she soon overtook him, when a second golden apple caused
a second delay. She was about to reach the goal first, as usual, when
a third golden treasure tempted her to pause, and enabled Hippomenes
to win the race.

                "Hippomenes turns her astray
    By the golden illusions he flings on her way."


Atalanta could now no longer refuse to marry, and her nuptials were
soon celebrated. In his happiness at having won such a peerless bride,
Hippomenes forgot to pay the promised thanks to Venus, for which
offense he and his wife were severely punished by being transformed
into a pair of lions, and doomed to drag Cybele's car (p. 19).

[Sidenote: Castor and Pollux.]

The twin brothers Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri, or Gemini, who had
greatly distinguished themselves by their daring in the Calydonian
Hunt, were made the deities of boxing, wrestling, and all equestrian

            "Leda's sons I'll sound,
    Illustrious twins, that are
    For wrestling this, and for the race renown'd."


One of these twins, Castor, was a mortal, and in a combat with the
sons of Aphareus was slain. Pollux, who was immortal, then implored
Jupiter to allow him to die also, that he might not be parted from his
brother,--a proof of brotherly affection which so touched the father
of the gods, that he permitted Castor to return to life on condition
that Pollux would spend half his time in Hades.

Later on, satisfied that even this sacrifice was none too great for
their fraternal love, he translated them both to the skies, where they
form a bright constellation, one of the signs of the zodiac. Castor
and Pollux are generally represented as handsome youths, mounted on
snowy chargers.

    "So like they were, no mortal
      Might one from other know:
    White as snow their armor was:
      Their steeds were white as snow."


Their appearance under certain circumstances foretold success in war,
and the Romans believed that they fought at the head of their legions
at the celebrated battle of Lake Regillus. Their name was also given
to meteors, sometimes seen at sea, which attach themselves like balls
of fire to the masts of ships,--a sure sign, according to the sailors,
of fine weather and an auspicious journey.

    "Safe comes the ship to haven,
      Through billows and through gales,
    If once the Great Twin Brethren
      Sit shining on the sails."


Festivals celebrated in honor of these twin brethren, and called the
Dioscuria, were held in many places, but specially in Sparta, their
birthplace, where they had world-renowned wrestling matches.