The Golden Destiny
One day, as a determined youth traversed the Attic countryside, a rustle in a nearby bush caught his attention for a moment. Submitting to pricking curiosity, he discovered a white dove trapped in the spiky branches. He compassionately freed it from the thorny embrace. Abruptly soaring out of his hands, the dove dropped all appearance of a bird and became a gorgeous woman.
The woman’s divine aura and out-of-this-world beauty assured the gaping youth she could only be the goddess Aphrodite. He fell on his knees in awe.
“Young man, you have passed my test of a kind heart. Tell me: what might be your name and your business here?” the goddess asked in a voice sweet and smooth as honeyed wine.
He replied: “I am Cleolaus, son of the late King Arestor of Aphidnae. My stepfather King Pieras has defied the will of my father, banishing me so that his son can rule. Therefore I seek the Delphic oracle to discover my destiny.”
“Your search for destiny ends here, for I can direct you to a royal wife and another kingdom, provided that you have no fear of danger.”
“Danger means nothing to me.” Cleolaus asserted.
“Listen closely then,” Aphrodite commanded. “Long ago, my husband Hephaestus tried to fashion a coronet for me from a chunk of purest gold. However, for all his skill, he couldn’t bend the gold to his will. Furious, he flung the gold from his workshop with a dreadful curse: that whoever once touched the gold would thenceforward be youthful and beautiful, but once deprived of it, she or he would languish until death or until the gold was recovered. A certain city came into the possession of the gold and ever since has used it to ensure the beauty of their royal womenfolk. But hearken: recently a monster has stolen the gold, causing the king’s daughter to rapidly fail in health. The king has promised the hand of his daughter in marriage and the inheritance of the kingdom to whoever recovers the gold and saves the princess.”
Cleolaus briskly jumped to his feet. “I will go.”
Having traveled far by foot, Cleolaus one day reached a quiet lake nestled in a wood. Here he met a distressed young woman collecting water in a bronze jug. As she bent over the water, her tears broke the surface in a myriad of ripples.
Cleolaus addressed her: “Why do you weep?”
Starting slightly at his voice, she said: “Our king Mantius’ daughter, Tragasia, is dying for lack of a certain piece of gold which kept her beautiful. A horrible monster, known to us as the Aiganthron, has stolen it.”
“Here is my destination!” rejoiced Cleolaus. “Take me to your king’s palace, maiden.
The maiden led Cloelaus to the citadel and pointed out the king and his family exiting a temple. Cleolaus beheld a lovely but very pale young lady carried in a litter beside the king. As he gazed at her, he suddenly desired to do anything for her.
Breaking through the surrounding crowd, Cleolaus threw himself at the king’s feet.
“What is this?” demanded the king.
“My lord, please accept my services to save your daughter by regaining the gold which holds power over her life,” Cleolaus prayed.
The king pondered the handsome young man kneeling before him and spoke: “Rise, young man, whoever you are, I believe you to be sent by the gods: just now I prayed to the divine Aphrodite to send me a man who might love our daughter enough to risk his life for her. Then you appeared. Come, reside with us in our palace; anything you want is at your disposal.”
Too ill to speak, Tragasia smiled.
Living in the palace for several days, Cleolaus diligently investigated the habits of the Aiganthron. Unfortunately for his efforts, nobody had any concrete knowledge about the monster. Rumors abounded, to be sure, but he could find no clear description of its appearance, habits, or location. It recurrently ravaged richly-decorated public places, often carrying off young children with its material plunder. As Tragasia’s mother tearfully recounted to Cleolaus, it stole the silver helmet from the statue of Athena in her temple.
Tragasia had been out celebrating a religious festival when a young slave, who carried the gold chunk wherever Tragasia went, let out a bloodcurdling scream as a dark shape swooped down, carrying off both slave and gold. Few people actually saw where the monster went, but most eyewitnesses pointed in the direction of a wooded mountain. Cleolaus determined to journey there as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Tragasia sickened as her skin whitened and tightened about her delicate skeleton. The few times Cleolaus saw her stimulated his desire to save her life and make her his wife. He finally chose a day on which to seek the monster and communicated his intentions to the king. Although Mantius and his wife wept as he left, they rejoiced that Aphrodite had sent such a noble young man.
Before he set out, Cleolaus visited Aphrodite’s temple, entreating her protection and aid. He then departed.
Past the mountain’s foothills, Cleolaus began his ascent. In peril of losing his way or his life amongst the craggy ridges, he saw a sparrow, sent by Aphrodite, land nearby. The little bird hopped about energetically, urging him on with a sparkling eye. Following it eagerly, Cleolaus arrived at the brink of a foul-smelling ravine. The sparrow flitted away, leaving him to descend into the malodorous abyss. At the end of the ravine, he saw a dark cavern. The prickling on his spine warned him that he had reached his goal.
He slowly approached the cave. Bones and half-eaten bodies strewed the path, along with piles of dazzling trinkets. Cleolaus saw no sign of the object he sought, but as he poked among the loot, a nightmarish creature lunged from the cave entrance. Drawing his sword, Cleolaus took a moment to survey the extraordinary Aiganthron. The wings of a crow flapped behind a man’s body topped with horned head resembling that of a sharp-toothed goat.
Cleolaus confronted the brute valiantly, but with each of his steps, it hopped back, buoyed by its beating wings. Reluctant to engage in battle, it suddenly dashed into its cave again. Fearing a trick, Cleolaus lingered at the entrance. As the Aiganthron suddenly burst out, Cleolaus realized it clasped the desired gold piece in a hooked talon.
All hope for Tragasia slipped away as the monster mockingly rose into the air just out of reach, Cleolaus heard Aphrodite’s voice whispering in his ear.
“Strike at the gold.”
Cleolaus brought his sword crashing down on the chunk of metal, shattering it into innumerable pieces. Fearful of his enemy’s strength, the Aiganthron fled, never to be seen again. Offering thanks to Aphrodite, Cleolaus grabbed a golden shard and returned to his beloved Tragasia.
Revived by the gold shard, Tragasia thereafter wore it fastened about her neck. Other girls in the city gathered the remaining shards and wore them in a similar fashion, and their beauty astounded all foreigners. The habit of wearing golden necklaces and bracelets spread to other cultures, and even now womenfolk wear gold jewelry to enhance their beauty.