The two daughters of OEneus and Althea were famed all over the world for their beauty; and one of them was the wife of the hero Hercules, who had freed Prometheus from his chains, and done many other mighty deeds. The six sons of OEneus and Althea were noble, handsome fellows; but the noblest and handsomest of them all was Meleager, the youngest.
When Meleager was a tiny babe only seven days old, a strange thing happened in the white palace of the king. Queen Althea awoke in the middle of the night, and saw a fire blazing on the hearth. She wondered what it could mean; and she lay quite still by the side of the babe, and looked and listened. Three strange women were standing by the hearth. They were tall, and two of them were beautiful, and the faces of all were stern. Althea knew at once that they were the Fates who give gifts of some kind to every child that is born, and who say whether his life shall be a happy one or full of sadness and sorrow.
“What shall we give to this child?” said the eldest and sternest of the three strangers. Her name was Atropos, and she held a pair of sharp shears in her hand.
“I give him a brave heart,” said the youngest and fairest. Her name was Clotho, and she held a distaff full of flax, from which she was spinning a golden thread.
“And I give him a gentle, noble mind,” said the dark-haired one, whose name was Lachesis. She gently drew out the thread which Clotho spun, and turning to stern Atropos, said: “Lay aside those shears, sister, and give the child your gift.”
“I give him life until this brand shall be burned to ashes,” was the answer; and Atropos took a small stick of wood and laid it on the burning coals.
The three sisters waited till the stick was ablaze, and then they were gone. Althea sprang up quickly. She saw nothing but the fire on the hearth and the stick burning slowly away. She made haste to pour water upon the blaze, and when every spark was put out, she took the charred stick and put it into a strong chest where she kept her treasures, and locked it up.
“I know that the child’s life is safe,” she said, “so long as that stick is kept unburned.”
And so, as the years went by, Meleager grew up to be a brave young man, so gentle and noble that his name became known in every land of Greece. He did many daring deeds and, with other heroes, went on a famous voyage across the seas in search of a marvelous fleece of gold; and when he returned to Calydon the people declared that he was the worthiest of the sons of OEneus to become their king.
III. THE GIFTS ON THE ALTARS.
Now it happened one summer that the vineyards of Calydon were fuller of grapes than they had ever been before, and there was so much wheat in the fields that the people did not know what to do with it.
“I will tell you what to do,” said King OEneus. “We will have a thanksgiving day, and we will give some of the grain and some of the fruit to the Mighty Beings who sit among the clouds on the mountain top. For it is from them that the sunshine and the fair weather and the moist winds and the warm rains have come; and without their aid we could never have had so fine a harvest.”