BY MRS. GUY E. LLOYD
Protesilaus, King of Thessaly, was a happy and
a fortunate man. A beautiful and fertile kingdom
was his, left to him by his father, the fleet-footed Iphicles,
and his wife Laodamia, a fair and gracious queen, was
very dear to his heart.
But the call of honor came, and all Greece was arming
to revenge upon the false Paris the wrong he had done to
his host Menelaus in carrying off his wife, the beauteous
Helen. Then Protesilaus donned his armor with the
rest, and forty goodly vessels sailed from the coast of
Thessaly, and joined the assembled fleet of the Greeks at
Aulis in Bœotia.
Sad was the parting with the fair Queen Laodamia, and
many bitter tears she wept when her husband's ships had
sailed away and she was left alone. Her whole life was
bound up in him, and when he was gone everything that
was left to her seemed empty and worthless. Often
would she climb the rocks and look forth over the sun-lit
waters for hours dreaming and dreaming of the day when
Protesilaus should come back to her again to reign over
his people in peace and safety.
For many days the Greek ships lay wind-bound at
Aulis, because their leader, King Agamemnon, had offended
the great goddess Diana. At length (as the preceding
story told) he was forced to expiate his guilt by
the sacrifice of his innocent daughter Iphigenia. As soon
as the offering was completed the goddess, appeased, let
loose the imprisoned winds, and the great fleet set sail
Most of the warriors on those bounding ships were
eager and happy; their waiting was over, the delight of
battle was close before them.
But Protesilaus was silent and thoughtful; he would
stand for hours on the deck of his vessel looking down
upon the lines of foam that it left in its wake, and ever
his thoughts were the same.
He was not mourning for his beloved wife, nor for the
happy home he had left. He was not sad to think of all
the perils and hardships that awaited the Greeks at Troy.
He was thinking and thinking of the words spoken by the
oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The first man to leap ashore,
so the oracle had said, should be slain; and even as he
had first heard the stern sentence the heart of Protesilaus
had beat high with the determination that he himself
would be that man. He would crowd all sail on his
swift ship, and waiting on the prow would spring on
shore through the breakers, and so fulfil the will of the
All through the voyage this one thought filled the mind
of Protesilaus. He grieved, it is true, that he should
never again see his dearly loved wife, Laodamia, nor
the beautiful palace they had been building for themselves,
wherein they had hoped to be happy together for
many years, after the war was over. And sometimes a
passionate regret would overcome the warrior when he
remembered that the war must all be fought out without
his having any share in the famous battles that were
before his comrades. His brother would lead the men of
Thessaly to the strife, and would return with them in
triumph to their homes when, as Calchas had foretold, in
the tenth year the city of King Priam should fall.
So, undaunted in courage, steadfast in resolution
though sad at heart, Protesilaus sailed on to his chosen
fate, and even the immortal gods were stirred with wonder
and admiration when they saw his ship shoot forth
before all the rest as soon as the land of Troy came in
sight. Tall and stately on the prow stood the figure of
Protesilaus, clad in glittering armor, and with sword and
spear and shield all ready for the combat. The helmsman
steered straight for a little sandy spit that rose
from the water's edge, and Protesilaus sprang ashore
long before the rest of the Greek array had neared the
Trojan strand. Then the words of the oracle were fulfilled.
Some say it was the spear of Hector, some that of
Æneas that struck the hero down. Foremost of all the
mighty army of King Agamemnon he fell, honored and
mourned by all his comrades.
Queen Laodamia waited impatiently in the peaceful
land of Thessaly, longing for tidings from her lord. She
had heard of the long waiting at Aulis, she shuddered
when the words of Calchas were repeated to her; in sight
of all the host a serpent devoured first nine sucklings and
then the mother sow, and when Calchas saw it he said
that this was a sign that in the tenth year the city of
Priam should fall before the attacks of the Greeks.
Ten years seemed a long, long time to the eager queen
before she should see her dear lord home again. She
would wake up suddenly in the night, and stare into the
darkness, thinking with terror of the months and months
of hopeless waiting that lay before her.
Then tidings came to Thessaly of the sailing of the
fleet, and as men told over the names of the mighty heroes
who had gone forth to fight with Agamemnon, they
forgot the words of the wise seer Calchas, and hoped that
this brave array must soon return in triumph.
Not many weeks later Laodamia was seated at her
loom weaving a robe for her warrior to wear on his
return in triumph when there came to her, white and
trembling, her favorite of all her maidens.
The queen looked up in alarm. "What ails thee,
child?" she asked. "Why dost thou stand there pale
and silent? Is aught amiss?"
The maiden tried in vain to frame words to answer.
Covering her face with her hands she sank upon her
knees and burst into tears.
And the queen, with a great terror at her heart, went
forth into a house full of tears and lamentations, for
the tidings had come, over the sea, of the death of the
Then Laodamia went back into her inner chamber, and
covering her head she flung herself prone upon the
ground, and lay there all through the day, while her
maidens wept and wailed without the door, and none
dared enter or attempt to comfort her.
But at nightfall the queen arose, and passing from her
chamber to the temple, she begged the priest to instruct
her what sacrifice to offer to the gods of the world of
spirits, that they might allow her but once more to look
upon her lord.
Then the priest prepared in haste the sevenfold offering
due to the great gods of the under-world, and told her
the vows and prayers that she must offer, and then left
her alone in the temple.
Then, standing erect and stretching her suppliant hands
towards the heavens, the queen flung her whole soul into
the impassioned entreaty that she might see her dear
lord once again.
No door opened, no curtain was lifted, but on a sudden
two forms appeared before the startled suppliant.
One she saw at once, by his winged helmet and his
rod encircled by snakes, must be the swift messenger of
the gods, Mercury; the other, she recognized with a thrill
of terror and joy, was the husband for a sight of whom
she had just been praying so earnestly.
Then Mercury touched Laodamia with his rod, and at
the touch all her fear fell from her at once.
"Great Jupiter has heard thy prayer," said Mercury.
"Behold, thy husband is with thee once more,
and he shall tarry with thee for the space of three
Having thus spoken Mercury vanished from sight,
and Protesilaus and Laodamia stood alone together.
Then the queen sprang forward and tried to fling her
arms round her dear husband; but though he stood there
before her in form and features unchanged, it was but the
ghost of her lost lord. Thrice she essayed to embrace
him, and thrice her arms clasped nothing but the empty
Then she cried out in anguish: "Alas! have the gods
mocked me after all? Is this not Protesilaus, then, who
seems to stand before me?"
Then the shade of the warrior made answer: "Nay,
dear wife, the gods do not mock thee, and it is indeed
Protesilaus who stands before thee. Yet am I no living
man; for the oracle had foretold that the first of the
Greek host to leap ashore should be slain; therefore, seeing
that the immortal gods asked a life, I gave them mine,
and steering to the shore before all the other ships, I
sprang on land the first of all the host, and fell, slain by
the spear of the enemy."
Then the queen made answer: "Noblest and best of
warriors! even the gods are filled with admiration for
thy courage, for they have allowed thee to come back
to thy wife and to thy home. Surely they will go on to
give thee even a greater gift. As I look upon thee I see
no change in thee; thou art fair and young as when we
said farewell. Doubtless the gods will give thee back to
me wholly again, and naught shall ever more divide us."
But even as she spoke the queen shrank back in dread,
for the face of the vision changed and became like that
of a dead man, while Protesilaus made answer: "Short
is my sojourn upon earth, soon must I leave thee again.
But be brave and wise, dear love; give not thy whole life
over unto mourning, but be patient; and though I must
pass from thee now, some day we shall meet once more;
and though our earthly love is ended, yet may we joy
for ever in faithful companionship one with another."
"Ah! wherefore shouldst thou leave me?" cried the
queen; "the gods have already wrought wonders, why
should they not give thee back thy life? If thou goest
from me again, I will follow thee, for I cannot stay
Then Protesilaus tried to soothe and calm his wife, that
she might give up the vain hope of living again together
as they once had done, and might look forward instead
to a pure and happy life beyond the grave. The gods
had already given her much, he said, and she ought to
strive to be worthy of their mercy, and by her courage
and self-control win for herself eternal peace.
While her husband was speaking his face lost its
ghastly look, and he seemed even more beautiful and
gracious than when he was alive. And Laodamia
watched him, and was calmed and cheered at the sight;
but she hardly marked his words, so sure was she that
the gods would relent when the end of the three hours
was come, and would allow him to stay with her once
more a living man.
But even while the hero urged his wife to be patient
and courageous, even while she looked for the gods to
restore him to her, lo! the three hours were past, and
Mercury stood once more within the temple.
Then, Laodamia understood that her hopes were vain,
and that Protesilaus was doomed to leave her. She
tried to hold that dear form fast, but she grasped a
shadow; her empty fingers closed helplessly as Protesilaus
vanished from her sight.
With a shriek she fell prone on the temple floor, and
the priests who hurried to their queen's assistance raised
a lifeless corpse.
True to her lord, if ever yet was wife, she had followed
him to the Shades; yet alas! in death they were
not reunited. The gods are just, and Laodamia had not
yet learnt the lesson of Protesilaus, that there is a higher
and nobler thing even than human love—self-sacrifice
and duty. Therefore she is doomed for a set time to
wander in the Mourning Fields apart from happy ghosts,
till her spirit raised and solemnized by suffering is worthy
to meet her lord who walks with the heroes of old in the
dwellings of the blest.