15 DECEMBER 1944, Page 20


The Golden Fleece. By Robert Graves. (Cassell. 12s. 6d.) AT all stages of human history men have been fascinated by stories of travels and adventures ; among the histories and legends coming down to us from classic times, few can have reached a wider or more delighted audience in the western hemisphere than that of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest. Robert Graves tells their history once again in The Golden Fleece ; tells it with zest and brilliance, so that this ancient tale, first heard in boyhood, still delights, excites and enchants me. Maps are provided, of Greece, the outward and home- ward voyages of the 'Argo,' there is a genealogical table, some- fascinating illustrations, and an excellent historical introduction; an invocation and a prologue. Should any reader feel the least daunted by these, let him boldly ignore them, opening the book at the first chapter, and he will soon realise that he is in good hands ; for with the single opening sentence the author shows his ability to rouse interest and promise excitement. The learning is carried lightly and swiftly. And by the time the Fleece is lost the reader has been given a lively, and plausible, account of the manners and customs of the ancient world ; a world in a state of transition, from domina- tion by the female principle to that of the male ; the-rivalries between the old mother-goddess and her son, the increasingly masterful Zeus, gives both point and tone to the narrative. And when the youthful Jason appears at the court of his wicked, usurping uncle Pelias, the atmosphere has been vividly created. Soon Jason has been bidden to restore the Fleece to the shrine of Father Zeus, and the gods and goddesses give their approval in various manifestations. Argus builds the famous galley, and heralds are sent seeking volunteers for the hazardous voyage to Colchis. Robert Graves' Greeks are human beings ; they bicker and boast, are capable of both nobility and childishness. Their differing stories, and fates, are all told 'superbly, with a wealth of poetic imagination, with deft and delicious touches of humour and prodigality ; yet with a matter-of-factness, both robust and masculine, which gives the adventures, the escapades, the encounters, and, not least, the conversations, a lively authentic reality, which will hold many readers spellbound. The ardours and perils of the long and difficult journey are many and varied, likely and strange, but all are detailed with skill and ability ; since magic needs the touch of a poet, new magic is added to the old, the pen being not a whit less successful than the wand. The greater part of the book is taken up with the outward journey of Jason and his band of heroes ; but the tension is kept up, and even successfully heightened after the Fleece and its guardian priestess-princess are aboard the 'Argo.' So skilful is the conception and execution of the, book that suspense and excitement are maintained, without any flagging of narrative excellence, to the end. The characterisations of all the personages, both great and small, are delightfully and wittily done : Hercules is shown as a hasty-tempered, heavy-handed giant, who does not mince his words. His exploits and encounters gain in humour, and freshness, from the fashion in which they are here retold.

Each reader will find favourites for himself from the motley thron: aboard the galley : among my own are Orpheus the singer, Butes, who knew such a fund of lore about honey, and the jocular, sharp-