Sacred Texts  Sagas & Legends  England  Index  Previous  Next 

The Realm of Pluto

Sir Guyon having lost his trusty guide, who was left behind on the shore of the Idle Lake, had now to go on his way alone. At last he came to a gloomy glade, where the thick branches and shrubs shut away the daylight. There, lurking in the shade, he found a rude, savage man, very ugly and unpleasant-looking. His face was tanned with smoke, his eyes dull, his head and beard streaked with soot, his hands were coal-black, as if burnt at a smith's forge, and his nails were like claws.

His iron coat, all overgrown with rust, was lined with gold, which, though now darkened with dirt, seemed as if it had been formerly a work of rich and curious design. In his lap he counted over a mass of coin, feasting his eyes and his covetous wishes with the sight of his huge treasury. Round about on every side lay great heaps of gold, which could never be spent: some were the rough ore, others were beaten into great ingots and square wedges; some were

p. 128

round plates, without mark of any kind, but most were stamped, and bore the ancient and curious inscription of some king or emperor.

As soon as the man saw Sir Guyon, he rose, in great haste and fright, to hide his mounds of treasure, and began with trembling hands to pour them through a wide hole into the earth. But Sir Guyon, though he was himself dismayed at the sight, sprang lightly forward to stop him.

"Who are you that live here in the desert, and hide away from people's sight, and from their proper use, all these rich heaps of wealth?" he asked.

Looking at him with great disdain, the man replied, "You are very rash and heedless of yourself, Sir Knight, to come here to trouble me, and my heaps of treasure. I call myself 'King of this world and worldlings'--Great Mammon--the greatest power on earth. Riches, renown, honour, estate, and all the goods of this world, for which men incessantly toll and moil, flow forth from me in abundance. If you will deign to serve and follow me, all these mountains of gold shall be at your command, and, if these will not suffice, you shall have ten times as much."

"Mammon," said the Knight, "your boast of kingship is in vain, and your bribe of golden wages is useless. Offer your gifts to those who covet such dazzling gain. It would ill befit me, who spend my days in deeds of daring and pursuit of honour, to pay any attention to the tempting baits with which you bewitch weak men. Any desire for worldly dross mixes badly with, and debases the true heroic spirit

p. 129

Click to enlarge

which joys in fighting for crowns and kingdoms. Fair shields, gay steeds, bright armour are my delight. These are the riches fit for a venturous knight."

Mammon went on trying to tempt the Knight with all sorts of alluring promises, but Sir Guyon stood firm. He pointed out the evils that had come through

p. 130

riches, which he considered the root of all unquietness--first got with guile--then kept with dread, afterwards spent with pride and lavishness, and leaving behind them grief and heaviness. They were the cause of infinite mischief, strife and debate, bloodshed and bitterness, wrong-doing and covetousness, which noble hearts despise as dishonour. Innocent people were murdered, kings slain, great cities sacked and burnt, and other evils, too many to mention, were caused by riches.

"Son," said Mammon at last, "let be your scorn, and leave the wrongs done in the old days to those who lived in them. You who live in these later times must work for wealth, and risk your life for gold. If you choose to use what I offer you, take what you please of all this abundance; if you don't choose, you are free to refuse it, but do not afterwards blame the thing you have refused."

"I do not choose to receive anything," replied the Knight, "until I am sure that it has been well come by. How do I know but what you have got these goods by force or fraud from their rightful owners?"

"No eye has ever yet seen, nor tongue counted, nor hand handled them," said Mammon. "I keep them safe hidden in a secret place. Come and see."

"Then Mammon lei Sir Guyon through the thick covert, and found a dark way which no man could spy, that went deep down into the ground, and was compassed round with dread and horror. At length they came into a larger space, that stretched into a wide plain; a broad beaten highway ran across this, leading

p. 131

straight to the grisly realm of Pluto, ruler of the Lower Regions.

It was indeed a horrible road. By the wayside sat fiendish Vengeance and turbulent Strife, one brandishing an iron whip, the other a knife, and both gnashing their teeth and threatening the lives of those who went by. On the other side, in one group, sat cruel Revenge and rancorous Spite, disloyal Treason and heart-burning Hate; but gnawing jealousy sat alone out of their sight, biting his lips; and trembling Fear ran to and fro, finding no place where he might safely shroud himself. Lamenting Sorrow Jay in the darkness, and Shame hid his ugly face from living eye. Over them always fluttered grim Horror, beating his iron wings, and after him flew owls and night-ravens, messengers of evil tidings, while a Harpy--a hideous bird of ill omen--sitting on a cliff near, sang a song of bitter sorrow that would have broken a heart of flint, and when it was ended flew swiftly after Horror.

All these lay before the gates of Pluto, and passing by, Sir Guyon and Mammon said nothing to them, but all the way wonder fed the eyes and filled the thoughts of Sir Guyon.

At last Mammon brought him to a little door that was next adjoining to the wide-open gate of Hades, and nothing parted them; there was only a little stride between them, dividing the House of Riches from the mouth of the Lower Regions.

Before the door sat self-consuming Care, keeping watch and ward, day and night, for fear lest Force or Fraud should break in, and steal the treasure he was

p. 132

guarding. Nor would he allow Sleep once to come near, although his drowsy den was next.

Directly Mammon arrived, the door opened, and gave passage to him. Sir Guyon still kept following, for neither darkness nor danger could dismay him.

Next: The Cave of Mammon