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Tales beyond belief

The Myth of Rhoecus and the Dryad
At the foot of the cloud-capped mountains in Greece was a forest, in which grew laurel, the linden, the oak, and many other kinds of trees, as dear to the Greeks as they are to us. The Greeks loved to wander along the paths of the green forests beneath the spreading branches of its great trees; and they enjoyed this all the more, because they believed that each tree was the home of a Dryad, and that in each brook and river lived the water nymphs.

Nymphs and Dryads were seldom seen by mortal eyes; but did not these simple people know that they were there? They could hear their voices in the rustling of the leaves, in the rippling of the brooks, and in the rush of water in the rivers. The nymphs of the rivers and streams were the Naiades; those of the ocean the Nereids; and those of the wood the Dryads and Hamadryads. They must have had happy times in their forest homes, with the birds and bees for messengers. The Naiades and Nereids lived always; but, sad to say, the life of the poor little Dryads ended when the tree died.

One day a young Grecian lad named Rhoecus was walking through the forest on his way to join the sports in which his friends were engaged. His merry face and bright eyes had caught the sunshine which flickered through the leaves. He was singing gaily, stopping now and then to pick a flower, or watch a sly little spider spinning her silken trap. At length he came to a very old oak-tree, the mossy trunk of which was falling apart, so that a strong wind would have blown it down.

Rhoecus thought of the many summers it had seen; and peering into the great hollow trunk, he wondered whether the Dryad were at t home. He felt sorry for the old tree, and propped it up, saying as he did so, " There, old tree, the West Wind shall not yet have a chance to laugh at your downfall." As Rhoecus turned to go, he thought that he heard some one calling to him very softly. He listened. Yes; some one was surely calling to him. " Rhoecus, Rhoecus!"

The voice was very sweet; and Rhoecus, searching for its owner, saw up among the green branches a little maiden. " Are you calling me?" he asked very gently. " Yes, Rhoecus, you have been very kind and have saved my life; for do you not see these green branches growing out of the old trunk of my tree? Ask what you wish. It is in my power to help you." Rhoecus thought of many things which he would like to possess, or to be. He had seen the warriors with their horses and chariots, their gleaming shields and flashing swords. "I should like to be a great warrior, little Dryad," said he. " Ah, Rhoecus, to fight bravely is a great thing; but after you are dead, men will simply say of you, ' He fought well.' Think again. Is that the best wish? Would you not rather live nobly for others than die nobly for fame?"

" That is a better wish," said Rhoecus. " Make me good and true, like yourself. Come with me and be my friend and helper always. Then can I be true and good." "I cannot make you good; only Rhoecus can do that. But if you will come here an hour before sunset I will tell you about the Nymphs and Dryads; and although I cannot make you good, I will make you wise. To be good and wise is to be like a god," said the Drvad.

Rhoecus, after promising to return, went on his way in a very happy mood. At the gate of the city he found his friends, who were playing just outside the city wall; and as he was a very good player, they welcomed him gladly. He was a strong, swift runner, and could throw the discus with greater skill than any of his companions. He became so eager in trying to win that he forgot his promise to the Dryad.

The hours flew faster than the swallows. All at once a bee began to buzz about Rhoecus' head. It flew around and around, until he became quite angry, saying, as he brushed at it. roughly, " Does it take me for a rose?" He hurt the little bee, and it flew slowly away; and as Rhoecus glanced after it, he noticed that Helios had reached the highest mountain peaks in Thessaly. Then came the thought of his promise. What if he were too late?

He dropped the discus and ran, until, all out of breath, he reached the old oak-tree. He looked up among the twisted branches. No gentle glance from the little Dryad met his own; but as he peered into the shadows, he heard the low voice again. "Oh, Rhoecus! You did not keep your promise; and you hurt my little messenger, the bee. I cannot come to you now, for only gentle eyes may look upon us. I would be a friend to Rhoecus kind and thoughtful; but to the careless, thoughtless Rhoecus, I cannot come.'

"Come back, little Dryad! I will be kind next time. I will remember next time," cried Rhoecus. " No, Rhoecus. You must learn to be true to yourself and to your promises. He who does a little wrong thoughtlessly will do a greater. Good-bye." Sad and thoughtfully Rhoecus wandered homeward , and as he passed beneath them, the trees seemed to whisper, " Oh, Rhoecus, thoughtless Rhoecus!" ' and the little stars and the great, kind moon seemed to say, "You must learn to think for others, Rhoecus; then you will be good and happy too."

The Legend and Myth about Rhoecus

The Myth of Rhoecus
The story of Rhoecus is featured in the book entitled Stories of Old Greece by Emma M. Firth first published 1895.

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