The Speaking Oak
( Originally Published 1902 )
PELIAS usurped the kingdom of Iolchos, and Jason, the young prince to whom it rightfully belonged, went to claim it. Pelias promised him that if he would secure the Golden Fleece he should have his crown. He would not undertake the difficult task in his own strength, and went to the Speaking Oak of Dodona for divine wisdom. The tree was a hundred feet high with a huge shade covering an acre of ground. Standing at the base of the tree, and looking upward, he asked what steps he was to pursue to secure the Golden Fleece. While the rest of the trees of the forest were still, the leaves of this oak rustled, and murmuring, they united in one distinct voice, telling him to go to Argus, the shipbuilder, and have him construct a huge galley of fifty oars. He was uncertain, at first, about the divine authority of his instructions, but learning that there was an excellent shipbuilder by that name, he concluded that a heavenly voice had spoken.
At length the great vessel was built, and Jason went back to the oak for further instructions. At this time there was one branch whose leaves rustled, while the rest of the branches of the tree were still. This quivering branch instructed the young prince to cut it off, and fashion it into the figure of a woman, to be tacked upon the prow of the boat. The branch was cut off and given to a turner, who claimed that a superhuman power guided his hand in fashioning the figure—so perfect and beautiful it was. The prince, remarking that he would have to go back to the oak to learn what next to do, the figure at the bow of the ship spoke, and told him that this was unnecessary, as it would give him all the wisdom needed to guide him. He asked the figure where he should find fifty strong, brave men, each to take an oar for such a perilous journey. It told him to summon the greatest heroes from all parts of Greece, and fifty of the most beautiful and brave heroes of Greece gladly volunteered their services. The fifty young men, including the powerful Hercules, struggled with every energy to launch the ship, but were unable to move it an inch. It looked as though the expedition would fail at the start ; but Jason remembered the figure-head at the bow, and asked it what to do. It told the men to take their places in the galley, each man at his oar, and to go through the motions of rowing, while Orpheus should play on his harp. The men did as they were commanded, and at the first strains of the harp the boat began to move, and, slipping down into the water, went dancing across the merry waves, keeping time to the strains of the melody. In their journey, they were resting upon an island one day, when suddenly there fell upon them a shower of steel-pointed arrows. They sprang up suddenly, but could discover no enemy, till, presently looking upward, they saw a huge flock of birds pulling these steel-pointed feathers out of their bodies, and casting them down as arrows. These brave men were unable to defend themselves against such foes and they feared that all would be destroyed. Their leader ran as fast as he could to the ship, and asked the daughter of the Speaking Oak what was to be done. The response came that the men should strike their spears against their shields, which they did, frightening the dangerous flock away. And all through the journey, whenever these young men came to an end of their wisdom and strength, they would consult the oaken image, and secure the guidance and power needed in their emergency.
Upon the threshold of life it would be well for every one to go to the Speaking Oak of Dodona and find out what to do. That young man lives too near the ground, too low in the realm of animalism, who enters upon any occupation, trade, business or profession without first going to God in prayer for guidance. Many are divinely guided into their calling in life by instincts, inclinations, and judgment; all these Jason had, but in entering upon his enormous under-taking, he felt the need of an especial spiritual communication. There is no young man or young woman who lives, who may not have specific divine guidance in the selection of his or her life-work, if there be earnest prayer offered. In all of the emergencies of life, great or small, all people, young and old, high and low, may have divine wisdom to guide, and divine strength to sustain. Even in the thing called most trivial, if light from heaven be asked in the right spirit it will certainly be given. It is a source of great comfort to every weary traveler, and tired workman, to know that there is a voice which will tell which road to take, and a hand which will help in the perplexing task. The best thing Jason could do was to consult the wooden figure of the Speaking Oak. It is a blessed thing that we, like him, children of a King, can consult a Living Figure on a tree, whose features are beautiful and whose lips speak the voice of God, whose sacrifice makes it possible for us to secure a kingdom infinitely greater than that of Pelias and to wear a never-fading crown.