The Hunter in Hades

By Basil Hall Chamberlain

A handsome and brave young man, who was skilful in the chase, one day pursued a large bear into the recesses of the mountains. On and on ran the bear, and still the young fellow pursued it up heights and crags more and more dangerous, but without ever being able to get near enough to shoot it with his poisoned arrows. At last, on a bleak mountain-summit, the bear disappeared down a hole in the ground. The young man followed it in, and found himself in an immense cavern, at the far end of which was a gleam of light. Towards this he groped his way, and, on emerging, found himself in another world.

Everything there was as in the world of men, but more beautiful. There were trees, houses, villages, human beings. With these, however, the young hunter had no concern. What he wanted was his bear, which had totally disappeared. The best plan seemed to be to seek it in the remoter mountain district of this new world underground. So he followed up a valley; and, being tired and hungry, picked the grapes and mulberries that were hanging to the trees, and ate them as he trudged along.

Happening suddenly, for some reason or other, to look down upon his own body, what was not his horror to find himself transformed into a serpent! His very cries and groans, on making the discovery, were turned into serpent’s hisses. What was he to do? To go back like this to his native world, where snakes arc hated, would be certain death. No plan presented itself to his mind. But, unconsciously, he wandered, or rather crept and glided, back to the entrance of the cavern that led home to the world of men; and there, at the foot of a pine-tree of extraordinary size and height, he fell asleep.

To him then, in a dream, appeared the goddess of the pine-tree, and said: “I am sorry to see you in this state. Why did you eat of the poisonous fruits of Hades? The only thing you can do to recover your proper shape is to climb to the top of this pine-tree, and fling yourself down. Then you may, perhaps, become a human being again.”

On waking from this dream, the young man,—or rather snake, as he still found himself to be,—was filled half with hope and half with fear. But he resolved to follow the goddess’ advice. So, gliding up the tall pine-tree, he reached its topmost branch, and, after hesitating a few moments, flung himself down. Crash he went. On coming to his senses, he found himself standing at the foot of the tree; and close by was the body of an immense serpent, ripped open so as to allow of his having crawled out of it.

After offering up thanks to the pine-tree, and setting up the divine symbols in its honour, he hastened to retrace his steps through the long, tunnel-like cavern, through which he had originally entered Hades. After walking for a certain time, he emerged into the world of men, to find himself on the mountain-top, whither he had pursued the bear which he had never seen again.

On reaching his home, he went to bed, and dreamt a second time. It was the same goddess of the pine-tree, that appeared before him and said: “I have come to tell you that you cannot stay long in the world of men after once eating the grapes and mulberries of Hades. There is a goddess in Hades who wishes to marry you. She it was who, assuming the form of a bear, lured you into the cavern, and thence to the under-world. You must make up your mind to come away.”

And so it fell out. The young man awoke; but a grave sickness overpowered him. A few days later he went a second time to Hades, and returned no more to the land of the living.

Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 22nd July, 1886.

From Aino Folk-tales by Basil Hall Chamberlain. The Folk-lore Society, 1888.

Folk tales

East AsiaAinu People

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