1967 - PRESENT
Adapted from Edith Hamilton’s
The tale of Jason and the Argonauts and their
quest for the Golden Fleece is the first great journey recorded in
Greek mythology. Accounts of Jason’s exploits can be found in the
writings of Apollonius of Rhodes and Pindar. Tradition holds that
Jason was a prince from the Greek province of Thessaly who lived a
generation before Odysseus and the Trojan War. A relative named
Pelias deposed Jason’s father Aeson, and when Jason came of age, he
returned to Iolcus to reclaim his kingdom from the wicked usurper.
Knowing Jason’s cause to be just, Pelias agreed to relinquish the
throne if Jason would retrieve the Golden Fleece from the Colchians,
a fierce people who lived on the Eastern shore of what is now the
Dead Sea. The Golden Fleece was a gift to the Colchian King Æetes
from Phrixus of Greece, another relative of Pelias whose stepmother
had tried to have him killed. Apollo sent a golden ram to carry
Phrixus away to safety in Colchis, and in gratitude to Æetes he
sacrificed the ram and gave him the fleece. Pelias believed the
fleece must be returned to Greece so that Phrixus’ soul could be at
peace, and knowing the Cochians to be a fierce people, he believed
no one could return from such a quest alive – ensuring his grasp on
Fearless and eager for adventure, Jason agreed to the challenge, and acquiring the ship Argo, he spread the word throughout Greece of his quest. Some of the greatest heroes of the time flocked to Jason’s banner seeking glory, including Hercules, Orpheus the musician, Castor and Pollux the twin sons of Boreas the North Wind, and Peleus, father of the Trojan War hero Achilles. Thus, Jason and the crew of the Argo, the Argonauts, embarked on a journey that would live in fame.
Their first stop was
the island of Lemnos, an island peopled only by women who had risen
up and killed all their men. But the Argonauts’ dashing charm was
too much for the women of Lemnos, and they helped the crew with
food, wine, and garments on their journey. During the next port of
call, the Argonauts found a poor, wretched old man named Phineus.
Apollo had given the old man the gift of prophecy, but his truth
telling had angered Zeus, who liked to keep his ways secret. As
punishment, Zeus sent his Harpies, flying creatures with hooked
beaks and claws, to devour Phineus’ food whenever he tried to eat.
Phineus had foreseen that Castor and Pollux were the only men alive
who could defeat the Harpies. In an act of kindness, the two
Argonauts defended Phineus at his next meal, driving off the Harpies
forever. In return for their kindness, Phineus told Jason’s men the
secret to pass through the Symplegades, the Clashing Rocks that
guarded the entrance to the Black Sea. The next day, as the Argo
approached the treacherous straits, Jason released a dove from the
ship, and as Phineus had predicted, it flew safely through the
Clashing Rocks, clearing the way for the heroes.
Passing the country of the Amazons and the Caucasus where Prometheus languished on his rock, the crew finally arrived in Colchis. Upon their arrival in the capital, King Æetes welcomed the band of splendid travelers and held a feast in their honor. Hera, wife of Zeus, persuaded Aphrodite to aid Jason in his quest by making Æetes’ daughter Medea, a powerful sorceress, fall in love with the hero. Upon seeing Jason at the banquet, Aphrodite’s son Cupid shot the girl through the heart, and she fell madly for him.
At the conclusion of the dinner, Jason rose and told the story of their quest to the Colchian King, offering any service he wished if they could return to Greece with the Golden Fleece in hand. Æetes burned with anger when he heard the request, for he valued the fleece above all things. He agreed to give Jason the fleece if he could prove himself in a test of courage that Æetes himself had performed. Jason must yoke two wild bulls and use them to plow a field. He must then plant dragons’ teeth in the furrows, which would sprout up to become armed men that Jason must cut down. Realizing that he was probably being sent to certain death, Jason agreed to the test rather than return to Iolcus in shame. That night, fearing for her beloved’s life, Medea escaped the palace to Jason aboard the Argo. There she professed her love for the prince and offered him an elixir which, when rubbed on his weapons and his person would render him invincible for a day. She also told him the secret of the dragon-teeth warriors, that if he threw a stone in their midst, they would turn and fight each other. Taken by Medea’s generosity and beauty, Jason pledged to take her with him as his queen if he survived the day.
The next day, as the Argonauts approached the field where the Cochians awaited them, the bulls burst forth and charged Jason. But Medea’s elixir held true, and Jason forced both bulls to the ground, yoked them, and drove them over the field, casting dragon teeth into the furrows. As predicted, the dragon teeth sprouted into armed warriors who gathered and rushed Jason. Remembering Medea’s advice, he threw a stone. The warriors turned on each other and cut every one down, securing Jason’s victory.
Æetes returned to
his palace enraged, planning to take his army against the Argonauts
rather than turn over the fleece. When Medea overheard her father’s
ravings, she ran from the palace to the Argo to warn her lover.
Explaining the treachery that awaited them, she begged Jason to take
the fleece at once and flee. Taking her along, Jason and the
Argonauts sailed to the sacred grove where the Golden Fleece hung on
a tree guarded by a giant serpent. Medea approached the serpent
boldly and sang a magical song that charmed the beast to sleep,
allowing Jason to safely grab the fleece and flee. The Argo set sail
with it’s mission accomplished, escaped the waiting fleet of the
Colchians, and bore Jason and his bride back toward
On the return trip, the Argonauts braved the rocks of Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis with the help of Hera. On the island of Crete, the band encountered Talus, the last of an ancient race of people made of bronze. Medea revealed that his only weakness was an ankle that wasn’t bronze, and as the creature picked up a boulder to cast at the ship, she intervened with her dark arts, causing Talus to cut his ankle. The blood poured forth until Talus was dead, clearing the island for the heroes to stop and rest.
Jason returned to Iolcus with his bride to terrible tragedy. Pelias had forced Jason to kill himself during his son’s absence, and his mother had died of grief. Unable to kill the king outright, Jason turned to Medea, who contrived a trick to bring about Pelias’ death. She showed Pelias’ daughters a spell for eternal youth – by cutting a ram into pieces, placing them in boiling water and uttering a charm, she brought forth a lamb from the pot. When the king’s daughters performed the same dreadful task on their father, Medea fled before uttering the charm, making Pelias’ own children his murderers. With the help of his bride and his own great courage, Jason reclaimed the throne of Iolcus.
|The Legend Continues.....|