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Jason and the Argonauts
The Argonauts (Minyae)
The Argonauts come from the
generation before the Trojan war, and
many of the fathers of the great Greek
heroes of the Trojan war are counted
among them. The number of the
Argonauts varies in different accounts,
but is around 50.
Peleus (father of Achilles)
Telamon (father of Ajax the Great)
Heracles
Phrixus and the Golden
Fleece
Phrixus is the son of the Boeotian king
Athamas and Nephele (cloud). After he and
his sister Helle were born, Nephele returned
to the sky and Athamas married Ino the
daughter of Cadmus. Ino tried to destroy her
stepchildren. In a plot against them she
convinced the women of Boeotia to dry the
seed grain so that it would not grow. Athamas
sent an envoy to Delphi to seek advice but
Ino intercepted them and gave Athamas the
false oracle that he had to sacrifice his on
Phrixus to end the plague. However, when he
tried to do so, Nephele snatched her children
up and put them on the back of a flying ram
with a golden fleece, a gift of Hermes.
Phrixus goes to Colchis
The ram flew eastward, toward the black sea.
As it passed over the Hellespont, in the
northwest of modern day Turkey, Helle fell off
into the sea and drowned. Hence the name
‘Hellespont’. Phrixus went all the way to
Colchis with the ram, sacrificed it to Zeus and
gave it to the king of Colchis Aeetes. The king
hung it up on a tree in a grove of Ares, where
it was guarded by a watchful serpent.
Iolcus
Jason and Pelias
The journey of the Argonauts begins in Iolcus. In the time
of Athamas, Iolcus was ruled by his brother Cretheus. His
son was Aeson, who was the father of Jason. However,
Cretheus’ wife Tyro also had an affair with Poseidon and
their son Pelias took over the throne of Iolcus when
Cretheus died. Jason was sent away by his mother
Polymede to be educated by the centaur Chiron and
Chiron’s mother Philyra. Jason returns after 20 years to
reclaim the throne, and Pelias was justifiably scared of
him. He had been warned by an oracle to ‘beware of the
man with one sandal’. Jason arrive at Iolcus with just one
sandal, which he had lost while helping a woman (Hera in
disguise) across a river; Hera therefore becomes his
helper. Pelias agreed to give the throne back to Jason
only after he had fetched the golden fleece from Colchis.
The Voyage
Jason first calls upon all the heroes of
Greece, who collect in Iolcus. The Argo
is the name of the ship in which they
travel, built by Argus with the help of
Athena. Hence the Minyae are called
the Argonauts (nautes = sailor). They
set out from Iolcus on their way to
Colchis.
Hipsipyle and the Lemnian
Women
The first stop which the heroes make is on
the island of Lemnos. Here the heroes were
received by the women of the island, and stay
for a year. Aphrodite had previously been
angry with the Lemnian women because they
did not sacrifice to her. Thus, she made their
husbands all take Thracian concubines. The
women had murdered all of their husbands,
with the exception of the king Thoas.
Hipsipyle saved her father by hiding him in
the temple of Dionysus and then sending him
in a chest to the island of Tauri.
Cyzicus and the Doliones
They next stop at Cyzicus in the Propontis,
where they encounter king Cyzicus and the
Doliones. He was hospitable, and Heracles
helped him kill the giants who lived near at
hand. However, disaster struck when the
Argonauts tried to leave; they were blown
back to Cyzicus by winds and at night
unknowingly fought with their former host.
King Cyzicus was killed, and the Argonauts
helped to bury them before leaving.
Cios - Heracles and Hylas
Close by in the Propontis, the Argonauts
stop so that Heracles could fix an oar he
had broken by rowing too hard. But,
when they landed, his lover Hylas, while
off in search of water, was abducted by
nymphs. Heracles went on a wild
rampage in search of Hylas and the
Argonauts had to leave him behind.
Amycus and the Bebryces
The Argonauts next stop at the land of
Bebryces, having passed into the Black
Sea (Euxine). The Bebryces were a
barbaric tribe which made foreigners
box with their king Amycus, the son of
Poseidon. The Argonaut Polydeuces
fights Amycus and kills him with a blow
to the nose.
Phineus and the Harpies
The Argonauts then make a stop at Salmydessus on
the Thracian shore of the Black Sea. Here they meet
Phineus, a blind prophet who is plagued by the
Harpies because he had revealed too much to
mankind. The Harpies were winged creatures who
swept down and took Phineus’ food when he tried to
eat, leaving him only a small and putrid smelling
morsel. The Argonauts Zetes and Calais, winged
sons of the north wind Boreas, chased the Harpies
and defeated them. Phineus then gives the
Argonauts important information about passing
through the Symplegades, the Crashing Rocks.
Symplegades
Crashing Rocks
The
Argonauts
pass
through
the
Symplegades,
rocks
which
move
continuously and crash together, with the help
of Athena and the advice of Phineus. He
advised them to release a dove through the
rocks, and if it was successful to row through
at full speed while the rocks were moving out
once again. Once the Argonauts pass
through the rocks stand still forevermore.
Onward to Colchis
The Argonauts now journey across the rest of
the Black Sea to Colchis, in the East. On the
way they make a stop at the island of Ares,
where the Stymphalian birds now reside after
having being scared away by Heracles in his
sixth labour. They fend off the birds by
clashing their shields together, and meet
Phrixus’ four sons (with Chalciope, daughter
of Aeetes and sister of Medea). who had
been shipwrecked there; Argus, Melas,
Prontis and Cytisorus. Argus assists Jason on
his way.
Jason and Aeetes
The king of Colchis is Aeetes, a child of the
sun. His daugther is the famous Medea.
Aeetes is an evil king who suspects that
Jason has come to harm him. He agrees to
give Jason the golden fleece if he performs a
series of tasks. First he has to yoke a pair of
fire-breathing bulls, plow an extremely large
field and sow it with teeth. From these teeth
grow armed men whom he has to defeat.
Medea
Frederick Sandys
A Love Story
By the will of Hera and Aphrodite, Medea, the
younger daugther of Aeetes falls in love with
Jason. Medea is descended from the sun,
and is both a young maiden and a powerful
sorceress, a priestess of Hecate. Medea
agrees to help Jason defeat the bulls and the
the great serpent; for the bulls she gave him
a magic ointment which protected him from
fire and a stone to throw in the middle of the
armed men to make them fight each other.
She gave him drugs to subdue the serpent.
without her help he could not be successful.
But in the end he mistreats her. He promises
to take her home with him, which he does, but
then later leaves her for a native Greek
woman.
Next they came to Phasis,
Where they matched strength with the dark-faced
Colchians in the presence of Aietes himself.
But the Cyprus born queen of sharpest arrows
Bound the dappled wryneck to the four spokes
Of the inescapable wheel
And brought from Olympos that bird of madness
For the first time to men, and she taught
The son of Aison to be skillful in prayers and charms,
So that he might take away Medea’s respect
For her parents, and so that desire for Hellas might set
Her mind afire and drive her with the whip of Persuasion.
Pindar, Pythian 4.212 ff.
Jason Plows the Fields with Fire-Breathing Bulls
Jason flung off his saffron
Cloak, and putting his trust in the god, took on the task.
The fire did not make him flinch, owing to the commands
Of the hospitable woman skilled in medicines.
He grasped the plow, bound the necks of the oxen
By force in their harness, and by thrusting
The ruthless goad into their strong-ribbed bulk
The powerful man accomplished the appointed
Measure of toil. Aietes cried out, although in inarticulate
Pain, astonished at the power he beheld.
Pindar, Pythian 4. 233 ff.
Medea
Young Maiden or Powerful Witch ?
‘Poor wretch, must I toss hither and thither in woe? On every side my heart is in despair; nor
is there any help for my pain; but it burneth ever thus. Would that I had been slain by the
swift shafts of Artemis before I had set eyes on him, before Chalciope’s sons reached the
Achaean land. Some god or some Fury brought them hither for our grief, a cause of many
tears. Let him perish in the contest if it be his lot to die in the field. For how could I prepare
the charms without my parent’s knowledge? What story can I tell them? What trick, what
cunning device for aid can I find? If I see him alone, apart from his comrades, shall I greet
him? Ill-starred that I am! I cannot hope that I should rest from my sorrows even though he
perished; then will evil come to me when he is bereft of life. Perish all shame, perish all
glory; may he, saved by my effort, go scatheless wherever his heart desires. But as for me,
on the day when he bides the contest in triumph, may I die either straining my neck in the
noose from the roof-tree or tasting drugs destructive of life. But even so, when I am dead,
they will fling out taunts against me; and every city far away will ring with my doom, and
the Colchian women, tossing my name on their lips hither and thither, will revile me with
unseemly mocking - the maid who cared so much for a stranger that she died, the maid who
disgraced her home and her parents, yielding to a mad passion. And what disgrace will not
be mine? Alas for my infatuation! Far better would it be for me to forsake life this very night
in my chamber by some mysterious fate, escaping all slanderous reproach, before I complete
such nameless dishonour.’
She spoke, and brought a casket wherein lay many drugs, some for healing,
others for killing, and placing it upon her knees she wept.
Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, 3.772 ff.
Return Journey to Iolcus
Medea leaves with Jason to become his
wife in Iolcus. The Argonauts take an
even more fantastic route home, up the
Danube River, the invented Eridanus
River, and the Rhone, before coming to
the western coast of Italy. From here,
there are several similarities with
Odysseus’ journey.
Circe
They make a stop at the island of Circe,
who is related to Medea. She purifies
Medea and Jason for the murder of
Medea’s brother Apsyrtus. When they
left Colchis, Aeetes sent Apsyrtus after
them. They ambushed him and killed
him.
Sirens, Scylla/Charybdis,
Phaecians
Like Odysseus, they must also pass by
the Sirens, the Scylla and Charybdis,
and they make a visit to the
Phaeacians. King Alcinous and queen
Arete agree to protect them from Aetes,
who continues to chase them, if they
are married. They therefore perform
their marriage in Phaeacia, after which
the Colchians stop chasing them.
Libya and Crete - Talus
The Argonauts next wander off course to North
Africa, specifically Libya. They are stranded there,
and have to carry the Argo on their shoulders to lake
Triton, passing the garden of the Hesperides on the
way. The sea god Triton guides them back to the sea.
They then sail past Crete where they have their final
adventure before arriving home. Crete was guarded
by a bronze giant named Talus, who threw rocks at
people who passed by. In one version Medea defeats
him by means of her magic; she makes him go mad
and he strikes his ankle, his only weak point, and he
bleeds to death.
Arrival Home
When Jason arrives home finally, Pelias
refuses to give him the throne. Here we see
the destructive nature of Medea come to the
fore. She made Jason’s father Aeson young
again by cutting him up and boiling him in a
cauldron, and did the same also for a ram.
She thus convinced Pelias’ daughters to try
the same thing on their father. The magic of
course only worked for Medea and Pelias
died.
Corinth
Jason does not, however, get the throne of
Iolcus. Because of the murder of Pelias, he
and Medea are driven abroad to Corinth.
Medea was often connected with Corinth in
mythology, a city with many Near Eastern
connections. In another version of the myth,
the Corinthians called Medea to be their
queen, because her father Aeetes had been
the king there before he left for Colchis. This
is where Euripides’ tragedy Medea was set.
Murder of her Children
According to Euripides’ Medea, when Jason
and Medea arrived in Colchis, Jason divorced
Medea to marry Glauce, the daughter of
Creon, the king of Corinth. This infuriated
Medea who contrived to kill Glauce. She sent
her a gift of a poisoned robe and crown,
which burned both Glauce and Creon. She
then, in a terrifying move, killed her own
children in revenge against Jason. Medea
then flies away on a chariot drawn by winged
dragons of the sun. She goes away to
Athens, where she marries king Aegeus.
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