|The Golden Fleece|
|The Quest for the Golden Fleece|
|The Death of Jason|
|Jason in The Iliad (reference)|
|Jason in The Odyssey (reference)|
|Other Text References|
The son of Aeson (Aison) and Alkimede (Alcimede) and the great-grandson of Minyas. In the Greek texts, his name appears as Ieson but was changed to Jason by the Romans ... our literature has adopted the Roman spelling of his name simply for convenience and I have done so for the same reason.
The life of Jason was defined by two major and interconnected events: 1) the Quest for the Golden Fleece and 2) the love of the sorceress, Medeia (Medea).
As in most heroic episodes in Greek pre-history, there is no clear beginning or starting point from which we can draw a clear cause-and-effect relationship for Jason's glory and his, seemingly pointless, death. Jason's father, Aeson, was supposed to take the throne of Iolkos (Iolcos) after the death of his father, Kretheus (Cretheus), but he was cheated out of his inheritance by his brother-in-law, Pelias.
As a child, Jason was removed from Iolkos and put in the care of the Centaur, Cheiron (Chiron), for his protection and education. The goddess, Hera, on one of her frequent excursions into the world of mortal humans, disguised herself as an old woman and waited on the banks of the river Anauros for a kind stranger to help her cross the surging river. Jason, now a young man, assisted Hera and, by this simple demonstration of his chivalrous character, earned the eternal love and protection of the queen of the Immortals. While helping Hera from the river, Jason lost one of his sandals which was a portent of doom for his uncle, Pelias.
King Pelias, on the other hand, earned Hera's wrath by neglecting her at his sacrifices. Hera's love of Jason and her hatred of Pelias combined to set the stage for the Quest for the Golden Fleece, the love affair with Medeia and the cruel death of Pelias.
When Jason came to Iolkos in the bloom of his manhood, Pelias knew that he was doomed unless he could contrive Jason's death. Pelias had been given an oracle that said that a youth wearing one sandal would come to Iolkos and take his throne. Jason had lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros and had entered Iolkos just as the oracle had predicted. Pelias was foolish, or arrogant, enough to think that he could thwart the will of the Immortals and avoid his prescribed fate by sending Jason on a seemingly hopeless quest. Pelias commanded Jason the retrieve the Golden Fleece from King Aietes (Aeetes) in the far-off land of Kolchis (Colchis). Pelias knew that King Aietes would not surrender the Golden Fleece willingly and that Jason would probably be killed by King Aietes if he was lucky enough to survive the dangerous sea voyage to Kolchis.
Jason accepted the challenge and gathered the most renowned group of heroes ever assembled in the ancient world to accompany him on the Quest for the Golden Fleece; the goddess, Athene (Athena), assisted in the construction of the ship the sailors were to use and the craft was named Argo, i.e. Swift. The crew members were called the Argonauts. Athene even spoke to Jason and his crew through the keel of the magical ship. With the protection of Hera and Athene, Jason set sail for Kolchis.
A fleece of pure gold was all that remained of the flying ram that bore Helle and her brother, Phrixus, as they attempted to fly to safety across the body of water that was later to be named the Hellespont, i.e. the Sea of Helle.
Their mother, Nephele, and Hermes provided the golden ram so that Helle and Phrixus could escape the evil plotting of their stepmother, Ino; Helle fell from the ram and drowned in the water below, thus the name: Helle-pontos.
After arriving safely in Kolchis, the ram was sacrificed by Phrixus and the Golden Fleece was kept in Kolchis until Jason and the Argonauts retrieved it as part of the seemingly suicidal mission that was forced on them by the king of Iolkos, Pelias.
The story of the Golden Fleece incorporates numerous creatures and heroes from previous adventure epics as related by Homer but the story of the Golden Fleece was best told by the poet Apollonius Rhodius, i.e. Apollonius of Rhodes, in the epic poem, Argonautika.
I have not tried to relate the entire story here but have only included the highlights of the adventures of the Argonauts. For the complete story I recommend Argonautika by Peter Green, ISBN 0520076877, which is available at most libraries and from the Book Shop on this site.
Argonauts is the collective name for the most celebrated band of heroes ever assembled in ancient Greece. Their ship was named Argo and thus they were dubbed Argonauts because Argo + nautes = Argo-seamen.
The Argonauts were:
King Pelias of Iolkos was warned that a stranger with one sandal would come to take his throne and so when Jason arrived, having lost one of his sandals in a river, Pelias devised a plan where Jason would be required to undertake an impossible task and never return. Pelias also made the mistake of offending Hera by not giving her proper honor at his sacrifices and so Hera plotted to have Pelias punished. The voyage of the Argonauts was to be the method by which Hera would achieve this end.
Pelias sent Jason to retrieve the magical fleece of gold that had been created by Hermes and kept in the Grove of Ares (god of War) in the far-off land of Kolchis. The king of Kolchis was a mighty ruler and a fierce man named Aietes (Aeetes). Pelias was certain that Aietes would never voluntarily surrender the Golden Fleece and that Jason would never be able to take it by force.
Jason was not foolhardy enough to attempt such a feat alone, so he gathered the bravest and most adventuresome men in Greece to aid him in his quest. The members of the crew that Jason assembled were collectively known as the Argonauts. They took their name from the ship which was built expressly for their voyage, the Argo. The ship was designed by a man named Argos and the construction of the ship was overseen by the goddess of craft and skill, Athene.
The most famous Argonaut was, of course, Herakles (Heracles) but others included the sons of Poseidon, sons of Boreas (North Wind) and sons of Helios (the Sun).
The land of Kolchis was on the eastern edge of the sea named the Euxine (Black Sea). The Argonauts sailed north through the Aegean Sea to the Hellespont and onwards to the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and survived the attacks of several of the native inhabitants. They encountered the pitiful, blind seer, Phineus, who was being punished by Zeus and Helios by having his food eaten and defiled by the she-birds, the Harpies. The winged sons of Boreas, Kalais (Calais) and Zetes chased away the Harpies and freed Phineus from his curse. Phineus then rewarded the Argonauts by giving them instructions as to how to get to Kolchis and safely return to their homeland.
The Argonauts had to pass through the Clashing Rocks which guarded the narrow passage from the Propontis to the Euxine. Called "the twin Kyanean (Cyanean) Rocks where the two seas meet," the gigantic rocks would clash together whenever any living thing tried to pass between them. Phineus, told the Argonauts to send a dove through the Clashing Rocks before they attempted to sail their ship through. He said that if the dove survived, it would be safe for the Argo to proceed. The dove flew between the Clashing Rocks with only the loss of its tail feathers and the Argo sailed boldly into the passage. Athene held back one of the rocks with one hand and pushed the Argo through with the other. The Clashing Rocks then became stationary islands and never menaced sailors again.
In the land of the Mysians, one of the sailors, Hylas, went in search of water and was abducted by the nymphs of a spring. Herakles and Polyphemos (Polyphemus) refused to leave the island without Hylas and the Argo sailed without them. The fate of the Argonauts began to change and they suffered their first casualties ... Idmon was the first to die ... he died from wounds inflicted by a monstrous, white-tusked boar. Then Tiphys died of a fast-acting sickness. When they came to the Isle of Ares, Oileus died after he was struck by a feather from one of the war god's birds. On the Isle of Ares they found the four sons of Phrixus who were shipwrecked on the island. Their father, Phrixus, was the one who had originally sacrificed the golden ram and given it to Aietes. The four brothers joined the Argonauts and they proceeded to Kolchis.
Jason tried to reason with Aietes but the king was duty bound to retain the Golden Fleece ... he refused to part with the Fleece voluntarily. Hera and Athene went to Aphrodite (goddess of Love) and asked her to intervene on Jason's behalf. King Aietes's daughter, Medeia (Medea), was a priestess of the goddess, Hekate (Hecate), and the niece of the Dread Goddess, Kirke (Circe). Aphrodite sent Eros (the primal god of Love) to shoot Medeia with an arrow of irresistible love. When Medeia saw Jason she was helpless in her desire for him.
Aietes decided that it would not be wise to blatantly refuse Jason's request for the Golden Fleece so he cunningly challenged Jason to demonstrate his strength by harnessing two fierce supernatural, bronze-footed bulls, plow a field and plant the dragon's teeth of Kadmos (Cadmus). The dragon's teeth would grow into warriors and then Jason would have to fight and kill the Earth-Born warriors.
Jason met with Medeia and together they plotted how he could survive the ordeal and win the Golden Fleece without having to fight Aietes's army or resort to common thievery. Medeia gave Jason a potion which was made from the flowers that grew from the blood of Prometheus as he had laid suffering, chained to the Caucasus Mountains. Jason made a sacrifice to Hekate and bathed himself and his weapons in the magic potion.
At dawn the following day Jason went into the field to face the bronze-footed bulls and plant the dragon's teeth. The Earth-Born warriors sprang from the ground and attacked Jason with fury. Using the same trick that Kadmos had used, he tossed a stone in the midst of the warriors and let them fight amongst themselves until their numbers were small enough so that he could kill the remainder. Aietes was furious.
Medeia, still in the thralls of love, led the Argonauts to the Grove of Ares where the Golden Fleece was kept. The Fleece was protected by an ever-vigilant dragon but Medeia cast a spell on the dragon with a hypnotic song and undiluted potions. Jason took the Fleece and fled.
Aietes soon realized the treachery of his daughter and sent a fleet in pursuit. Aietes insisted that he would have honored his promise to surrender the Golden Fleece but he justified his pursuit of the Argonauts because they had taken Medeia.
In their escape, the Argonauts took the long and difficult route up the Ister (Danube) River and across southern Europe, hoping to elude their pursuers. Aietes's son, Apsyrtos, led the fleet that pursued the Argo. When the Argonauts were finally cornered and feared a direct confrontation with Apsyrtos and his numerous ships, Jason and Medeia devised a treacherous plan where they would meet with Apsyrtos ... Medeia would pretend to surrender herself to her brother while Jason waited in ambush. As Medeia was talking to Apsyrtos, Jason attacked and killed him. Without a leader, the pursuers lost their momentum and the Argonauts made their escape. Fearful of what King Aietes would do when they returned without Medeia or Apsyrtos, the sailors chose to stay in Europe and never return to Kolchis.
The keel of the Argo, inspired by Athene, warned the Argonauts that Zeus was furious at the murder of Apsyrtos and urged them to go to Kirke's island and beg forgiveness. On the island of Kirke, Medeia asked to be forgiven but Kirke could not absolve them of such a wanton crime and made them leave her island. Hera implored Thetis and the other Nereids, Hephaistos (Hephaestus) and Aeolus (Aiolos) (lord of the Winds) to protect the Argonauts and guide them through the dangers that awaited them on the open sea. One by one, the monster, Skylla (Scylla), the whirlpool, Charybdis, and the clear-voiced Sirens were overcome. When they arrived on the island of the Phaiakians (Phaeacians), King Alkinoos (Alcinous) declared that he would not help Jason and Medeia unless they were married and so the couple took the sacred wedding vows and gained sanctuary.
Once again at sea, the Argo was blown ashore in Libya by a tempest. The Argonauts had to carry the ship across the Libyan desert to lake Trito. The god Triton arose from the lake and guided the desperate Argonauts back to the Mediterranean Sea.
When they approached the island of Crete, the Argonauts were unable to make a safe landing because the gigantic bronze man, Talos, guarded the shore. Again Medeia used her magical powers to save the Argo from certain destruction. She invoked the Death-Spirits to befuddle Talos and, in a fit of confusion, Talos stumbled on the rocky shore and tore the thin membrane at his heel allowing the fluid of life, ichor, to drain from his otherwise impervious body.
From Crete the remaining Argonauts sailed safely to their homes in Thessaly thus ending the Quest for the Golden Fleece and the voyage of the Argo according to Apollonius. The continuation of the story was told by poets such as Euripides and in various pieces of artwork dating back to the fifth century BCE.
Jason returns the Golden Fleece to King Pelias
After arriving back in Iolkos, Jason found that his father was dead through the trickery of King Pelias. Medeia hatched an evil revenge on Pelias and, using her occult skills, convinced Pelias's daughters that she could restore their father's youth if he was cut into pieces and put in a caldron filled with magical herbs. To demonstrate the process, Medeia successfully performed the process on a ram. The unwitting girls followed Medeia's instructions ... their father was killed, chopped into pieces but not reanimated.
When news of Medeia's sorcery had spread throughout Iolkos, Jason and Medeia are forced to flee to the city of Corinth and take refuge with King Kreon (Creon). Jason and Medeia had two children but Jason fell in love with the king's daughter, Glauke (Glauce). Medeia was well practiced in the art of revenge so she made a poison cloak for Glauke and effectively murdered her. As a further attack on Jason for his infidelity, Medeia killed their two children and fled to Athens on a chariot drawn by dragons. Medeia went on to play a significant role in the life if the Athenian hero, Theseus, but she eventually made her way to Persia and founded the race we know as the Medes.
After the murder of his children, the torturous death of Glauke and Medeia's flight to Athens, Jason's fate becomes unclear. He either killed himself in desperate sorrow or was crushed under the decks of the Argo as he slept. Regardless of how he died, it was a truly tragic end of a life filled with adventure, courage and betrayal.
(Loeb Classical Library vol. 57, Hesiod)
(Loeb Classical Library vol. 503, Hesiod II)