2 The Golden FleeceA golden ram given by Hermes saved the young prince Phrixus from a wrongful human sacrifice. It carried him to Colchis, where king Aeetes (son of Helius, brother of Circe and Pasiphae) took him in. Phrixus sacrificed the ram and gave the golden fleece to Aeetes.
3 Jason and Pelias Pelias is the villain of the piece: he usurped the throne that rightfully belonged to Jason’s fatherhe slighted Hera by refusing to sacrifice to herhe knew from a prophecy to “beware the man with one sandal”Jason is the hero:like Achilles, he was raised by Chiron – though in exile from his rightful kingdomwhen returning home, he helped an old woman across the stream, losing a sandal in the processthe old woman was Hera, working with and through Jason as his immortal mentor.
4 Jason and PeliasPelias promised to give Jason the throne if he returned from Colchis with the Golden Fleece. As with the evil king of the Perseus story, Pelias could expect the mission to be fatal.Jason set about building a ship for the mission – the Argo – which had a talking figurehead which relayed advice from Hera.Athena too supported the mission, and is shown here helping build the phenomenal ship.
5 The ArgonautsOrpheusJason gathered together a group of young heroes to assist him on the mission:HeraclesCastor and Pollux
6 The ArgonautsAlso included were the fathers of many Trojan war heroes (Achilles, Ajax, etc.), and many other heroes from the generation before the Trojan war.Some of these had magical powers – for example, Zetes and Callais, sons of the North Wind, who had wings . . .The roster of Argonauts is different in the different stories, and this is one of the myths (like the Trojan War and the Calydonian Boar Hunt) which tended to bring local heroes together into a shared national narrative – a unifying function of some Greek myths.
7 Sources The Argonaut story changed over time . . . Homer mentions Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece (but not Medea)Pindar (early 5th c. BCE) tells about Jason winning the fleece and escaping with Medea, and that Medea destroys PeliasEuripides’ play Medea (431 BCE) tells about Medea and Jason, with some mention of the mission to ColchisApollonius of Rhodes (3rd c. BCE) tells about the whole mission, in an often melodramatic way; Jason is somewhat less than heroicOvid (BCE/CE) tells the story of Jason in a heroic way, and also writes of Medea’s passions
8 The ArgonautsThe Argonauts had several adventures before they reached Colchis, losing Heracles along the way.The Lemnian women, who had killed their husbands, greeted them kindly . . .They saved the prophet Phineas from the HarpiesThetis helped them through the Symplegades (clashing rocks), which were fixed forever after
9 The ArgonautsJason had to harness fire-breathing bulls, plow a field, sow a field with dragon’s teeth, and when supernatural warriors were born (as from the teeth Cadmus sowed in Thebes), he had to defeat them. Medea gave him ointment to protect and strengthen him.Who gets the credit? Versions vary:Jason bravely killed the serpent and took the fleece;or he drugged it with more of Medea’s potions;or Medea was responsible:In Colchis, Aeetes offered to give Jason the fleece if he could defeat the dragon guarding it.As with Theseus and Ariadne, the king’s daughter fell in love with the foreign hero and helped him against her own father.Medea, practiced in magic (in some accounts more than in others) gave Jason knowledge and weapons to defeat the dragon.
10 Jason’s QuestMedea speaks: I saved you I killed the serpent, which unsleeping guarded the golden fleece, and I brought you the light of salvation!Euripides, MedeaThis vase painting shows another tradition: Jason is defeated by the serpent, but Athena makes it cough him up.
11 The Argonauts FleeJason seizes the golden fleece (again, with Athena supervising). What happens next varies:Jason leaves with Medea, and Aeetes pursues himAeetes goes back on his word. Medea helps the Argonauts escape with the fleece, and goes with them.Medea’s role can be terrible: e.g., she kills her younger brother and throws his limbs over the side so Aeetes has to stop to pick them up.
12 Pelias’ DeathJason and Medea returned to Iolcus, where Pelias had vowed to return the kingdom to Jason. Now he refused.Medea used her magic to rejuvenate a ram by cutting him up and boiling him with herbs in a cauldron.She told Pelias’daughters that they could rejuvenate their father the same way.
13 Pelias’ DeathThey cut him up and cooked him, but all they got was soup.Jason and Medea were tainted with miasma and were driven out of Iolcus. They fled to Corinth.Other stories give a very different account of Medea: they define her as hereditary queen of Corinth, which was affiliated with Colchis.
14 MedeaQueen Medea had resisted the advances of Zeus, and Hera offered to reward her by making her children immortal. But when Medea left her children in Hera’s sactuary, they died.OR: Medea was the enemy of King Creon, and killed him, then fled to Athens, leaving her children in Hera’s sanctuary. The Corinthians killed them in revenge.There was an altar to Medea’s children in Corinth in historical times.Both stories agree that Medea went to Athens, where she became the mother of Medus (future king of Persia) by Aegeus.
15 MedeaThe playwright Euripides tells a far more frightening story, and one which has become the classic version of the Medea story: That Medea killed her own children for revenge on Jason.
16 MedeaIn exile, Jason and Medea struggle. When they settle in Corinth, Jason has the opportunity to marry the princess and establish himself. Euripides presents Jason as self-serving and Medea and genuinely wronged. The children are an issue – Jason says theywill benefit by their future step-brothers; Medea thinks they will be worse off whether they go with her into exile, or stay in Corinth.She sends them to the princess with a gift . . .
17 Medeaa poisoned garment which begins to dissolve her flesh when she puts it on. Creon tries to save his daughter and is also killed by the poison.
18 MedeaMedea has already planned her escape – but what about the children?Women, my task is fixed: to kill my children quickly, and leave this land, and not, by wasting time, let my children be killed by a hand less kindly to them. Force every way will have it that they must die Arm yourself in steel, my heart! Do not hang back from doing this fearful and necessary wrong. Do not be a coward, do not think of them, how sweet they are – weep afterward . . .
19 MedeaHaving killed her children, and having gotten her terrible revenge on Jason, Medea shows her divine (and therefore inhuman) side and flies away on her dragon chariot.Jason, like many heroes, has a less than heroic death: the prow of the Argo rots off and falls on him while he is sitting underneath it.
20 Zeus in Olympus is the overseer of many doings Zeus in Olympus is the overseer of many doings. Many things the gods achieve beyond our judgment. What we thought is not confirmed and what we did not think, god contrives. And so it happened in this story.Euripides, Medeafinis
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