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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.
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 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 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, 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.