The Early Years
Jason was the son of Aeson, the lawful King of Iolcus, but his uncle Pelias had usurped the throne. Aeson and Pelias shared a common mother, Tyro. She was the daughter of Salmoneus and sea god Poseidon. Pelias lived in constant fear of losing what he had taken so unjustly. So he consulted an oracle that told him that a man wearing one sandal would be the reason for his end. He kept Jason’s father a prisoner and would certainly have murdered Jason at birth. But Jason’s mother, Alcimede, deceived Pelias by bundling the infant off to the wilderness cave of Chiron the Centaur. Chiron tutored Jason in the lore of plants, the hunt and the civilized arts. When he had come of age, Jason set out like a proper hero to claim his rightful throne of Iolcos.
The First Test
Hera, wife of almighty Zeus, nursed a rage against the new unjust King Pelias. For Jason’s uncle had honored all the gods but Hera. The Queen of Olympus was ready to wreak revenge! Her plan would require a true hero. Would this be Jason? To test Jason’s mettle, she contrived it that he came to a raging river on his way to Iolcus. And on the bank was a withered old woman. Would Jason bypass her or would he give way to her request to be ferried across the waters?
The Oracle’s Warning
Jason did not think twice. Taking the lady on his back, he set off into the current. And halfway across he began to stagger under her unexpected weight. For the old woman was none other than Hera in disguise. Jason had lost a sandal in the swift-moving stream, and this would prove significant. Remember what the oracle had warned King Pelias? “Beware the one who wears but a single sandal.” When Jason arrived in Iolcus, he asserted his claim to the throne. But his uncle Pelias had no intention of giving it up.
Under the guise of hospitality, uncle Pelias invited Jason to a banquet. And during the course of the meal, he engaged him in conversation. “You say you’ve got what it takes to rule a kingdom,” said Pelias. “I take it then that you’re fit to deal with problems that arise. How would you go about getting rid of someone who was giving you difficulties?” Jason considered for a moment. “Send him after the Golden Fleece.” he suggested. “Excellent idea,” responded Pelias. “Why, if he succeeded that hero would be remembered down through the ages. Why don’t you go?” Pelias thought that the task was impossible and Jason would never come back to Iolcus.
Word went out the length and breadth of Greece that Jason was looking for shipmates to embark upon a perilous adventure. And in spite of the miniscule chances of anyone returning with the prize, many heroes were ready to run the risk. These were known as the Argonauts, after their ship, the Argo, built by Argus. Among them were Hercules (known as Heracles) and the heroine Atalanta.
The Adventure Begins
Argus the Shipbuilder was blessed by Hera who enlisted the aid of her fellow goddess Athena. This patroness of crafts and war secured a prow for the vessel from timber hewn at the sacred grove of Zeus at Dodona. This prow had the magical property of speaking – and prophesying – in a human voice. And so one bright autumn morning the Argo set out to sea, her benches crewed by brawny ranks of rowers. First stop was Lemnos, an island inhabited exclusively by women, who, cursed by Goddess Aphrodite (because they had ignored her worship) made their body smell so rank that their husbands ran away. Next stop, the city of Salmydessus…
King Phineus of Salmydessus welcomed them but was in a bad way. Because he’d offended the gods, he’d been set upon by woman-headed, bird-bodied, razor-clawed scourges known as Harpies, sent to hound him by the Sun God, Helios. Every evening at dinnertime, they dropped by to defecate upon the king’s repast and hung around making a dreadful racket. Fortunately two of Jason’s crew were direct descendants of the North Wind, which gave them the power to fly. And they chased the Harpies so far away that King Phineus was never bothered again.
The Clashing Rocks
In thanks, King Phineus informed the Argonauts of a danger just ahead on the route to the Golden Fleece – two rocks called the Symplegades, which crashed together upon any ship passing between them. As thanks for ridding him of the Harpies, the king suggested a mechanism by which one might avoid the effects of these Clashing Rocks. Send a dove to pass between the crags first, causing them to clash together, then the Argo could follow quickly behind, passing through safely before the rocks were ready to snap shut again. The Argo thus passed unscathed. Only her very stern was splintered.
The Flying Ram
Once arrived in the barbarian kingdom of Colchis, where the Golden Fleece was, Jason had to face a series of challenges meted out by its King Aeetes. He and his people were not kindly disposed toward strangers, although on an earlier occasion the King had extended hospitality to a visitor from Jason’s home town: a man who arrived on the back of a golden-fleeced flying ram. The stranger’s name was Phrixus, and he had been on the point of being sacrificed when the ram carried him off. Having arrived safely in Colchis, he sacrificed the ram to the gods and hung its fleece in a grove. King Aeetes gave him the hand of one of his daughters in marriage.
King Aeetes had taken a disliking to Jason on sight. He had no fondness for handsome young strangers on glorious quests. For King Aeetes considered the Golden Fleece to be his own, and he was in the midst of booting Jason out when he was reminded of the obligations of hospitality by his daughter, Medea. Medea was motivated by more than good manners. For Hera had been looking out for Jason’s interests, and she had succeeded in persuading her fellow goddess Aphrodite to intervene on Jason’s behalf.
A Farmyard Chore
Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, arranged that Medea be stricken with passion for Jason the moment she first saw him. Medea offered to help him in his latest quest. For once her father had calmed down, he had waxed suspiciously reasonable. “Of course Jason could have the Fleece…” All the King required of Jason as a simple token of good faith was the merest of farmyard chores…
The Fire-Breathing Bulls
There were two bulls standing in the adjacent pasture. If Jason would be so kind as to harness them, plow the field, sow it and reap the harvest in a single day, King Aeetes would be only too happy to turn over the Golden Fleece. Oh, and there was one trifling detail of which Jason should be aware. These bulls were angry! With feet made of brass sharp enough to rip open a man. And then of course the bulls breathed flames.
Plowing and Sowing
Now Medea was a famous sorceress. She slipped Jason a salve which, when smeared on his body, made him fireproof. Thus inoculated, Jason boldly approached the bulls, disregarding the flames and steering clear of the hooves, he forced the creatures into harness and set about plowing the field.
The Dragon’s Teeth
King Aeetes, it turns out, had got his hands on some dragon’s teeth. As soon as these hit the soil they began to sprout, (good from the point of view of Jason accomplishing his task by nightfall, but bad in terms of the harvest). For each seed germinated into a fully-armed warrior, who popped up from the ground and joined the throng now attacking Jason. King Aeetes chuckled quietly to himself, however it irked him to see his daughter Medea slink across the furrows to Jason’s side, but he didn’t think too much of it at the time.
Conquest of the Seed Men
In actuality, Medea rushed to the hero, giving Jason advice. If his aim was to bring the harvest in on deadline in order to retrieve the Golden Fleece, he had to withstand the warriors. How? He simply flung a stone at one of the men. The man, in turn, thought his neighbour warrior had done it. Soon enough all the seed men had turned on one another with their swords until not one warrior was left standing.
The Golden Fleece
King Aeetis had no choice but to make as though he’d give the Fleece to Jason, with no intention of course of doing so. He now committed the error of divulging this fact to his daughter. And Medea, still entranced by the Goddess of Love, let Jason it was all a trap. As such she lead him under cover of darkness to the temple grove where the Fleece was displayed, nailed to a tree and guarded by a dragon. And so at midnight they crept into the sacred precinct of Ares, god of war.
Jason’s Return to his Kingdom – Iolcus
Medea used a sleeping potion to lull the dragon. Together Jason and Medea made off with the Fleece and escaped to the Argo, setting sail.
Hurrah! Jason succeeded in his heroic challenge, returning to Iolcus to reclaim the throne! Jason, my hero x
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