Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece | #GreekMyths

One of the most underrated ancient Greek heroes is Jason, the prince of Iolcos and husband of the witch Medea, who you might know from the ancient Greek tragedy with the same name. Jason is the hero of the myth of the Argonauts, the sailors of the legendary ship named Argo, and the main character in the epic poem Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius. The legend of Jason is actually one of the most fascinating ancient Greek myths and there are plenty of conspiracy theories surrounding this topic. Today, we are following the hero to Colchis, where he travels to obtain the mythical golden fleece.

Subscribe to Helinika’s YouTube Channel

Facts About Jason, Argo, and The Argonauts | How It All Began

Jason was the son of Aeson, king of the city of Iolcos in Thessaly. God Herme’s blood run in his family and he was the student of the Centaur Chiron in nearby Pelion. Prince Jason was actually sent to live with the half-man – half-horse creature when his uncle, Pelias, took over the kingdom of Iolcos. Pelias started killing the descendants of his brother, the rightful king, except for newborn Jason. His mother and her maids had faked his death: as soon as he was born, the women started crying over his cries, saying he was a stillborn. Then, they escorted him out of the palace and hid him in the woods of the nearby mountain range.

Jason was raised by wise Chiron and he was taught hunting, music, and medicine. He was a natural-born leader and he knew that he was the rightful king of Iolcos. As soon as the prince started approaching adulthood, he visited his birthplace to announce to Pelias that he is now ready to sit on his throne.

Pelias immediately remembered a prophecy he had heard many years ago. He had been warned by an oracle that a man with one sandal would try to dethrone him. When the young man approached him, he looked at his feet. This man named Jason was wearing only one sandal; the other was lost while he was trying to help an older woman, who was actually goddess Hera dressed as a peasant. The cunning king knew he must be strategic and not infuriate Jason. Otherwise, he would risk getting killed.

To take my throne, which you shall, you must go in a quest to find the golden fleece.”, he said, knowing that the task would be impossible to complete.

But what is the golden fleece exactly?

The Golden Fleece of Colchis

In Greek, it is called «το χρυσόμαλλο δέρας». The golden fleece was the fleece -as the name suggests- of a mythical golden-wooled flying ram. This ram was called Chrysomallos, meaning “golden hair”, and was sent by Poseidon to save prince Phrixus from being sacrificed to end the drought in his kingdom. The young man was saved similarly to Iphigeneia and similar stories of princes and princesses being saved by animals were quite popular in ancient Greece.

Chrysomallos, the flying ram, brought Phrixus to Colchis, an area on the coast of the Black Sea, where modern-day Georgia is located. According to the legend, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Poseidon (other sources mention Zeus), as it was intended. Then, he hung the ram’s shiny fleece from a tree, which was guarded by a serpent. The description resembles that of a dragon, an important detail for some conspiracy theorists. The golden fleece was so well guarded that soon became a symbol of authority and leadership. Whoever was able to attain it would be able to lead any group, any community, any city. As for the spirit of Chrysomallos, it is said that the animal became a constellation and it represents the sign of Aries in Greek astrology.

Your Greek language journey starts here.

Jason’s Quest | The Journey to Colchis | The Argonautica

Jason was intrigued by the idea of traveling to a foreign land to obtain a status symbol. He didn’t want to be offered the throne so easily. Like other ancient Greek heroes, he wanted to prove his worth. And this is how the quest to Colchis began.

Prince Jason gathered some of the bravest, strongest, most disciplined, and smartest men from all over Greece, including Hercules. He then made sure that he and his 49 men would travel with the safest and fastest ship that was ever created. According to Apollonius Rhodius, the builder Argus constructed the ship Argo with the help of goddess Athena. The latter favored highly intelligent and strategic people, as we have seen throughout this entire video series.

The Argonauts in Lemnos

Argo is still one of the most legendary ships of all times and it is said to have flied over the skies and turned into a constellation. Thanks to its clever design and great weather conditions, the ship took the men safely to the island of Lemnos. There, the Argonauts learned that all the male residents of the island have been killed.

The local women revealed that they were angered by the fact that the men were unfaithful to them and had abducted women from Thrace to keep them as slaves. It was later revealed that goddess Aphrodite was to blame. The goddess of romance and beauty was forgotten by the Lemnian women who paid no tribute to her. And that is why she decided to make the local men look for women elsewhere.

The only man who was spared from the wrath of the Lemnian women was king Thoas, whose daughter could not bear the idea of killing him. His daughter was no other than Hypsipyle. The young woman was immediately attracted to prince Jason, who ended up getting pregnant by him. The entire crew ended up impregnating the women who were left on the island and then departed to continue their quest. If you are aware of the tragedy called Medea, then you should know that Jason had commitment issues when it comes to relationships.

The Argonauts in Cyzicu’s Island

Argo’s next stop was the Arctonisos or Bear Island, which is basically an island in the Sea of Marmara, known as the Propontis. This area connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and it is rich in marble. The Bear Island was ruled by king Cyzicus, a hospitable and amicable man who made sure that Jason and his crew-members had a comfortable stay at his palace.

King Cyzicus wanted to warn the Argonauts to avoid sailing to the eastern side of the island, since they were constantly getting attacked by the Pelasgians and his army was always guarding the east coast. However, he ended up getting distracted and forgot to mention this important detail to Jason.

After the Argonauts departed, a storm started, and they soon lost their orientation. The men ended up on the east coast of Bear Island, where they were attacked by the army of Cyzicus. The latter thought that they were approached by enemies and the Argonauts were unaware that they had ended up at the same island. Jason and his crew ended up killing the majority of Cyzicus soldiers and Cyzicus himself. When they realized what was going on, it was way too late. The Argonauts were quick to judge the situation and why they were being attacked. They ended up killing the people who had hosted them. The people who fed them and prepared them for the rest of their trip. The Argonauts left the island only after mourning the dead and paying for a costly burial for Cyzicus and his army. Cyzicus’ sons took over the island and the Argonauts sailed to Mysia in Asia Minor.

The Argonauts in Mysia and in the Land of the Berbryces

According to some sources, Hercules was left in Mysia. He was either lured there by nymphs and never returned to Argo or, according to the historian Pherecydes, the ship complaint about his weight and asked him to disembark. The most interesting variation of the story is, however, that Hercules stayed on the island after his lover, Hylas, fell in love with a local nymph. In any case, Jason was extremely sad that one of his bravest men chose a different path.

Argo’s next stop was the land of Berbryces. The people there were not very friendly. Their king, Amycos, challenged one of them to a boxing match and, for the first time in history, the king lost. The Argonauts managed to leave the island before they got slaughtered by the local army.

The Harpies and The Clashing Rocks

The Argonauts were able to surpass many challenges during their trip to Colchis. One of their greatest achievements was scaring away the Harpies from the home of king Phineus. The latter was a cursed Prophet who was not only blinded by Zeus, but was hunted down by some terrifying birds called Harpies. These birds would steal Phineus’ food and torment him. The Argonauts felt bad for the man and chased the enormous birds to scare them away. The Harpies left the area and never returned. Phineus thanked the men by revealing the dangers they would encounter in their trip. He warned them of the Symplegades, the terrifying rocks of the Bosporus that were classing together every time a boat would try to pass by.

When the Argo approached the Clashing Rocks of the Bosporus, Jason released a dove. He wanted to see how fast they would have to go to cross the stream successfully. The bird flew between the cliffs and the rocks managed to cut only a small part of its tail. The Argonauts used all of their strength and also managed to go through the rocks by only sacrificing a small part of the stern ornament. From that moment on, the Symplegades stopped moving.

Adventures By The Edge of The World and Arriving to Colchis

The Argonauts continued their journey and encountered many obstacles as they were approaching what was believed to be “the edge of the world”. They lost some of their men from wild boars and mysterious diseases. They encountered the Stymphalian Birds and managed to scare them away with their growling sounds. They also offered a helping hand to four shipwrecked brothers who warned them about the terrifying serpent that protects the Golden Fleece.

With the winds in their favor, the Argonauts arrived in Colchis, where the sacred grove of Ares was located. After wandering around Colchis they soon came across a beautiful palace. Four fountains could be found in the courtyard, surrounded by vines and beautiful flowers. They were gushing water, milk, wine, and aromatic oils respectively. This was the home of king Aeetes, who was standing there next to his beautiful daughter Medea.

Jason had been debating over the past few days which strategy he should follow to obtain the shiny fleece. He believed in his powers and if he started a fight, he could win. However, all these days travelling around the world had taught him a lot. Success can be achieved with the power of persuasion. Violence is not always necessary to get what you want.

Jason came to Colchis in peace. He accompanied the four shipwrecked siblings to the palace and was hosted there by the king Aeetes himself. Meanwhile, goddess Athena and goddess Hera were plotting how to get princess Medea fall in love with Jason, which would eventually help the hero persuade the king of Colchis. They eventually got Eros, the Greek version of Cupid, to shoot the arrow of romantic love to Medea, who instantly developed feelings for the prince of Iolcos.

Obtaining the Golden Fleece | The Labors of Jason

Jason knew that, in order to persuade someone, you need to gain their trust. He was a stranger in Aeetes eyes and it would take forever to make him like him. However, he ended up using one of his good deeds to his favor. It was revealed that the brothers he had saved were the king’s grandsons. The eldest of the young men started narrating how he and his brothers were going to die until Jason and his crew found them and rescued them. He then proceeded to tell the king that Jason has lost his throne in Iolcos and he needs to obtain the fleece and take his rightful place.

Although these words were coming from his grandson and not Jason himself, Aeetes became enraged. How could someone ask for the most precious item of his kingdom? Jason heard Aeetes and how he would punish him for his audacity to demand something like this. Jason stayed calm. He did not take things personally. Instead, he started complimenting Aeetes and telling him that he would be willing to pay a price for getting the fleece. Not only that, but Iolcos would be forever grateful to him. He would be known for his generosity in his kingdom and beyond.

Aeetes started thinking about his options. He could detect Jason’s efforts to persuade him but he didn’t feel like ordering his execution anymore. Instead, the king of Colchis promised him that he would offer him the fleece only if he completed a series of “impossible” tasks, just like the Hercule’s labors.

To begin with, Jason would have to yoke a pair of fire-breathing oxen and plow the field. Then, he would have to plant dragons’ teeth in the soil and fight off the skeletons that would sprout. The final task would be to destroy the mighty dragon that guarded the fleece. The king believed that Jason would reject the proposal but maintain his positive attitude towards him. It would a win-win situation.

Jason was indeed overwhelmed by all these tasks and, although he was a confident and brave individual, he was also reasonable. He knew that it would be impossible to complete these tasks. But given the circumstances and the fact that, without the fleece, he would be assassinated by Pelias, he accepted the challenge. What he did not know was that two goddesses were on his side and that Medea, the princess of Colchis, possessed magic abilities and was also madly in love with him.  

The young woman spent the night with her maidens, gathering herbs and other items to prepare a charm that would protect Jason from harms way. She then approached him and told him that, if he agrees to marry her, she will give him a charm that would protect him from fire and bronze. Jason agreed and received Medea’s magic protection.

The Impossible Made Possible | Jason’s Success

The prince of Iolcos and leader of the Argonauts appeared in front of Aeetes, the people of Colchis, and his crew members. They would all watch him try to complete the “impossible tasks”. Since only him and Medea knew about the charms, the audience was left in shock while watching him approach the first ox, which started breathing fire.

Jason was not harmed by the flames, since he was protected by Medea’s charm. He was able to plow the field with the help of these dangerous animals. He then planted the seeds that were given to him. These were not normal seeds; they were dragons’ teeth. All of a sudden, skeletons started digging themselves out of the soil, forming an army. Jason followed Medea’s instructions and threw a rock at the skeletons who got disoriented. The blind skeletons started fighting each other and Jason was standing there watching them destroy themselves.

Jason and The Dragon of Ares’ Sacred Grove

After Aeetes watched Jason completing the “impossible” tasks, he panicked. He could feel that Jason could destroy the dragon and run away with the golden fleece. Before the Argonauts could realize what was going on, Aeetes ordered his army to destroy Argo. Medea then did the unthinkable. This wouldn’t be the first time she would commit such an act, but you have to remember that she was blinded by Eros; her love for Jason was not healthy. She was obsessed with him and would do anything to help him.

Medea killed her brother to destruct her father from destroying Argo and stopping the Argonauts from escaping. At the same time, Jason run towards the sacred grove of Ares, threw Medea’s poisonous potion at the dragon, and stole the golden fleece. Other sources mention that Medea sang a lullaby to the dragon and put him to sleep; a concept that we have seen in the first Harry Potter book. Another variation of the myth wants Jason consumed alive by the dragon but managing to slice open the monster’s belly with the help of the princess of Colchis. Jason then run towards Argo with his crew members and escaped with Medea and his golden trophy.

Returning to Iolcos

Going back to Iolcos was not an easy task. The Argonauts had to avoid the Sirens, Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, just like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. The Argonauts also faced Talos, a bronze robot-like guard of the island of Crete. Medea played a crucial role in helping the crew survive the trip. Without her magic spells and potions, fetching the fleece and going back to Iolcos would be a deadly task.

Unfortunately, Jason and Medea were not able to rule the city of Iolcos. Pelias refused to offer his throne and Medea did another atrocious act. She promised the daughters of Pelias that their father would get much younger and live much longer if they cooked him in a pot just like a lamb. Medea would use her magic herbs to revive him, which she never did. The couple was chased away from Iolcos and found refuge in Corinth. The tragedies never ended for them. However, the ending of the story is the topic of a tragedy, a theatrical play. Are you interested in a new series dedicated on Greek drama? Comment down below!

Theories & Conspiracy Theories About the Argonautica

There are many themes found in the Argonautica. The most obvious is that of power and how it can blind people and motivate them into doing the impossible possible. At the same time, we can see how humans are unwilling to give their powerful position to someone who is more capable than them. Sometimes, someone promised to give them power if they proved themselves. Have you ever worked for a company and gave your 100% to achieve the goals you were given, only to see yourself remain stagnant and not get compensated the way you were promised to get compensated? Then you know exactly how Jason felt when he returned to Iolcos with the golden fleece.

Another theme that is present in the Argonautica is that of the art of persuasion. Every ancient Greek hero has a set of qualities that make them stand out. They are all brave and strong, but this is not enough to move forward in life. Odysseus was witty and was able to trick others and get himself out of difficult situations. We saw that when he got Cyclops Polyphemus drank and when he came up with the idea of the Trojan horse. Jason appears to be a person who chooses his battles. He knows that violence can be unnecessary sometimes and that you can get yourself out of difficult situations by complimenting others and being diplomatic. Of course, nothing would be possible if Medea hadn’t fallen in love with him, proving that the greatest charm you can cast on someone is make them fall for you. Once Eros shoots his arrows, you have the person under your control.

Apart from the theories regarding the meaning of the Argonautica, there are plenty of conspiracy theories that suggest that Jason was a historical figure and that Argo was not a regular ship but rather a spaceship. Others say that the golden fleece actually represents sea silk and that the Argonauts were the first ones to cross an ancient silk road to modern day Georgia. There is not enough proof to validate these theories, however it is worth taking them into consideration. Have you ever heard of any of these theories? If yes, do you believe in them?  

You may also like:

The Parthenon Sculptures | Elgin Marbles Row Explained

Why do the Greeks want the “Elgin Marbles” back? How did the Parthenon Sculptures end up in Britain in the first place?

Native vs. Non-Native Speaker: Differences When Speaking Modern Greek

Today, let’s see a few more ways native Greek speakers communicate differently from people who are learning Greek as a foreign language.

Website | + posts

Marialena Perpiraki is a journalist and writer from Athens, Greece. In 2020, she founded Helinika as a cross-media platform.