Classical Greek Mythology

Jason and the Golden Fleece

What is the plot of the Argonautica epic?

The adventures of the Argonauts are reminiscent of those of Odysseus. On their way to Colchis they were received by the husbandless women of the island of Lemnos. There Jason had relations with the queen, Hypsipyle. In Chios they stopped to allow Herakles time to repair a damaged oar. While there, Herakles’s beloved, Hylas—a beautiful boy—was seduced by nymphs, and he went away with them. Herakles remained on the island to search for Hylas but never found him.

The Argonauts sailed on into the Black Sea. Their first stop there was at the land of the Bebryces, whose people forced all visitors to box with their king, Amycus, a son of Poseidon. Polydeuces boxed with the king and killed him.

In Salmydessus they met a blind prophet, Phineus, who warned them of perils that awaited them on their journey, especially The Clashing Rocks (the Symplegades), which destroyed ships. With Athene’s help, the voyagers outsmarted the rocks. After several other stops, including one during which they were threatened by the Stymphalian birds, which Herakles would later kill, they arrived at Colchis.

At Colchis Jason requested the Golden Fleece. Aeëtes said Jason could have it only if he could accomplish an essentially impossible proof of his worthiness. He was to yoke two fire-breathing bulls that Hephaistos had given to Aeëtes. Then he was to use the bulls to plow a field, which he was then to seed with a dragon’s teeth. The seeds would sprout as an army of warriors, which Jason would have to fight and kill.

Meanwhile Hera, always a supporter of Jason, and Aphrodite caused the king’s daughter, Medea, to fall hopelessly in love with Jason. She was so much in love that she was willing to work against her father to help the visiting hero, rather as Ariadne helped Theseus in Crete. Possessed of magical powers, Medea gave Jason a salve that would protect him from the bulls’ flames. When the field was plowed and seeded, Jason threw a stone among the men who sprang up from the earth, and in their confusion the men fought and killed each other. Jason had thus completed the assigned tasks, but Aeëtes still refused to give up the Fleece. Medea, however, used her powers as a sorceress to bewitch the dragon guarding the Fleece. Jason took the Fleece and, accompanied by Medea, escaped Colchis on the Argo.

On the way home there would be many more adventures, including a visit to Medea’s aunt, the famous Circe, who had been a part of Odysseus’s adventures. Medea supported Jason with her magic, often committing deeds such as the murder and dismemberment of her brother, which would come back to haunt her as the Jason-Medea saga continued.

Pottery art circa 300 B.C.E. showing the hero Jason presenting the Golden Fleece to Pelias.


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