Painting of Jason and the argonauts landing in Colchis on the ceiling of the Chateau of Versailles.
Jason and the Argonauts landing in Cholcis. 17th-century painting, Château de Versailles, France. Credit.

The story of Jason and the Argonauts. Part 2.

Jason and the Argonauts: Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3

The Clashing Rocks

After a short stay, the Argonauts set sail on a favorable wind stirred up by the Goddess Athena. Soon they reached a narrow and winding strait guarded by the Symplegades, the clashing rocks. Phineus had forewarned the Argonauts that no ship had ever passed through and, even if the Argo was made of iron, she would not survive. As counseled by Phineus, Jason released a dove to fly between the towering cliffs. The rocks crashed together like tremendous craggy teeth, nipping the dove’s tail and sending foam towering into the sky among the clouds and thundering the atmosphere. While the rocks recoiled, the Argonauts, combining their mighty strength once again, bent their oars like bows as they pulled forward. The churning ocean dashed the Argo among its waves and eddies as the Argonauts rowed furiously through the straits. And just as the rocks crashed together again, the Argo, all but her aft ornaments, pulled free and surged into the open sea upon a gigantic wave, the first humans to ever pass the clashing rocks.

More Adventures and Mishaps Near the Edge of the World

Joyful for their safety, the heroes bent their oars against the sea for days, sailing past many foreign lands. However, their adventure was not without mishaps. The seer, Idmon, was slain by the tusk of a wild boar. Shortly thereafter, Tiphys, the helmsman, died from the microscopic monsters of disease. And with unbearable grief, the Argonauts mourned their fallen comrades for three days each and built monuments on the cliffs for passing ships to witness.

On the Island of Ares, the Argonauts encountered the Stymphalian Birds whose feathers were like steel arrows. The birds had taken roost on the island after Heracles had driven them from Greece in his sixth labor. The Argonauts knit their shields and spears above their heads and made such a noise that they scared the birds into the mountains on the opposite shore. Afterwards, as King Phineus prophesized, the Argonauts saved four shipwrecked brothers who would aid them in their quest for the Golden Fleece.

With their new passengers and favorable winds, the Argo soon approached Colchis, King Aeetes’ domain, near the edge of the world and the sea, with lofty Mount Caucasus rising above the kingdom. Here, in the sacred grove of Ares, an immortal serpent, born of the earth and the blood of a god, watches over the Golden Fleece with eyes that never weary with sleep.

Jason Schemes to Seize the Golden Fleece

The earthbound Argonauts debated whether they should seize the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes with persuasive words or by other warlike methods. Jason concluded that, at times, words can accomplish what prowess can hardly bungle through. So it was that Jason and several shipmates set off for the palace of Aeetes to test the power of words. They traveled through water and reeds to higher grounds and the Plains of Circe’s where it is the tradition of the citizens of Colchis to hang the corpses of their deceased men from the willow trees, and leaving the plains they soon entered the tall gates of Aeetes’ palace. In the courtyard, among ranks of columns, stood four fountains crafted by the God, Hephaestus, each gushing either water, wine, milk, or fragrant oil. Surrounding the courtyard was a rich gallery with orderly doors and chambers, festooned in flowering vines. And, above them, the two tallest towers housed the family of Aeetes. At the arrival of the Argonauts, the courtyard straightaway filled with throngs of people, last of all came Aeetes and his daughter Medea.

Ovid Metamorphoses engraving by Johann Wilhelm Baur. Book 7, Plate 62.
Book 7, Plate 62. Medea agonizes over her love for Jason. Will she betray her country for love. Here, Medea and Jason kneel before King Aeetes (Medea’s father) and request the return of the Golden Fleece. The text in Latin: Iasonem Medea Adamat. Ardet amore nouo succensa ab Iasone Colchis Auxiliumque Duci spondet, et illa fidem.

Jason Meets His Wife

Meanwhile from lofty Mount Olympus, Hera and Athena, had devised a plan to help the courageous heroes. The goddesses arranged for Eros to plunge one of his arrows into the heart of Aeetes’ daughter, Medea, so that she may be charmed with love for Jason and aid him in his quest.

Among the parapets, flew Eros unseen as a gadfly among heifers. Eros alighted upon a lintel in the courtyard and quickly strung his bow and notched a new arrow, Messenger of Pain. Drawing the bow wide with both hands he let the arrow fly into the heart of Medea who stood before Jason. The bolt burnt deeply into the maiden’s heart like a flame and her soul melted with the sweet pain of love; and the hue of her soft cheeks came and went, now pale, now red, now pale, in her soul’s distraction.

Aeetes, upon seeing the shipwrecked brothers, sons of his daughter and Phrixus, bade the brothers and Jason to join him in a banquet. After his guests’ bellies were full and their veins coursing with nourishment, Aeetes questioned his lost grandsons about what calamity had befallen them and who were their new companions. The eldest born of the shipwrecked brothers gently replied, concerned for the success of Jason’s quest. He spoke of the storm that tore their ship asunder and how they, clinging to the beams of the ship, were blown ashore an isle that night, preserved by some god, and rescued by the Argonauts the following day. Also, the eldest brother spoke of Jason’s quest to restore his throne and pleaded with Aeetes to return the Fleece to Jason, his savior and kin several times removed.

A Deadly Trial

King Aeetes was enraged. He suspected the Argonauts were trying to usurp his scepter and throne and threatened to cut out their tongues and hew off their hands. But Jason spoke soothing words, assuring Aeetes that he had no such desires and that he was willing to pay recompense for the Fleece in way of war upon Aeetes enemies and, likewise, all of Iolcus would know of his glorious fame and generosity. Thus Jason flattered Aeetes. However, Aeetes brooded whether to slay them where they stood spilling his recent gifts of wine and meat, or to make trial of their might. As he pondered, the latter seemed the better and more amusing way. So Aeetes addressed Jason that he could bear no grudge against a brave man and would gladly give him the Fleece but first Jason would have to win a deadly trial to prove his courage. King Aeetes deemed that Jason accomplish a series of tasks, that were as grand in scale as the labors of Heracles. First, he was to yoke a pair of fire-breathing oxen and plow a field. In the furrows, Jason was instructed to sow the field with the teeth of a dragon. Then he was to dispatch the skeleton warriors that would spring to life. And, finally, he was to defeat the dragon that never slept while guarding the Golden Fleece. Jason, feeling caught in an evil trap between King Aeetes and King Pelias and doomed to die, nonetheless, accepted the challenge.

And, so the guests retired, the heroic figures making an impressive progression through the banquet hall, Jason, most of all, shining with beauty and grace that burned Media’s heart and soul with desire. Fortunately, the King’s daughter, Medea had fallen in love with Jason, because she was a mortal witch second to none, and would aid Jason’s quest for the fleece.

Harnessing the Fire-Breathing Oxen

Medea fretted all night about how to help the young stranger, fearful that if he die she may never recover from her sorrows. But how to prepare the charms without her father, the king, being any wiser? By morning she had formed a plan to rescue Jason from his deadly contest, while her handmaidens were preparing the chariot, Medea secreted the Charm of Prometheus, which protects men from the wounds of both bronze and fire, that she had gathered from a flower that sprang from the blood of the tortured god himself, and required many steps to prepare. Medea promised to help Jason win the Golden Fleece, only if he would marry her. Jason’s ambition was enough to make any promise. So he was eager to swear loyalty, and Medea gave him her charms and further instructions. Winning Medea’s favor would make Jason a match for any man mortal or immortal.

On the day of the contest, Jason sprinkled his charms on himself, his weapons, comrades and horses. Jason swelled with strength. When he approached the field, both bulls rushed out of their underground lair, wrapped in smoke, fire billowing from their nostrils, their brazen hoofs quaking the earth. The heroes of the Argo and citizens of Colchis witnessing the contest were afraid of the mere sight. However, Jason withstood their onslaught, grabbing them by the horns as they charged and bringing them to their knees, then fastening them with the yoke amidst the flames.

Sowing the Seeds of Dragon Teeth

Jason took up the reins and plough handle, fashioned of the legendary adamant, and pricked the bulls in their flanks with his spear. The bulls raged forward, breathing flames and billowing winds that all seafaring men fear, yet Jason guided them with a firm and steady hand. The team of bulls broke the tough ground, and behind Jason sowed the furrows with the seeds that filled his helmet. But it was no ordinary seed that the treacherous King Aeetes had given Jason; they were the teeth torn out of the jaw of the Aonian dragon.

To be continued in part 3.

Next: Toil and Trouble. Will Jason survive his deadly trial and win the Golden Fleece?

Jason and the Argonauts: Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3

A map of the Georgian States Colchis and Iberia.
Map of Colchis, now in modern-day Georgia. Credit.