Cast of the Main Characters
Jason: the hero of our story
Medea: Jason’s wife
King Pelias: usurper of Jason’s throne
King Aeetes: possessor of the Golden Fleece
Orpheus: the greatest musician of the ancient world
Heracles: the son of Zeus, famous for his Twelve Labors
Peleus: father of Achilles and the brother of Telamon
Telamon: father of Ajax
Argos: builder of the Argo
Castor and Pollux: (Polydeuces), aka the Gemini Twins along with their sister Helen of Troy
Meleager: slayer of the Calydonian boar
Atalanta: the only woman on the Argo
Zetes and Calais: the winged Boreads
Theseus: slayer of the Minotaur and the hero of a number of other legends
Laertes: father of Odysseus
Autolycus: son of Hermes and a master thief
Idmon and Mopsus: the seers
Lynceus: with special powers of sight
Tiphys: the helmsman
Euphemus: with the ability to walk on water
And many more characters, including 50 argonauts
The Skeleton Warriors
Behind Jason, the seeds sprouted into an army of skeleton-like earthmen bristling with armor and double-pointed spears and intent on destroying anything nearby. Jason heeding Medea’s counsel hefted a boulder and threw it amidst the skeleton army. The earthmen, blaming each other for throwing the boulder, began to fight amongst themselves. Meanwhile, Jason, still invulnerable to being pierced by their spears due to Medea’s Charms, plunged into the fight to slay the last of them, felling them as wheat falls to the farmer’s scythe. And as the day died with the last of the earthmen, Jason’s contest came to end.
The Dragon that Never Sleeps
Even though Jason had proven himself worthy, King Aeetes had no intention of giving him the Golden Fleece; quite the opposite, Aeetes lay awake plotting to burn the Argo and destroy the Argonauts. Medea, fearful that her father would discover her betrayal, once again struck a bargain with the crew of the Argo that in return for her safety she would deliver the Golden Fleece. Jason himself swore an oath to Zeus that he would make Medea his wife in the halls of his own kingdom. So, their bargain renewed, Medea urged them to depart before the king mounted his chariot in deadly pursuit. While it was still night, the crew of the Argo rowed towards their ultimate goal, which hung on an oak in the sacred grove of Ares, God of War, guarded by a dragon that never sleeps.
The dragon with sleepless eyes saw them coming and hissed an awful sound that echoed throughout the kingdom, waking children with a fright. The serpent’s body coiled and roiled around the trees of the garden where the fleece of gold hung. Jason eager for his prize sprang forward to battle, but his charms having faded was swallowed whole by the dragon. Medea once again came to his aid, and with prayers, potions and song, lulled the guardian dragon to sleep. His many coils relaxed like the sea after a storm, and Jason emerged from its belly, like a heifer giving birth to her calf.
The Golden Fleece of the Flying Ram
Victorious at last, though not of his own merit, Jason claimed the Golden Fleece from the branches of the oak tree. The flying ram with the Golden Fleece was the savior of Phrixus, and a sacrifice to Zeus himself. Its fleece was a coveted treasure that symbolized kingship and authority; it was like a magical book of alchemy and many more things, but to Jason it symbolized the fulfillment of his quest and all his dreams. Dawn was spreading her light over the Earth when Jason returned to the band of heroes. The crew marveled at Jason adorned with the mighty Golden Fleece that cast a godly sheen about him like the rising sun bursting through the clouds.
The Voyage Home
With hurried preparations, the Argonauts headed home. Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece thus far was a success, though their adventures were far from over. Sailing past the rocks washed by the sea, the Argo was chased by King Aeetes army and storms sent by Zeus as punishment for the crimes Medea and Jason had committed. Thus the Argo was drive off course and the crew would have even more adventures that were already so numerous the minstrels could not record all the histories of their heroes in song.
Circe the Witch
One day the Argo itself spoke and bade the Argonauts to seek purification for their crimes by the witch Circe, including Medea’s horrendous crime of murdering her brother, who led the army to recapture her and the Golden Fleece. She had chopped her brother into pieces and threw him overboard so that their father, King Aeetes, would have to slow his pursuit to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, Circe favored the crew of the Argo, unlike Odysseus, another great hero that would follow in Jason’s footsteps many years later. Circe would transform Odysseus comrades into swine with the help of a potion and a smote of her wand, whereas Circe pardoned Jason and his crew.
The Isle of the Sirens
Chiron had forewarned Jason that without the aid of Orpheus, the greatest musician of the ancient world, the Argonauts would note be able to pass the Isle of the Sirens. The Sirens had voices like gilded lilies, which they used to beguile men to their deaths. It was a song that Odysseus yearned to hear. He tied himself to the mast of the ship, so that he might not escape no matter how hard he struggled. The sound nearly drove him insane with desire. Jason had a different plan. When the Argo approached the Sirens, Orpheus strummed his lyre playing a melody even more beautiful than the Siren’s lustful songs. So, only one poor Argonaut succumbed and leapt overboard swimming desperately towards the bewitching maidens who waited to snatch him.
Between a Rock and Hard Place
Continuing their voyage the Argonauts sailed towards perils worse then the beautiful Sirens. Ahead lay the passage of Scylla and Charybdis, a rocky shoal on one side and a great whirlpool on the other. Like twin monsters, one spewing flame and the other water. It was an inescapable danger to any ship, forcing one to choose between being dashed upon the rocks, or being swallowed into the deep. Whereas Odysseus would choose to sail close to the rocks and lose several crewmembers rather than the whole ship, the Argo was once again favored by Hera, Queen of the gods, and was escorted through the danger by a fresh breeze, a pod of dolphins and the Nereids, nymphs and goddesses of the sea, whom were the patrons of sailors and fishermen.
Stranded in the Shoals
But the Argo would not so easily escape the shoals of Syrtes where it became stranded after a baleful wind blew them off course. The crew nearly died of from thirst and despair, and their names and titles as heroes were almost lost to history, because their quest to bring the Golden Fleece home remained unfinished. Rather than the Argo bearing the burden of transporting the crew, like a mother with children in her womb, now it was the Argonauts who carried the great ship upon their shoulders for twelve days and nights, during which the crew passed the twitching tail of the hydra that their former crewmate, Heracles, had slain with arrows. Though it was only yesterday that the hydra guarded the golden apples of Atlas, Heracles was nowhere to be seen. During the trek, several Argonauts perished, including Mopsus, the seer, from a serpent’s bite, because high above Perseus flew on Pegasus bearing the severed head of the Gorgon, Medusa, and each drop of blood that fell transformed into a brood of venomous serpents. After nearly a fortnight, the crew was able to set the ship down in the ocean once again. Soft as water may be the Argonauts marveled at its strength to effortlessly carry both the boat and the crew.
Talos the Giant Bronze Guardian
The Argo ventured upon to the island of Crete, guarded by the bronze giant man, Talos, the last of his kind. As the Argo tried to set her hawsers, Talos hurled boulders at the ship, keeping her at bay. Talos had one blood vessel, from neck to ankle, bound shut by only one bronze nail. Medea cast a spell to bewitch Talos. Then she removed the bronze nail and the life-giving ichor, divine blood like molten lead, ran from Talos’ ankle, and he stood transfixed with no more life than a sculpture in the city plaza. After a brief respite for the crew, the Argo was once again able to set sail. Finally, their toils and troubles ended. No more adventures befell the Argo.
A Tragic Ending
Years after their adventures began, Jason and the Argonauts returned home to Iolcus. Though Jason triumphantly held the Golden Fleece in hand, and dedicated the Argo to Poseidon, his uncle, King Pelias, did not accept the gifts, nor did he relinquish his rule to the rightful heir, Jason, because there are some things no man treasures more than power.
Medea and Jason contrived to murder the usurper king. Medea tricked the daughters of Pelias into trying to rejuvenate their father by cutting him up and boiling him in a cauldron. However, Medea withheld the magical herbs, and the daughters only succeeded to kill their father. For this murder Medea and Jason were exiled from Iolcus.
As time passed trying to make a new life as mere citizens of Corinth, Jason betrayed his wife, saying that it was not she who deserved thanks but Aphrodite, whom caused Medea to fall in love with him. Jason then chose a new wife, a young princess rather than the old witch. Full of rage, and with no husband or home, Medea took vengeance by murdering Jason’s family, including her own children. Jason was left to mourn his loses underneath the aging Argo and was struck dead by a rotting timber.
© 2001 Scott Stoll. You may link or reproduce this story with credit. Please add a canonical link to this page, and let us know if you do republish. Thanks.
Based upon the Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius, a third century B.C. Greek poet who composed the oldest surviving record of the myth, which was formerly passed down through the generations by oral verse. Note: Most records were destroyed when the library of Alexandria burned. I tried to write a version in modern English, but couldn’t help be heavily influenced by the wonderful prose of the original. This version is much shorter, leaving out a lot of the history and side-stories that the modern reader may find tedious.
The Argonautica by Valerius Flaccus, a Roman poet in the first century. Another one of the earliest written recordings of Jason and the Argonauts, attributed as an imitation of the above.
Overview of the adventures of the Argonauts.
Another overview of the Argonauts adventures.