Jason taking the Golden Fleece
Jason seizing the Golden Fleece.
Artist: Charles Joseph Natoire. 1700-1777. Paris. Musées de Troyes. Photo credit. Public domain.

The story of Jason and the Argonauts

The Archetypal Adventure

Introduction

This classic myth is one of the most ancient stories that exist. It chronicles Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece and the restoration of his family’s throne. This archetypal adventure sets the example for the plot of almost all modern stories, and it may even model what it means to be human: to live, to be challenged, to endure, and to make the world a better place.

Perhaps, it is easiest for modern readers to think of the ancient Greek myths as epic soap operas or superhero sagas, always leaving more opportunities for a sequel to satisfy the audience’s thirst for bold adventures and fantastic places. Indeed the story of Jason and the Argonauts has been retold and elaborated upon many times.

Personally, I find it fascinating how this myth has embedded itself in our culture. I recommend you start by reading What is an Argonaut? to learn how this myth plays a role in your life.  

The Argonauts

Argus: builder of the Argo.

Atalanta: the only female crewmember, and the fastest human alive.

Castor and Pollux: the Gemini Twins, and brothers to Helen of Troy.

Euphemus: a Calydonian hunter with the ability to walk on water.

Hercules aka Heracles: the son of Zeus, famous for his Twelve Labors.

Idmon and Mopsus: the seers.

Jason: the hero of our story, and leader of the Argonauts.

King Laertes: father of Odysseus, but a minor Argonaut.

Lynceus: Messenian prince with X-ray vision.

Medea: wife of Jason, not an official Argonaut, but arguably the hero of the story.

Meleager: slayer of the Calydonian boar, but a minor Argonaut.

Orpheus: the greatest musician of the ancient world.

Peleus and Telamon: brothers and, respectively, the fathers of Achilles and Ajax.

Theseus: known as the slayer of the Minotaur, but a minor Argonaut.

Tiphys: the helmsman.

Zetes and Calais: the winged Boreads.

And many more. See the complete list of Argonauts.


Jason and the Argonauts retold in modern English

The Fates Weave Their Web

As with most heroic epics, the destiny of the hero seems to have been spun by the fates before he was even born. This epic tale begins with Aeson, the rightful heir to the throne of Iolcus, and Pelias, his jealous stepbrother. When their father, the King of Iolcus, passed away Pelias imprisoned Aeson and took the crown for himself. However, unknown to Pelias, Aeson’s wife bore a son named Jason. Averting Jason’s certain death at the hand of Pelias, his mother secreted him to the cave of Chiron, a wise and noble centaur. For twenty years Chiron schooled Jason in the arts of the ancient world until the time came for him to claim his birthright.

Meanwhile, Pelias, son of Poseidon, jealously guarded his crown. He paid homage to all the gods but Hera, Queen of the Gods, and he consulted the Delphic oracle who prophesized, “A hateful doom awaits you to be slain by the hand of the man with but one sandal.”

Jason’s First Test

During Jason’s return to Iolcus, he encountered a feeble old woman requesting to be carried across the river Anaurus. Fortunately, Jason didn’t hesitate to transport the old woman because she was actually Queen Hera in disguise. Hera was testing Jason because she needed a hero to avenge herself against Pelias’ scorn. Staggering under her godly weight, Jason lost a sandal in the river but gained the goddess’ favor.

An Impossible Task

Jason arrived in Iolcus to claim his throne during a banquet that his King Pelias held in honor of his father Poseidon. However, King Pelias, Jason’s Uncle, had no intention of relinquishing his rule. Upon seeing Jason wearing a single sandal, Pelias plotted a devious plan to send him on an impossible quest, in a faraway land, to fetch the magical Golden Fleece, hoping that he would be lost at sea or among strangers. Jason agreed to his uncle’s task, eager to prove he was worthy to rule a kingdom.

The Gathering of Heroes

To aid in his quest, Jason summoned Argos the shipbuilder who, with the help of Athena, constructed the largest and swiftest ship to set sail — the Argo. And, in her prow was placed a timber from the sacred grove of Zeus at Dodona that had the power of prophecy. Jason then assembled four dozen of Greece’s greatest heroes, including Heracles, the legendary son of Zeus; Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur; Orpheus, the great poet and musician; Castor and Polydeuces, also known as the Gemini Twins; Atalanta, a great huntress and the faster human alive; the seers, Idmon and Mopsus; the winged brothers, Zetes and Calais; Euphemus, a Calydonian hunter with the ability to walk on water; Lynceus, Messenian prince with X-ray vision; the fathers of many future heroes, like Peleus, the fathers of Achilles, and Telamon, father of Ajax; and many others fated to never return home. Henceforth, named after their ship, this band of heroes was known as the Argonauts.

The Adventures Begin

The Argo, the Argonauts ship, named after her builder, Argus.

The Argo

The Argonauts’ ship, the Argo, is a character herself in the story. The Argo was constructed by the shipwright Argus, and its crew was specially protected by the goddess Hera. The best source for the myth is the Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius. According to a variety of sources of the legend, Argo was said to have been planned or constructed with the help of Athena. According to other legends she contained in her prow a magical piece of timber from the sacred forest of Dodona, which could speak and render prophecies. After the successful journey, Argo was consecrated to Poseidon in the Isthmus of Corinth. She was then translated into the sky and turned into the constellation of Argo Navis. Several authors of antiquity (Apollonius Rhodius, Pliny, Philostephanus) discussed the hypothetical shape of the ship. Generally, she was imagined as a Greek warship, a galley, and authors hypothesized that she was the first ship of this type that had gone out on a high-sea voyage.

After the Argo was supplied with everything needed to sail the sea, and Jason had spoken encouraging words to the throngs of people, without further ado, the Argonauts, their mighty strength combined, dragged the Argo from its moorings, down to the sea. The Argonauts raised their sails and sang songs to Artemis, savior of ships. A stiff wind arose and pushed the Argo through the dashing seas. Fish, both great and small, surfaced off the bow to escort our heroes forth. Soon, their homeland disappeared beyond the horizon. It would be a perilous voyage to Colchis. The gods challenge the Argonauts with many trials and several perish in the dangers that lay ahead.

The Island Kingdom of Women

The Argo’s sails strained for six days until the winds died with the setting sun and the crew was left to row to the island of Lemnos, an island inhabited only by jealous women who had ruthlessly slain not only their adulterous husbands but all the men on the island. Only the queen, Hypsipyle, had spared her father and set him adrift on the ocean in a casket. It was with great fear that the women of Lemnos watched the Argo, for they thought it had come in retribution for their crimes. As the ship docked, the women met in council and devised a plan to invite the Argonauts into their homes with gifts of food and wine and love, so they would, once again, have strong men to plow the fields in times of peace and take up arms in times of war. Thus, our heroes stayed on Lemnos for a year and sired many children. When the Argonauts again took to their oars, Hypsipyle bid Jason, her lover, a tearful farewell and vowed that, should he return, her kingdom awaited his rule.

Six-Armed Monsters and a Terrible Mistake

From Lemnos, the Argonauts sailed to the island of the Mount of Bears where the hospitable King Cyzicus of the Doliones filled their ship’s stores with wine and sheep. The next morning, while King Cyzicus showed Jason a safe passage through the seas, they were attacked by six-armed monsters. Fortunately, Heracles met them with bow in hand and felled them, one by one, like trees. Undeterred, the Argonauts boarded the Argo, loosened the moorings and set sail on the rising tide. However, when night fell the fickle winds pushed the unsuspecting crew backwards and they again cast ashore on the Mount of Bears. The Doliones, mistaking the Argonauts for enemies, attacked. That night many of Doliones’ champions were slain, including King Cyzicus whose breast bones were shattered by Jason’s spear. At dawn, when both sides realized their error they arranged an elaborate funeral and mourned their fallen comrades for three days and three nights.

Heracles and the Twelve Labors

The Argonaut’s next stop was Mysia. While the Son of Zeus went in search of a tall and strong pine to replace the oar he had snapped during his lusty rowing, his companion, Hylas, was kidnapped as he was fetching water. For such was his beauty that a water-nymph fell in love with him and spirited him away. When Heracles returned and discovered that Hylas was missing, he hurled his tree aside, bellowed in anger, and, like a mad bull, charged after his lover. At the same time, a favorable breeze stirred and Tiphys, skillful in foretelling the weather, urged the Argonauts to set sail. At dawn, it was with heavy hearts that Jason and the Argonauts realized that they had unwittingly left behind their bravest and strongest warrior. And, so it was fated that Heracles was to leave the Argo and perform the twelve labors set forth by Hera and to eventually become immortalized and join the ranks of gods on lofty Mount Olympus.

The Boxing King

For a day and a night, the wind bore the ship onward to the land of the Bebrycians where King Amycus, who had slain many men, ruled that no man should leave without first meeting him in the boxing ring. So with great scorn and arrogance, King Amycus confronted the Argonauts and challenged the bravest among them to raise his hands in battle. Enraged, Polydeuces, one of the Gemini Twins, stepped forward to champion his brethren. They marked off a square in the sand and donned ox-hide boxing gloves. In contrast to each other, Amycus appeared as a monstrous son of the Earth while Polydeuces appeared as a bright star in heaven. The formidable foes let loose a fury of blows. Amycus taunted Polydeuces and rushed at him like a wave upon a ship, eager to dash the life out of him. However, Polydeuces said not a word, returning blow for blow, while searching for his opponent’s weaknesses. A heavy din of thumping heads and clattering teeth arose, drowning out the crowd. Then Amycus rose to his full height and dealt a crushing blow. But Polydeuces side-stepped and with a quick movement boxed Amycus in the ear, breaking the bones within, and Amycus fell to the ground with the life poured out of him. At the death of their King, the Bebrycians rushed at Polydeuces. But in their path stood the Argonauts and a great battle ensued. Soon the Bebrycians were trampling over themselves as they fled home. However, the Bebrycians had many enemies and upon hearing of King Amycus’ death, they were already laying waste to the Bebrycians’ kingdom.

The Harpies

The Argo’s next landfall was at the home of once-renowned King Phineus the prophet who was cursed by Zeus with blindness, lingering old age and tormented by Harpies, raucous birds with the heads of old women and razor-sharp claws. As soon as Phineus would begin to eat, the Harpies would swoop down upon him with the speed of the West Wind and snatch the food from Phineus’ hands. And, when they had their fill they would defecate on the leftovers. Such was the loathsome odor that no mortal could have gone near, but Phineus was also cursed with an insatiable appetite and the Harpies left enough putrid morsels for him to survive his torment.

The Perilous quest continues, and several Argonauts will perish in the dangers that lie ahead.

As the Argonauts approached, Phineus hobbled to the door to greet them for he had prophesized their coming and partaking of his food. So old and weak was he that his bones were held together by only skin and gristle and when the Argonauts saw his shriveled form slumped in the threshold of his courtyard they took pity on him as the most wretched being they had ever seen, Zetes and Calais being moved to tears. Straightaway, the Argonauts prepared a feast to bait the Harpies. As soon as Phineus laid his hands upon the food, cackling Harpies appeared like bolts of lightning. They devoured everything in a flash, leaving behind a putrid mess. Zetes and Calais, descendants of the North Wind, pursued instantly and chased the Harpies to a faraway land where they would never bother Phineus again. Afterwards, everyone celebrated in a grand feast and, as a reward, Phineus used his gift of prophecy to counsel the Argonauts in their future journey.


Hercules Killing the Lernean Hydra
Hercules, the most famous member of the Argonauts, depicted here battling the hydra serpent.
Credit: Artist. Public domain.

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.

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

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.

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

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 an end.

An army of hand-painted skeleton models looking threatening.
Title: “We’re looking for Jason and the Argonauts.” Hand-painted models of the skeleton warriors.
Credit: Ken Whytock. License: CC BY-NC 2.0.

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.

Ovid Metamorphoses engraving by Johann Wilhelm Baur. Book 7, Plate 63.
Sometimes, Jason is depicted as winning the Golden Fleece by slaying the dragon. In this version of the story, Jason lulls the dragon to sleep with song and herbs. Credit: Ovid Metamorphoses illustrated by Johann Wilhelm Baur. Book 7, Plate 63.

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 driven 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 not 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.

Ovid Metamorphoses engraving by Johann Wilhelm Baur. Book 7, Plate 64.
Book 7, Plate 64. Medea boils herbs in a cauldron and summons the powers to rejuvenate Aeson. The text in Latin: Aeson Decrepitus Fit Iunior Opera Medeae. Vt tibi primam Aeson reuocet Medea iuuentam, Nocte Hecaten atrâ per sua sacra vocat.

Between a Rock and Hard Place

Continuing their voyage the Argonauts sailed towards perils worse than 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 losses underneath the aging Argo and was struck dead by a rotting timber.

The End

© 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.

Footnotes:

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 but 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, but attributed as an imitation of the above.

Great commentary on The Argonautica by Apollonius.

Overview of the adventures of the Argonauts.

Another overview of the Argonauts’ adventures.

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