Relief sculpture of three people building the Argo
The building of the ship Argo: Athena (on the left) adjusts the sail; Tiphys (centre) holds the yard; Argos (on the right) sits across the stern. Terracotta relief, Roman artwork, probably 1st century AD. Said to have been found near the Porta Latina in Rome.
Credit: unknown. Public domain.

Tiphys

Tiphys played a crucial role as the helmsman (ship’s steersman) of the ship Argo in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Athena herself urged Tiphys to join the Argonauts since he was “well skilled to foretell the rising wave on the broad sea, and well skilled to infer from sun and star the stormy winds and the time for sailing.”

As the helmsman of the Argo, Tiphys had the responsibility of steering the ship, ensuring it stayed on course, avoiding dangers, and navigating through narrow passages. His expertise and knowledge of the sea helped the Argonauts overcome numerous challenges they encountered along the way, including the clashing rocks known as the Symplegades. With his skill and the help of other Argonauts, they managed to pass through the dangerous rocks unharmed.

Tiphys’ role extended beyond mere steering. He was also responsible for maintaining the morale of the crew and coordinating their efforts. His leadership and guidance played a significant part in keeping the Argonauts focused and united during their demanding expedition.

During the voyage to Colchis, Tiphys died of a mysterious illness in the land of the Mariandynians or, according to some sources, a snakebite. After his death, Ancaeus piloted the Argo.

Tiphys’ role as the helmsman of the Argo underscores the importance of skilled navigation and leadership during epic journeys in Greek mythology. His contributions to the success of the Argonauts’ quest showcase the diverse talents and expertise of the crew members.

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