Aries and Musca Borealis
The Golden Ram also known as the constellation Aries. "Aries and Musca Borealis", plate 16 in Urania's Mirror. 1824.
Library of Congress. Public domain.

What is the hero’s prize?

The literal and symbolic object of the hero’s quest

As an example of the object of the hero’s quest, I will use the Golden Fleece.

The Golden Fleece was a magical, woolen garment that featured prominently in Greek mythology and has inspired many works of art, literature, and film over the centuries. The Golden Fleece comes from the hide of the Golden Ram. According to the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the fleece was guarded by a dragon in the kingdom of Colchis, which was located in what is now modern-day Georgia. The hero, Jason, set out on a quest to retrieve the fleece to prove himself worthy to wear the crown as king of Iolcus, a city in ancient Greece. He enlisted the Argonauts to help, and they had to overcome many challenges and dangers, including navigating through treacherous waters and facing formidable monsters. Ultimately, they were able to retrieve the fleece and bring it back to Iolcus to claim the throne.

The Capture of the Golden Fleece
Jason and Medea steal the Golden Fleece from the sleeping dragon. Public domain. Credit: The Capture of the Golden Fleece by Jean-François de Troy. The National Gallery of London. Public domain.

Below I will discuss the symbolism, but you can also read the colorful story of the Golden Fleece.

What is the symbolism of the Golden Fleece?

The Golden Fleece is a symbol that has been interpreted in a number of different ways over the centuries.

A skeptic may think of the Golden Fleece as a MacGuffin, which is an object that keeps the characters motivated and the story moving forward but is unimportant. A MacGuffin could be money or fame or a ticking bomb; however, it wouldn’t make any difference to the story. But if you ask me, the Golden Fleece is much more. Jason’s quest is an archetypal journey that reflects our own journey through life and battles with inner demons, which makes the Golden Fleece a symbol of awakening to the golden truths of the universe. I believe the best rewards aren’t objects but what I call moments of enlightenment, new understandings that increase our appreciation of everyday life. Furthermore, a moment of enlightenment doesn’t just benefit the hero. When the adventurer returns home with the prize, in this case, a way of seeing the world differently, it makes everyone’s life better.

Ovid Metamorphoses illustrated 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.

In life, we are all adventurers on a quest to fulfill our dreams. Our stories and myths serve as explanations of how the world works. So, the Golden Fleece has come to symbolize the object of a quest, much like the Holy Grail or the fountain of youth. In the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the Golden Fleece represents Jason’s dream of royal power. Obtaining the Golden Fleece is supposed to be an impossible task, but through much hardship and perseverance, Jason wins the fleece and the throne. To be cliché, the moral of the story is that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard and never give up on your dreams.

I believe that the object of the quest represents a moment of enlightenment. The adventurer doesn’t want the object as much as what the object represents, like power, knowledge or wisdom. Often a God comes down from afar to assign the hero a task, because the immature hero is incapable of knowing what is needed. In other words, enlightenment is a problem of not knowing what you don’t know. To give an oversimplified explanation, when I rode around the world in a quest for happiness, I thought I needed to find the secret of happiness, but what I learned is that I needed to accept that being sad is okay, too.

Have you noticed while watching movies how the hero has an obvious lesson to learn, and life gives him obstacles until he learns it? It reinforces the idea that we have external caretakers, like gods and guardian angels, and reinforces the idea of right and wrong. I call this “Mother’s Promise”. As children, we are raised by all-powerful and all-wise caretakers, but we all grow up and must find our own way in the world.  

We don’t have to wait for a god to hand us a quest, we can choose our own dreams. So, I encourage you to think about what your Golden Fleece is both literally and symbolically. For example, let’s say you want a million dollars. The money would be the object of your quest, but what does the money symbolize to you? What would you buy with the money? If you bought a house, would that house represent security or family or…?

As a fun exercise, you could look at this list of mythological objects and try to guess what each object represented to the hero.

Scott Stoll

Scott Stoll

My claim to fame is that I rode a bicycle around the world and wrote some books. More about me.
If you enjoyed this story… Please make a small donation to help us with cost and keep Scott caffeinated. Thanks to everyone that has helped us make dreams come true for the past 20 years!