Jason could only have his throne back
when the golden fleece was restored to the country.
Jason and the golden
Pelias the Golden Fleece,
Apulian red-figure calyx krater, ca. 340 BC¨C330 BC, Louvre)
starts a long time ago in the country called Thessaly. A king
lived with his two beautiful children: Phrixus and Helle. The
children's wicked stepmother didn't like them and plotted
against them. Their special friend-the Messenger of the gods,
Hermes tried to protect them.
In that part
of the world they had had no rain for a very long time. The
children's stepmother made a plan, she asked the King to send to
the Oracle at Delphi for advice. He did so, but she intercepted
the messengers on the way back and told them what to say. The
messengers told the King that in order for the rains to return
an offering must be made to the gods: Phrixus and Helle must be
sacrificed. The king was very upset but said that it must be
The King led
his children to the altar but just before they got there the
golden ram which was a gift from Hermes flew to them, told them
to get on his back and flew away with them. He was trying to get
them to safety in a land far away. He flew and flew with the
children on his back. The children got very tired and the ram
told them to hang on. Phrixus held on but his sister was
overcome with tiredness and fell asleep, loosing the wool and
falling into the sea at a place which is still called Hellespont
they landed near the Black sea with only Phrixus alive to tell
the story. The poor ram died as soon as he landed. The people of
Colchis were so proud of what the ram had done they stripped the
golden fleece off it and hung that in a tree with a dragon to
protect it. There it stayed for many years until a boy called
Jason went to fetch it back home.
Jason was a
boy who should have been King but his Uncle took his throne.
Jason was sent away for his own protection.
As he grew
into a man he decided to go back and face his uncle. Jason
started the journey and when he got to the river he found an old
woman on the bank. She asked him for help and he gladly carried
When he set
the woman down on the other side he found that she was the
goddess Hera who was testing Jason. She decided that from this
time onwards the gods would protect him.
The uncle was
a very cunning man and said that Jason could only have his
throne back when the golden fleece was restored to the country.
He was sure that he was sending Jason to his death.
of Jason's task and many young men went to join him. He called
this group of men the Argonauts and the ship which they had
built the Argo. The men set sail.
put into an island to get supplies. They found an old blind
king, Phineus living in fear of dreadful harpies who ate all of
his food and terrorised him. The Argonauts prepared a surprise
for the harpies. A banquet was prepared and when the harpies
came to pinch all of the food the Argonauts met them with a hail
of arrows. They were killed and Phineus was saved from the
To repay their
kindness he told Jason the secret of the clashing rocks. He told
them to let a white dove go just before they tried to pass
between the rocks, if the rocks let the bird through then they
would let the ship through. If not then they would all perish.
approached the crashing rocks the men got frightened and pleaded
with Jason to turn back. Jason told them to have faith in the
old king and reminded them about the dove. They let the dove go
and watched as it flew towards the crashing rocks. The rocks
crashed together and the men looked away. Suddenly there was a
shout and the men looked up. The rocks had opened and let the
dove through. Hastily the ship pushed through and they got
safely to the other side.
finally arrives in Colchis he asks King Aietes to return the
golden fleece to him as it belonged to his ancestor. Reluctant,
the king suggests yet another series of challenges to Jason. He
must yoke fire-breathing bulls, plough and sow a field with
dragons' teeth and then overcome the warriors who will rise from
the furrows. Aietes is confident the tasks are impossible but
unbeknownst to the king, his daughter Medea has taken a liking
to Jason. She offers to assist Jason if he will marry her. He
agrees. Medea is a powerful sorceress and Jason is successful.
Medea return to Greece where Jason claims his father's throne,
but their success is short-lived. Uncomfortable with Medea's
magic, the locals drive Medea and Jason out of Iolkos. They go
into exile in Corinth where the king offers Jason his daughter
in marriage. He agrees and so violates his vow to the gods to be
true only to Medea. Furious, Medea kills the woman, kills Medea
and Jason's children and then ascends to Mount Olympus where she
eventually marries Achilles. Jason goes back to Iolkos where his
boat the Argo is on display. One day, while he sits next to the
boat weeping, the decaying beam of his ship the Argo falls off
and hits him on the head, killing him outright.
steals the golden fleece with Medea's help,
Illuminated woodcut from a copy of the Argonauticon of
Printed in Paris by J. Bade, 1519)
1. Why must Phrixus and
2. Why did Jason quest the
3. How did Jason pass
through the the crashing rocks?
4. Can you give your
opinion of Medea?