Heroes and Anti-Heroes

18 Jason and the Argonauts

Jason hangs limply from the mouth of a dragon, with the Golden Fleece hanging from a tree in the background. Athena stands over Jason, wearing a battle helmet, and holding a spear and an owl.
Athena watching as Jason is spat out of the dragon, red-figure kylix, ca. 480 BCE (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican City)

Birth & Early Adventures

Jason was one of the rare heroes who was not the child of a deity. His father was Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcus, an ancient Greek city in Thessaly. But, before Jason was born, his father was deposed by his brother, Jason’s uncle, Pelias. When Jason was born, in order to protect from Pelias, Aeson sent him to Mount Pelion to be raised by the centaur, Chiron (the same centaur who would also raise Achilles, a hero of the Trojan War).

Pelias, meanwhile, lived in fear of a man with one sandal. He had previously been given a warning by the famous Oracle of Delphi that he was fated to be killed by a man wearing only one sandal.

When Jason came of age, he decided to return to Iolcus to reclaim the throne that was his due. As he was journeying home he came to a river. On the bank of the river sat an old woman who was unable to cross on her own. Jason carried her over the river, unaware that she was really the goddess Hera in disguise. As he was carrying the old woman/Hera across the river, one of his sandals got stuck in the mud. He had to continue his journey wearing only one sandal.

Once Jason arrived in Iolcus, news of his coming and of his missing sandal had reached Pelias. Upon meeting him and learning of his reason for coming, rather than killing him Pelias sent Jason to retrieve the legendary Golden Fleece from the kingdom of Colchis on the far side of Black Sea. The Golden Fleece had come from a magical, flying, golden ram, who had saved a young man named Phrixus from being killed by his step-mother. The ram flew Phrixus to Colchis and there told the young man to sacrifice him and hang his golden fleece up in a grove that was sacred to Ares, where it was guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. Pelias agreed that if Jason brought him the golden fleece he (Pelias) would give up the throne.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, written in Greek in the second century BCE, explains the origin of the Golden Fleece:

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca (trans. J. G. Frazer, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, 2nd century BCE

[content warning for the following source: suicide (1.9.2)]

[1.9.1] Of the sons of Aeolus, Athamas ruled over Boeotia and had a son Phrixus and a daughter Helle by Nephele. And he married a second wife, Ino, by whom he had Learchus and Melicertes. But Ino plotted against the children of Nephele and persuaded the women to roast the wheat seeds; and having got the wheat they did so without the knowledge of the men. But the earth, being sown with cooked wheat, did not yield its annual crops; so Athamas sent messengers to Delphi to inquire how he might deal with the famine. Now Ino persuaded the messengers to say that it was foretold that the infertility would cease if Phrixus were sacrificed to Zeus. When Athamas heard that, he was forced by the inhabitants of the land to bring Phrixus to the altar. But Nephele lifted him and her daughter up and gave them a ram with a golden fleece, which she had received from Hermes, and carried through the sky by the ram they crossed land and sea. But when they were over the sea which lies between Sigeum and the Chersonese, Helle slipped into the deep and drowned, and the sea was called Hellespont after her. But Phrixus came to the Colchians, whose king was Aeetes, son of the Sun and of Perseis, and brother of Circe and Pasiphae, whom Minos married. He took Phrixus in and gave him one of his daughters, Chalciope. And Phrixus sacrificed the ram with the golden fleece to Zeus the god of Escape, and the fleece he gave to Aeetes, who nailed it to an oak in a grove of Ares. And Phrixus had children by Chalciope, namely, Argus, Melas, Phrontis, and Cytisorus.

[1.9.2] But afterwards Athamas also lost his children by Ino through the wrath of Hera; for he went mad and shot Learchus with an arrow, and Ino cast herself and Melicertes into the sea. Being banished from Boeotia, Athamas inquired of the god where he should live, and on receiving an oracle that he should live in whatever place where he was entertained by wild beasts, he crossed a great amount of country until he encountered with wolves that were devouring pieces of sheep; but when they saw him they abandoned their prey and fled. So Athamas settled in that country and named it Athamantia after himself; and he married Themisto, daughter of Hypseus, and fathered Leucon, Erythrius, Schoeneus, and Ptous.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus1.html#9


The Argonauts

In order steal the Golden Fleece, Jason organized a crew of heroes from all over the Greek world. The exact roster varies from source to source, but some of the most famous members included Heracles, Orpheus, the Dioscuri (Castor and Polyduces/Pollux), Telemon (the father of Ajax the Greater), and Pelius (the father of Achilles). According to some sources, the female hero Atalanta also sailed with the group. Argus, a famous ship building and another member of the crew, built a ship (named the Argo after himself) with the help of the goddess Athena. The ship featured a talking beam from the sacred oak at the oracle of Zeus in Dodona. Together the crew of heroes on the ship were called the Argonauts, which in Greek means “sailors of the Argo.”  The Argonauts had many adventures on their way to Colchis and the Golden Fleece.

The Lemnian Women

The expedition first came to Lemnos, an island inhabited only by women. Sometime before the Argonauts arrived, the women on the island had neglected to properly worship the goddess Aphrodite. As punishment Aphrodite had caused all of the women to give off a terrible odor. In disgust, the men began to avoid the women, eventually sailing to Thrace and bringing back Thracian women to have sex with instead of their wives. The Lemnian women grew angry at this insult and they killed all the men and all the Thracian women as well. Only one man survived. Hypsipyle, the princess of Lemnos, hid her father in a chest and put him out to sea. He drifted ashore on the island of Oenoë.

Because of their terrible deed the the Lemnian women lived in constant fear that the Thracians would come to retaliate. When the Argonauts landed on Lemnos the Lemnian women thought that they were the Thracians and they prepared for battle. Jason sent one of the crew, a son of Hermes, as a messenger to ask the women if the Argonauts could camp on their shore. Convinced that they were not in immediate danger, the Lemnian women held a council at which they decided that having some strong men around would be a good idea. So they sent a messenger to invite the heroes into the city.

Most of the Argonauts were thrilled to spend the night in the city, but Heracles and a few others stayed with the ship. Queen Hypsipyle became quite enamoured with Jason and offered to allow the Argonauts stay. He thanked Hypsipyle but told her that he and his men had to continue on with their journey. Most authors say that the Argonauts spent only a few days on Lemnos, but this was long enough for a new generation of Lemnian to be conceived.

The Doliones

After leaving Lemnos the Argonauts sailed for the Hellespont. They landed on an island in the Sea of Marmara inhabited by a people called the Doliones. The king offered to give them shelter and to restock their supplies because an oracle had told him to offer aid to such travelers. Only a few men were left to guard the ship, so when a group of giants came upon the guards, the ship would have been easily destroyed had the mighty Heracles not been one of the guards. Heracles singlehandedly shot several of the giants and chased the others away. The King of the Doliones showed Jason the route for the next leg of their journey and the Argo soon headed off, but contrary winds pushed the ship back into the harbor.

By now it was dark, however, and no one could see very well. When the Argonauts disembarked, they did not realize where they were; the Doliones believed a group of raiders had come to attack them, and so a battle ensued. Eventually the Doliones retreated, having lost a large number of their men. The next morning, the Argonauts realized their mistake when they found the body of the king. The Argonauts and the Doliones together celebrated a magnificent funeral for all the deceased. A few days later, the Argonauts moved on.

Heracles and Hylas

The next day the Argonauts came to the coast of Mysia. Here, Heracles broke his oar, so the group put ashore to make a new one. Heracles went into the woods to cut down the wood for a new oar while his lover, Hylas, went to a stream to get some water. Hylas’ striking beauty caught the eye of nymph that lived in the stream and she abducted him, grabbing him as he leaned over the water, and pulled him down to her palace under the water. Heracles was devastated by Hylas’ disappearance and spent the entire night searching for him. He was still out searching the next day when the rest of the crew were getting ready to leave, and in their hurry, they left Heracles behind. Heracles managed to find his way home, where he continued his labours.

Phineas and the Harpies

Next, the Argonauts headed for the Bosporus and landed in Salmydessus, the capital of Thynia. Here they met the king, a man named Phineus, who was blind and was being hounded by the Harpies.  The Harpies were women with the wings, beaks, and talons of birds. Their name comes from the Greek verb harpazein (ἁρπάζειν) meaning “to snatch” and that’s what they did. Whenever Phineus tried to eat anything the Harpies would swoop down and steal some of the food; they left droppings on the rest so as to make it inedible. Phineus was slowly starving to death. He was very weak by the time the Argonauts found him. He asked them for their help and they obliged.

Two of the Argonauts. Zetes and Calaïs, were the sons of Boreas, the North Wind, and because of this, they had wings on their backs. A wonderful feast was prepared and when the Harpies came to snatch it, Zetes and Calaïs took flight and chased the Harpies away. The brothers would have killed the Harpies with their bows and arrows, but Iris (who was the rainbow and also the messenger of Zeus) told them that Zeus wanted them to spare the Harpies’ lives, as long as the Harpies promised never to bother Phineus again. When Zetes and Calaïs returned to Salmydessus, everyone enjoyed the feast. In return for their help, Phineus gave them the information they needed to get past the Symplegades (the Clashing Rocks).

The Clashing Rocks

The expedition now headed for the Symplegades, the Clashing Rocks, located at the entrance to the Bosphorus. These were floating islands that would crash together with tremendous speed at unpredictable intervals. When they got there, the Argonauts did as Phineus had instructed and sent a dove to fly between the rocks. They watched to see what would happen to the bird, since Phineus had told them that if the bird survived, they had a chance of making it through. If the bird did not, it was useless and they would most definitely perish if they tried. The dove successfully made it through the rocks, though it lost its tail feathers. As the rocks separated, the sailors prepared to row as hard as they possibly could because their lives depended on it. The boat rushed forward at top speed, but the waves created by the moving rocks nearly capsized the Argo. The crew would have perished had Athena not stepped in and held the rocks apart while pushing the Argo through. After the Argo escaped, the rocks stayed in place; the gods had decided long ago that once a ship had passed through them, they would never crash together again.

The Sons of Phrixus

After more sailing, the ship came to a desert island sacred to Ares which Phineus had advised them to visit because they would find something vital to their mission while there. The island was filled with birds with feathers so sharp they could cut through flesh. To get onto the island, the Argonauts held their shields over their heads as a cover. They then clashed their weapons together to scare the birds away. Now able to move around, the crew found the sons of Phrixus stranded on the island. Phrixus was the youth who had been carried to Colchis by the golden ram. He was able to show the Argonauts the rest of the way to Colchis.

Stealing the Golden Fleece

When the crew finally arrived in Colchis, they had no idea how they were going to get the golden fleece, but Hera and Athena asked Aphrodite for her help. Aphrodite sent her son, Eros to shoot Medea, the daughter of King Aeëtes, with his arrows so she would fall in love with Jason. The moment Medea saw Jason she instantly fell in love with him. She brought them into the house and her father, because of the principle of xenia, had to allow the strangers to join them for dinner.

At the dinner banquet, Argus (one of Phrixus’ sons) explained who they were and that they had come for the Golden Fleece. Unexpectedly, Aeëtes told the Argonauts that he would give them the fleece; he said he would only ask Jason to perform a few tasks first. All Jason had to do was to yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls to a plow, sow a field with dragon’s teeth, and then, when fully-armed warriors sprang up from the teeth he would have to kill all of the warriors. Jason had no idea how he was going to perform these tasks, but he reluctantly agreed. Later that night, Medea, who was a priestess of Hecate and a skilled witch, paid a visit to Jason. Medea made Jason promise that he would take her back to Iolcus with him if she helped him complete these impossible tasks. Jason eagerly agreed and Medea gave him a potion and told him what to do.

The night before he had to complete his tasks, Jason sacrificed to Hecate in the manner Medea had instructed him. Then early the next morning he rubbed the potion into his skin and went to find the fire-breathing bulls. Jason was able to yoke the bulls to the plow because the potion protected him from their fire. He plowed the field with the bulls and sowed the dragon’s teeth. From the soil came hundreds of fierce warriors, but Jason had been told by Medea what he needed to do. Jason threw a rock into the middle of the warriors, and they, thinking their fellows were attacking them, began to attack one another. Jason waited while they fought one another until only one was left and he killed the remaining warrior.

Pindar, Odes, “Pythian 4: For Arcesilas of Cyrene Chariot Race 462 BCE” (trans. D.A. Svarlien, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek victory ode, 5th century BCE

There was a divine prophecy that Pelias would be killed by the illustrious descendants of Aeolus, either at their hands or through their unflinching counsels; and an oracle came to him that chilled his shrewd spirit, spoken beside the central navel of well-wooded mother earth: [75] to be on careful guard in every way against a man with one sandal, whenever he should come from the homesteads in the steep mountains to the sunny land of famous Iolcus, whether he be stranger or citizen. And in time he arrived: an awesome man armed with two spears. He wore two different types of clothing: [80] his native Magnesian dress fitted to his marvelous limbs, and a leopard-skin wrapped around him protected him from shivering showers. His splendid locks of hair had not been cut away, but flowed shining down his back. He quickly went straight ahead, making use of his dauntless spirit, and stood [85] in the marketplace crowded with people. They did not recognize him. Nevertheless, one of the awed onlookers said even this: “Surely this is not Apollo, nor Ares, the husband of Aphrodite, [ Hephaestus ] with his bronze chariot. And they say that the sons of Iphimedeia—Otus and you, bold lord Ephialtes—died in splendid Naxos. [90] And indeed Tityus was hunted down by the swift arrow of Artemis, which she sped from her unconquerable quiver, so that men might desire to touch only the loves that are within their reach.” They said such things among themselves; and Pelias arrived, rushing headlong with his mule team and his polished chariot. [95] He was instantly astonished, looking at the single sandal, easy to see on the stranger’s right foot. But he hid his fear in his heart and said: “What country, stranger, do you claim as your fatherland? And what woman, of mortals on earth, bore you from her aged womb? Do not dirty your story with most hateful lies, [100] but tell me of your birth.” And the stranger boldly answered him with gentle words, in this way: “I say that I am going to bring the teaching of Chiron; for I come from his cave, from the presence of Chariclo and Philyra, where the holy daughters of the Centaur raised me. Living twenty years without [105] having said or done anything shameful in their house, I have come to my home to recover the ancient honor of my father, now held improperly, which once Zeus granted to Aeolus, the leader of the people, and to his sons. For I hear that lawless Pelias, yielding to his empty mind, [110] violently robbed it from my parents, who were the rulers by right. When I first saw the light [i.e. was born], they feared the arrogance of the monstrous ruler, and made a show of dark mourning in the home, with the wailing of women as if someone had died, and sent me away secretly, in purple swaddling clothes, [115] making the night my escort on the journey, and gave me to Chiron the son of Cronus to rear. But you know the main points of this story. Good citizens, show me clearly the home of my ancestors, who rode on white horses. For I am the son of Aeson, and a native; I do not arrive in a strange foreign land. The divine centaur called me by the name Jason.” [120] So he spoke; and as he entered, his father’s eyes recognized him, and tears burst forth from his aged eyelids, for his soul rejoiced when he saw his son, the choicest and most handsome of men. And both his father’s brothers [125] came when they heard the report of Jason. Pheres was nearby; he came from the Hypereian spring, and Amythaon came from Messene. Admetus and Melampus came quickly, showing kindness to their cousin. And while they joined in the banquet, Jason, welcoming them with gentle words and offering them fitting hospitality, extended every kind of joyfulness, [130] reaping the sacred bloom of good living for five full nights and as many days. But on the sixth day, speaking in earnest, Jason confided the entire story from the beginning to his kinsmen; and they took his side. At once he hurried from the camp with them, and they came to the hall of Pelias. [135] They rushed in, and took their stand. And when Pelias heard them he came to meet them himself, the son of Tyro with beautiful hair. And Jason, with his soothing voice distilling gentle language, laid the foundation of skillful words: “Son of Poseidon, Cleaver of the Rock, the minds of mortals are all too swift [140] to praise crafty gain rather than justice, although they are moving towards a harsh reckoning. But you and I must govern our tempers rightly and weave our future prosperity. You know what I am going to say. A single cow was mother to Cretheus and to bold-thinking Salmoneus. And now we, sprung from them in the third generation, look on the golden strength of the sun. [145] May the Fates withdraw if there is any hatred between members of the same family, which blots out reverence. It is not right for us to resort to swords of sharp bronze or spears in dividing the great honors of our ancestors. I leave you the flocks, and the golden herds of cattle, and all the fields, which you keep, having stolen them [150] from my ancestors, feeding fat your wealth; and it does not grieve me that they provide for your household beyond all measure. But as for the royal scepter and the throne, in which Aeson son of Cretheus once sat, and dispensed straight justice for a nation of horsemen: without any distress between us, [155] release these to me, lest some more disturbing evil arise from them.” So he spoke. And Pelias answered softly: “I will be such a man as you ask. But already old age attends me, while the flower of your youth is now swelling. You have it in your power to remove the anger of the gods below. For Phrixus asks us to bring his soul home, [160] going to the halls of Aeetes, and to recover the deep-fleeced hide of the ram, on which he was once saved from the sea and from the impious weapons of his stepmother. A marvelous dream came and told me these things, and I have asked the oracle at Castalia whether it must be pursued; and the oracle urges me to make ready as soon as possible a ship to escort him home. [165] Willingly fulfill this quest, and I swear that I will deliver up to you the royal power and the kingdom. And, as a mighty oath, may Zeus, who is ancestor to us both, be our witness.” They approved this agreement, and they parted. And Jason himself at once [170] sent messengers everywhere to announce the voyage. Soon there came the three sons [ Heracles, Castor, and Pollux ], untiring in battle, whom dark-eyed Alcmene and Leda bore to Zeus son of Cronus; and two high-haired men, sons of the earth-shaker [ Poseidon ], obeying their innate valor, one from Pylos and the other from the headland of Taenarus; you both achieved [175] noble fame, Euphemus and wide-ruling Periclymenus. And from Apollo the lyre-player came, the father of songs, much-praised Orpheus. And Hermes of the golden wand sent two sons to take part in the unabating toil, Echion and Erytus, bursting with youth. Swiftly [180] came those that dwell around the foothills of Mount Pangaeon, for with a smiling spirit their father Boreas, king of the winds, quickly and willingly equipped Zetes and Calais [ the Boreads ] with purple wings bristling down their backs. And Hera kindled in the demigods an all-persuasive sweet longing [185] for the ship Argo, so that no one would be left behind to stay by his mother’s side, nursing a life without danger, but even at the risk of death would find the finest elixir of excellence together with his other companions. When the choicest seamen came down to Iolcus, Jason reviewed and praised them all; and [190] the seer Mopsus, making his prophecy from birds and the casting of sacred lots, gladly gave the men the signal to set out. And when they hung the anchor over the ship’s ram, the leader, standing at the stern, took in his hands a golden goblet and called on the father of Uranus‘ descendants, Zeus whose spear is the thunderbolt; and he called on the [195] swift-rushing waves and winds, and on the nights, and the paths of the sea, and the propitious days, and on the kindly fortune of their homecoming. And from the clouds there answered an auspicious peal of thunder, and bright flashes of lightning came bursting forth, and the heroes drew a breath of relief, trusting in the sign of the god. [200] The seer shouted to them to throw themselves into the oars, announcing that their hopes were sweet; and the rowing sped on under their swift hands, insatiably. Escorted by the breezes of the South wind, they reached the mouth of the Inhospitable Sea, and there they set up a holy precinct to Poseidon, god of the sea; [205] there was a herd of red Thracian bulls, and a newly-built hollow of altar stones. And as they rushed into deep danger, they entreated the lord of ships that they might escape the irresistible onset of the clashing rocks [ the Symplegades ]. There was a pair of them; they were alive, and they rolled onward more swiftly [210] than the battle-lines of the loud-thundering winds. But that voyage of the demigods put an end to them. And then the Argonauts came to Phasis, where they clashed with the dark-faced Colchians in the realm of Aeetes himself. And the queen of sharpest arrows [ Aphrodite ] brought the dappled wryneck [bird] from Olympus, bound to the four spokes [215] of the indissoluble wheel: Aphrodite of Cyprus brought the maddening bird to men for the first time, and she taught the son of Aeson skill in prayerful incantations, so that he could rob Medea of reverence for her parents, and a longing for Greece would lash her, her mind on fire, with the whip of Persuasion. [220] And she quickly revealed the means of performing the labors set by her father; and she mixed drugs with olive oil as a remedy for hard pains, and gave it to him to anoint himself. They agreed to be united with each other in sweet wedlock. But when Aeetes placed in their midst the unbreakable iron plough [225] and the oxen, who breathed the flame of burning fire from their golden jaws and stamped at the earth in turn with their bronze hoofs, he led them along and single-handedly brought them under the yoke. And he drove them, stretching the furrows straight, and split the back of the clodded earth, a fathom deep. Then he spoke in this way: “Let your king, [230] whoever commands the ship, complete this work for me; then let him carry off the immortal coverlet, the fleece gleaming with its golden fringe.” When he had spoken thus, Jason threw off his saffron cloak and, trusting in the god, set his hand to the task. The fire did not touch him; he followed the advice of the foreign woman [ Medea ] who knew every kind of remedy. He grasped the plough, and bound the necks of the oxen in the irresistible [235] harness, and prodding their strong-ribbed bulk with the unceasing goad, the powerful man accomplished the allotted measure of his task. And Aeetes wailed, though his cry was silent, amazed at Jason’s strength. His companions stretched their friendly hands towards the mighty man, [240] and crowned him with garlands of laurel, and greeted him with gentle words. But at once the marvelous son of Helius spoke of the shining fleece, telling where the sword of Phrixus had stretched it out. He expected that Jason would not be able to accomplish this further labor. For the fleece lay in a thicket, held in the ravening jaws of a serpent, [245] which in thickness and length surpassed a ship with fifty oars, built by the blows of a hammer. It is too long a way for me to go by the beaten track; for time presses, and I know a shortcut. In poetic skill I am a guide to many others. Jason killed the gray-eyed serpent with its dappled back by cunning, [250] Arcesilas, and stole away Medea, with her own help, to be the death of Pelias. And they reached the expanses of Ocean, and the Red Sea, and the race of the Lemnian women, who killed their husbands. There they displayed their prowess of limbs in athletic contests with a cloak for a prize, and they went to bed with the women. In foreign [255] fields then the fated day, or night, received the seed of your shining prosperity; for there the race of Euphemus was planted, to continue forever.


Taken from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DP.%3Apoem%3D4

Jason and Medea

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, written in Greek in the second century BCE, gives a version of the myth of Jason and Medea. You will notice some differences from the version given in the text summaries in this chapter and the next (on Medea), which come from other sources, including Apollonius’ of Rhodes epic poem, the Argonautica, and Euripides’ tragic play, Medea.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca (trans. J. G. Frazer, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, 2nd century BCE

[content warning for the following source: suicide (1.9.27), infanticide (1.9.24, 1.9.27-28)]

[1.9.16] Aeson, son of Cretheus, had a son Jason by Polymede, daughter of Autolycus. Now Jason lived in Iolcus, of which Pelias was king after Cretheus. But when Pelias consulted the oracle concerning the kingdom, the god warned him to beware of the man with a single sandal. At first the king did not understand the oracle, but afterwards he understood it. For when he was offering a sacrifice at the sea to Poseidon, he sent for Jason, among many others, to participate in it. Now Jason loved animal husbandry and therefore lived in the country, but he hurried to the sacrifice, and in crossing the river Anaurus he lost a sandal in the stream and landed with only one. When Pelias saw him, he recalled the  oracle and, going up to Jason, he asked him what, supposing he had the power, he would do if he had received an oracle that he should be murdered by one of the citizens. Jason answered, whether at haphazard or instigated by the angry Hera in order that Medea should prove a curse to Pelias, who did not honor Hera, “I would command him,” said he, “to bring the Golden Fleece.” No sooner did Pelias hear that than he told him to go on a quest for the fleece. Now it was at Colchis in a grove of Ares, hanging on an oak and guarded by a sleepless dragon.

Sent to fetch the fleece, Jason called in the help of Argus, son of Phrixus; and Argus, by Athena‘s advice, built a ship of fifty oars named Argo after its builder; and at the prow Athena fitted in a speaking timber from the oak of Dodona. When the ship was built, and he inquired of the oracle, the god [ Apollo ] advised him to assemble the nobles of Greece and sail away. And those who assembled were as follows:[1] Tiphys, son of Hagnias, who steered the ship; Orpheus, son of Oeagrus; Zetes and Calais [ the Boreads ], sons of Boreas; Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus; Telamon and Peleus, sons of Aeacus; Hercules, son of Zeus; Theseus, son of Aegeus; Idas and Lynceus, sons of Aphareus; Amphiaraus, son of Oicles; Caeneus, son of Coronus; Palaemon, son of Hephaestus or of Aetolus; Cepheus, son of Aleus; Laertes son of Arcisius; Autolycus, son of Hermes; Atalanta, daughter of Schoeneus; Menoetius, son of Actor; Actor, son of Hippasus; Admetus, son of Pheres; Acastus, son of Pelias; Eurytus, son of Hermes; Meleager, son of Oeneus; Ancaeus, son of Lycurgus; Euphemus, son of Poseidon; Poeas, son of Thaumacus; Butes, son of Teleon; Phanus and Staphylus, sons of Dionysus; Erginus, son of Poseidon; Periclymenus, son of Neleus; Augeas, son of the Sun; Iphiclus, son of Thestius; Argus, son of Phrixus; Euryalus, son of Mecisteus; Peneleos, son of Hippalmus; Leitus, son of Alector; Iphitus, son of Naubolus; Ascalaphus and Ialmenus, sons of Ares; Asterius, son of Cometes; Polyphemus, son of Elatus.

[1.9.17] These people, with Jason as captain, put to sea and landed at Lemnos.[2][argonautica 1.592-899] At that time it happened that Lemnos was lacking in men and ruled over by a queen, Hypsipyle, daughter of Thoas, the reason for which was as follows. The Lemnian women did not honor Aphrodite, and she visited them with a foul smell; therefore their spouses took captive women from the neighboring country of Thrace and slept with them instead. Thus dishonored, the Lemnian women murdered their fathers and husbands, but Hypsipyle alone saved her father Thoas by hiding him. So having put in to Lemnos, at that time ruled by women, the Argonauts had intercourse with the women, and Hypsipyle slept with Jason and bore sons, Euneus and Nebrophonus.

[1.9.18] And after Lemnos they landed among the Doliones, of whom Cyzicus was king.[3] He received them kindly. But having put to sea from there by night and met with contrary winds, they lost their bearings and landed again among the Doliones. However, the Doliones, taking them for a Pelasgian army (for they were constantly harassed by the Pelasgians), did battle with them by night in mutual ignorance of each other. The Argonauts slew many and among the rest Cyzicus; but by day, when they knew what they had done, they mourned and cut off their hair and gave Cyzicus a costly burial; and after the burial they sailed away and landed at Mysia.

[1.9.19] There they left Hercules and Polyphemus.[4] For Hylas, son of Thiodamas, a companion of Hercules, had been sent to draw water and was kidnapped by nymphs on account of his beauty. But Polyphemus heard him cry out, and drawing his sword gave chase in the belief that he was being carried off by robbers. Falling in with Hercules, he told him; and while the two were seeking for Hylas, the ship put to sea. So Polyphemus founded a city Cius in Mysia and reigned as king; but Hercules returned to Argos. However, Herodorus says that Hercules did not sail at all at that time, but served as a slave at the court of Omphale. But Pherecydes says that he was left behind at Aphetae in Thessaly, the Argo having declared with human voice that she could not bear his weight. Nevertheless Demaratus has recorded that Hercules sailed to Colchis; for Dionysius even affirms that he was the leader of the Argonauts.

[1.9.20] From Mysia they departed to the land of the Bebryces, which was ruled by King Amycus, son of Poseidon and a Bithynian nymph.[Arg 2.1-154] Being a brave and persistent man he compelled the strangers that landed to box with him and in that way killed them. So going to the Argo as usual, he challenged the best man of the crew to a boxing match. Pollux undertook to box against him and killed him with a blow on the elbow. When the Bebryces made a rush at him, the Argonauts snatched up their weapons and put them to flight with great slaughter.

[1.9.21] Then they put to sea and came to land at Salmydessus in Thrace, Phineus, a seer who had lost the sight of both eyes, lived. [Arg 2.178-619]Some say he was a son of Agenor, but others that he was a son of Poseidon, and he is variously alleged to have been blinded by the gods for foretelling men the future; or by Boreas and the Argonauts because he blinded his own sons at the instigation of their stepmother; or by Poseidon, because he revealed to the children of Phrixus how they could sail from Colchis to Greece. The gods also sent the Harpies to him. These were winged female creatures, and when a table was laid for Phineus, they flew down from the sky and snatched up most of the food, and what little they left stank so that nobody could touch it. When the Argonauts wanted to consult him about the voyage, he said that he would advise them about it if they would rid him of the Harpies. So the Argonauts laid out a feast beside him, and the Harpies with a shriek suddenly pounced down and snatched away the food. When Zetes and Calais, the sons of Boreas, saw that, they drew their swords and, being winged, pursued them through the air. Now it was fated that the Harpies would perish by the sons of Boreas, and that the sons of Boreas would die when they could not catch up to their target. So the Harpies were pursued and one of them fell into the river Tigres in Peloponnese, the river that is now called Harpys after her; some call her Nicothoe, but others Aellopus. But the other, named Ocypete or, according to others, Ocythoe (but Hesiod calls her Ocypode) fled by the Propontis until she came to the Echinadian Islands, which are now called Strophades after her; for when she came to them she turned (estraphe) and, being at the shore, fell for out of sheer weariness of her pursuer. But Apollonius in the Argonautica says that the Harpies were pursued to the Strophades Islands and suffered no harm, having sworn an oath that they would wrong Phineus no more.

[1.9.22] Being rid of the Harpies, Phineus revealed to the Argonauts the course of their voyage, and advised them about the Clashing Rocks in the sea. These were huge cliffs, which, dashed together by the force of the winds, closed the sea passage. Thick was the mist that swept over them, and loud the crash, and it was impossible for even the birds to pass between them. So he told them to let a dove fly between the rocks, and, if they saw it pass safely through, to move through the narrows with an easy mind, but if they saw it perish, then not to force a passage. When they heard that, they put to sea, and on nearing the rocks let fly a dove from the prow, and as she flew the clash of the rocks nipped off the tip of her tail. So, waiting until the rocks had recoiled, with hard rowing and the help of Hera, they passed through, the extremity of the ship’s ornamented stern being shorn away right round. From then on, the Clashing Rocks stood still; for it was fated that, when a ship had made the passage, they would come to rest completely.

[1.9.23] The Argonauts now arrived among the Mariandynians, and there King Lycus received them kindly. There, Idmon the seer died of a wound inflicted by a boar; and Tiphys died there too, and Ancaeus undertook to steer the ship. [Arg 2.720-894]

And having sailed past the Thermodon and the Caucasus they came to the river Phasis, which is in the Colchian land. When the ship was brought into port, Jason went  to Aeetes, and telling him the task given to him by Pelias,asked him to give him the fleece. [Arg 3.210-4.206] The other promised to give it if single-handed he would yoke the brazen-footed bulls. These were two wild bulls that he had, of enormous size, a gift of Hephaestus; they had bronze feet and puffed fire from their mouths. These creatures, Aeetes ordered him to yoke and to sow dragon’s teeth; for he had got from Athena half of the dragon’s teeth which Cadmus sowed in Thebes. While Jason puzzled how he could yoke the bulls, Medea fell in love with him; now, she was a witch, daughter of Aeetes and Idyia, daughter of Ocean. And fearing that he might be destroyed by the bulls, she, keeping it secret from her father, promised to help him to yoke the bulls and to deliver to him the fleece, if he would swear to have her as a wife and would take her with him on the voyage to Greece. When Jason swore to do so, she gave him a drug with which she told him him to anoint his shield, spear, and body when he was about to yoke the bulls; for she said that, anointed with it, he could for a single day be harmed neither by fire nor by iron. And she told him that, when the teeth were sown, armed men would spring up from the ground against him; and when he saw them group together, he was to throw stones into their midst from a distance, and when they fought each other about that, he could kill them. On hearing that, Jason anointed himself with the drug, and upon arriving at the grove of the temple he sought the bulls, and though they charged him with a flame of fire, he yoked them. And when he had sowed the teeth, there rose armed men from the ground; and where he saw several together, he pelted them unseen with stones, and when they fought each other he drew near and slew them. But though the bulls were yoked, Aeetes did not give the fleece; for he wished to burn down the Argo and kill the crew. But before he could do so, Medea brought Jason by night to the fleece, and having lulled to sleep by her drugs the dragon that guarded it, she possessed herself of the fleece and in Jason’s company came to the Argo. She was attended, too, by her brother Apsyrtus. And with them the Argonauts put to sea by night.

[1.9.24] When Aeetes discovered the daring deeds done by Medea, he started off in pursuit of the ship; but when she saw him near, Medea murdered her brother and, cutting him limb from limb, threw the pieces into the deep.[Arg. 4.212-503, different version in which Apsyrtus follows them] Gathering the child’s limbs, Aeetes fell behind in the pursuit; wherefore he turned back and, having buried the rescued limbs of his child, he called the place Tomi. But he sent out many of the Colchians to search for the Argo, threatening that, if they did not bring Medea to him, they should suffer the punishment due to her; so they separated and pursued the search in many places.

When the Argonauts were already sailing past the Eridanus river, Zeus sent a furious storm upon them, and drove them out of their course, because he was angry at the murder of Apsyrtus. And as they were sailing past the Apsyrtides Islands, the ship spoke, saying that the wrath of Zeus would not cease unless they journeyed to Ausonia and were purified by Circe for the murder of Apsyrtus. [Arg 4.557-753] So when they had sailed past the Ligurian and Celtic nations and had voyaged through the Sardinian Sea, they skirted Tyrrhenia and came to Aeaea, where they supplicated Circe and were purified.

[1.9.25] And as they sailed past the Sirens, Orpheus restrained the Argonauts by singing a counter-melody. Butes alone swam off to the Sirens, but Aphrodite carried him away and settled him in Lilybaeum. [Arg. 4.885-922]

After the Sirens, the ship encountered Charybdis and Scylla and the Wandering Rocks, above which a great flame and smoke were seen rising. But Thetis with the Nereids steered the ship through them at the summons of Hera. [Arg 4.922-982]

Having passed by the Island of Thrinacia, where the cattle of the Sun were, they came to Corcyra, the island of the Phaeacians, of which Alcinous was king. But when the Colchians could not find the ship, some of them settled at the Ceraunian mountains, and some journeyed to Illyria and colonized the Apsyrtides Islands. But some came to the Phaeacians, and finding the Argo there, they demanded of Alcinous that he should give up Medea. He answered, that if she had already slept with Jason, he would give her to him [Jason], but that if she were still a virgin he would send her away to her father. However, Arete, wife of Alcinous, anticipated matters by marrying Medea to Jason; hence the Colchians settled down among the Phaeacians and the Argonauts put to sea with Medea. [Arg 4.982-1228]

[1.9.26] Sailing by night they encountered a violent storm, and Apollo, standing on the Melantian ridges, flashed lightning down, shooting a shaft into the sea.[Arg 4.1694-1765] Then they perceived an island close at hand, and anchoring there they named it Anaphe, because it had loomed up (anaphanenai) unexpectedly. So they founded an altar of Radiant Apollo, and having offered sacrifice they feasted; and twelve handmaids, whom Arete had given to Medea, sexually entertained the chiefs; and there, it is still customary for the women to do so at sacrifices.

Putting to sea from there, they were hindered from landing at Crete by Talos.[Arg 4.1638-1694] Some say that he was a man of the Brazen Race, others that he was given to Minos by Hephaestus; he was a bronze man, but some say that he was a bull. He had a single vein extending from his neck to his ankles, and a bronze nail was rammed home at the end of the vein. This Talos kept guard, running round the island thrice every day; and so, when he saw the Argo waiting just offshore, he pelted it as usual with stones. His death was brought about by the wiles of Medea, whether, as some say, she drove him mad by drugs, or, as others say, she promised to make him immortal and then drew out the nail, so that all the ichor gushed out and he died. But some say that Poeas shot him dead in the ankle.

After staying a single night there, they landed at Aegina for water, and a contest arose among them concerning the drawing of the water. There, they sailed between Euboea and Locris and came to Iolcus, having completed the whole voyage in four months.

[1.9.27] Now Pelias, dreading the return of the Argonauts, would have killed Aeson; but Aeson requested to be allowed to take his own life, and in offering a sacrifice drank freely of the bull’s blood and died. And Jason’s mother cursed Pelias and hanged herself, leaving behind an infant son Promachus; but Pelias killed even the son whom she had left behind. On his return Jason handed over the fleece, but though he longed to avenge the wrongs done to him, he bided his time. At that time he sailed with the Argonauts to the Isthmus and dedicated the ship to Poseidon, but afterwards he asked Medea to devise how he could punish Pelias. So she went to the palace of Pelias and persuaded his daughters to make mincemeat of their father and boil him, promising to make him young again by her drugs; and to win their confidence, she cut up a ram and made it into a lamb by boiling it. So they believed her, made mincemeat of their father and boiled him. But Acastus buried his father with the help of the inhabitants of Iolcus, and he expelled Jason and Medea from Iolcus.

[1.9.28] They went to Corinth, and lived there happily for ten years, until Creon, king of Corinth, betrothed his daughter Glauce to Jason, who married her and divorced Medea. But she invoked the gods by whom Jason had sworn, and after often reprimanding him with his ingratitude she sent the bride a robe steeped in poison, which when Glauce had put on, she was consumed with fierce fire along with her father, who went to her rescue. But Mermerus and Pheres, the children whom Medea had by Jason, she killed, and having got from the Sun a car drawn by winged dragons she fled on it to Athens. Another tradition is that on her flight she left behind her children, who were still infants, setting them to take refuge at the altar of Hera of the Height; but the Corinthians removed them and wounded them to death.

Medea came to Athens, and there married the king Aegeus and bore him a son, Medus. Afterwards, however, plotting against Theseus, she was driven as a fugitive from Athens with her son. But Medus conquered many barbarians and called the whole country under him Media, and marching against the Indians he met his death. And Medea came secretly to Colchis, and finding that Aeetes had been deposed by his brother Perses, she killed Perses and restored the kingdom to her father.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus1.html#9



Some accounts say that Jason took his own life, but the more popular story is that, many years after these events, he was sitting under the rotting ruins of the Argo, the ship that had made him so famous, when a beam from the ship fell and struck him on the head, killing him.

Art and Symbolism

Jason runs up to grab the golden fleece. Athena stands behind him, and to the right another Argonaut stands at the prow of the ship.
Jason stealing the fleece, red-figure krater, ca. 470 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)

In Greek art, Jason is most commonly represented fighting the dragon while trying to steal the golden fleece. His appearance is generally that of a young, muscular man, either bearded or clean-shaven, but there is no attribute that allows us to immediately identify him if he is not named or holding the golden fleece.


A snake is coiled around a tree. To the right of the tree is Jason, holding the golden fleece.
Jason taking the fleece from the drakon, red-figure vessel,

Other scenes in which Jason appears are usually either episodes from the saga of the Argonauts, or the tragic conclusion of his dealings with Medea.


Talos, a nude and youthful shining golden man, stumbles backwards as he dies. Around him is a crowd of horses and Argonauts.
Talos defeated by the Argonauts, red-figure krater, 5th century BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Ruvo di Puglia)
Phineus, an old man holding a staff, sits in front of a table. Winged young men in tunics stands on either side, one of them holding a spear.
The Boreads rescue Phineus, red-figure krater, ca. 460 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)
Amycus sits nude and bound to a rock in the centre. On either side are nude young Argonauts, one of them pouring out a jug and the other seated on a jug.
Amycus being punished by the Argonauts, red-figure hydria, ca. 400 BCE (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris)


Media Attributions

  1. Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica lists the crew of the Argo in full in greater detail in Book 1:23-228
  2. Apollodorus' account of the Argonauts' adventures draws heavily from Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica. The events at Lemnos parallel Argonautica Book 1:592-899
  3. Parallel passage: Argonautica 1.936-1079
  4. Argonautica 1.1207-1344


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