Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jason and the Argonauts

Historians have long wondered about the origin of the golden fleece myth. One theory suggests it might have had something to do with the large amount of gold found in the rivers of the Caucasus Mountains (site of Colchis), where people panned for it with the help of sheepskins, according to the historian Appian. Others say that the myth of the Argonauts refers to the colonization of the Black Sea region by the Greeks in the 13th century B.C.

Along with the Trojan War, the story of Jason and the Argonauts is one of the greatest Greek myths. Jason, prince of Thessaly, had to retrieve the golden fleece of a sacred ram to win back the throne of his father. He assembled a group of heroes and sailed with the Argo to Colchis. Heracles, Orpheus, Polydeuces, Castor, and Atalanta were among the crew. The myth of Jason is intimately connected with the myth of Medea

Prince Jason of Thessaly was deprived of his birthright by his uncle, Pelias. After being raised by the centaur Chiron, Jason returned to Thessaly, determined to reclaim his father's throne. Pelias agreed to return the throne if Jason brought him the golden fleece of a sacred winged ram hanging in Ares' grove in Colchis. Jason and a crew of heroes set off on the Argo, the first Greek longship, built with the help of Athena.

After many adventures on the way, the Argonauts reached Colchis. King Æetes was willing to give up the golden fleece only if Jason completed a series of impossible tasks. With the help of Æetes ' daughter Medea, who was skilled in magic, Jason finished the tasks. However, when Æetes refused to give him the golden fleece, Jason stole it and fled, taking Medea with him. Ultimately, he did not ascend the throne of Thessaly as he was unfavored by the gods. This was because of the murder of Medea's brother Apsyrtus, by which he became "impure" in their eyes.

The myth of Jason has been told in various forms. The only complete version is preserved in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes.

Women of Lemnos
En route to Colchis, the Argonauts stopped at the island of Lemnos. Aphrodite had cursed the island not long before by planting rumors in the women's heads that their husbands, who were returning from war, had brought home their slave girls as mistresses. ln a jealous rage, the women slaughtered all the men. With no men left to procreate with, they were facing extinction. Thus, the Argonauts were given such a warm and lusty reception by the women that they stayed. After a long time, Heracles, who had guarded the ship, reproached Jason and his crew. They returned and the Argo sailed on, filled with wine and provisions from their grateful hostesses.

The Robbery of the Golden Fleece
When the Argonauts arrived at Colchis, King Æetes said he would give Jason the golden fleece if he could harness two fire-breathing bulls, sow dragon's teeth, and slay the warriors born from those teeth. Medea, Æetes ' daughter and a priestess of Hecate, fell in love with Jason and helped him accomplish his tasks. When Æetes refused to hand over the fleece, Medea helped Jason steal it by using her knowledge of potions to make the dragon guarding the fleece fall asleep. Then Medea murdered and dismembered her brother, Apsyrtus, to keep the Colchians from pursuing them.

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