The Journey of the Argonauts

The Argonauts are those who sailed to Colchis (now Georgia) in order to bring the Golden Fleece of the Ram that Phrixus 1 had dedicated to Ares at Colchis. The Argonauts, with Jason as admiral, put to sea from Iolcus (today called Volos in Thessaly, northern Greece), and after several adventures came to Colchis, fetched the Golden Fleece, and came back with the king's daughter, Medea, whom Jason married.

Athamas 1, first Boeotian and then Thessalian king, was married to Nephele 2 and had by her a son Phrixus 1 and a daughter Helle. But he married a second wife Ino, who plotted against the children of Nephele 2 by secretely sabotaging the crops. When she succeeded in having the whole country suffering from dearth, Athamas 1 sent messengers to Delphi to inquire how they might be delivered from the calamity. Ino then persuaded the messengers to falsify the oracle and say that it had been foretold that the dearth would cease if Phrixus 1 and Helle were sacrificed. Being warned of the danger, Nephele 2 put her children on the back of the Ram with the Golden Fleece, which she had received from Hermes, and flying on it they escaped. Helle slipped into the sea and was drowned in the Hellespont, but Phrixus 1 reached Colchis, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, where he sacrificed the amazing ram and gave the Golden Fleece to Aeetes, who nailed it to an oak, where a sleepless Dragon guarded it.

King Pelias 1 of Iolcus, once consulted the oracle concerning the kingdom, and, to his distress, he was warned by it to beware of the man with the single sandal. At first, the king did not understand whom the oracle was referring to, but afterwards, when he was about to offer a sacrifice to Poseidon, he sent for Jason, among many others, to participate in it. Jason came to the sacrifice, but in crossing the river Anaurus in Thessaly he lost a sandal in the stream and appeared with only one. When Pelias 1 saw him, he remembered the oracle, and asked Jason what would he do if he were king and had received an oracle that he should be murdered by a certain citizen. Jason answered: “I would command him to bring the Golden Fleece.”

Some say that he answered thus inspired by Hera, who being angry against Pelias 1 because he, some time ago, had violated her sanctuary by killing his stepmother Sidero, who had taken refuge there, wished Medea to prove a curse to Pelias 1. And that came to be, because when Pelias 1 heard Jason’s answer, he bade him go in quest of the Golden Fleece. But Jason brought Medea, and she was the end of this anxious king.

Jason assembled many noble men from Hellas, and with the help of one Argus, some say son of Phrixus 1, a ship of fifty oars called “Argo” was built. At its prow, a speaking timber from the oak of Dodona was fitted, following the instructions of Athena. It is said that when the ship was launched into the sea, it appeared among the stars from rudder to sail.

In their way to Colchis, the Argonauts came first to the island of Lemnos, where the women had killed their fathers and husbands and lived without men, except for Hypsipyle, their queen, who had secretly saved her father. In Lemnos, Jason fell in love with Hypsipyle and had children by her. One of them, Euneus 1, became later king of Lemnos, and is known for having sent ships from the island with cargoes of wine for the Achaeans during the Trojan War.

Having left Lemnos, the Argonauts engaged by mistake in a battle against the Dolionians and killed their king, who had previously received them as guests. King Cyzicus who ruled an island in the Propontis, received the Argonauts with generous hospitality, but when they had left him, they were brought unaware to the same island by a storm that arose during the night. Cyzicus, thinking they were Pelasgian enemies, attacked them on the shore at night, and in the battle that ensued he was killed by Jason, or perhaps by Heracles 1. By day, when they realised what they had done, they mourned and gave Cyzicus a costly burial.

Having come to Mysia, the Argonauts lost Hylas, the lover of Heracles, a young man famous for his beauty. This happened when Hylas went to fetch water, while Heracles cooked for the rest of the Argonauts. When Hylas did not return Heracles went to the woods to look for him, and as he cried his name “Hylas, Hylas, Hylas ...”, the Nymphs, fearing to be catched by him, transformed Hylas into an echo, so that when Heracles cried his name he would hear back “Hylas, Hylas, Hylas ...”

Next the Argonauts came then to the land of the Bebrycians, where King Amycus 1, a son of Poseidon and Melie, a Bithynian Nymph, compelled strangers to box as a way of killing them. Thence they put to sea and came to the court of Phineus 2, king and seer from Salmydessus in Thrace who had lost the sight of both eyes.

He is alleged to have been blinded by the gods for foretelling men the future, or by Boreas 1 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 1 how they could sail from Colchis to Hellas. The gods also sent the Harpies to him. These were winged female creatures, and when a table was laid for Phineus 2, they flew down from the sky and snatched up the food, and what little they left stank so that nobody could eat it. But the Argonauts chased the Harpies away, and being rid of them, Phineus 2 revealed to the Argonauts the course of their voyage, and advised them about the Clashing Rocks in the sea.

These rocks were huge cliffs wrapped in mist, which, dashing against each other by the force of the winds, closed the sea passage making it impossible even for the birds to pass between them. Phineus 2 told the Argonauts to let fly a dove between the rocks, and to watch if it passed safe through. Later they came to the place and released a dove, and when the rocks had recoiled after the bird had passed, they rowed hard and passed through. From that time the Clashing Rocks stand still because it was fated that they should come to rest completely once a ship had made the passage.

After having sailed past the Thermodon and the Caucasus, they arrived to Colchis, which was ruled by King Aeetes, the man who had received from Phrixus 1 the Golden Fleece. When the Argonauts arrived, Jason met Aeetes and invited him to give him the Golden Fleece. Aeetes promised to give it if single-handed he would yoke the brazen-footed bulls, a gift he had received from Hephaestus, and with them sowed the Dragon’s teeth, for he had got from Athena half of the dragon’s teeth which Cadmus sowed in Thebes.

While Jason was trying to figure up how to perform these capricious tasks, Medea, who was the king’s daughter and a priestess of Hecate, fell in love with him. The girl then proposed him the following secret: she promised to help him to yoke the bulls and to give him the Golden Fleece, if he would marry her and take her with him to Hellas. And since ambition may give birth to any kind of promises to attain its aims, Jason swore to do so, and Medea gave him a drug to anoint his body, spear and shield with, which would protect him for one day against fire and iron, when he was about to yoke the bulls.

Medea also anticipated that, when the teeth were sown, armed men would spring up from the ground against him, and that he should throw stones into their midst from a distance, so that they would fight each other, and that while they were busy in the fight he could draw near and kill them. So Jason, anointed with the miraculous drug, yoke the bulls, and having sown the Dragon’s teeth, killed the warriors that came up from the ground, following Medea’s instructions.

However, Aeetes, who had apparently proposed these tasks only hoping for Jason’s destruction, was not willing to give up the Golden Fleece, and started to plan the burning of the “Argo” and the destruction of its crew. But Medea brought Jason by night to the the place where the Golden Fleece hang, and put to sleep by her drugs the Dragon that guarded it. And while the dragon was asleep, the ARGONAUTS took the Golden Fleece, and having come to the ship, they sailed away by night in a hurry.

During the Argonauts’ flight from Colchis, Medea killed or took part in the murder of her brother Apsyrtus, who also was on board. It is sometimes said that Medea cut his brother limb from limb and threw the pieces into the sea and that, gathering Apsyrtus’ limbs, Aeetes fell behind in the pursuit. But some say that it was Jason who cut Apsyrtus into pieces, or that he was treacherously killed by Jason, with Medea’s help, on an island in the mouth of the river Ister (Danube).

In the meanwhile, because of the horrendous crime they had committed, the Argonauts were driven out of course by means of the storms that Zeus sent. The “Argo” then spoke and said that they should seek purification with Circe, a witch living on the island called Aeaea, where they arrived, following the ship’s words, after having sailed through the Sardinian and Tyrrhenian seas.

When the Argonauts had been purified by Circe, for the murder of Apsyrtus they sailed past the Sirens, and Orpheus, by chanting a counter melody restrained all of them but Butes 1, who swam off to the Sirens. However he was saved by Aphrodite, who carried him away and settled him in Lilybaeum (Sicily). This favourite of the goddess had two children by her, Eryx 1 and Polycaon 2. Eryx 1 became later king over the Elymi in Italy, but was killed by Heracles 1 for the sake of a bull.

Having received help from the Nereids in order to avoid the danger of Scylla 1 and Charybdis, and still fleeing the Colchians, the Argonauts came to Corcyra, said to be the land of the Phaeacians. Here the Colchians catched up, and having landed, they demanded that King Alcinous give up Medea. He answered that he would do so if Medea had not slept with Jason, but that in other case he would give her to Jason. But Queen Arete, anticipating matters, married Medea to Jason in the cave of Macris.

In their way back to Iolcus, the Argonauts came to Crete, where Medea destroyed the brazen man Talos 1, and having sailed between Euboea and Locris, they finally came to Iolcus. The whole trip, they say, was completed in four months.