Argonauts

Summary

The Argonauts (Ancient Greek: Ἀργοναῦται, Argonáutai) were a mythological group of about 50 heroes who, under the leadership of Jason, gave birth to one of the best-known and most fascinating narratives of Greek mythology: the adventurous journey aboard the ship Argo, which will lead them to the hostile lands of Colchis to recapture the Golden Fleece.

The heroes had flocked to the call of the heralds sent throughout Greece to organize the expedition that Pelias, king of Iolcus, had imposed on Jason, son of his brother Aeson.

Pelias, in fact, had become king of Iolco after usurping the throne from his brother Aeson, the rightful heir to the throne, whom he had imprisoned along with the rest of the family. Jason accepted the insidious request on the sole condition that, if successful, Pelias would release his loved ones.

The Golden Fleece

At one time, because of a deceitful oracle, Atamanthus the Aeolian, king of Boeotia, had been about to sacrifice Frisso, the son he had with Nepheles. In tears, he would have blindly fulfilled the oracular verdict if Heracles had not appeared to dissuade him from the act, convincing him of his father Zeus’ aversion to human sacrifice. Later Hermes, by order of Hera or Zeus, sent Chryxomalus, a winged ram with a fleece entirely of gold, from the sky. The magical animal, having arrived in the presence of Frisso, began to speak to him, ordering him to ride on his back. The boy accepted the invitation and flew in this way to Colchis where, once he arrived, he sacrificed the animal. The golden fleece remained intact and was treasured as a great treasure by the locals.

The Oracles of Pelia

Pelias, the natural son of Poseidon, became king upon the death of his adoptive father Creteus, although the rightful heir was his brother Heson. Warned by an oracle that a descendant of Aeolus was going to kill him, he had anyone with a descendant relationship to the god of the winds exterminated: all except Aeson, who in the meantime had a son named Jason. The child was secretly transported out of the palace and entrusted to the centaur Chiron, who raised him.

Another oracle warned Pelias against meeting a young man with only one shod foot on his feet. In fact, some time later he happened to meet on a beach a young man, tall and armed with two spears, with only one shod foot: this was indeed Jason, who had lost a sandal while pitifully helping an old woman wade through the muddy waters of the river Anaurus. Under the guise of that poor old woman who, until Jason’s arrival, had uselessly asked for help from the wayfarers, was actually hiding a theophany of Hera; the wife of Zeus, continually neglected by Pelias, was always adverse to him.

At the sight of that young man, the king questioned him, asking what his name was and who his father was, and the young man answered him frankly; whereupon the ruler asked him how he would act if an oracle predicted that one of his own countrymen was about to kill him. Jason, inspired by Hera, replied that he would send that man to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece.

But when he recognized the usurper in his interlocutor, Jason asked him to return the throne; the king replied with one condition: first he would have to save the kingdom from a curse.

Pelias thus narrated to him that he was haunted by the shadow of Frisso, who had long ago fled from Orcomeno and was never given a proper burial. Pelias added that, according to an oracle, their land would always remain poor until the Golden Fleece, keeper of Frisso’s soul, was brought back home. He promised Jason that if the latter accepted the task, he would return the throne to him as soon as the hero returned with the fleece.

Jason sent heralds to all the lands of the Helles to ask for help, but then, undecided what to do, he turned to the oracle of Castalia, who suggested that he leave as soon as possible with a ship. The ship was built and Athena herself adorned its prow with an apotropaic figurehead.

Participants

Many lists have been handed down of the heroes who took part in the enterprise. In the most authoritative sources we find:

Jason wished to take one of Pelias’ sons with him, in order to prevent the king from directing his curses on the voyage of the ship Argo. For this Jason went to recruit the valiant Acastus, one of the king’s sons; but it was Acastus himself, eager to set out on the adventure, who offered himself to Jason, going to meet him and greeting him as “brother.”

The Argonautics adds more characters to the expedition:

In fairy tales we find:

The journey

Heracles was initially proposed to command the expedition because of his fame, but the demigod refused and proposed the candidacy of Jason, who, although young and inexperienced, had organized the voyage. As soon as the ship had put to sea, the Argonauts sacrificed two oxen to Apollo to propitiate the voyage. As the smoke rose into the sky, the Argonauts partied; intoxicated and made violent by the wine, the heroes would surely have jeopardized the outcome of the voyage, had not Orpheus intervened, who soothed the spirits of his companions with the sweet sound of his lyre.

The first island the Argonauts encountered along the voyage was Lemno, inhabited only by women; these, skilled warriors, had been victims of a curse by Aphrodite, which caused them to exterminate all their men. As soon as they spotted the vessel they decided to attack it, thinking it was an enemy ship. Jason then decided to send Echion as an ambassador, who, with a stick in his hand, managed to dissuade them by earning their hospitality. The Argonauts were then well received by the women, who wanted to lie with them to procreate a lineage of heroes. Ipsipile offered Jason the throne of the small kingdom, lying to him about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the men on the island, but Jason refused, reminding her of the purpose of her journey, the conquest of the Golden Fleece.

Erginus, teased by the women for his dogness, challenged and won in the games Calais and Zetes, the two swift sons of Borea, later claiming that even young men grow gray hair before their time.

During those nights many children were conceived, but eventually Heracles, tired of being alone guarding the ship, called all the Argonauts back and forced them to resume their journey. The heroes set out for Samothrace.

Having resumed their voyage, the Argonauts faced the terrible passage across the Hellespont, knowing that the Trojan king Laomedon did not allow Greek ships free passage. They therefore waited until night to slowly skirt Thrace, approach the Sea of Marmara and land on a peninsula called Arto.

The very young Dolion king Cyzicus, son of Enaeus, welcomed them as heroes, inviting them to his wedding feast to be celebrated shortly thereafter. In the night the Argonauts were awakened by the attack of six-armed giants, sons of the earth, but they managed to prevail.

After consecrating their anchor to Athena, they set out for the Bosporus, but a storm caused them to swerve and land on a dark beach, where they were attacked by well-armed warriors. The Argonauts once again won the battle, but they soon discovered who their opponents were: fate had brought them back to the Arto peninsula by unknowingly pitting them against their hosts in an armed confrontation; and they recognized among others the lifeless bodies of the king himself and Artace, the best known of his subjects, a great warrior and hero.

In general displeasure, funeral rites were celebrated, during which, suddenly, there came an alcyon that rested on the prow of Argos. Mopso, who had the gift of knowing how to interpret omens, understood that that bird was sent by Gaea, the goddess of the earth, as a sign of her offense at the fate suffered by the six-armed giants, her children. The heroes, before resuming their journey, erected a simulacrum of the goddess to appease her wrath.

During this part of the journey, the Argonauts decided to challenge each other to an endurance race: the one who could row the longest would win. Soon only Jason, Heracles and the Dioscuri remained. Upon reaching the mouth of the river Chios, the Dioscuri also gave up; Jason fainted and Heracles broke his oar. They then decided it was time for a break. Landing on an island, Heracles went off in search of a new oar; when he got back on the ship he was told that Ila, his squire and lover, who had gone in search of water, had not yet returned. The hero sailed away to the beach, followed shortly by Polyphemus, launching himself in a desperate search for the boy. But the generosity of the two heroes was doomed to failure: the boy had been bewitched by some nymphs who, falling in love with him, imprisoned him for eternity. The next morning the day was so breezy that Jason decided to set sail without his lost companions. Useless were the protests of some as well as attempts to persuade Typhid to change course, but Jason – supported by Calais and Zetes – was adamant.

Continuing their journey they reached the island of Bebrico, where a king named Friend reigned; son of Poseidon, who prided himself on being a good boxer. He wanted to test the Argonauts, challenging Pollux, the best among them. It was the dioscuro who emerged victorious, killing his opponent and unleashing the fury of the people. The Argonauts had an easy upper hand over the angry mob and were able to sack the royal palace; then, having offered twenty bulls in sacrifice to ingratiate themselves with Poseidon, they resumed their adventure on the sea.

Once they reached the promontory of Salmidessus, the heroes met Agenor’s son Phineas tormented by the Harpies. Calais and Zetes, sons of the wind, were able to take flight and repel the two monsters. The king, to reward them, prophesied about their journey, advising them of the safest course.

All ships bound for the Bosphorus had to deal with the pitfalls of the rocks hidden in the eternal fog, which punctually caused them to sink. However, Euphemus, following Phineas’ advice, flew a dove: the Argonauts followed it and, encouraged by Athena and the sound of Orpheus’ lyre, managed to avoid the rocks. After skirting the southern shore, they came to the island of Tinia where they had an appearance by the divine Apollo, who showed respect for their adventure.

They later arrived at the island of Mariandine, where after receiving Dimanthes’ warning about Friend and defeating him, King Lico, delighted at the death of his rival (Friend) offered them, in gratitude, his son Dascilo as their guide. The next day the Argonauts, about to board the ship, were attacked by a huge boar, which wounded Idmone in the legs, sinking its fangs into his flesh. Ida came to the rescue and killed the beast with her spear, but Idmone’s bleeding proved impossible to stop. The hero bled to death, and the Argonauts mourned him for a long time.

Typhides, who had been the helmsman until then, fell ill and died soon after, leaving the ship’s leadership to Anceus the Great, who would prove to be the better choice in that role. Jason, faced with the decimation of his men decided to make a brief stop in Sinope, Paflagonia, the city named after Asopus’ daughter. Here the commander chose three new members, the brothers Deileon, Autolycus and Phlogius, old friends of Heracles.

Traveling again, the Argonauts passed by the country of the Tibareni, a people distinguished by a singular characteristic: during childbirth, husbands were in labor in the same way as their wives.

The Argonauts then arrived in front of the small island of Dia, sacred to Ares, the god of war. Immediately flocks of birds arose from that inauspicious place and attacked the ship. These birds fought in their own particular way, hurling their own feathers at their opponents; it was in this way that Oileus was wounded in the shoulder. The Argonauts then remembered Phineas’ advice, and how he had reported these animals’ aversion to noise: putting on their helmets they dispersed the flock, addressing the birds with mighty shouts. Half of them gave themselves to rowing while the others protected them by raising their shields, and with the clangour they obtained by striking their surfaces with their swords.

Still following the king’s advice they landed on the island and put to flight any monstrous creatures hiding there. A violent cloudburst then arose; before the Argonauts appeared a small boat in which were four shipwrecked men, Cytissorus, Argeus, Frontides and Melanion (or Mela), the sons of Phrixus and Calciumpe. The Argonauts were glad to pull them to safety, and to co-opt them into the expedition. When they all arrived together at the mouth of the Phasis River, which washes the Colchis, Jason called an assembly to decide how to recover the fleece.

The conquest of the Golden Fleece

Jason immediately declared his intentions: accompanied by the sons of Frisso, he intended to travel to the city of Ea, over which Aeetes ruled, to claim, in a gentle manner, the precious object. Only upon Aeetes’ refusal would they attack battle. The proposal was greeted with applause; Jason wanted to be joined by Augias, a half-brother of Aeetes, who was convinced that he could play a role. The group advanced through Circe’s cemetery, where the spectacle of corpses displayed on the tops of willow trees presented itself to their eyes (the custom of the place reserved burial for females only, while the bodies of males were left to the mercy of the birds).

As he approached the palace, Calicope, wife of the late Frisso, appeared to Jason; she was, with Medea, one of the daughters that Aeetes had had from his first wife, the late nymph Aterodea. Calciope, hearing the story of the rescue of her children, thanked the commander.

Aeetes then arrived, who was enraged to discover that the Argonauts had broken the ban imposed by Laomedon. He then asked his favorite nephew, Argeus, to explain the reason for that visit. The boy, without losing heart, told the story of the Argonauts’ voyage, including how he and his brothers had been rescued from the shipwreck.

But Aeetes, who had been foretold by an oracle the end of his reign if the golden fleece was taken, in response became enraged, mocking the commander and his companions. He named Augias as his brother and ordered the intruders to return to their places of origin, threatening them with torture if they stayed.

Jason did not respond to anger with wrath: his manners were so polite that Aeetes almost changed his mind. He wanted to bargain, but his terms remained unacceptable.

To recover the golden fleece Jason would in fact have to:

On hearing the conditions Jason shuddered, but in his aid the favor of the gods intervened: Eros, the god of love, caused Medea to fall in love with the young commander.

The god was actually motivated by self-interest, prompted by his mother Aphrodite to act in order to obtain the shining stone he desired in return. The goddess was in cahoots with two other deities, Hera and Athena, and together they had conspired behind the girl’s back.

Medea long tried to counter that feeling that surfaced so suddenly, wondering why she was so interested in someone she had just met. Eventually the woman, understanding that the trials imposed on Jason would lead him to certain death resolved to help him, convinced that if she acted otherwise she would be as cold as a stone.

Calicope meanwhile sought his sister’s support, and when he discovered her love for Jason he seized the opportunity and acted as a go-between for the two. Medea decided to help Jason, but in return she wanted to become his bride.

The princess, a skilled sorceress, gave her beloved a potion in which was infused the blood of Prometheus, an emancipation advocate who would protect him from the fire of the two bulls.

When the expected day for the trial arrived, many were the spectators who gathered to witness the event, including the king himself. The bulls burned the grass with fire; pointing it with their steel horns, they went to meet the son of Aeson but the hero, thanks to Medea’s magical arts, did not suffer the heat. Jason with great effort managed to tame the beasts and, subduing them, forced them to plow all day long.

At night he began to sow the dragon’s teeth, from each of which sprang from the earth a warrior; eventually an army was formed and turned against him. Medea cast another powerful spell by which Jason hurled a huge boulder into their midst, creating a cloud of dust and much confusion. The warriors began killing each other and continued to do so until Jason had personally eliminated the few survivors, thus passing the test.

Although Jason had passed these impossible tests, King Aeetes went back on his word and threatened to set fire to the ship Argo and kill its crew. Then Medea led Jason to the place where the fleece was hidden. A huge dragon, immortal and with a thousand coils, guarded the treasure. The monster, longer than their ship, was the son of Typhon, a giant who had once been slain with difficulty by Zeus. Medea showed off various spells, by which she managed to bewitch the dragon until it fell asleep. Jason, taking advantage of the moment, plucked the golden fleece from the branches of the oak tree and took it with him on his escape.

Meanwhile, the priests of Ares had sounded the alarm, and the Colchians had descended into battle against the Argonauts, wounding Iphitus, Argos, Atalanta, Meleager, and even their commander. Medea cured everyone with her magical filters, but she was not in time to complete the work, so much so that Iphitus died anyway from the wounds he received.

The Return

On the way back, following another of Phineas’ wise counsels, the Argonauts, pursued by Aeetes’ galleys, sailed around the Black Sea in the opposite direction of the sun’s turn.

One version reports that when Aeetes caught up with Jason and his companions at the mouth of the Danube, Medea took little Apsirthus, the half-brother she had brought as a hostage, and tore him to pieces, throwing the pieces into the sea. Aeetes, horrified at such horror, forced the pursuing ships to stop near Tomi, to retrieve the shreds of her torn son. According to other authors, however, Jason succeeded in killing Aeetes as well.

According to the more detailed version, Apsirtos, presented here as a young man, pursued Jason on his father’s orders, while the Argonauts arrived at an island sacred to Artemis. Here, once disembarked, they would await the judgment of the king of the Brigi. Medea, who on no account wanted to be abandoned, secretly sent a message to her half-brother, claiming to be forcibly detained and begging him to come to her rescue. That same evening Apsirto went down to the island, where he was pursued and shot in the back by Jason. To avoid being pursued by his shadow, he immediately licked and spat out a few drops of his blood and amputated the boy’s limbs. When Medea returned to the ship, the Argonauts descended into battle against the soldiers who, without a commander, fled in fear.

After Apsirto’s death, the Argonauts were free to take the route that would lead them home. Among ancient and modern mythographers there is no agreement on the route taken:

All these routes are a figment of the mythographers’ fervid imagination, but in reality impossible to follow: the ship Argo probably simply returned from whence it came, from the Bosphorus crossing the Hellespont without, however, encountering the difficulties of the first time since Heracles in the meantime had attacked and destroyed the entire Trojan fleet and then reached the city, where he killed Laomedon and put in his place the last of his sons, Priam (also called Podarce).

The ship’s figurehead, who had oracular powers, ruled that Jason and Medea had to purify themselves for their crimes. The two got off the ship and went to meet Medea’s aunt Circe, also a sorceress. The woman, though she had no intention of intervening, purified them using sow’s blood. Meanwhile, the Colchi managed to discover where Jason was hiding. Once they arrived in Corcyra, at that time called Drepane, the Colchians went to the local rulers, King Alcinous and his wife Areta. They claimed both the fleece and Jason’s head, but the king decided to set a condition, which would not be reported until the next day. Areta, by now Medea’s friend, kept her consort awake all night, until she was told what the condition was for freeing her friend Medea the following day.

The condition was that Medea must still be a virgin. Areta immediately warned the woman of this, and Jason married the witch the same night in the cave of Macrides. The Argonauts feasted and the golden fleece was placed at the feet of the newlyweds. The next morning Alcinous made his proclamation but was answered by Jason that Medea was already his bride. The Colchians then could no longer carry out the imposed orders or even return to their homeland; they wandered about founding new cities. Only a couple of years later did Aeetes learn the whole truth.

The end of the journey

Jason continued his journey, until he reached the island of the Sirens. The Argonauts could hear their song, but the fatal melody was overcome by an even sweeter sound, that of Orpheus’ lyre. Bute alone, enchanted nonetheless by the Sirens, could not resist and tried to join them by throwing himself into the sea. His death would have been certain if Aphrodite, obeying a whim, had not rescued him and taken him with her.

The heroes then skirted Sicily, where they saw Helios grazing his fabulous flock, but they managed to curb their desires and moved on.

Suddenly a strong gale swept over the heroes, lifting the entire ship and throwing it against the rocks of the Libyan coast where an endless desert lay before them. They were about to lose all hope when the triple goddess Libya appeared to Jason in a dream. Heartened, the commander decided to salvage the ship, and by hoisting and shouldering the boat all together, in twelve days they managed to reach Lake Tritonides. During this long period they escaped thirst only by finding the spring that Heracles had brought forth in one of his labors.

While the ship was being transported, Canto, one of the heroes, saw Caperaurus’ flock and, unable to withstand hunger, tried to steal a few heads; the shepherd found out and enraged killed him. Immediately the Argonauts avenged him.

During their friend’s burial ceremony, it happened to Mopso that he was bitten in the heel by a snake; a mist descended over his eyes, excruciating pains spread down his body, his hair fell out, and he eventually expired. The Argonauts, having also celebrated the funeral rites for Mopso’s demise, returned in search of the lake.

Jason was carrying two bronze tripods he had received as gifts from the oracle of Pythia. Thanks to the advice of Orpheus, the commander decided to offer one to the local deities. Immediately Triton appeared and took the tripod for himself; before he could return to where he had come, Euphemus, taking courage, stood before him and asked him which way led to the Mediterranean. Triton in reply gave him a sod of land that would make him and his descendants sovereigns of Libya, and then dragged the Argonauts’ ship to the sea.

Having resumed sailing, the Argonauts tried to approach Crete where Talus, the bronze sentinel made by Hephaestus, was standing guard. The automaton, as soon as it sighted the ship, began pelting the crew with stones, but Medea tricked the monster and put it to sleep with a potion. The sorceress then approached the giant and removed the nail that plugged his only vein, causing him to bleed to death.

According to other versions, however, the giant enchanted by the woman’s eyes staggered until he injured himself; or, according to others, he was killed by an arrow from Peante.

The death of Heson

Aeson, who even before Jason’s departure was concerned about the fate of his son, his family, and his kingdom, was heartened by Polymelah.

Shortly after the Argonauts’ departure, Pelias, heedless of his promise to Jason, chose to exterminate their family. The first to fall was Heson himself; after him the king crushed the head of Promachus, son of Heson. Polymelah, desperate but proud, did not allow herself to be killed and chose to die by her own hand.

The death of Pelias

One autumn evening the Argonauts managed to land at the beach of Pagase, near Iolco, where they learned that word had spread of their deaths; they also learned of the massacre perpetrated by Pelias.

Hearing this news, Jason forbade anyone who had seen the docking to speak of it; he then convened a council in which all the Argonauts agreed to kill the king. Acastus, who certainly could not kill his own father, was allowed to return home. Many among the Argonauts argued, however, that it was impossible to carry out the revenge, partly because Iolco was a very well-armed city. Faced with the looming prospect of a general surrender Medea took upon herself alone the entire task of conquering the city.

The sorceress told the Argonauts to hide and wait for her nod; she found a hollow simulacrum of the goddess Artemis; she then ordered her handmaidens to dress strangely and carry it in turn. Medea disguised herself as an old woman and, presenting herself at the gates of Iolco, offered the fortune of Artemis over the city if only they would open the gates for her. The gatekeepers could not refuse, and once inside, the witch’s servants deceived the people by staging fake religious crises.

Pelias, doubtful, then turned to the old woman and asked her what the goddess wanted from him. Her answer was that if he believed in Artemis and her work, he would receive eternal youth in return. The king did not want to believe her, so Medea took an old ram, cut it into pieces, boiled it, and begging the goddess to assist her and using all the magical formulas she knew, she succeeded, by a stratagem, in making people believe that the animal was rejuvenated.

This convinced the king, who stripped naked and, lying down, was hypnotized. Medea asked the king’s daughters, Alcesti, Evadne, and Anfinome, to cut their parent into pieces. At first they refused but the witch, using other deceptions and small spells, managed to persuade Evadne and Anfinome. The pieces ended up in the cauldron while, again at the request of the fake old woman, the two murderesses waved flashlights: it was supposed to be an invocation addressed to the moon goddess, but in fact it was the agreed signal for the Argonauts to enter the city, who could thus take their revenge.

Jason, fearing the wrath of the son of Pelias, their traveling companion, made no claim to the throne: he accepted the exile imposed on him by Acastus, leaving him the throne as well. According to ancient custom, funeral games were dedicated to the king’s death, in which the Argonauts had the opportunity to prove their skill, winning various trials.

Many of the survivors from the enterprise also participated in the capture of the Calydonian boar and in the war sustained by the Lapiths against the centaurs. Some of the Argonauts and many of their sons, including Achilles and Odysseus, were celebrated heroes of the Trojan War. Outside such epics the Argonauts met again and were never peaceful episodes, with the exception of the one that bound Atalanta and Melanion in a common destiny as lovers. In the case of the twin pair, the episode that saw them again was even one of extermination. It is clear from the various accounts how the fate of the Argonauts was linked primarily to Jason. The episode of the death of Zeus’ son is the only one that can be connected to the adventures he spent with his companions, for it was the very ship that accompanied them through a thousand vicissitudes that caused their end.

Below is a comparison for each individual Argonaut:

Many interpretations have been given to the Argonauts’ voyage. Prominent among them is the reworking in an evemerist sense by Isaac Newton, who, in addition to dating it in 937 B.C., considers it the result of a Greek embassy in an anti-Egyptian function to the coeval peoples of the Mediterranean. Guido Paduano points out how The Argonautics of Apollonius Rhodius would have wanted to represent the greatest work of myth times, but failed in this purpose, disappointing the reader in the development of the events, stating that the appearance of Heracles only served to show how inferior the other participants were to him, while Gilbert Lawall emphasizes the pessimistic line of the whole story. It is worth mentioning that these comments refer only to Apollonius Rhodius’ version, not to the story in its entirety. Julius Guidorizzi, on the other hand, identifies the recovery of the Golden Fleece as an initiatory test that the boy Jason must pass in order to become a man.

Robert Graves recounts that the participants were actually merchants who were to forge important relationships in the Black Sea region, hence the reason for many names in the various lists (Tzetze mentions one hundred Argonauts), each city wanting its own representative to protect its rights in trade with distant lands. Graves also makes a judgment common to many modern scholars, stating that the core of the Argonauts legend really existed by dating such an epic during the 13th century B.C., before the Trojan War.

The role of women

In mythical times, the role of women was relegated to the idea of beauty and cunning, and under no circumstances were they allowed to fight. Example is the case of Atalanta, the only woman among the Argonauts. Instead, according to some minor authors, she had merely offered to participate, and Jason, fearing for the reaction of his companions, refused the proposal.

Cenis was a beautiful woman who wished to fight and was therefore transformed into a man, she first thought that the female body was unsuitable for fighting.

Witches were held in a different regard, but in that case the magical arts behind their power were respected, the result of prayers to the gods and the invocation of spirits, not merit of their own. Because of the idea of deep devotion and love for the gods, which according to the mythographers was behind such practices, the magical arts in myth times were almost the absolute prerogative of women.

Yet the story goes that Medea succeeded where fifty men had failed.

The role of the gods

The gods who watch over humans from above, in all the heroic sagas, favored their own darling. Often they themselves are the cause of great adventures, as will be the case elsewhere.

It all began because of an oracle: Hera, wife of Zeus, was the first to take sides because Jason was the only one who listened to her when she had the appearance of an old woman; moreover, she had little regard for Pelias, who did not remember her in sacrifices. Moving on with the story, Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and Athena, goddess of justice, at first neutral, decided to intervene, forcing Medea to take an interest in Jason without worrying about the tragic consequences of their actions later on after the journey was over.

Ancient rivalries

During the Argonauts’ journey, just as many new rivalries arose, so did some of them subside, if only momentarily:

To answer Jason’s call Heracles abandoned the twelve labors when he had just completed the fourth, that is, after capturing the boar Erimantheus. At the end of the expedition, Heracles resumed his trials where he had left off, cleaning out the stables of one of the Argonauts.

According to some sources, Heracles’ sixth effort, the one concerning the stymphal birds, was carried out by the Argonauts themselves and not by Heracles himself.

Heracles was the architect of the fate of many of the heroes who took part in the Argonauts’ journey. He killed Calais and Zetes in revenge, he killed for not receiving the reward he expected for the fifth effort both Augias and Actor, and even Kronos and Cepheus fell at his hands.

Before the journey began, after all, the demigod had already encountered several Argonauts: he had destroyed the kingdom of Erginus and almost killed him, while Periclimenus, who sought to avenge his brothers, had narrowly escaped him. According to some sources, Heracles was himself killed by one of them, thanks to the intervention of Peante or Philoctetes (mentioned in the list of Argonauts by Hyginus).

There are several similar myths in Celtic mythology, including the travails imposed on Kilhwych, the hero of the Mabinogion. He wants to contract marriage with the sorceress Olwen, but his father imposes several trials on him before allowing the marriage so that he can prove his courage. In particular, these trials appear to be very similar to those endured by Jason: for example, Kilhwych must yoke some oxen and with them plow a huge field, sow wheat in it and harvest it the next day.

Also resembling the myth of Jason and the Argonauts is the legend of Peredur, son of Evrawc, told in the Mabinogion.

The story of the Argonaut expedition has been known since the time of the Homeric poems: in the seventh and twenty-first books of the Iliad, Jason’s son is mentioned. His name is also mentioned in the twelfth canto of the Odyssey. Hesiod, in his Theogony, records that Jason went to fetch Medea on the orders of his uncle Pelias and that the sorceress bore him a son, Medeio, who was brought up by Chiron. The first record of the tradition that Jason was sent to retrieve the Golden Fleece is in the lyric poet Mimnermus, who probably told it in full. The earliest treatment that has come down to us in full is in Pindar’s IV Pythics.

The myth of the Argonauts later inspired the Argonautics of Apollonius Rhodius in the Hellenistic age and the Argonautics of Gaius Valerius Flaccus in the Flavian age.

Film and television (partial)

Throughout the ages many movies and TV series have been dedicated to the Argonauts myth:

Translation of sources

Sources

  1. Argonauti
  2. Argonauts
  3. ^ a b Il numero dei partecipanti viene riportato in 45, 51 o 55, a seconda delle fonti. Si veda: Anna Ferrari, Dizionario di mitologia, p. 72.
  4. Píndaro (Píticas IV,71-77) añade otro oráculo que había recibido Pelias, según el cual moriría a manos de los Eólidas.
  5. En la versión de Píndaro (Píticas IV,159-163), Pelias asegura que había tenido un sueño en el que Frixo había ordenado esta misión.
  6. La tradición ofrecía diferentes genealogías de Argos: su padre era Frixo, Pólibo, Dánao o Aréstor. En una de las versiones, Apolonio de Rodas distingue a Argos, el constructor, a quien consideraba hijo de Aréstor, de otro Argos, hijo de Frixo. Este último se habría unido a la expedición a mitad del recorrido.
  7. Higino indica que algunos lo hacían procedente de Pelene y otros de Piresias, pero la primera posibilidad debe ser una confusión con el personaje de Asterio.
  8. ^ “BBC – History – Ancient History in depth: Jason and the Golden Fleece”. bbc.co.uk.
  9. ^ Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (New York: Dutton, 1959), p. 198
  10. ^ Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.23–228
  11. ^ Apollodorus, 1.9.16
  12. Homer, Odyssee 12, 59–73.
  13. Edzard Visser: Homers Katalog der Schiffe. Teubner, Stuttgart 1997, S. 672.
  14. Pindar, Pythische Oden 4, 117–187.
  15. Apollonios von Rhodos, Argonautika 1, 20 ff.
  16. Gaius Valerius Flaccus 1, 353 ff.
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