Jason

Summary

Jason (pronounced: Jason or Jason, Ancient Greek: Ἰάσων, Iásōn) is a figure from Greek mythology.

The son of the king of Iolcus, Aeson, and husband of the sorceress Medea, he is known to have led the Argonauts’ expedition aimed at winning the Golden Fleece.

Wanting to regain the throne of Iolcus usurped from his father Aeson by his half-brother Pelias, Jason will have to go in search of the Golden Fleece, the skin of the golden ram found in Colchis near King Aeetes, at the head of a group of heroes, the Argonauts, who form the crew of the ship Argo. Thanks to the help of the sorceress Medea, daughter of Aeetes, he will succeed in the undertaking and, after the many vicissitudes that will characterize the entire voyage, he will return to Iolco to reclaim the throne that was his father’s. She will die finding herself on the now dilapidated Argo itself due to her own failure.

The early years

Pelias, son of the sea god Poseidon and Tyre (mother also of Aeson and thus his half-brother), was power-hungry and aspired to rule all of Thessaly. After a bitter dispute he dethroned Aeson, killing all his descendants, but Alcimedes, Aeson’s wife, who had just had a baby boy named Jason, rescued him from Pelias by having the women gather around the infant and making them weep to make it appear that the child was stillborn. Alcymede sent his son to the centaur Chiron to look after his upbringing and to remove him from Pelias’ violence; the latter, ever fearful that someone might usurp his throne, consulted an oracle who warned him to beware of the man with only one sandal.

Many years later, while games were being held in Iolco in honor of Poseidon, Jason arrived and lost one of his sandals in the Anaurus River while helping an old woman (the woman blessed him because she knew what Pelias would have in store for him. When he entered the city (today’s Volos) he was heralded as the man with one sandal: Jason claimed his father’s throne, but Pelias told him that he would get it only after winning the golden fleece. Jason accepted the challenge.

The conquest of the golden fleece

Jason gathered a group of heroes, known by the appellation of Argonauts from the name of the ship Argo, which included Calais and Zetes, sons of Borea and capable of flight, Heracles, Ila, Meleager, Philoctetes, Peleus, Telamon, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Idmone and Mopso, Issione and Euphemus.

The island of Lemnos, located off the west coast of Asia Minor, was inhabited by women who had killed their husbands: they had neglected to worship Aphrodite, who had punished them by making them malodorous to the point that they were repudiated by the island’s males. The men had then bound themselves to concubines from the neighboring mainland, Thrace, and the women, furious, killed all the males while they slept. King Toante was rescued by his daughter Ipsipile, who escaped him on a small ship, and the women of Lemno lived for some time without men with Ipsipile as their queen.

During the Argonauts’ visit, the women united with them, creating a new race called the Minis: Jason himself became the father of twins fathered by the queen. Heracles urged them to depart, disgusted by their ridiculousness, and stayed out of the revelry, a strange fact considering the many relationships he had with other women.

After Lemnus the Argonauts landed in the land inhabited by the Dolions, being warmly welcomed by their very young king Cyzicus, who was the son of a deceased friend of Heracles. They then set out again but lost their bearings, reappearing at the same place on a moonless night; this caused the Dolions and Argonauts not to recognize each other. Cyzicus and his men mistook the Argonauts for pirates and attacked them but they got the worst of it, and among the victims were the king himself and the great warrior Artace. Only at dawn did the Argonauts realize the terrible mistake they had made and there was nothing left to do but bury the dead Dolions. Clite, the wife of Cyzicus, committed suicide out of grief.

When the Argonauts arrived in the Misia, some of them, including Heracles and his servant Ila, went out on patrol in search of food and water. The nymphs, who inhabited the waterway from where Ila was getting water, were attracted by his good looks and lured him into the river. Heracles heard his cries for help and set out desperately to find him: he was so intent on the search that he let the Argonauts depart without them. Of Ila, however, nothing more was heard.

Jason then arrived at the court of Phineas in Thrace where Zeus sent the Harpies, winged women, to steal the king’s food every day. Jason took pity on the skeletal ruler and killed the Harpies upon their arrival; in other versions, Calais and Zetes drove them away. In return for the favor Phineas revealed to Jason the location of Colchis and how to overcome the Simplegades, islands in perpetual collision. The Argonauts therefore resumed their journey.

The only way to reach Colchis was to pass through the Simplegades, huge rocks in perpetual collision that crushed everything that passed through them. Phineas had advised Jason to release a dove as they approached these islands: if the dove made it through they would have to row with all their might, while if it was crushed the expedition’s fate would be doomed to failure. Jason freed the dove, which managed to pass, losing only a few feathers from its tail: the Argonauts then rowed with all their might, managing to pass and sustaining only slight damage to the stern of the ship. From that moment the colliding islands remained together forever, leaving the passage clear.

Jason arrived in Colchis (on the present-day Georgian coast of the Black Sea) to win the Golden Fleece, which King Aeetes had gotten from Phrixus. Aeetes promised to give it to Jason provided he passed three tests, but once he learned what it was Jason despaired. Hera told Aphrodite about it, who asked her son Eros to make Jason fall in love with Aeetes’ daughter Medea so she could help him.

In the first, Jason had to plow a field making use of two bronze-nailed bulls that breathed flames from their nostrils and which he had to yoke to the plow. Medea gave him an ointment that protected him from the flames of the bulls, enabling him to pass the test.

In the second Jason was to sow in the newly plowed field the teeth of a dragon, which, sprouting, generated an army of warriors. Once again Medea instructed Jason on how he could get the upper hand: he threw a stone into the midst of the warriors who, unable to understand where it came from, attacked each other, annihilating themselves.

In the third Jason had to defeat the sleepless dragon that was guarding the golden fleece. He sprayed him with a potion made from some herbs, also given to him by Medea: the dragon fell asleep and he was able to conquer the golden fleece.

Jason escaped with the Argo along with Medea, who had kidnapped her little brother Apsirto. Pursued by Aeetes, Medea killed her brother, cut him into pieces and threw them into the water: Aeetes stopped to pick them up, losing sight of the Argo.

Return journey

On the way back Medea prophesied to Euphemus, helmsman of the Argo, that he would one day reign over Libya, which came to pass through one of his descendants, Battus.

Zeus, to punish them for killing Apsirto, sent a series of storms that sent the Argo off course: the latter spoke and said they should purify themselves by going to Circe, a nymph who lived on the island of Eea. Once purified, the Argonauts resumed their journey home.

Chiron had told Jason that without the help of Orpheus the Argonauts would not have been able to get past the place inhabited by the Sirens, the same ones Odysseus encountered. The Sirens lived on three small rocky islets and sang beautiful melodies that attracted sailors, causing them to crash against the rocks. As soon as Orpheus heard their voices, he took up his lyre and played melodies even more beautiful and louder than those of the Sirens, outclassing them.

The Argo then arrived at the island of Crete, protected by the bronze giant Talus. When the ship tried to approach, Talus hurled huge stones, keeping it away. The giant had a vein that started from his neck and reached his ankle, held closed by a bronze nail. Medea cast a spell on him: Thalus went mad and removed the nail, knocking out the one vein, and bled to death. The Argo was able to resume his journey.

Medea, using her magical powers, convinced Pelias’ daughters that she was able to rejuvenate their father by cutting him into pieces and boiling him in a cauldron filled with water and magical herbs. To demonstrate her abilities, Medea operated this magic on a lamb, which jumped out of the cauldron. The girls, very naively, cut their father to pieces, putting him in the cauldron and thus condemning him to death, since Medea did not add the magical herbs. Pelias’ son Acastus sent Jason and Medea into exile for killing their father, and the two settled in Corinth.

In Corinth, Jason fell in love with Glauce (also mentioned as Creusa) daughter of King Creon and married her. When Medea held her ingratitude against him, Jason replied that it was not she he had to thank but Aphrodite who made her fall in love with him.

Angered at Jason for breaking his promise of eternal love, Medea took revenge by giving Glauce an enchanted dress as a wedding gift, which caught fire, causing her to die along with her father who rushed to her aid and killing, in addition, Mermeros and Phereas, the two sons Medea herself had had by Jason.

By the time the latter learned of this, Medea had already left, flying to Athens in a chariot sent to her by her grandfather, the sun god Helios.

Later Jason with the help of Peleus (Achilles’ father), attacked and defeated Acastus, regaining the throne of Iolco.

Having broken his promise of fidelity to Medea, Jason lost the favor of the goddess Hera and died alone and unhappy. As he slept in the stern of the now dilapidated Argo, he was instantly killed by his own failure: this was the curse of the gods for breaking his word. According to one variant, the hero died of a broken heart after learning the news of the killing of his young sons.

Epic poems

Although some of the episodes in the story of Jason date back to old legends, the main work related to this character is the epic poem The Argonautics by Apollonius Rhodius, written in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC.

Another Argonautica was written in Latin by Gaius Valerius Flaccus in A.D. I and consists of eight volumes. The poem ends abruptly with Medea’s request to accompany Jason on his return journey. It is not known whether any part of the epic poem was lost or never finished.

A third version is the Argonautica Orphica, which highlights Orpheus’ role in the story.

Jason in postclassical literature

Dante Alighieri briefly mentions Jason in the eighteenth canto of the Divine Comedy, where he is placed in the eighth circle of hell (that of the fraudulent) and more precisely in the first bolgia (that of the pimps and seducers) for having seduced and abandoned first Ipsipile and then Medea, forced, like all the others who expiate his own guilt, to run naked under the lash of the demons.

Dante himself mentions Jason again in Canto II of Paradise, comparing the exceptional feat of conquering the Golden Fleece to his own poetic feat. He will mention it, again, at the end of the third canto (Par: XXXIII), to emphasize the amazement and forgetfulness that the mystical experience engenders in Dante through the vision of God, which even surpass those provoked by the mythical feat by the Argonauts.

Vincenzo Monti opens his ‘hymn to Mr. de Montgolfier’ with a peana to Jason and the Argonauts comparing the audacity of the two feats, one of navigation and the other of flight.

Tragedy

The story of Medea’s revenge on Jason is told by Euripides in his tragedy Medea and in Seneca’s play of the same name. A tragedy of the same title composed by Ovid has not come down to us.

Italian musician Francesco Cavalli composed the drama Il Giasone to a libretto by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini first performed in Venice in 1649.

The myth of Jason and the Argonauts has been retold many times on the silver screen, from 1960’s The Giants of Thessaly-The Argonauts directed by Riccardo Freda to 1963’s The Argonauts (original title Jason and the Argonauts) directed by Don Chaffey, to 1969’s Medea directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, to 1972’s The Golden Thing directed by Edgar Reitz, to the 2000 TV movie Jason and the Argonauts directed by Nick Willing.

Sources

  1. Giasone (mitologia)
  2. Jason
  3. ^ Bruno Migliorini et al., Scheda sul lemma “Giasone”, in Dizionario d’ortografia e di pronunzia, Rai Eri, 2016, ISBN 978-88-397-1478-7.
  4. (la) Michael Maier, Septimana philosophica, Francfort, Hartmann Palthenius, 1620 (lire en ligne), Aenigma 232..
  5. (la) Michael Maier, Septimana philosophica, Francfort, Hartmann Palthenius, 1620 (lire en ligne), Aenigma 80 et Initium Libri III.
  6. a et b Jean Haudry, Les origines de la légende argonautique, in Nouveaux horizons sur l’espace antique et moderne, Marie-Ange Julia (dir.), Ausonius Éditions, p. 109-128, 2015
  7. 2,0 2,1 Βαλέριος Φλάκκος: (λατινική γλώσσα) Argonautica.
  8. ΠΗΓΗ: https://www.onomatologio.gr/%CE%9F%CE%BD%CF%8C%CE%BC%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%B1/%CE%99%CE%AC%CF%83%CF%89%CE%BD-%CE%99%CE%B1%CF%83%CF%89%CE%BD%CE%AF%CE%B1#ixzz7XaG78dwu
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