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Jason And The Argonautica Expedition – The Myth Explained

Jason And The Argonautica Expedition – The Myth Explained

Among the Greek Myths that circulated both in the ancient poetry up until modern times, the least known or the least taught in ancient Greek households, was Jason and the Argonautica Expedition. Although many great heroes took part in this epic journey, like Hercules, the Dioscuri Twins Castor and Polydeuces (the brothers of Helen of Sparta) and many others, the story was lost or not taught in the basic curriculum of the studies of the ancients. The reason is the tragic end of this story and the short-lived happiness that followed the achievements of Jason. That’s why the people of ancient Greece decided to give more emphasis on the stories around the mythical people that embodied the term of hero, like Achilles, Odysseus, and Hercules.

What is the Argonautica Expedition?

During the days of Pelias, one of the kings of Iolcus, at the era of Greek mythological heroes (near the end of the collapse of the bronze age), a new hero appeared to make his mark to the world. His name was Jason. Jason was the son of Aeson, half-brother of Pelias, who took the throne illegally. When Jason became an adult, appeared before Pelias, and asked back the throne of Iolcus, that was his by birthright. Pelias then, in a devious move, said that he was more than happy to give back the throne to Jason. But first he had to prove himself to the people of his homeland. Jason, in his pride, said that whatever he asked, he would do. When Pelias asked for the mythical Golden Fleece (a fleece that could cure any disease and offer immortality), Jason started preparations immediately.

As it was mentioned before, Jason called many renowned heroes on this journey, because he knew the perils that laid ahead. Also, he asked from an old man, Argos, to built him a strong big boat. It was important to have a solid ship because the journey was long. They had to cross the Aegean Sea, the Symplegades (Hellespont) and then reach the land of Colchis (nowadays Georgia). The ship was built and was named after the old carpenter. Her name was Argo. The journey was long and full of supernatural dangers, but they managed to arrive at Colchis, at the cost of Hercules (he did not die, but he was lost at sea). But when they arrived, they realized the trap they were in. Pelias had informed the king of Colchis Aeetes about his nephew. He asked him to kill him, but not in cold blood.   

The Role of Medea of Colchis

When Jason stated to Aeetes the reason he was there, the king told him that his was more than happy to give him the Fleece, only if he could pass a series of challenges. Jason thought that he could handle it, so he agreed. What he didn’t know, is that all these challenges were deathtraps, that a simple mortal like him, could never surpass. In his aid came the goddess Aphrodite, who sent her son Eros to Medea, daughter to Aeetes, in order to make her fall in love with Jason. Medea was a powerful user of magic, a thing that was going to carry Jason throughout the whole expedition.

And it seemed so, because in the first challenge, Jason faced a bull that breathed fire. Thanks to the potions of Medea, he was left unharmed and tamed the bull. Then, as his second challenge, he had to plant, with the help of the bull, the teeth of a dragon.

Medea knew that from the teeth, would come out soldiers, that would try to kill Jason. But she knew a trick. So, when Jason saw the soldiers come out from the dirt, he threw a rock from his hiding place, killing one of them. The confused soldiers thought that someone among them threw the rock, so they started killing one another. At the end Jason, came out of his hiding spot, delivering the finishing blow to the last soldier standing. At last, Jason had to defeat the dragon guarding the Fleece. But Medea, with a lullaby, made him sleep, giving Jason the opportunity to seize his prize.  

It is safe to say that, if not for Medea, Jason would have been dead since day one, when he set foot on the land of Colchis.

The Crimes and Circa Redemption

After Jason took the Fleece, he immediately escaped, knowing that otherwise Aeetes would not let them leave Colchis alive. Aeetes, when he realized the theft, he was furious and immediately set sailed with his fleet, in order to catch Jason and take the Golden Fleece back. The only problem for Aeetes, was that Jason had pulled away already. But Argo was a big ship. The ships of Colchis were smaller and faster and although the head start they had, Aeetes managed to reach them soon after. Medea then showed her sinister mind. They raised a white flag and called the Colchis fleet to talk of their surrender. Aeetes sent Apsyrtus to do the negotiations. But Medea, killed her brother, with a knife in the ribs and threw him in the water. This was enough to stop Aeetes, due to his grief.

But in the ancient world, the killing of someone from your own kin, was the biggest someone could commit. There were some creatures, created by Hades, called Erinyes. There hellish creatures followed the killer everywhere, in order to mess with their heads. Only a priest or priestess could absolve them from their sin. The closest person they thought to go, was circa, the famous witch, that later met Odysseus and had a relationship with him. She welcomed Jason and Medea. For some reason she was moved by their story and offered them absolution for their crimes. After that, the Argo was ready to set sail back to Greece.

Jason Returns – The End of Pelias

After their forgiveness by the gods, through the ritual performed by the witch Circa, the couple, along with their companions, returned to Iolkos. There, the group disbanded and Jason, alongside with Medea, presented themselves to Pelias, giving him the Golden Fleece, in exchange for the throne. Pelias had no intention of doing so, but did not move against Jason, due to his reputation. Also, due to his old age, Medea decided to charm him with some magic, adding some years to his life, by transfusing the blood of Pelias’ sons to him, without harming them. But the plan of Medea was far more sinister. The daughters of Pelias saw the results of their father and were overwhelmed with joy. They approached Medea, in order to ask her how they could help their father further.

She told them that in order to rejuvenate their father, they had to kill him, chop him down to small pieces and cook him. And then, with her magic, Medea would resurrect him. She also bewitched them, in order to lose their conscience, when they performed the horrific act. So, they did. They got Pelias drunk and then stabbed him to death. Then in front of the devious smile of Medea, they chopped him up and cooked him. When the three sisters asked Medea to revive their father, she said to them that this kind of power was only in Zeus’ disposal and left the room. The young women were devastated by the brutal murder. In some legends, they even took their own lives after the event.   

Acastus, the eldest son of Pelias, learned about the event and exiled for life Medea and Jason from Iolcus, never to return there.  

Jason and Medea in Corinth

After the gruesome end of Pelias’ life, Medea and Jason lived together at Corinth, where they had three children together. But Jason never forgot his heritage, non his lust for power stopped. For that reason, he tried to forge alliances in Corinth. This resulted to the neglection of Medea. The thing that made matters worse, was his marriage to Glauce, a daughter of a powerful man in Corinth, further strengthening his cause. But this made him forget Medea and dishonor her in that way, because they were not married, although they had been together for so long. When Medea demanded for Jason to explain himself, arrogantly he said that she should blame Aphrodite for her feelings, that he couldn’t reciprocate.

Medea then proceeded to a horrific act again. She took the three children that he had with Jason and killed them. Some say that this was retribution for the actions of Jason and revenge for the life that he stole from her. Others, like Euripides, suggests that Medea was afraid of the life that her children might have, so she ended their life as mercy. It was not uncommon in ancient times, for the legitimate children of a monarch or king to outshine the children that were delivered out of wedlock. After that, Medea fled to Athens, where she tried to survive by seducing the king of the region, Aegeus.  

The End of Jason

Jason, after the events, bore an unimaginable hatred towards his former lover Medea and characterized her as the most hateful person on the earth, to both gods and men. After some of the events of Peleus’ life, that we discussed in a previous article, Peleus sought revenge against Acastus and his wife. In this expedition also helped Jason, a man with nothing in his possession but a glorious name from a story that he wasn’t even the hero he was supposed to be.

His death was worthy of the life Jason led. One day, near the middle of the day, he got tired and lay down, with his back at the Argo. After a while he fell asleep. And then, a piece of the rotten wooden mast broke off, hit him on the head, resulting to his death.

The ancient Greeks did not trifle with the stories of Jason much, because, although he is the main character, he is carried throughout the whole journey. The Dioscuri Brothers fought the harpies for him, Hercules stopped Poseidon, Medea carried him throughout his challenges and took out Talos. If someone wants to blame Medea, sure he did a bunch of evil acts. But Jason is of equal blame because he knew and approved these plans. Also, besides the journey of Argonautica expedition, he did not do something noteworthy. He was not like Hercules and Theseus or later on like Achilles. Even Peleus, a mere self-made man, achieved more in his lifetime and his stories are still known.

So as a last note, as a personal touch, no, I do not think Jason worthy of carrying the title of hero. He simply isn’t equal with the other heroes of Ancient Greece. What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

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