JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Athamas was a child of Aeolus, god of the winds. Athamas
was married to the nymph Nephele, and had two children by
her: Helle, a girl, and Phrixus, a boy. However, when he
saw the mortal Ino, he was smitten by her, and left Nephele.
With Ino, he had two more children, Learches and Melicertes.
Ino, however, was always jealous of the two children Athamas
had had by Nephele, and conspired to have them eliminated.
She roasted all of the seed corn in the kingdom so that
it would not sprout, and, when famine struck, she bribed
the messengers who went to the oracle to say that the gods
demanded that the two children, Helle and Phrixus, be sacrificed.
The people prepared to kill Helle and Phrixus.
But Nephele tried to save her children. As they were about
to be killed, she sent a flying golden ram into the crowd.
The ram knocked the priests away, put Helle and Phrixus
on its back, and flew away.
But they were not yet safe. As they were flying over a
narrow body of water, Helle fell from the ram into the water
and drowned. Now called the Dardanelles, for centuries this
strait was called the Hellespont, for Helle who fell there.
Phrixus, however, was still safe on the back of the ram.
The ram took him to Colchis, to the court of King AEtes.
AEtes did not like visitors
but when he saw the fine,
golden ram that Phrixus had ridden on, he allowed Phrixus
to stay. AEtes sacrificed the ram, and saved its fleece,
which he nailed to a tree. He set a dragon to guard the
fleece, so that it might never be taken from him.
Now, Jason was born prince of Thessaly, but the kingdom
was stolen by his uncle, Pelias. In order to prove that
he was capable of ruling the kingdom (and thus, to win back
the throne), Jason was to get the golden fleece from AEtes,
a king of another land, who had it nailed to a tree, and
protected by a dragon.
Jason had built, a ship, the Argo, on which he and his
crew sailed. Jason came to the kingdom of Salmydessos, ruled
by Phineas. Now, Phineas had a problem with the Harpies.
These creatures were half-bird, half women. They had razor-sharp
claws and beaks, strident calls, and the worst table manners
- they would steal the food that was set out for Phineas
and his family, and defecate over the rest of it, and, as
a result, the king was starving to death. But two of Jason's
crew were children of the North Wind, who had given them
the ability to fly. They took swords and armor, and chased
the Harpies so far away that they never came back.
In gratitude, Phineas told Jason the secret of the Symplegades,
the crashing rocks. These rocks hid in the Euxine sea, and
would wait for something to come between them
they would crash together, destroying whatever was in their
way. Jason, on the advice of Phineas, sent a dove to fly
between the rocks, which crashed together in an attempt
to crush the dove; however, oit escaped, losing only a single
tailfeather. Then, when the rocks were sliding apart, the
ship had just enough time to slip between the rocks before
they crashed together again
but for the rest of its
voyage, it had a scrape on the stern when the rocks had
almost crushed it.
Jason finally found the kingdom of Colchis, and went to
AEtes, the king, to ask for the golden fleece. AEtes hated
Jason on sight, for considered the fleece his rightful property.
In order to make Jason go away, he told Jason to do a simple
task: plow a small field with two oxen, and sow it with
the seeds in a bag AEtes would give to Jason.
But these were no ordinary oxen. They breathed fire
and the seeds Jason had to sow were dragon's teeth, which
would immediately grow up into an army that would destroy
him! Jason had a stroke of luck, however, and that was that
AEtes's daughter, Medea, fell in love with him on sight.
Out of the hearing of her father, they promised to marry
each other, and Medea gave Jason a magic salve that would
save him from the oxen. But what to do about the army?
The next day, Jason covered himself with the salve, and
plowed the field. He sowed the dragon's teeth, and, when
the army sprang up, he fought them as best he could, until
he was almost exhausted. Then he had an idea. Unseen, he
threw a rock at one of the soldiers fighting against him.
The soldier thought one of the other soldiers had thrown
it, and began to fight him instead of Jason. Soon, all the
soldiers were fighting among themselves
easily took on the few who did not kill each other!
That night, Jason and Medea went to the tree where the
dragon guarded the fleece. Jason wanted to kill the dragon
with his sword, but Medea told him how he would never survive
if he tried. Instead, she used a sleeping potion on the
dragon, and, while it was asleep, they stole the fleece
and went back to Jason's kingdom in Thessaly. There, he
left Medea for another woman
but that's another story.
Athamas: uh- THAMM- as
Aeolus: ay- OH- lus
Nephele: NEFF- eh lee
Helle: HELL- ee
Phrixus: FRIX- uss
Ino: Either EE- no or EYE- no
Learches: lee- ARK- eez
Melicertes: Mel- i- SERT- eez
Colchis: KOL- keess
Thessaly: THESS- uh- lee
Pelias: PEE- lee- as
AEtes: ay- EE- tease
Salmydessos: Sal- me- DESS- os
Phineas: FINN- ee- as
Symplegades: sim- PLEG- uh- deez
Medea: me- DEE- uh