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The Quest of the Golden Fleece

This is the title of a poem by Apollonius of Rhodes who lived in the third-century AD. The poem deals with a Greek king, Athamas and his two wives. His first wife, Nephele was afraid of her two children (especially Phrixus, one of the two children) being killed by Ino, the soon-to-be second wife. Nephele, herself, was killed by the king, and Athamas subsequently married his second wife, Princess Ino. She came from a great family; Ino was the daughter of King Thebes. Ino had an urge to kill Phrixus, the boy, so that her children (presumably from an earlier marriage) would inherit the Athamas' kingdom. Princess Ino had thought up an elaborate plan to do away with Prince Phrixus. To accomplish this plan, Princess Ino had to gather all of the corn seed on Athamas' farm and then parch the seeds so that the crop would not grow, a task which she accomplished. When the king became aware of the crop not growing, he sent a messenger to an oracle to ask what he should do. Princess Ino intercepted the messenger and persuaded, most likely through bribery, to say to the king that the crop would not grow unless the king offered up Prince Phrixus as a sacrifice.

The people of the region in Greece, who feared starvation, convinced King Athamas to permit the death of Phrixus. At the time of the death of Phrixus and his sister, who was included in this sacrifice, each were taken to the altar. Then, a ram with a fleece of pure gold, took the two and threw them into the air. Hermes had sent him and his sister in answer to their mother's prayers.

The ram, Prince Phrixus and his sister, Helle, travelled across Europe and into Asia. When they entered Asia, Helle fell into a body of water and as a result, drowned. However, Phrixus and the ram safely arrived in the country of Colchis on the Black Sea. The Colchians were kind to Phrixus and they even let him marry one of King Æetes' daughters. It was at this time that Phrixus sacrificed the ram that had saved him to Zeus and he gave the golden fleece to King Æetes, who was the Colchian king.

Phrixus had a cousin by the name of Pelias and he was the one who killed his own father to gain control of a kingdom in Greece. However, the king had a young son who was the rightful heir to the kingdom, and this man was Jason. Jason had been sent away to a safe place where he could grow into a bold man who would take away the kingdom from his wicked cousin, Pelias.

Pelias was told by an oracle that he would be killed by a kinsmen one day who would be wearing only one sandal. Such a man did come to the town in time and he did wear just one sandal. Pelias became afraid. For it was Jason who was the one who only shod one sandal. Jason told Pelias that he came to recover the kingdom that was rightfully his and that the kingdom should be ruled rightly, without evil. Pelias agreed to hand over the kingdom, but under one condition: The condition was that the dead Phrixus wanted the Golden Fleece returned from King Æetes, which would bring the spirit of Phrixus back to his home. Pelias asked that Jason go on the journey as opposed to himself, for he was old and Jason was young and strong. So Pelias promised to give up the kingdom on the return of Jason with the Golden Fleece. Jason agreed and organized Hercules, Orpheus, Castor, Pollux, Achilles' father, Peleus and many more. This group of men were subsequently known as the Argonauts. Hera was also with Jason, to remind him not to leave behind a dying life.

Jason and the Argonauts (which was named after their ship, the Argo) first sailed to Lemnos, an island where only women lived. Only one man, the king, was left on the island. Although the women had risen up against the men on the island by killing them, they gladly helped the Argonauts with gifts of food and wine.

The Argonauts travelled to where the Harpies lived. The Harpies were flying creatures with hooked beaks and claws who left an awful odour whenever they go. The Argonauts met an old man with the power of prophecy who had a problem. Every time Phineus, the prophet, came to eat, the Harpies would come and take the food, leaving nothing left. He was left withered and weak from the lack of food. The Argonauts decided that they would help fix this problem. Two men from the Argonauts who were sons of Boreas (the great North Wind) helped because the prophet knew that only two men were needed to defeat the Harpies (this was because Phineus was a prophet). The two brothers took their position while the old man started to eat. Sure enough, the Harpies attempted to snatch the food away from the prophet. However, the sons of Boreas followed the Harpies, who had already taken the food from Phineus. They took their swords and hit the Harpies. However, they wanted to kill the flying monsters. But they remembered that these beasts were the act of Zeus and that they should not kill them. The old man thanked the Argonauts for their help and offered some advice for navigating through the Clashing Rocks, the next encounter on their journey. He said that to navigate through them safely, one should send a dove through first. If the dove survived and wasn't crushed by the rocks, the ship would survive. If the dove died, then the ship would not survive.

The next morning the Argonaut sailed off with a dove to the Clashing Rocks. They set the dove free and the dove made it through with the exception of the bird's tail feathers, which were cut off by the rolling rocks. Next, the ship went through, and, like what the prophet said, the ship survived and passed through safely, but part of the stern of the ship was cut off, like the tail feathers of the bird.

The Argonauts quickly sailed on and they passed by the country of the Amazons, because they knew that the Amazons were not gentle foes. They continued on, travelling all day. Finally, at sunset, they arrived in Colchis, home of the Golden Fleece.

On Mount Olympus, Hera went to seek Aphrodite's help. Since Hera had been overseeing the adventure, she knew that there was danger involved and discussed the matter with Aphrodite. To help the Argonauts, Aphrodite told Hera that she would send Cupid, Aphrodite's son, to the Colchis and would make the daughter of the Colchian king fall in love with Jason. Medea was the daughter of King Æetes. But Medea was a powerful magician and she could save the Argonauts if they ever were in trouble.

While this was going on, the Argonauts made their way to the city to ask the king for the Golden Fleece. Hera wrapped the Argonauts in a mist so they wouldn't be seen until they arrived at the palace. King Æetes welcomed them to Colchis and was hospitable to them. Princess Medea also made her way into the palace to see what these visitors, who had entered the palace, were doing. As Princess Medea lay eyes upon Jason, Cupid, who was sent by Aphrodite to make the two fall in love, drew his bow and shot an arrow into the heart of Medea. Amazed by the sight of Jason, she quickly returned to her chambers.

King Æetes gave the Argonauts something to eat, making sure to take care of the needs of the guest. It was only after this that King Æetes decided to ask what the men were doing in Colchis. They responded by saying that they were seeking the Golden Fleece in hopes to return it back to Greece. King Æetes was angered now for he did not like foreigners and he did not like the reason why they came to Colchis. He did not like the idea of the Golden Fleece leaving Colchis, but he said that if Jason proved his courage, Jason must do what the king himself has already done. He said that Jason must harness two flame-breathing bulls whose feet were made of bronze and to plow a field with them. As well, he must take the teeth of a dragon and grow them as if they were corn seeds. A crop of armed men would grow and he must fight this crop of armed men. The king said that he must do this if he wants the Golden Fleece returned. It was an impossible task but Jason accepted the challenge.

Jason thought of Medea, who would be able to help him complete this challenge. If she could invoke a magic spell to help him, he could defeat the bulls and the dragon-teethed men. Both agreed to this plan and Medea gave Jason a charm that when it was sprinkled over his weapons, he and his weapons would become invincible for a day. As well, he was given a stone that if too many men attacked him, he could throw the stone at the enemy. This would make the enemy turn on one another and fight each other.

Later on, Jason made his way to the field where the king and the other Colchians were. Soon enough, the bulls started to attack Jason, but Jason had the charm with him and he resisted the attack like a rock to the waves. After he defeated the bulls, many men rushed to attack him. Jason used the charm once again to make the warriors turn on each other and fight. Like Medea said, the warriors did so, and Jason's challenge was fulfilled.

The king returned to the palace, now thinking that he won't give the Golden Fleece. Meanwhile, Medea met the Argonauts and asked if she could join them on their journeys. She also told them to quickly get the Golden Fleece from a serpent which was guarding the sacred wool. Again, Medea worked her magic by lulling the serpent to sleep. The Argonauts grabbed the fleece and quickly retreated from where the serpent was lying.

By now, the king had found out what the Argonauts had done. So, King Æetes sent in son, Asyrtus, in pursuit of the Argonauts. He led an army much larger than that of the Argonauts. However, to even the odds, Medea killed her brother, Asyrtus. There were many stories as to how he died. The two that seem to be the most sensible were either the incident where Medea invited her brother to talk and while doing so, Jason would kill him by striking him down. The alternative was that Asyrtus came aboard the Argo (for reasons unknown). While on board, Medea killed him by cutting him up into pieces. King Æetes, in this case, would be commanding the ship that was trailing the Argo. Medea would then dump the mutilated body of her brother into the sea. The king then stopped the pursuit to pick up the pieces from the ocean. However, it is not known what exactly happened to the death of Asyrtus. In any case, the Argonauts had escaped.

On the return trip, they had to pass through the rock of Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis, most dangerous natural occurrences, however, Hera guided the Argonauts to safety. Another incident occurred when they sailed to Crete. They landed there, by the request of Medea, for she knew a man by the name of Talus. He was the last man left of the ancient bronze race. He was a creature made all of bronze except for one ankle - this was the only point where he was vulnerable. However, he was not a kind man because he threatened to crush the Argo if the Argonauts approached. Medea sensed this and made Talus crape his vulnerable ankle and he bled to death.

When the Argo reached Greece, the Argonauts disbanded leaving Jason and Medea taking the Golden Fleece to Pelias. When they arrived, Jason and Medea found that Pelias had forced Jason's father to kill himself and his mother had died of grief. Jason asked Medea for ways to punish Pelias. They accomplished this by convincing Pelias that there was a way to make the old young again. To prove this, they took an old ram and sacrificed it. Medea used one of her charms and turned the old ram, that was now in boiling water, into a young lamb. So, to make Pelias young again, Medea convinced Pelias' daughters to cut Pelias up. However, when this was complete, both Jason and Medea had vanished, leaving Pelias killed by his own daughters. If there was one benefit from this, it was that Jason had his revenge now.

It has also been said that Medea offered Jason to make Jason's father young again, and this might have happened. By doing this, she gave Jason the secret to perpetual youth.

Jason and Medea moved to Corinth where they had two sons. Medea missed her family in Colchis but her love for Jason seemed to be more important. All this for a man who would eventually betray her. The first example of this occurred when Jason married the daughter of the King of Corinth. As a result of the King of Corinth fearing the powers of Medea, the King ordered Medea and her two helpless children out of the country. While alone one day, Medea thought of Jason, and suddenly, Jason himself appeared. She said nothing but Jason said that if it wasn't for Medea's comments to the king about her powers, she could have still lived in Corinth. He had come to Medea now because he was not a man to fail a friend, and he would see that she had plenty of gold and everything necessary for her journey. However, Medea was very angry. Through her words, she explained that it was she that was the one who obtained the Golden Fleece by conquering the bulls, the dragon-men and the serpent warder of the Fleece. Jason retorted by saying that he had not been save by her but by Aphrodite who had made Medea fall in love with him. He also said that she owed him a great deal for moving her to Greece, a "civilized country". Medea, who was an intelligent woman, knew that he was being stubborn and said nothing more. Medea wanted revenge. So, she decided that she would kill Jason's bride. She decided that she would take a robe and anointed it with deadly drugs. She then placed it into a casket and told her sons to deliver it to the new bride. To ensure that she would die, she would have to wear it at once. The princess received this gift and wore it at once. No sooner had she put it on when a fire devoured her, melting her flesh away. She had died.

When Medea knew that the deed was done, she turned her mind to one more dreadful task. This task was far more dreadful, for she was going to kill her own two sons. She did so, but not without feeling sorrow for what she had done. But when Jason realized Medea had killed her bride, he was determined to kill Medea. But when he arrived at Medea's house, she had already left in a chariot that was drawn by dragons. As this occurred, Jason cursed her, but not himself, for what had happened.