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Jason and the Golden Fleece

The Greek legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece dates back 3,000 years. Jason and the Golden Fleece is a classic quest tale, where the hero embarks on a sea voyage into an unknown land and has to fight fire-breathing bulls, plough and sow a field with dragons' teeth, and overcome phantom warriors. Jason is in search of a magical ram's golden fleece, which he has to find in order to reclaim his father's kingdom of Iolkos from the usurper King Pelias.

The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece is a set a generation before the time of the Trojan War, around 1300 BC, but the first known written mention of it comes six centuries later, in the age of Homer (800 BC). The tale came out of the region of Thessaly, in Greece, where early epic poetry developed. The legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece has since been told, retold, and reinterpreted many times, changing as knowledge of the physical world increased.

The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece starts in a country named Thessaly where a king lived with his two children Phrixus and Helle. The children's wicked stepmother despised them and plotted against them. The messenger of the gods Hermes tried to protect the children by sending then a golden ram on which they climbed and flew away. While Phrixus held on tight, his sister was overcome with tiredness and fell asleep, loosing her grip and falling into the sea at a place which is still called Hellespont today.

Eventually they landed in Colchis near the Black sea with only Phrixus alive. The golden ram died upon landing, but the people of Colchis were so proud of what the ram had done, they stripped its golden fleece and hung it in a tree with a dragon to protect it. There it stayed for many years until a boy named Jason went to fetch it.

Jason was the son of Aeson, King of Iolcus, whom Pelias, the King's brother, usurped. An ancestor of Phrixus, Jason was smuggled off at a young age to the centaur Chiron, who reared him secretly on Mt. Pelion. At the age of 20 Jason set off to return to Iolkos and face his uncle. On his way, Jason helped an old woman cross a bank, later discovering that the old lady was Hera, Queen of the gods, who was testing Jason. She promised that from this time onwards the gods would protect Jason.

Upon arriving before King Pelias, Jason revealed his identity and made a claim to the kingdom. The King insisted that Jason must first bring him the Fleece of the Golden Ram, certain that this was a sure death sentence.

Jason assembled Greece's bravest heroes whom he called the Argonauts and together they sailed in the ship they had built, the Argo, in quest of the Golden Fleece. On their journey the Argonauts were seduced by beautiful women, attacked by warriors, buffeted by storms, and challenged by monstrous creatures. Finally the blind prophet Phineus told them how to make their way safely to Colchis, where the Golden Fleece was kept. When they arrived there, the King demanded that before Jason take the Golden Fleece, he must perform a series of superhuman tasks: yoke together two fire-breathing bulls, plow the field of Ares, and sow it with dragon's teeth. Meanwhile, Aphrodite (the goddess of love) made Medea, the King's daughter, fall in love with Jason. Medea offered to help Jason with his tasks if he married her in return. He agreed, and with her magical protection, Jason was able to complete the tasks.

When the King still refused to relinquish the Golden Fleece, Medea revealed its hiding place and drugged the guardian dragon. The Argonauts then fled Colchis with the Golden Fleece, pursued by the King. According to the legend, Medea then killed and cut to pieces his son Absyrtus, scattering the parts of his body in the sea, while the King stopped to retrieve them.

Later, Medea tricked King Pelias by offering to rejuvenate him, and then killed him. Jason and Medea were sent into exile in Corinth, where Jason betrayed Medea by marrying the king's daughter. Medea took revenge by killing her own children begot by Jason.

Because Jason had broken his oath, the gods caused him to wander homeless for many years. As an old man he returned to Corinth, where, resting in the shadow of the Argo, he was killed when a beam of the ship fell on him. His story had come full circle.

The origins and popularity of Jason and the Golden Fleece lie in the Greek oral tradition of verse composition. Yet it is the epic poem, the Argonautica, by the third-century scholar-poet Apollonius of Rhodes, and the dependent account in the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid that assured Jason and the Golden Fleece a persistent place in the legacy of classical Greece.

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RSS | August 24, 2019

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