When life seems like a never-ending uphill battle, think of the adversity Jason had to overcome to get his prize, the Golden Fleece: belligerent giants, crushing cliffs, killer bronze-winged birds, a giant automaton, fire-breathing bulls and treacherous Sirens!
What Is the Golden Fleece?
In Greek Mythology, the Golden Fleece was the fleece of a winged golden ram from Colchis. It was a holy ram of Zeus.
The Origin of the Golden Fleece
Athamas, the King of Thessaly married a cloud goddess called Nephele. They had two children, a boy named Phrixus and a girl named Helle. Athamas later fell in love with another woman, Ino, and took her as his second wife. Nephele was angered by her husband’s actions and left him, bringing drought to the land. The King’s new wife, Ino, became jealous of Nephele’s children and wanted them dead. She convinced Athamas to sacrifice Phrixus in order to bring an end to the drought.
Before the sacrifice occurred, Nephele appeared to Phrixus, bringing a golden-fleeced ram to rescue him and his sister. Phrixus and Helle managed to escape on the ram and flew over the sea, but when Helle looked down, she lost her balance and fell off the ram. She drowned near the strait separating Europe from Asia, which became known as Hellespont (sea of Helle). Luckily, Phrixus made it all the way to Colchis on the Black Sea and was welcomed into the house of Aeetes on his arrival. Phrixus sacrificed the ram and its Golden Fleece was hung in the grove of Ares, where it was guarded by a sleepless dragon.
Jason and the Golden Fleece
Jason was the son of the rightful King of Iolcus. His uncle, Pelias, had killed all Jason’s siblings and usurped the throne. Jason wished to reclaim the throne from him, but in order to do so, Pelias tasked him with retrieving the Golden Fleece. Jason agreed to the quest and assembled a heroic team to help him succeed. The pack of heroes are better known as the Argonauts, named after Jason’s ship, the Argo.
The Argonauts set sail to the distant, mythical land of Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Their first stop was on the island of Lemnos. The island was inhabited only by women. Due to a curse by Aphrodite, who felt she was not being worshiped adequately, the women had killed all their husbands. The heroes stayed on Lemnos and gallantly helped to father a new race with the women, called the Minyans. After a few years, the heroes remembered they were on a quest and set sail from Lemnos.
After Lemnos, their next destination was Doliones. In order to retrieve the supplies they needed, the Argonauts had to venture beyond Bear Mountain, an area inhabited by a mythical race of giants called Gegeines. The heroes set out towards the mountain, but in the meantime the Gegeines headed to attack their ship. Hercules, who was left behind at the vessel, managed to kill many of the giants before the rest of the Argonauts returned and warded off the rest. They set sail that night from Doliones, but accidently landed back at the same island again. This time, the Doliones mistook them for enemies and attacked them. Unfortunately many Doliones were killed, including their King. The Argonauts felt remorse for the numerous deaths and held a funeral in their honor. As they finally set sail from the island, Hercules realized he had broken his ore and went back to shore with his squire, Hylas, to fashion a new one. Hylas became the unfortunate victim of a nymph who led him into the sea. When Hercules couldn’t find his squire, he didn’t want to depart without him. This left the heroes no choice but to leave their comrade behind and continue with their mission.
Thrace and the Clashing Rocks
The next stop on their Golden Fleece adventure was Thrace. Phineus, the King of Thrace, informed the Argonauts where to find Colchis, after the Argonauts killed the harpies which plagued the land and stole food. He warned them they would first need to pass through two massive rock cliffs that crashed together destroying anything attempting to pass, and called the Symplegades. He advised Jason to send a dove through the Symplegades first, and if the bird survived, then it was a good omen for safe travel. They followed the King’s advice and were relieved when the dove only lost a few tail feathers traversing the giant rocks. The Argonauts followed in their boat and, thanks to the Goddess Athena, suffered only minor damage to the stern. She had kept the cliffs apart as their boat nipped through.
The Stymphalian Birds
Zeus came to the Argonauts’ rescue when the Argo’s navigator fell asleep and fell overboard, sending the boat in the direction of the Amazons. Zeus sent winds to steer them safely away from the warrior women. The crew then came upon the island of Ares and were suddenly attacked by sacred birds who belonged to the God of War and had deadly bronze-tipped wings. The Stymphalian birds could not be killed, but the heroes managed to chase them away by banging loudly on their metal shields. Jason’s quest to bring home the Golden Fleece continued.
Colchis and the Three Tasks
The Argonauts finally arrived in Colchis and were welcomed by King Aeetes. When the King heard that Jason had just come to acquire the Golden Fleece, he wanted to kill him immediately, but realized it would only worsen matters. The King was in possession of the Golden Fleece and said he would give it to Jason only on the completion of three tasks. Jason despaired at the thought of facing more life-and-death challenges. The Goddess, Hera, recognized that Jason would need help and provided it in the form of Medea, the King’s daughter, who was a skilled sorceress. Hera made Medea fall in love with Jason.
Jason’s first task was to beat the beasts that guarded the Golden Fleece: bronze-hoofed bulls that breathed fire. He then had to make the bulls plough a field. His second task was to sow dragon’s teeth in the ploughed field. Little did he know that the seeds would turn into warriors that he would also have to defeat! Determined to succeed in his quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece, Jason reluctantly agreed to the challenge, rueful of the absence of his mighty cohort Hercules.
Medea did indeed come to Jason’s aid. She prepared an ointment that made him fire-proof! With the ointment, he was able to defeat the fire-breathing bulls without being burnt to a crisp, and was able to sow the dragon’s teeth! Medea also divulged how to beat the warriors and Jason, accordingly, threw a stone amongst the warriors. The warriors turned on their cohorts and killed each other, as they didn’t know where the stone had come from. That left one more task – and Medea’s help was again invaluable!
By this time, the King had become furious at Jason’s success. He suspected Jason was getting help, probably from one of his relatives, and wanted to kill all the Argonauts as a result. In the final task, Medea helped Jason steal the Golden Fleece from the sleepless dragon. She persuaded Jason to take her with when they left, as her intuition told her that her father was planning something malicious. Medea, with the help of Orpheus, used magic and music to put the dragon to sleep, while Jason retrieved the Golden Fleece from the tree in the garden. They rushed back to the Argo to avoid the King’s wrath and escaped.
The Sirens and Talos
The Argonauts encountered the Sirens next and almost ran their ship aground, but thanks to Orpheus and his lyre, his magical music overpowered the Siren’s singing and saved them from a terrible fate. Thetis, the sea god, helped the Argonauts safely pass a six-headed monster and a deadly whirlpool, thereby moving them on to their next challenge.
Their epic adventure continued when the Argonauts encountered the giant automaton, Talos, in Crete, their next stop. The heroes only wanted to rest and gather supplies, but Talos would have none of that and began to throw giant rocks at their ship. Medea used her sorcery to kill Talos, by removing the pin in his ankle which held in his lifeblood. With the pin removed, his lifeblood drained from his body and left him dead.
Return to Iolcus
Finally the Argonauts returned to Iolcus and Jason handed the Golden Fleece to King Pelias. He did not know, however, that Pelias had already killed his father, Aeson. With Medea’s help, Jason was able to exact revenge on his uncle by tricking his cousins into killing their father, Pelias. On Pelias’ death, Jason seized the throne at last! But his victory was short-lived. The people of Iolcus were not happy with a sorceress as their queen and forced Jason and Medea to leave, conceding the throne to Pelias’ son, Acastas.
Jason’s tribulations continued. He and Medea were exiled to Corinth. Medea bore him three children there, but when Jason wanted to marry the princess of Corinth, Medea chose to punish him. She killed not only the princess, but also her and Jason’s three children!
With the gods and magic on his side, Jason managed to survive endless lethal adversity in order to claim the Golden Fleece. We may not have the same powerful allies, but if we have the one crucial character trait Jason epitomized, we can perhaps conquer the world too – persistence!