The myth of Jason and the Argonauts - Iseult Gillespie
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“Beware the man with one sandal.” Spoken by an oracle, these were the words that haunted Pelias, King of Thessaly, throughout his reign. At the same time, a boy named Jason was being raised by centaurs far away. He grew into a strapping and single-minded young man, and decided to travel to Thessaly to compete in the annual games and make his fortune.
On the way, he stumbled across an old woman who was struggling to cross a river. As he helped her across, he lost a sandal to the flowing water - but gained some life-altering knowledge. The crone was none other than the goddess Hera in disguise. She told Jason that he was the son of Aeson, who had been king of Thessaly before his brother Pelias usurped him in a bloody takeover. He was destined to reclaim the throne.
When the outraged warrior arrived in Thessaly, he strode straight up to the king. Quaking at the sight of his nephew’s bare foot, Pelias realized he had to get rid of him. And so he set Jason an impossible task: cross the treacherous waters to the faraway island of Colchis, and steal the golden fleece of a mystical flying ram from under its owner King Aeetes’ nose. If Jason retrieved the Fleece, Pelias would relinquish the throne.
With images of the fabled fleece glittering in his mind, Jason immediately set to work on finding a ship - and garnering a crew to fill it. Every hero loves a quest, and soon Jason had recruited the finest and most fearsome warriors in Greece…
One of the most important ancient source texts for the myth of Jason and the Argonauts is Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica, a Greek epic poem in the style of Homer’s Odyssey that tells the tale of the classical heroes’ journey in installments. You can read the English translation in full here. The epic was the subject of some criticism, both because it rejected the style of poem that was popular at the time, but also played with questions of what it means to be a hero.
Throughout the voyage section, Jason doesn’t appear to live up to the hype. He gets distracted by women, fails to keep a handle on his crew, and leads them into dubious detours. Many scholars have written about his construction as an anti-hero – here and here are good places to start.
But his tale is also full of adventure, vengeance and the question of what makes an honorable human - themes that have resonated to the present day. To add to this intrigue, the story of Jason and the Argonauts is rich in geographical detail and wild pitstops. For an in-depth look at the lands the Argonauts encounter, visit this site. For a collection of maps of different routes that he and his crew take, check out this website.
The myth also offers a collision of Greek mythologies most vivid characters – from more well known heroes like Hercules and Orpheus, to weird and wonderful side characters. Visit this page to learn more about the extraordinary Boreads, twin sons of the North Wind, then click here to explore the lives of the Diosscuri, the twin demigods Castor and Pollux.
Even their ship is magical. According to some accounts, Athena and the shripwright Argus constructed the Argo from a speaking oak, which guided the crew through their adventures.
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