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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

King Athamus tires of his first wife, Nephele, and takes another, named Ino, a princess of Thebes. Ino wants to get rid of the children of her husband's first marriage, Phrixus and Helle, so that her own children will be heirs to the throne, but Hermes saves them by sending...

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King Athamus tires of his first wife, Nephele, and takes another, named Ino, a princess of Thebes. Ino wants to get rid of the children of her husband's first marriage, Phrixus and Helle, so that her own children will be heirs to the throne, but Hermes saves them by sending a flying golden ram to carry them away. Helle falls off the ram and drowns in the ocean, but Phrixus makes it safely to Colchis, where he sacrifices the ram to the gods and makes a gift of its fleece to Aetes, king of Colchis. Aetes gives Phrixus one of his daughters in marriage.

In addition, Phrixus's uncle, a king in Greece, lost his kingdom, Iolcos, to his nephew, Pelias. Jason, the king's son, had been secreted away in safety when he was young. Pelias, meanwhile, has been told by an oracle that he would die at the hands of his kinsman and to beware of anyone wearing a single sandal. This man is Jason, and he comes to reclaim his father's throne from his cousin, though Pelias says that he must retrieve the Golden Fleece first. Many great men agree to accompany Jason on this voyage.

First, they stop at Lemnos, an island of women. Next, they have a run-in with the Harpies, saving Phineas, an old man, from an unjust punishment. Then, they must pass through the Clashing Rocks and avoid the Amazons. Soon, they reach Colchis, where Cupid compels Medea, King Aetes's daughter, to fall in love with Jason (at Hera's request). The heroes are welcomed until they explain to Aetes why they have come, and so Aetes makes Jason complete dangerous tasks in order to win the Golden Fleece, hoping he will die instead. Medea knows that they are designed to kill Jason, and so she helps him, betraying her own father. Jason flees with the fleece, and Medea goes with him. Her father follows fast in their wake, and so she murders her own brother, throwing his pieces into the sea so that her father will be compelled to stop and collect them.

When they return to Iolcos, Jason finds that Pelias had forced Jason's father to kill himself and Jason's mother had died of grief. Medea devised a punishment for him whereby his own daughters would tear him apart (believing that he would be reborn of the pieces as a younger and healthier man). Jason soon decides that he would prefer to marry someone else, and so he banishes her; in recompense, she murders both his new bride and the children Medea herself has had with Jason. She escapes in a chariot drawn by dragons.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 800

In ancient Greece there lives a prince named Jason, son of a king who had been driven from his throne by a wicked brother named Pelias. To protect the boy from his cruel uncle, Jason’s father takes him to a remote mountaintop, where he is raised by Chiron the Centaur, who is half man and half horse. When Jason grows to young adulthood, Chiron the Centaur tells him that Pelias seized his father’s crown. Jason is destined to win back his father’s kingdom.

Pelias is warned by an oracle to beware of a stranger who will visit with one foot sandaled and the other bare. Jason loses one sandal in a river he crosses on his way to Iolcus, where Pelias rules. When Pelias sees the young man, he pretends to welcome him but secretly plots to kill him. At a great feast, he tells Jason the story of the golden fleece.

In days past, a Greek king called Athamus had banished his wife and taken another, a beautiful but wicked woman who had persuaded Athamus to kill his own children. A golden ram swooped down from the skies, however, and carried the children away. The girl slipped from his back and fell into the sea, but the boy came safely to the country of Colchis, on the shores of the Black Sea. Here, the boy had allowed the king of Colchis to slaughter the ram for its golden fleece. The gods were angered by these happenings and placed a curse on Athamus and all of his family until the golden fleece was returned from Colchis.

As Pelias tells Jason the story, he sees that the young prince is stirred, and is not surprised when Jason vows that he will bring back the golden fleece to Iolcus. Pelias promises to give Jason his rightful throne when he returns from his quest; Jason trusts Pelias and agrees to the terms. He next gathers about him many of the great heroes of Greece: Hercules, the strongest and bravest of all; Orpheus, whose music soothes savage beasts; Argus, who with the help of Juno built the wondrous ship Argo; Zetes and Calais, sons of the North Wind; and many other brave men. The Argonauts set off in high hopes of a successful end to their quest.

The voyagers encounter numerous dangers on their journey. Hylas, Heracles’ squire, is drawn into a spring by a nymph and is never seen again by his comrades. They next visit Salmydessa, where they meet the blind king, Phineus, who is tortured by harpies, loathsome creatures, with the faces of women and the bodies of vultures. Zetes and Calais chase the creatures across the skies, and when the heroes leave, the old king lives in peace.

Phineus had warned the heroes about the clashing rocks, the Bosporus, through which they must pass to reach Colchis. As they approach the rocks, they are filled with fear, but Juno holds the rocks back, and they sail past the peril. They row along the shore until they come to the land of Colchis.

Æetes, the king of Colchis, swears never to give up the treasure, but Jason vows that he and his comrades will do battle with Æetes. Then Æetes consents to yield the treasure if Jason manages to yoke to the plow two huge fire-breathing bulls and sow the field with dragon’s teeth. When giant warriors spring up from each tooth, Jason has to slay each one. Jason agrees to the trial.

Æetes has a beautiful daughter named Medea, who falls in love with the handsome Jason, and she brews a magic potion that gives Jason godlike strength; thus it happens that he is able to tame the wild bulls and slay the warriors. Æetes promises to bring forth the fleece the next day, but Jason suspects the worst and warns his comrades to have the Argo ready to sail.

In the night, Medea secures the seven golden keys that unlock the seven doors to the cave where the golden fleece hangs, and she leads Jason to the place. Behind the seven doors, he finds a hideous dragon guarding the treasure. Medea’s magic causes the dragon to fall asleep, allowing Jason to seize the fleece.

Fearing for her life because she has helped the stranger against her father, Medea sails away from her father’s house with Jason and the other heroes. After many months and a circuitous voyage around the known world, they reach their homeland, where Jason places the treasure at the feet of Pelias. The fleece, however, is no longer golden. Pelias gets angry and refuses to give up his kingdom, but in the night Medea causes him to die. Afterward, Jason becomes king and the enchanter Medea reigns by his side.

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