Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 282

Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest Greek myths. It is the classic story of a hero's quest, betrayal, and vengeance with a tragic ending. It is set during the era before the Trojan War. Jason, the main character of this epic, enlists the help of the Argonauts and is commissioned by king Palias to sail to the Land of Colchis to steal the golden fleece. A notable element of the epic is that the characters are written from a well-established mythology. Unlike modern novels where characters are written with no existence prior to or after the novel, the characters in this ancient story had a well established base for readers at the time. Not to mention that some of the crew Jason enlists are the fathers to some of the heroes in The Iliad. The epic, hence, has been compared to Homer's writing consistently. The use of irony and humor of the epic by Apollonius Rhodius is everything counter to Homer's writings. The novel contains all the elements of a great adventure; heroes, monsters, kings, battles, treasure, etc. However, the depiction of Jason is not that of typical classical mythological hero but one fraught with anxiety, uncertainty, and a second-rate leader status adding a more realistic and humorous portrayal of human nature. Another point of comparison between the depiction of characters could be found in the way Apollonius writes the women. It can be noted that most of the women are not written for qualities such as strength but rather flimsy, uncertainty or emotional vulnerability, similar to the character development of the men. In all, this epic was written in stark contrast to the glory sought by Homer.

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Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 767

*Iolcus

*Iolcus (i-ohl-kuhz). Greek city at the foot of Mount Pelion in Thessaly where Jason is a prince. From Iolcus, Jason and the crew of his ship, the Argo, set forth in their quest for the Golden Fleece. While Jason’s uncle Pelias keeps Jason’s father, Æson, the rightful king, imprisoned in the royal palace at Iolcus and rules illegally, Jason is secretly brought up on Mount Pelion, home to the centaur Chiron. When Jason returns to Iolcus as a man, Pelias sends him on his quest to find the fleece. Iolcus is a location of divine-human conflict: Hera hates Pelias and uses Jason to bring back Medea to destroy him. Iolcus was on the trade route to the Black Sea, and its commercial activity is an important underlying element of the myth.

*Lemnos

*Lemnos. Greek island in the northeastern part of the Aegean Sea where Jason and his crew make their first stop after setting out from Iolcus. Inhabited only by women, Lemnos is the first of many locations where the Argonauts encounter representations of otherness—non-Greek, non-male, or non-human forms. Lemnos is a site of danger for the Argonauts, who risk being entrapped by sexual desire and diverted from their quest. This danger is reflected in the landscape, as the boy Hylas is pulled into a cooling spring by water nymphs and drowned.

Clashing Rocks

Clashing Rocks. Known as the Symplegades in Greek, these massive rocks are shrouded in an impenetrable mist and by smashing together destroy anything that attempts to pass between them. They bar access to the Black Sea from the Aegean and are a mythical outgrowth of the narrow straits of the Bosporos, or perhaps the Hellespont. The rocks are a symbolic barrier between the world of the living and the realm of the dead, for the voyage of the Argo to Colchis is, on one level, the equivalent of the hero’s journey to the underworld and his overcoming of death.

*Aea

*Aea (EE-ah). Capital of the land of Colchis, a region at the eastern end of the Black Sea that included part of the Caucasus. Aea was ruled by King Æetes, who was a son of Helios the sun god and whose name means “earthman.” Aea is an archetypal end-of-the-world location—a place where traditional boundaries and rules do not apply. There, the Golden Fleece hangs on an oak tree in a grove, guarded by an unsleeping dragon. Medea, whom the gods have made fall in love with Jason, helps Jason secure the fleece by using her knowledge of magic herbs and potions. She abandons her father and country to escape with the Argonauts and is the embodiment of Aea’s close links with the earth and its old matriarchal powers.

*Libya

*Libya. Ancient Greek name for much of the coastal area of North Africa, a region much larger than the modern country of the same name. One of the most fanciful locations in the story, Libya is marked by strange geography, harsh conditions, and close encounters with danger. The homeward journey of the Argo does not retrace the route taken to get to Colchis, but follows a path that mixes real and fictional geography. Traveling up the Danube River, to the Adriatic Sea, then up the Po River and through southern France to the coast of Italy, Jason and the Argonauts finally reach Libya, where a storm drives them into the Syrtis, a “dead sea” filled with seaweed. This episode includes a visit to an inland lake, Tritonis, a journey across the desert to the Garden of the Hesperides (mysteriously transposed from the far-western seas), and a return to the Mediterranean guided through treacherous waters by the god Triton.

*Corinth

*Corinth. Greek city in the north of the Peloponnese. After a journey of four months, Jason returns to Iolcus and restores his father to the throne. Shortly thereafter, he and Medea are driven out of the city and travel to Corinth. There, Jason returns to his Greek self, abandoning Medea for the daughter of the local king; however, Medea takes her revenge by killing their two sons. She flies away to Athens, and Jason is killed by a beam that falls on his head from the rotting Argo on the seashore. Jason’s pathetic death makes him a less than typically heroic character, and it happens by the sea, the element on which he had his greatest successes. Corinth represents the heart of Greece; although Jason attempts to fit into this location, he cannot do so, perhaps because he is now too tainted by otherness and the exotic.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

Bacon, Janet Ruth. The Voyage of the Argonauts. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1925. Excellent study of the story of Jason and the golden fleece. Follows the Argonauts through their extended history with literary evidence and illustrations. Excellent interpretations of the myth, including maps of voyage and art illustrations.

Deforest, Mary Margolies. Apollonius’ “Argonautica.” Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1994. Extensive bibliography and detailed index. Examines the significance of the Golden Fleece in the myth of Jason as well as relationships between the characters. Symbolic comparison of Medea to the golden fleece.

Graves, Robert. Greek Myths. Rev. ed. 2 vols. London: Penguin Books, 1973. Cites the sources and various interpretations of the themes involved in the myth. Excellent companion to the historical study of the myth through literature. Details most of the major Greek myths and identifies the history and relationships of the gods and heros.

Pinsent, John. Greek Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 198. Includes a number of Greek art illustrations and interprets the meaning of the myth through the symbols found in literature and art.

Severin, Tim. The Jason Voyage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985. Follows the voyage of the Argonauts with a twentieth century crew. Captures the atmosphere and time of Jason’s voyage. Provides excellent archeological details, evidence, and explanation of the origins of the myth. Final chapter examines the reasons behind the timelessness of the legend of the golden fleece.

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