Jason and the Golden Fleece
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IN very ancient times there lived in Thessaly a king and queen named Athamas and Nephele. They had
two children, a boy and a girl. After a time Athamas grew indifferent to his wife, put her away, and took another.
Nephele suspected danger to her children from the influence of the step-mother, and took measures to send them
out of her reach. Mercury (Hermes) assisted her, and gave her a ram with a golden fleece, on which she set the
two children, trusting that the ram would convey them to a place of safety. The ram vaulted into the air with the
children on his back, taking his course to the East, till when crossing the strait that divides Europe and Asia, the
girl, whose name was Helle, fell from his back into the sea, which from her was called the Hellespont ,- now
the Dardanelles . The ram continued his career till he reached the kingdom of Colchis, on the eastern shore of
the Black Sea, where he safely landed the boy Phryxus, who was hospitably received by AEetes, king of the
country. Phryxus sacrificed the ram to Jupiter (Zeus), and gave the Golden Fleece to AEetes, who placed it in a
consecrated grove, under the care of a sleepless dragon.
There was another kingdom in Thessaly near to that of Athamas, and ruled over by a relative of his. The king
AEson, being tired of the cares of government, surrendered his crown to his brother Pelias on condition that he
should hold it only during the minority of Jason, the son of AEson. When Jason was grown up and came to
demand the crown from his uncle, Pelias pretended to be willing to yield it, but at the same time suggested to the
young man the glorious adventure of going in quest of the Golden Fleece, which it was well known was in the
kingdom of Colchis, and was, as Pelias pretended, the rightful property of their family. Jason was pleased with the
thought and forthwith made preparations for the expedition. At that time the only species of navigation known to
the Greeks consisted of small boats or canoes hollowed out from trunks of trees, so that when Jason employed
Argus to build him a vessel capable of containing fifty men, it was considered a gigantic undertaking. It was
accomplished, however, and the vessel named "Argo," from the name of the builder. Jason sent his
invitation to all the adventurous young men of Greece, and soon found himself at the head of a band of bold
youths, many of whom afterwards were renowned among the heroes and demigods of Greece. Hercules,
Theseus, Orpheus, and Nestor were among them. They are called the Argonauts, from the name of their vessel.
The "Argo" with her crew of heroes left Thessaly and having touched at the Island of Lemnos, thence crossed to
Mysia and thence to Thrace. Here they found the sage Phineus, and from him received instruction as to their
future course. It seems the entrance of the Euxine Sea was impeded by two small rocky islands, which floated on
the surface, and in their tossings and heavings occasionally came together, crushing and grinding to atoms any
object that might be caught between them. They were called the Symplegades, or Clashing Islands. Phineus
instructed the Argonauts how to pass this dangerous strait. When they reached the islands they let go a
dove, which took her way between the rocks, and passed in safety, only losing some feathers of her tail. Jason
and his men seized the favourable moment of the rebound, plied their oars with vigour, and passed safe through,
though the islands closed behind them, and actually grazed their stern. They now rowed along the shore till they
arrived at the eastern end of the sea, and landed at the kingdom of Colchis.
Jason made known his message to the Colchian king, AEetes, who consented to give up the golden fleece if
Jason would yoke to the plough two fire-breathing bulls with brazen feet, and sow the teeth of the dragon which
Cadmus had slain, and from which it was well known that a crop of armed men would spring up, who would turn
their weapons against their producer. Jason accepted the conditions, and a time was set for making the
experiment. Previously, however, he found means to plead his cause to Medea, daughter of the king. He
promised her marriage, and as they stood before the altar of Hecate, called the goddess to witness his oath.
Medea yielded, and by her aid, for she was a potent sorceress, he was furnished with a charm, by which he could
encounter safely the breath of the fire-breathing bulls and the weapons of the armed men.
At the time appointed, the people assembled at the grove of Mars (Ares), and the king assumed his royal seat,
while the multitude covered the hill-sides. The brazen-footed bulls rushed in, breathing fire from their nostrils that
burned up the herbage as they passed. The sound was like the roar of a furnace, and the smoke like that of water
upon quick-lime. Jason advanced boldly to meet them. His friends, the chosen heroes of Greece, trembled to
behold him. Regardless of the burning breath, he soothed their rage with his voice, patted their necks with fearless
hand, and adroitly slipped over them the yoke, and compelled them to drag the plough. The Colchians were
amazed; the Greeks shouted for joy.
Jason next proceeded to sow the dragon's teeth and plough them in. And soon the crop of armed men sprang up,
and, wonderful to relate! no sooner had they reached the surface than they began to brandish their weapons and
rush upon Jason . The Greeks trembled for their hero, and even she who had provided him a way of
safety and taught him how to use it, Medea herself, grew pale with fear. Jason for a time kept his assailants at bay
with his sword and shield, till, finding their numbers overwhelming, he resorted to the charm which Medea had
taught him, seized a stone and threw it in the midst of his foes. They immediately turned their arms against one
another, and soon there was not one of the dragon's brood left alive. The Greeks embraced their hero, and
Medea, if she dared, would have embraced him too.
It remained to lull to sleep the dragon that guarded the fleece, and this was done by scattering over him a few
drops of a preparation which Medea had supplied. At the smell he relaxed his rage, stood for a moment
motionless, then shut those great round eyes, that had never been known to shut before, and turned over on his
side, fast asleep.Jason seized the fleece and with his friends and Medea accompanying, hastened to
their vessel before AEetes the king could arrest their departure, and made the best of their way back to Thessaly,
where they arrived safe, and Jason delivered the fleece to Pelias, and dedicated the "Argo" to Neptune
(Poseidon). What became of the fleece afterwards we do not know, but perhaps it was found after all, like many
other golden prizes, not worth the trouble it had cost to procure it.