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Category Archives: Jason and the Argonauts

Jason: Sniveling Worm or Unfortunate Bloke?

by March 30, 2018

By Ben Potter and Anya Leonard
myth of jason and the argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts

It’s a myth famed in the ancient greek world, filled with monsters, superheroes and of course femme fatales. The main plot centers around Jason, who with his band of badass super heros (including the likes of Heracles), adventures in his quest to regain his rightful throne. And he is usually depicted as a great and resourceful hero.
However, there is a dark and disturbing chapter involving the magical priestess Medea. At the bequest of the gods, this woman falls madly in love with Jason and aids him significantly in accomplishing his tasks, even when it means betraying her own people. This would be fine enough if it stopped there, but unfortunately once Jason didn’t need her, he cast her away for another woman.
It is here that Euripides’ play, Medea, which was first performed in 431 BC, begins. It charts the final stages of Medea’s life in Cornith as an exile from Iolchos and tells the story of her revenge. Essentially, she retaliates by killing Jason’s new wife, the wife’s father and Medea and Jason’s own sons. She then flees into exile.
Hell really, really hath no fury like a woman scorned.
So knowing all this, Euripides presents Jason as such a despicable character that it is impossible to sympathize with his fate at the hands of Medea… but the question is, is this fair?
For starters, Euripides seems to portray all his male characters as very weak and gullible men, and Jason is no exception from this rule. He is even convinced at one point that Medea has given up on her crazy and murderous antics and has additionally decided that she could not be happier for Glauce and Jason in their new life. Clearly he was wrong, but just because Jason is a poor and stupid fool does that mean that no sympathy can be found for him?
Jason really has done nothing outrageously wrong. Initially he was sent on a certain death mission to the land of Colchis, (modern Black Sea coast of Georgia) where he meets up with some crazy witch who falls passionately in love with him. The only way it seems that Jason can fulfill his task is with the help of this rather troubled young lady.

Jason and Medea – as depicted by John William Waterhouse, 1907

It must be noted that Jason witnesses Medea betray her family and even brutally murder her brother in order to aid him in his quest. At this point Jason must surely have thought to hide the pets and the pressure cooker.
In the play itself we see that Jason doesn’t seem evil in his actions, but merely angry that Medea has been so foolhardy in getting herself exiled. Jason acts with great grace, saying to Medea ‘Hate me: but I could never bear ill-will to you’.
There would have been little to stop Jason having Medea executed, ensuring that his new life would be a happy and prosperous one. Instead he offers Medea food and money to aid her in her exile. Jason’s biggest crime seems to be marrying for the status that Medea had lost him in tricking Pelias’ daughters in Iolchos.
On the other hand, we could argue that Jason would be nothing without the help she had given him and thus she is entitled to a little more respect than being traded in for a younger model. The fact that Medea loved Jason so strongly as to perform the acts she did, most noticeably the dicing of her own brother, would serve to say that Jason should have known not to toy with her emotions. Even in the prologos, or the prologue to the story, we learn that Medea was a reasonably happy lady living as a princess and priestess in Colchis and that she experienced nothing but ill fortune since the arrival of Jason.
Indeed the brutality of Jason’s punishment in not only having his wife killed, but also his twin sons, shows the anguish that Medea must have been experiencing and the drastic retaliation she took. When seeking revenge, we wish to try and cause pain to the other equal to the pain they have caused us. If this is true for Medea than Jason must have hurt her more than any physical pain could come close to. No woman could have taken such a revenge without first being subjected to great emotional brutality.

Medea About to Murder Her Children by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix (1862)

Medea isn’t like normal women, either contemporary to the play or indeed today. To be quite frank, Medea is a loony. This is a woman who is so amazingly emotionally unstable that when a vaguely handsome man appears on her doorstep she betrays her father, kills her brother and gets a king boiled. These all happened when the wedlock between Jason and Medea was still in the happy honeymoon phase. We see that at the start of the play, Medea is actually mourning for her brother, a quite ridiculous action seeing as she was the murderer. The insight into Medea’s twisted mind is clear here when she complains of not having the brother she murdered to turn to… Surely, this is as ludicrous as men who cry whilst cheating on their wife with a prostitute and are in need of just as much therapy.
The love that a mother has for a child is hard to explain and impossible to equal. Maternal instincts are some of the strongest in life. Even a vixen will willingly die fighting to protect her cubs and yet Medea actually plans to kill her children. This sickest and most heinous of crimes cannot be justified by any lust revenge, no matter how burning. It would be conceivable that Medea will kill the man that spurned her, as this would make her only partially deranged. But sticking a knife in her boys seems the darkest and most vile action that could be imagined.
Seeing that Jason is depicted as evil by Euripides makes us assume that the ancient Greek playwright seems to have some sort of problem with male characters. His need to portray them as weak, feeble and easily controlled by a strong woman may lead us to believe that he has some sort of inferiority complex that is played out in these pathetic males. Maybe indeed he has issues with his mother to Woody Allen proportions in the sense that Medea is all powerful, cunning, ruthless and ultimately unloving, especially to her innocent sons.
So although Jason is presented quite undoubtedly as a snivelling worm of a man with less balls than a eunuch, he doesn’t come across as evil and most certainly doesn’t deserve the immeasurable suffering that Medea bestows upon him. Jason doesn’t get much sympathy from the audience either, but not because he is despicable in any way, but because he is such a fundamentally unlikeable character whom we have no desire to see or hear from again.
Read Euripides’ Medea for yourself for free here: https://classicalwisdom.com/greek_books/medea-by-euripides/

Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece

by March 18, 2013

Some superhero stories feature perfect wonder men or women, conquering the world and beating the bad guys. Other legends include characters with tragic flaws, which lead to their ultimate demise. While another category portrays bigger than life stars with pathetically human traits. Jason and the Argonauts fulfill this last description.

Jason, the rightful king of Iolcos, and his Greek gang of half gods and magical men, made numerous bad decisions on their quest for the golden fleece, spurned on by lust, ignorance and pride. They also completed their fantastic mission while vanquishing monsters, employing quick wittedness as well as making important friends. The result is an amazing adventure full of mishaps, apologies and the thing which all Greek heros seem to seek – glory.

Jason and the quest for the golden fleece

Hypsipyle putting her father out to sea

After Jason banded together the team, named the Argonauts after their ship, The Argo, they set sail for Lemnos. This small island was notorious for its foul-smelling women. The ladies foolishly incurred Aphrodite’s wrath and were punished by an odious odor, which had their men running to the arms of the mainland concubines. Enraged, the Lemnos women murdered the island’s males in their sleep, except for the king who was put to sea in a chest. It was then just females, who were ruled by the King’s daughter, Hypsipyle… until Jason and the Argonauts landed.

Finding the island free of competition, the ‘glorious’ group had their way with the inhabitants… all of them. Jason, himself, fathered twins with the ruler, Hypsipyle. All this mingling lead to a new “race” called Minyae. Eventually the Argonauts were pressured to leave by Heracles, usually the epitome of a philandering fellow, who was disgusted by the sailors’ antics at port.

This time the heroic team set anchor in the land of Doliones, ruled by the gracious king Cyzicus. After enjoying royal treatment, Jason was gifted with important information about the land beyond Bear Mountain. Unfortunately, some crucial details were conspicuously absent. The region had giants. Giants, swaddled in leather loincloths, who each miraculously possessed six arms.

Gegenees, the six armed giants

The six armed Giants

While the Argonauts were doing their usual and necessary forging, the earthborn gargantuas made a break for the ship, which was guarded by only a few men. Jason’s team, however, had the mythical Heracles, who managed to kill almost all of them before the leader returned. Together they killed the rest of the giants and set sail again.

Now the Argonauts were back on the seas, off towards their next destination. Then fate swirled her wand and the Greek group of superheroes lost their way. Muddled and confused, they finally arrived on land late at night and were mistaken as enemies… by their friends the Doliones. A battle ensued in which the Argonauts emerged victorious, although not without killing their previously kind host, King Cyzicus.

When the dust settled, and the sun rose, the Argonauts realised their horrendous mistake. Sadly, they held a funeral and cast out to sea once more… this time to Thrace…


Read Part Three here: https://classicalwisdom.com/jason-the-colchis-days/

 
“Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece” was written by Anya Leonard

The myth of Jason and the Argonauts

by March 4, 2013

Imagine a group of superheroes, each with their own special power, traveling around on wild, improbable adventures. There is the guy who can fly, another with super strength and yet another fellow with a secret, unbeatable weapon. And of course there is also the captain of the team, usually an “all around good guy” who’s almost an everyman… if it wasn’t for his quick-witted thinking and problem solving.
This is the Argonauts, a fantastic ancient Greek gang, complete with a cool name and trusty boat to speed them on their way.
myth of jason and the argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts

The main man leading the group is Jason. In his cadre of killers are famous myth makers such as the Boreads (sons of Boreas, the North Wind) who could fly, Heracles, Philoctetes, Peleus, Telamon, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Atalanta, and Euphemus.
Their mission? To help Jason take his rightful place as king. To accomplish this quest, however, the band of heroes must fetch the golden fleece…. which is hung from a tree in the grove of the Colchian Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never sleeps.
Back up a minute.. you might say. A golden fleece? A displaced price? A fire breathing dragon? How did this all happen in the first place? How did our greek myth get to this fantastic junction point, filled with monsters, martyrs and missions?
It began, like many great stories, with a power struggle. Not pleased at being second to the throne, our stereotypical baddie, Pelias, killed his half-brother and rightful king, Aeson. Not only that, Pelias murdered all of Aeson’s descendents to be rid of his competition.
After the familial slaughtering, Pelias was still worried that one day he would be overthrown. He consulted with an oracle to be certain and was dismayed at the news: Be wary of the man with one sandal.
Unfortunately for Pelias, the oracle was right. Aeson’s infant son, Jason, miraculously survived.
When the executions began, Jason’s mother ordered the women to cluster around the baby and cry as if he was still-born. Thus they successfully deceived the wrathful uncle that he was not alive. Afterwards she sent Jason away to be educated with the centaur Chiron, knowing his life would be in danger if Pelias found out the truth.
Jason grew up to be a strong, capable man who was determined to return to his hometown and take back his rightful throne.
One day Pelias decided to throw a few games in honor of his alleged father, the god Poseidon. This was the perfect opportunity for Jason to visit. On the way, he crossed a river to help an old woman (who, fantastically enough, was the goddess Hera) and he lost his shoe. When Jason was announced as the man with one sandal, the fearful uncle knew the time had come. Pelias could not kill his nephew, however, in front of all the gathered kings and spectators, so he sent Jason on a misson, one he thought was impossible to accomplish…
The myth of Jason and the argonauts starts with the boat The Argo

The Argo (ca. 1500-1530), painting by Lorenzo Costa

He told Jason this: “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted.
Jason then assembled his super team of monster vanquishing men, and embarked in their famous ship, the Argo. Their first stop? The island of Lemnos, known for the foul smelling, men-killing women who inhabit the place.
And so, the myth of Jason and the Argonauts began…