THE MYTH MAN'S
MYTH OF THE MONTH
THE QUEST FOR
THE GOLDEN FLEECE
(Note: If you haven't read Part I & Part II yet, do so
first, or some material in Part III will be Greek to you)
by Nick Pontikis
(with apologies to grandpa Hessiod and uncle Homer)
Hey Mister, can you spare a Fleece?
We had finally reached Colchis, home of the Golden Fleece! All the preceding adventures were but a preamble for the main event. Clashing Rocks? Lemnian Women? King Mike and King Don? Stinking Harpies? They were but mere pit stops on our voyage to immortality.
We had finally reached Colchis, home of the Golden Fleece!
Now what? Let's face it, you don't just stride up to a foreign kingdom with an attitude, pound on the castle walls like an outlaw biker gang (thanks Nemy!), and tell King Aeetes to surrender his priceless Fleece or else you'll kick his sorry butt! It's just not done, not even if you're called the Argonauts and you happen to be the greatest collection of heroes ever assembled. Terrible etiquette. Miss Manners would not approve.
It's a good thing that our patron goddesses, Hera and Athena, had taken matters into their own able hands. Seated on their thrones way up on Mount Olympus they orchestrated a fascinating scenario.
Summoning my cousin Aphrodite, the goddess of love, they instructed her to make gorgeous Medea, daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, fall in love with our leader Jason. Hera and Athena knew that the only way the Argonauts could leave Colchis alive would be with Medea's help.
Aphrodite was more than happy to oblige - one hand washes the other, after all, and she knew that one day she would need a favor from her fellow Olympian goddesses. Cousin Aphro paged her mischievous boy, Eros, who was busy hustling young Ganymede at dice. Cheating at every throw, Eros was having a blast beating innocent little Ganymede, who was the cup-bearer to the gods.
Cup-bearer. Hah! Just a glorified waiter, if you ask me, but then Ganny always did have a high opinion of himself...especially after Zeus had plucked him from the earth and brought him up the Mountain.
Zeus one day had spotted beautiful Ganymede tending his flocks down on Mount Ida and, transforming himself into an eagle, had kidnapped the handsome youth and brought him up to Olympus. Did I mention that my godfather went both ways?
Needless to say this infuriated Ganymede's father, King Tros of Troy. To appease the king Zeus told him that his son would become immortal and live forever with the Olympians. Zeus also gave King Tros a golden vine and a pair of wondrous horses, so swift they could run over water. These were the same steeds which later came into the possession of Achilles, the great hero of the Trojan War.
Ganymede was so handsome that he made Adonis and Narcissus look ugly but he wasn't the most cerebral type - I swear there was a tunnel connecting his ears...
Aphrodite chastised her naughty boy for taking advantage of Ganymede's youth and reminded Eros that Ganny was a favorite of Zeus. "Don't mess with Numero Uno's boy toys, dear!" she said.
Then she laid out the plan for him. Promising Eros a lovely plaything, a ball of shining gold and deep blue enamel that Zeus himself had played with as a child, she told him to take his bow and quiver and stake out the palace of King Aeetes, awaiting the Argonauts. Having completely cleaned out all of Ganymede's coin (the Olympian gods were known as great tippers and Ganny always carried a full wallet), Eros was delighted to do his mother's bidding and swept down from Olympus through the air to Colchis.
Meanwhile we had carefully concealed the Argo and started for the city, anxious and apprehensive at how we would be received. Jason had called a war council and we had agreed that we would request the Fleece as a favor from King Aeetes of Colchis - Only if he declined would we resort to guile or force.
We were kept safe from danger on the way because Hera had wrapped us in a fog so thick that it rendered us invisible. We reached the palace unseen and the heavy mist didn't dissolve until we stood before the entrance.
The startled sentries nearly soiled their uniforms when suddenly they looked down and saw this band of splendid young strangers on their doorstep, armed to the teeth. Oh my. Still, they had no choice - courteously they opened the gates and invited us in, sending word to King Aeetes of our arrival.
Now, it was rude to inquire of strangers as to the nature of their business before their needs were taken care of. Hence the Argonauts bathed, changed into fresh clothing and finally joined the king in a magnificent feast set out for us by his servants. It was our first civilized meal in weeks and we ate ravenously. Happy sounds and the clinking of glasses filled the packed room.
Into this busy scene stole Medea, curious to see the exotic visitors everyone was talking about.Let me tell you a bit about this stunning beauty called Medea. She was a priestess of Hecate (some said Hecate was Medea's mom), who was the three-headed goddess of the crossroads and the mother of all witches. Medea's cousin was the renowned witch Circe and her grandfather was the sun god Helios.
That's some lineage, my friends! Must have made for fascinating family reunions...Medea herself was an accomplished witch but that didn't matter much once Eros took aim.
The moment Medea set eyes on Jason, Eros drew back his bow and let fly an arrow of love deep into the maiden's heart. Bull's-eye! Medea beheld handsome Jason, his long golden curls cascading down his broad back, and a sudden warmth overwhelmed her. Her cheeks grew flushed and she felt herself go weak in the knees. For the first time in her life powerful Medea was not in control. Oh my...
The things we do for love. For the sake of love, the witch Medea would betray her father and homeland, murder her brother in fashion most vile, and commit other unspeakable sins. I'm sure it's happened to you.
Love. Ain't it grand?
Medea's in Love
Love. Medea hid behind a pillar and at length admired her sweet object of desire, her heart pounding faster by the minute and her soul melting with sweet pain. She had eyes for no other Argonaut, it was as if a divine spotlight shone on Jason alone. At last she retreated back to her chambers, abashed and bewildered, her mind awhirl with visions of Jay.
Love. Got to have that man! I need that man! she thought.
Love. Yesterday she didn't know him, today she can't live without him.
Love. Naughty, naughty Eros!
Meanwhile, in the most diplomatic way Jason could muster, he had dropped the bomb on King Aeetes that our mission was to "bring back to Greece your Golden Fleece so that the ghost of Phrixus can rest in peace." He told the King that we were all men of noblest birth, sons and grandsons of the gods, and he offered to reciprocate by vanquishing and conquering any and all of his enemies.
We could tell that King Aeetes was livid at these foreigners' impudence even though he hid it well. I suspected that had we not just drank and eaten at his table he would have killed us right then.
Gathering his composure he smiled and replied that the Fleece was ours, so long as Jason first fulfilled a couple of minor challenges, you know, to demonstrate his valor. These trials were no different than King Aeetes himself had undertaken when he was young, he said.
Cool. We had weathered just about every trial and tribulation just getting to Colchis so nothing frightened us. Bring it on, King! What's the challenge?
First Jason must harness a couple of enormous fire-breathing bulls to a yoke. Next he must use these bulls to seed the earth with the teeth of a dragon, whereupon an army of fierce warriors would sprout, doing their best to kill their creator.
That was the good news. The bad news was, if Jason somehow succeeded in this incredible task, he would then have to convince the insomniac dragon guarding the Golden Fleece to surrender said object.
Say what?! You got to be kidding, King! Still, what could Jay do? He reluctantly accepted the challenge.
We returned to the Argo and plotted strategy. Many Argonauts insisted that we should just storm the palace, kill everyone and take the Fleece. Why should Jason alone have all the fun, they asked...When calmer minds prevailed, one by one the Argonauts offered to take on the trial himself in place of Jason. Yeah, right, as if Jay was about to see any of his men killed in his stead.
Woody, any ideas?, we asked the oracular branch of the Argo.
"My idea is Medea..." Woody cryptically replied. What in Hades was Woody talking about? We were about to find out.
Just then the Argo's guards brought in one of King Aeetes' grandsons, whose life Jason had saved on the island of Ares, way back when. He told us about Medea's magic powers and insisted that there was nothing the priestess of Hecate could not do. The stars and the moon were at her command, he said, and if she could be persuaded to help, then Jason's task would be made all that much easier.
"Is she young and good-looking?" asked Jason, the cad! First things first, I suppose. Told that Medea was the most desired and beautiful female in Colchis but had given herself to no man, Jay was intrigued.
"She's not from Lesbos, is she?" You never know, he thought...
It became evident that winning the heart of Medea was the only plan which offered any hope so we urged the grandson to put in a good word on Jason's behalf. Little did we know that Eros had already seen to that.
And how! Back at the palace Medea was weeping uncontrollably, alone in her room. Who was this stranger, who inflamed such passion in her? She knew the dangerous tasks which her father had assigned Jason were impossible. She had to help him survive!
But that would mean going against her beloved father. Far better to die! Sobbing, Medea brought out a casket filled with poisonous herbs, intent on taking her life.
No way. The love arrow of Eros had so intensified her senses that the air itself seemed charged with sweet passion. The light appeared brighter and the sweet smell of the flowers on the table was sheer perfume. She thought of life and of the wonderful things in the world. Live or die?
Medea chose to live. Determined that Jason would come to no harm she began her betrayal.
Medea had a magic ointment which made invincible anyone who rubbed it on their body. Nothing could harm him. It was made from a plant which had sprang up when the blood of Prometheus first dripped upon the earth. Hiding the ointment in her clothing she set out to find her nephew, who had just returned from the Argo and was looking for her.
He started to beg her to assist the Argonauts, but he didn't have much convincing to do - Medea was more than willing to help Jason, much to his surprise. Quickly she sent her nephew to secretly sneak Jay into the palace.
Jason didn't dally. I went along as official chronicler, and to provide moral support. As if Eros hadn't inflicted enough damage, Hera shed radiant grace upon him, so that all who saw our leader marveled at him. When Medea finally met Jason face to face she was rendered speechless. For long minutes they simply gazed at each other until finally she drew out the box of ointment and handed it to him.
"Rub this on your body," she said, nearly adding that she would be happy to do so for him...she told Jason that if sprinkled on his weapons they too would be invincible for the day.
(I was tempted to ask Medea for the ointment recipe but it didn't seem to be the right time for that. Man, I wish I had...how I wish I had...)
If the dragon-teeth men threatened to overwhelm him, toss a stone in their midst and watch what happens, she concluded. "But when you are once more safe at home remember Medea, as I will remember you forever."
Can you say "grateful"? Jason in turn was bewitched by Medea, he couldn't take his eyes off her. Hey, the girl was an unparalleled beauty and it didn't hurt at all that her medicine cabinet was too good to be true.
"Never by night and never by day will I forget you," he said. "If you will come to Greece, you shall be worshipped for what you have done for us, and nothing except death will come between us."
Yeah, sure. Till death (or a younger woman) do us part. But that comes later...much later.
In the morning, just before we left the Argo, Jason applied his superman lotion and at the touch of it an awesome and irresistible power entered into our homeboy.
"Whoa! I feel gooood!" he sang, doing the splits and playing his air sword. Strange. Very strange. Wish I'd gotten that damn ointment recipe...
All the Argonauts exulted but when we reached the grove of Ares where King Aeetes and a multitude of Colchians waited, and the monstrous fire-breathing bulls charged Jason, we thought that our leader was cooked.
Jay stood his ground and quickly subdued first one, then the other bull. Forcing them on their knees he fastened the yoke upon them, as Colchians and Argonauts alike marveled at his mighty strength. He drove the bulls over the field, casting the dragon's teeth into the furrows.
The crowd gasped as an army of horrible corpses dressed in full armor began to spring up from the soil. These ugly stiffs looked like they meant business. Immediately they set upon Jason, but he was equal to the task.
Never was the cliché "As you sow so shall your reap" more trite. Talk about a toothache! We cheered as Jay chopped down these soldiers of Hades but we soon grew pale and silent as more and more emerged from the plowed field. The army of infernal soldiers was so gruesome that the terrified fire-breathing bulls ran for shelter. Jay alone stood his ground.
Remembering Medea's advice he picked up a large stone and tossed it into the middle of the attacking pack. At once his enemy turned on one another and in no time they all lay dead from their own hands. All the Argonauts roared in appreciation and rushed to lift the victorious Jason onto our shoulders, as a distraught-looking King Aeetes gritted his teeth. This fight was far from over.
The King returned to his palace to plot against the Argonauts, more than ever determined that they would never get his priceless Fleece. Medea overheard the conspirators and rushed to the Argo to tell us that her father was going to burn down our ship and kill the heroes.
Needless to say we were in the middle of a raucous and joyful bacchanal, catered by Dionysus, with Orpheus in charge of the music. Our revelry came to a screeching halt once Medea informed us of the King's treachery. Bummer. Hate when that happens. What a party-pooper!
We must get the Fleece and flee at once or we would all be killed at dawn, she said. There would be no bargaining. The only bargain was flee-bargain, as grandpa Hesiod would say. Her father was so un-cool, she added.
Medea fell to her knees and begged us to take her to Greece - She would show Jason how to neutralize the sleepless dragon and fulfill our Quest if we agreed.
Duh. It was a no-brainer. We had just about our fill of Colchis. Nice place to visit and steal a Fleece, but none of us would want to live there, we agreed. Jason assured Medea that she would be his wife once they reached home.
How does a honeymoon on the Greek Islands sound, dear? Show us the way, Medea!
In the dark of night we set sail until we reached the place she directed us- the sacred grove of Ares, home of the Golden Fleece. The loathsome dragon was hissing but Medea and Orpheus lulled it to sleep with a sweet magical song while Jay sprinkled a magic dust on its eyelids. For the first time the horrible monster surrendered itself into the arms of Hypnos, the soothing god of Sleep.
Got it! Let's get out 'a here, 'Nauts!
Not yet. On the way back to the ship we ran into an army of nasty Colchians and a running battle ensued. The good news for the Colchians was that they managed to wound Iphitus, Meleager, Argus, our leader Jason and the brave huntress Atalanta.
The bad news for the Colchians was that none of them survived to brag about it...We left the killing field and reached the Argo within minutes. On our side only Iphitus died of his wounds; Medea soon healed the rest with some homemade remedies.
Golden Fleece securely on board we made our escape from Colchis. It didn't take long for the King to find out that his men were dead and the precious Golden Fleece was gone, and it was especially painful when he heard the particulars of his beloved daughter's part in the deception. Angry? Yes, you could say that King Aeetes was very angry.
Seething at this double insult he vowed to get revenge. King Aeetes ordered all his ships to pursue the Argonauts and not to return until Medea and the Fleece were in possession. Apsyrtus, the King's son, led the fleet.
Now, some shameless gossip magazines have given a horrific account of how Apsyrtus died, but I'm here to tell you that Medea did not chop her brother into pieces and toss them overboard to slow down the pursuers, as they stopped to collect the body parts. Not true, even though it makes for great theater of the macabre...
Here's the deal: Apsyrtus trapped the Argo at the mouth of the Danube and Jason agreed to set Medea ashore on a near-by island sacred to Artemis. She would remain there under the care of a priestess for a few days while the local king would judge the evidence on both sides and decide whether the Fleece and Medea would be returned to Colchis, or continue to Greece.
Blinded by love, Medea sent a private message to Apsyrtus that she had been forcibly kidnapped and begging him to rescue her. By visiting the island to "save" his sister prior to the King's ruling, Apsyrtus was fair game. Jason followed him, lay in wait and chopped him to pieces. Superstitious as Hades, Jason three times licked up some of the fallen blood and spat it out each time, so that the ghost of Apsyrtus would not torment him.
Disgusting habit, if you ask me. Yo, Jay, you're a freak, man...
As soon as Medea was back on board we attacked the leaderless Colchians and sent their flotilla scattering. See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!
But now Zeus was furious. Woody, the Argo's oracular beam, told us that Jason and Medea were off the ship until they had been purified of the death of Apsyrtus. The King of the Olympians didn't appreciate the murder and demanded amends. To make his point perfectly clear Zeus sent a ferocious storm to bedevil us, threatening to sink the Argo.
We made landfall at the island of Aeea, ruled by the witch Circe, Medea's cousin. Jason and Medea came to Circe as suppliants and she grudgingly purified them with the blood of a young sow.
Happy, Zeus? Great. Can we go now?
At Corcyra the Colchians once again caught up with us as we were joyfully celebrating the fortuitous outcome of our voyage. Knowing better than to challenge us to a fight, instead they visited King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Corcyra and ran the whole story by them. They demanded the return of Medea and the Fleece but Medea had already appealed to Queen Arete for protection and the Queen badgered her husband into doing her bidding.
The next day King Alcinous decreed that if Medea was still a virgin she and the Golden Fleece must return to her father. Otherwise she was Jason's.
Not to worry. Queen Arete sent her herald to warn Medea of the King's decision. Without wasting a moment Jason married Medea in the Cave of Macris and spread the Golden Fleece over the bridal couch as the Argonauts sat down to a scrumptious wedding feast in the other room.
And Medea was a maiden no more. The dismayed Colchians, reluctant to return home and face King Aeetes' wrath, settled in the neighboring areas. We were free to go home.
We faced a couple more adventures as we hastened home. Cruising past the Islands of the Sirens we were hypnotized by the ravishing strains of these bird-women. Orpheus to the rescue! The master musician's even lovelier strains countered the song of the Sirens and only Butes was moved to leap overboard and attempt to swim ashore to join the Sirens.
Lucky for Butes that Aphrodite was watching and she rescued him from the waters, brought him to Mount Eryx and made him her lover. Nice going, dude! Oh my...
Some wags claim that the Sirens, devastated at being out-charmed by a man, committed suicide, but they forget that the Sirens were still there when Odysseus came by a generation later.
More travails. A frightful North Wind blew for nine days and when it finally stopped we found ourselves a good mile inland, stranded on high ground. I'm sure it's happened to you. The Triple-goddess Libya appeared to Jason and encouraged him just as we began to despair. Fortified by Libya we set the Argo on rollers and moved her by brute strength to the salt Lake Tritonis.
But still no way out. We lost a couple of good men and we had just about given up ever returning home via the Argo when the sea god Triton appeared. We bribed him with two massive brazen tripods and he consented to direct us to the Mediterranean Sea, even drawing the Argo along by her keel until we reached the great sea. Thanks, Triton! Say hi to your dad Poseidon for us!
Heading northward we reached Crete. This island was guarded by a creation of Hephaestus, a gigantic bronze sentry who prevented ships from landing on Crete by tossing huge boulders at them as they passed by.
How rude. Medea showed him who's boss in no time. Calling sweetly to him as he pelted the Argo with rocks, she promised to make the creature immortal if he drank her magic potion. The fool complied (hey, Medea was hard to say no to, when she turned on the charm) and fell asleep after drinking the herbal mix. While Talos snored Medea removed the bronze nail which stoppered his divine ichor, a colorless liquid serving as his blood.
Out flowed the ichor, killing Talos instantly. Nice work, Medea!
Nearing the end of our voyage we received help from the goddess Thetis and her Nereids, who were fifty sea-nymphs, in order to avoid the danger of Scylla and Charybdis, sea-monsters guarding each side of the passage between Sicily and Italy.
Scylla was one of the sea-monsters found on one side of the Strait of Messina, between Italy and Sicily, the other being Charybdis. Scylla had the face and upper body of a woman, but from the flanks she had six heads and twelve feet of dogs. Not a pretty sight.
Charybdis was a sea-monster, who three times a day drew up the water of the sea and then spouted it again, thus forming a whirlpool. She lay in wait on one side of the narrow Strait of Messina, and on the other side was Scylla.
It was a terrific tag team. The two sides were so close to each other that one could even shoot an arrow across. So sailors, on trying to avoid Charybdis became the victims of Scylla. It's a good thing Thetis and her fifty Nereids helped us for surely we were between a rock and a hard place.
I can still hear Orpheus' song as we sailed unscathed past the monsters:
consider me the young apprentice,
Great tune, my man! Rock on!
The next morning our voyage ended. Four months and countless adventures later we had returned to Greece with the Golden Fleece. The ship's crew disbanded after an emotional farewell banquet and Jason and Medea delivered the Fleece to King Pelias.
The King was shocked to see Jason alive, let alone sporting the Fleece. Pelias thought that the Argonauts surely would perish on the Quest and he had brutally brought about the death of Jason's father, which caused Jay's mother to die of grief. The leader of the Argonauts was now an orphan.
Bad move, King. Medea gained vengeance for her man by tricking the daughters of King Pelias into cutting their father into pieces and placing the parts into a boiling pot. She had convinced them that it would restore their father's youth. The King was cooked. Once the daughters realized that dad wasn't coming back and they were his murderers they took their own lives.
Jason and Medea were exiled for this act and moved to Corinth.
Let's see...Medea had betrayed her father, her brother and her country, and she had committed vile murders out of love for Jason. She had saved his life on countless occasions and had bore him two wonderful sons.
So how did our hero repay his dutiful wife? By dumping the "foreign witch" for the King of Corinth's young daughter, Glauce, a marriage arrangement which would bestow upon Jason great wealth and his very own kingdom.
Sorry, Medea. Look after the kids, will ya? I promise not to be late with the alimony cheque.
What a chump! You'd think Jay would know better but, nooooo...
Medea let her displeasure be known and the King of Corinth, fearing for the safety of his daughter, sentenced Medea to exile. The witch of Colchis made up her mind to gain revenge.
Medea took from her chest a lovely robe and anointed it with deadly potions. Giving it to her sons she told them to deliver it to their father's new bride. They were to tell Glauce that to show acceptance of the gift she must wear it at once.
Beware of ex-Colchians bearing gifts. The princess received the boys hospitably and agreed to accept the beautiful robe. No sooner had she put it on than a consuming and fearful fire enveloped the poor girl, melting her very flesh. I'm sure it's happened to you.
Medea knew she had to flee Corinth but wanted no harm to befall her sons, nor that they should become slaves because of her actions. So she killed her children.
Yes, she killed them. Medea didn't wish to see her sons harmed so she took their lives. Go figure.
When Jason showed up, enraged at the pyrotechnic murder of his new bride, he found his two boys dead on the ground and Medea on the roof of their house, stepping into a chariot drawn by dragons.
He cursed her as she flew out of sight, and she cursed back at him, prophesizing that the great Argo, the ship which had been the vessel of his success, would be the instrument of his death.
Medea ended up in Athens, where she bewitched the resident King, married him, and waited for the great Theseus to show up so she could try to kill him also. But that's a story for another day.
As for Jason, alas Medea's prophecy came true. During a reunion of the Argonauts a few years later the rotting main mast of the Argo fell on Jay, killing him instantly.
Bummer. Hate when that happens.
ONLY THE MUSE KNOWS:)
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