as told by E. M. Berens (1894)
The Golden Fleece, Herbert James Draper, oil on canvas, 1904 (Wikimedia Commons)
JASON AND PELIAS
Aeson, king of Iolcus, was forced to fly from his dominions, which had been usurped by his younger brother, Pelias, and with difficulty succeeded in saving the life of his young son, Jason, who was at that time only ten years of age. He intrusted him to the care of the Centaur Chiron, by whom he was carefully trained in company with other noble youths, who, like himself, afterwards signalized themselves by their bravery and heroic exploits. For ten years Jason remained in the cave of the Centaur, by whom he was instructed in all useful and warlike arts. But as he approached manhood he became filled with an unconquerable desire to regain his paternal inheritance. He therefore took leave of his kind friend and preceptor, and set out for Iolcus to demand from his uncle Pelias the kingdom which he had so unjustly usurped.
In the course of his journey he came to a broad and foaming river, on the banks of which he perceived an old woman, who implored him to help her across. At first he hesitated, knowing that even alone he would find some difficulty in stemming the fierce torrent; but, pitying her forlorn condition, he raised her in his arms, and succeeded, with a great effort, in reaching the opposite shore. But as soon as her feet had touched the earth she became transformed into a beautiful woman, who, looking kindly at the bewildered youth, informed him that she was the goddess Hera, and that she would henceforth guide and protect him throughout his career. She then disappeared, and, full of hope and courage at this divine manifestation, Jason pursued his journey. He now perceived that in crossing the river he had lost one of his sandals, but as it could not be recovered he was obliged to proceed without it.
On his arrival at Iolcus he found his uncle in the market-place, offering up a public sacrifice to Poseidon. When the king had concluded his offering, his eye fell upon the distinguished stranger, whose manly beauty and heroic bearing had already attracted the attention of his people. Observing that one foot was unshod, he was reminded of an oracular prediction which foretold to him the loss of his kingdom by a man wearing only one sandal. He, however, disguised his fears, conversed kindly with the youth, and drew from him his name and errand. Then pretending to be highly pleased with his nephew, Pelias entertained him sumptuously for five days, during which time all was festivity and rejoicing. On the sixth, Jason appeared before his uncle, and with manly firmness demanded from him the throne and kingdom which were his by right. Pelias, dissembling his true feelings, smilingly consented to grant his request, provided that, in return, Jason would undertake an expedition for him, which his advanced age prevented him from accomplishing himself. He informed his nephew that the shade of Phryxus had appeared to him in his dreams, and entreated him to bring back from Colchis his mortal remains and the Golden Fleece; and added that if Jason succeeded in obtaining for him these sacred relics, throne, kingdom, and sceptre should be his.
STORY OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE.
Athamas, king of Bœotia, had married Nephele, a cloud-nymph, and their children were Helle and Phryxus. The restless and wandering nature of Nephele, however, soon wearied her husband, who, being a mortal, had little sympathy with his ethereal consort; so he divorced her, and married the beautiful but wicked Ino (sister of Semele), who hated her step-children, and even planned their destruction. But the watchful Nephele contrived to circumvent her cruel designs, and succeeded in getting the children out of the palace. She then placed them both on the back of a winged ram, with a fleece of pure gold, which had been given to her by Hermes; and on this wonderful animal brother and sister rode through the air over land and sea; but on the way Helle, becoming seized with giddiness, fell into the sea (called after her the Hellespont) and was drowned.
Phryxus arrived safely at Colchis, where he was hospitably received by king Aëtes, who gave him one of his daughters in marriage. In gratitude to Zeus for the protection accorded him during his flight, Phryxus sacrificed to him the golden ram, whilst the fleece he presented to Aëtes, who nailed it up in the Grove of Ares, and dedicated it to the god of War. An oracle having declared that the life of Aëtes depended on the safe-keeping of the fleece, he carefully guarded the entrance to the grove by placing before it an immense dragon, which never slept.
Building and Launch of the Argo.—We will now return to Jason, who eagerly undertook the perilous expedition proposed to him by his uncle, who, well aware of the dangers attending such an enterprise, hoped by this means to rid himself for ever of the unwelcome intruder.
Jason accordingly began to arrange his plans without delay, and invited the young heroes whose friendship he had formed whilst under the care of Chiron, to join him in the perilous expedition. None refused the invitation, all feeling honoured at being allowed the privilege of taking part in so noble and heroic an undertaking.
Jason now applied to Argos, one of the cleverest ship-builders of his time, who, under the guidance of Pallas-Athene, built for him a splendid fifty-oared galley, which was called the Argo, after the builder. In the upper deck of the vessel the goddess had imbedded a board from the speaking oak of the oracle of Zeus at Dodona, which ever retained its powers of prophecy. The exterior of the ship was ornamented with magnificent carvings, and the whole vessel was so strongly built that it defied the power of the winds and waves, and was, nevertheless, so light that the heroes, when necessary, were able to carry it on their shoulders. When the vessel was completed, the Argonauts (so called after their ship) assembled, and their places were distributed by lot.
Jason was appointed commander-in-chief of the expedition, Tiphys acted as steersman, Lynceus as pilot. In the bow of the vessel sat the renowned hero Heracles; in the stern, Peleus (father of Achilles) and Telamon (the father of Ajax the Great). In the inner space were Castor and Pollux, Neleus (the father of Nestor), Admetus (the husband of Alcestes), Meleager (the slayer of the Calydonian boar), Orpheus (the renowned singer), Menoctius (the father of Patroclus), Theseus (afterwards king of Athens) and his friend Pirithöus (the son of Ixion), Hylas (the adopted son of Heracles), Euphemus (the son of Poseidon), Oileus (father of Ajax the Lesser), Zetes and Calais (the winged sons of Boreas), Idmon the Seer (the son of Apollo), Mopsus (the Thessalian prophet), &c. &c.
Before their departure Jason offered a solemn sacrifice to Poseidon and all the other sea-deities; he also invoked the protection of Zeus and the Fates, and then, Mopsus having taken the auguries, and found them auspicious, the heroes stepped on board. And now a favourable breeze having sprung up, they take their allotted places, the anchor is weighed, and the ship glides like a bird out of the harbour into the waters of the great sea.
Arrival at Lemnos.—The Argo, with her brave crew of fifty heroes, was soon out of sight, and the sea-breeze only wafted to the shore a faint echo of the sweet strains of Orpheus.
For a time all went smoothly, but the vessel was soon driven, by stress of weather, to take refuge in a harbour in the island of Lemnos. This island was inhabited by women only, who, the year before, in a fit of mad jealousy, had killed all the male population of the island, with the exception of the father of their queen, Hypsipyle. As the protection of their island now devolved upon themselves they were always on the look-out for danger. When, therefore, they sighted the Argo from afar they armed themselves and rushed to the shore, determined to repel any invasion of their territory.
On arriving in port the Argonauts, astonished at beholding an armed crowd of women, despatched a herald in one of their boats, bearing the staff of peace and friendship. Hypsipyle, the queen, proposed that food and presents should be sent to the strangers, in order to prevent their landing; but her old nurse, who stood beside her, suggested that this would be a good opportunity to provide themselves with noble husbands, who would act as their defenders, and thus put an end to their constant fears. Hypsipyle listened attentively to the advice of her nurse, and after some consultation, decided to invite the strangers into the city. Robed in his purple mantle, the gift of Pallas-Athene, Jason, accompanied by some of his companions, stepped on shore, where he was met by a deputation consisting of the most beautiful of the Lemnian women, and, as commander of the expedition, was invited into the palace of the queen.
When he appeared before Hypsipyle, she was so struck with his godlike and heroic presence that she presented him with her father's sceptre, and invited him to seat himself on the throne beside her. Jason thereupon took up his residence in the royal castle, whilst his companions scattered themselves through the town, spending their time in feasting and pleasure. Heracles, with a few chosen comrades, alone remained on board.
From day to day their departure was delayed, and the Argonauts, in their new life of dissipation, had almost forgotten the object of the expedition, when Heracles suddenly appeared amongst them, and at last recalled them to a sense of their duty.
Giants and Doliones.—The Argonauts now pursued their voyage, till contrary winds drove them towards an island, inhabited by the Doliones, whose king Cyzicus received them with great kindness and hospitality. The Doliones were descendants of Poseidon, who protected them against the frequent attacks of their fierce and formidable neighbours, the earth-born Giants—monsters with six arms.
Whilst his companions were attending a banquet given by king Cyzicus, Heracles, who, as usual, had remained behind to guard the ship, observed that these Giants were busy blocking up the harbour with huge rocks. He at once realized the danger, and, attacking them with his arrows, succeeded in considerably thinning their numbers; then, assisted by the heroes, who at length came to his aid, he effectually destroyed the remainder.
The Argo now steered out of the harbour and set sail; but in consequence of a severe storm which arose at night, was driven back once more to the shores of the kindly Doliones. Unfortunately, however, owing to the darkness of the night, the inhabitants failed to recognize their former guests, and, mistaking them for enemies, commenced to attack them. Those who had so recently parted as friends were now engaged in mortal combat, and in the battle which ensued, Jason himself pierced to the heart his friend king Cyzicus; whereupon the Doliones, being deprived of their leader, fled to their city and closed the gates. When morning dawned, and both sides perceived their error, they were filled with the deepest sorrow and remorse; and for three days the heroes remained with the Doliones, celebrating the funereal rites of the slain, with every demonstration of mourning and solemnity.
Heracles left behind.—The Argonauts once more set sail, and after a stormy voyage arrived at Mysia, where they were hospitably received by the inhabitants, who spread before them plentiful banquets and sumptuously regaled them.
While his friends were feasting, Heracles, who had declined to join them, went into the forest to seek a fir-tree which he required for an oar, and was missed by his adopted son Hylas, who set out to seek him. When the youth arrived at a spring, in the most secluded part of the forest, the nymph of the fountain was so struck by his beauty that she drew him down beneath the waters, and he was seen no more. Polyphemus, one of the heroes, who happened to be also in the forest, heard his cry for help, and on meeting Heracles informed him of the circumstance. They at once set out in search of the missing youth, no traces of whom were to be found, and whilst they were engaged looking for him, the Argo set sail and left them behind.
The ship had proceeded some distance before the absence of Heracles was observed. Some of the heroes were in favour of returning for him, others wished to proceed on their journey, when, in the midst of the dispute, the sea-god Glaucus arose from the waves, and informed them that it was the will of Zeus that Heracles, having another mission to perform, should remain behind. The Argonauts continued their voyage without their companions; Heracles returned to Argos, whilst Polyphemus remained with the Mysians, where he founded a city and became its king.
Contest with Amycus.—Next morning the Argo touched at the country of the Bebrycians, whose king Amycus was a famous pugilist, and permitted no strangers to leave his shores without matching their strength with his. When the heroes, therefore, demanded permission to land, they were informed that they could only do so provided that one of their number should engage in a boxing-match with the king. Pollux, who was the best pugilist in Greece, was selected as their champion, and a contest took place, which, after a tremendous struggle, proved fatal to Amycus, who had hitherto been victorious in all similar encounters.
Phineus and the Harpies.—They now proceeded towards Bithynia, where reigned the blind old prophet-king Phineus, son of Agenor. Phineus had been punished by the gods with premature old age and blindness for having abused the gift of prophecy. He was also tormented by the Harpies, who swooped down upon his food, which they either devoured or so defiled as to render it unfit to be eaten. This poor old man, trembling with the weakness of age, and faint with hunger, appeared before the Argonauts, and implored their assistance against his fiendish tormentors, whereupon Zetes and Calais, the winged sons of Boreas, recognizing in him the husband of their sister Cleopatra, affectionately embraced him, and promised to rescue him from his painful position.
The heroes prepared a banquet on the sea-shore, to which they invited Phineus; but no sooner had he taken his place, than the Harpies appeared and devoured all the viands. Zetes and Calais now rose up into the air, drove the Harpies away, and were pursuing them with drawn swords, when Iris, the swift-footed messenger of the gods, appeared, and desired them to desist from their work of vengeance, promising that Phineus should be no longer molested.
Freed at length from his tormentors the old man sat down and enjoyed a plentiful repast with his kind friends the Argonauts, who now informed him of the object of their voyage. In gratitude for his deliverance Phineus gave them much useful information concerning their journey, and not only warned them of the manifold dangers awaiting them, but also instructed them how they might be overcome.
Passage of the Symplegades.—After a fortnight's sojourn in Bithynia the Argonauts once more set sail, but had not proceeded far on their course, when they heard a fearful and tremendous crash. This was caused by the meeting of two great rocky islands, called the Symplegades, which floated about in the sea, and constantly met and separated.
Before leaving Bithynia, the blind old seer, Phineus, had informed them that they would be compelled to pass between these terrible rocks, and he instructed them how to do so with safety. As they now approached the scene of danger they remembered his advice, and acted upon it. Typhus, the steersman, stood at the helm, whilst Euphemus held in his hand a dove ready to be let loose; for Phineus had told them that if the dove ventured to fly through, they might safely follow. Euphemus now despatched the bird, which passed swiftly through the islands, yet not without losing some of the feathers of her tail, so speedily did they reunite. Seizing the moment when the rocks once more separated, the Argonauts worked at their oars with all their might, and achieved the perilous passage in safety.
After the miraculous passage of the Argo, the Symplegades became permanently united, and attached to the bottom of the sea.
The Stymphalides.—The Argo pursued her course along the southern coast of the Pontus, and arrived at the island of Aretias, which was inhabited by birds, who, as they flew through the air, discharged from their wings feathers sharp as arrows.
As the ship was gliding along, Oileus was wounded by one of these birds, whereupon the Argonauts held a council, and by the advice of Amphidamas, an experienced hero, all put on their helmets, and held up their glittering shields, uttering, at the same time, such fearful cries that the birds flew away in terror, and the Argonauts were enabled to land with safety on the island.
Here they found four shipwrecked youths, who proved to be the sons of Phryxus, and were greeted by Jason as his cousins. On ascertaining the object of the expedition they volunteered to accompany the Argo, and to show the heroes the way to Colchis. They also informed them that the Golden Fleece was guarded by a fearful dragon, that king Aëtes was extremely cruel, and, as the son of Apollo, was possessed of superhuman strength.
Arrival at Colchis.—Taking with them the four new-comers they journeyed on, and soon came in sight of the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus, when, towards evening, the loud flapping of wings was heard overhead. It was the giant eagle of Prometheus on his way to torture the noble and long-suffering Titan, whose fearful groans soon afterwards fell upon their ears. That night they reached their journey's end, and anchored in the smooth waters of the river Phases. On the left bank of this river they beheld Ceuta, the capital of Colchis; and on their right a wide field, and the sacred grove of Ares, where the Golden Fleece, suspended from a magnificent oak-tree, was glittering in the sun. Jason now filled a golden cup with wine, and offered a libation to mother-earth, the gods of the country, and the shades of those of the heroes who had died on the voyage.
Next morning a council was held, in which it was decided, that before resorting to forcible measures kind and conciliatory overtures should first be made to king Aëtes in order to induce him to resign the Golden Fleece. It was arranged that Jason, with a few chosen companions, should proceed to the royal castle, leaving the remainder of the crew to guard the Argo. Accompanied, therefore, by Telamon and Augeas, and the four sons of Phryxus, he set out for the palace.
When they arrived in sight of the castle they were struck by the vastness and massiveness of the building, at the entrance to which sparkling fountains played in the midst of luxuriant and park-like gardens. Here the king's daughters, Chalciope and Medea, who were walking in the grounds of the palace, met them. The former, to her great joy, recognized in the youths who accompanied the hero her own long-lost sons, whom she had mourned as dead, whilst the young and lovely Medea was struck with the noble and manly form of Jason.
The news of the return of the sons of Phryxus soon spread through the palace, and brought Aëtes himself to the scene, whereupon the strangers were presented to him, and were invited to a banquet which the king ordered to be prepared in their honour. All the most beautiful ladies of the court were present at this entertainment; but in the eyes of Jason none could compare with the king's daughter, the young and lovely Medea.
When the banquet was ended, Jason related to the king his various adventures, and also the object of his expedition, with the circumstances which had led to his undertaking it. Aëtes listened, in silent indignation, to this recital, and then burst out into a torrent of invectives against the Argonauts and his grand-children, declaring that the Fleece was his rightful property, and that on no consideration would he consent to relinquish it. Jason, however, with mild and persuasive words, contrived so far to conciliate him, that he was induced to promise that if the heroes could succeed in demonstrating their divine origin by the performance of some task requiring superhuman power, the Fleece should be theirs.
The task proposed by Aëtes to Jason was that he should yoke the two brazen-footed, fire-breathing oxen of the king (which had been made for him by Hephæstus) to his ponderous iron plough. Having done this he must till with them the stony field of Ares, and then sow in the furrows the poisonous teeth of a dragon, from which armed men would arise. These he must destroy to a man, or he himself would perish at their hands.
When Jason heard what was expected of him, his heart for a moment sank within him; but he determined, nevertheless, not to flinch from his task, but to trust to the assistance of the gods, and to his own courage and energy.
Jason ploughs the Field of Ares.—Accompanied by his two friends, Telamon and Augeas, and also by Argus, the son of Chalciope, Jason returned to the vessel for the purpose of holding a consultation as to the best means of accomplishing these perilous feats.
Argus explained to Jason all the difficulties of the superhuman task which lay before him, and pronounced it as his opinion that the only means by which success was possible was to enlist the assistance of the Princess Medea, who was a priestess of Hecate, and a great enchantress. His suggestion meeting with approval, he returned to the palace, and by the aid of his mother an interview was arranged between Jason and Medea, which took place, at an early hour next morning, in the temple of Hecate.
A confession of mutual attachment took place, and Medea, trembling for her lover's safety, presented him with a magic salve, which possessed the property of rendering any person anointed with it invulnerable for the space of one day against fire and steel, and invincible against any adversary however powerful. With this salve she instructed him to anoint his spear and shield on the day of his great undertaking. She further added that when, after having ploughed the field and sown the teeth, armed men should arise from the furrows, he must on no account lose heart, but remember to throw among them a huge rock, over the possession of which they would fight among themselves, and their attention being thus diverted he would find it an easy task to destroy them. Overwhelmed with gratitude, Jason thanked her, in the most earnest manner, for her wise counsel and timely aid; at the same time he offered her his hand, and promised her he would not return to Greece without taking her with him as his wife.
Next morning Aëtes, in all the pomp of state, surrounded by his family and the members of his court, repaired to a spot whence a full view of the approaching spectacle could be obtained. Soon Jason appeared in the field of Ares, looking as noble and majestic as the god of war himself. In a distant part of the field the brazen yokes and the massive plough met his view, but as yet the dread animals themselves were nowhere to be seen. He was about to go in quest of them, when they suddenly rushed out from a subterranean cave, breathing flames of fire, and enveloped in a thick smoke.
The friends of Jason trembled; but the undaunted hero, relying on the magic powers with which he was imbued by Medea, seized the oxen, one after the other, by the horns, and forced them to the yoke. Near the plough was a helmet full of dragon's teeth, which he sowed as he ploughed the field, whilst with sharp pricks from his lance he compelled the monstrous creatures to draw the plough over the stony ground, which was thus speedily tilled.
While Jason was engaged sowing the dragon's teeth in the deep furrows of the field, he kept a cautious look-out lest the germinating giant brood might grow too quickly for him, and as soon as the four acres of land had been tilled he unyoked the oxen, and succeeded in frightening them so effectually with his weapons, that they rushed back in terror to their subterranean stables. Meanwhile armed men had sprung up out of the furrows, and the whole field now bristled with lances; but Jason, remembering the instructions of Medea, seized an immense rock and hurled it into the midst of these earth-born warriors, who immediately began to attack each other. Jason then rushed furiously upon them, and after a terrible struggle not one of the giants remained alive.
Furious at seeing his murderous schemes thus defeated, Aëtes not only perfidiously refused to give Jason the Fleece which he had so bravely earned, but, in his anger, determined to destroy all the Argonauts, and to burn their vessel.
Jason secures the Golden Fleece.—Becoming aware of the treacherous designs of her father, Medea at once took measures to baffle them. In the darkness of night she went on board the Argo, and warned the heroes of their approaching danger. She then advised Jason to accompany her without loss of time to the sacred grove, in order to possess himself of the long-coveted treasure. They set out together, and Medea, followed by Jason, led the way, and advanced boldly into the grove. The tall oak-tree was soon discovered, from the topmost boughs of which hung the beautiful Golden Fleece. At the foot of this tree, keeping his ever-wakeful watch, lay the dreadful, sleepless dragon, who at sight of them bounded forward, opening his huge jaws.
Medea now called into play her magic powers, and quietly approaching the monster, threw over him a few drops of a potion, which soon took effect, and sent him into a deep sleep; whereupon Jason, seizing the opportunity, climbed the tree and secured the Fleece. Their perilous task being now accomplished, Jason and Medea quitted the grove, and hastened on board the Argo, which immediately put to sea.
Murder of Absyrtus.—Meanwhile Aëtes, having discovered the loss of his daughter and the Golden Fleece, despatched a large fleet, under the command of his son Absyrtus, in pursuit of the fugitives. After some days' sail they arrived at an island at the mouth of the river Ister, where they found the Argo at anchor, and surrounded her with their numerous ships. They then despatched a herald on board of her, demanding the surrender of Medea and the Fleece.
Medea now consulted Jason, and, with his consent, carried out the following stratagem. She sent a message to her brother Absyrtus, to the effect that she had been carried off against her will, and promised that if he would meet her, in the darkness of night, in the temple of Artemis, she would assist him in regaining possession of the Golden Fleece. Relying on the good faith of his sister, Absyrtus fell into the snare, and duly appeared at the appointed trysting-place; and whilst Medea kept her brother engaged in conversation, Jason rushed forward and slew him. Then, according to a preconcerted signal, he held aloft a lighted torch, whereupon the Argonauts attacked the Colchians, put them to flight, and entirely defeated them.
The Argonauts now returned to their ship, when the prophetic board from the Dodonean oak thus addressed them: "The cruel murder of Absyrtus was witnessed by the Erinyes, and you will not escape the wrath of Zeus until the goddess Circe has purified you from your crime. Let Castor and Pollux pray to the gods that you may be enabled to find the abode of the sorceress." In obedience to the voice, the twin-brothers invoked divine assistance, and the heroes set out in search of the isle of Circe.
They arrive at the Island of Circe.—The good ship Argo sped on her way, and, after passing safely through the foaming waters of the river Eridanus, at length arrived in the harbour of the island of Circe, where she cast anchor.
Commanding his companions to remain on board, Jason landed with Medea, and conducted her to the palace of the sorceress. The goddess of charms and magic arts received them kindly, and invited them to be seated; but instead of doing so they assumed a supplicating attitude, and humbly besought her protection. They then informed her of the dreadful crime which they had committed, and implored her to purify them from it. This Circe promised to do. She forthwith commanded her attendant Naiads to kindle the fire on the altar, and to prepare everything necessary for the performance of the mystic rites, after which a dog was sacrificed, and the sacred cakes were burned. Having thus duly purified the criminals, she severely reprimanded them for the horrible murder of which they had been guilty; whereupon Medea, with veiled head, and weeping bitterly, was reconducted by Jason to the Argo.
Further Adventures of the Argonauts.—Having left the island of Circe they were wafted by gentle zephyrs towards the abode of the Sirens, whose enticing strains soon fell upon their ears. The Argonauts, powerfully affected by the melody, were making ready to land, when Orpheus perceived the danger, and, to the accompaniment of his magic lyre, commenced one of his enchanting songs, which so completely absorbed his listeners that they passed the island in safety; but not before Butes, one of their number, lured by the seductive music of the Sirens, had sprung from the vessel into the waves below. Aphrodite, however, in pity for his youth, landed him gently on the island of Libibaon before the Sirens could reach him, and there he remained for many years.
And now the Argonauts approached new dangers, for on one side of them seethed and foamed the whirlpool of Charybdis, whilst on the other towered the mighty rock whence the monster Scylla swooped down upon unfortunate mariners; but here the goddess Hera came to their assistance, and sent to them the sea-nymph Thetis, who guided them safely through these dangerous straits.
The Argo next arrived at the island of the Phæaces, where they were hospitably entertained by King Alcinous and his queen Arete. But the banquet prepared for them by their kind host was unexpectedly interrupted by the appearance of a large army of Colchians, sent by Aëtes to demand the restoration of his daughter.
Medea threw herself at the feet of the queen, and implored her to save her from the anger of her father, and Arete, in her kindness of heart, promised her her protection. Next morning, in an assembly of the people at which the Colchians were invited to be present, the latter were informed that as Medea was the lawful wife of Jason they could not consent to deliver her up; whereupon the Colchians, seeing that the resolution of the king was not to be shaken, and fearing to face the anger of Aëtes should they return to Colchis without her, sought permission of Alcinous to settle in his kingdom, which request was accorded them.
After these events the Argonauts once more set sail, and steered for Iolcus; but, in the course of a terrible and fearful night, a mighty storm arose, and in the morning they found themselves stranded on the treacherous quicksands of Syrtes, on the shores of Libya. Here all was a waste and barren desert, untenanted by any living creature, save the venomous snakes which had sprung from the blood of the Medusa when borne by Perseus over these arid plains.
They had already passed several days in this abode of desolation, beneath the rays of the scorching sun, and had abandoned themselves to the deepest despair, when the Libyan queen, who was a prophetess of divine origin, appeared to Jason, and informed him that a sea-horse would be sent by the gods to act as his guide.
Scarcely had she departed when a gigantic hippocamp was seen in the distance, making its way towards the Argo. Jason now related to his companions the particulars of his interview with the Libyan prophetess, and after some deliberation it was decided to carry the Argo on their shoulders, and to follow wherever the sea-horse should lead them. They then commenced a long and weary journey through the desert, and at last, after twelve days of severe toil and terrible suffering, the welcome sight of the sea greeted their view. In gratitude for having been saved from their manifold dangers they offered up sacrifices to the gods, and launched their ship once more into the deep waters of the ocean.
Arrival at Crete.—With heartfelt joy and gladness they proceeded on their homeward voyage, and after some days arrived at the island of Crete, where they purposed to furnish themselves with fresh provisions and water. Their landing, however, was opposed by a terrible giant who guarded the island against all intruders. This giant, whose name was Talus, was the last of the Brazen race, and being formed of brass, was invulnerable, except in his right ankle, where there was a sinew of flesh and a vein of blood. As he saw the Argo nearing the coast, he hurled huge rocks at her, which would inevitably have sunk the vessel had not the crew beat a hasty retreat. Although sadly in want of food and water, the Argonauts had decided to proceed on their journey rather than face so powerful an opponent, when Medea came forward and assured them that if they would trust to her she would destroy the giant.
Enveloped in the folds of a rich purple mantle, she stepped on deck, and after invoking the aid of the Fates, uttered a magic incantation, which had the effect of throwing Talus into a deep sleep. He stretched himself at full length upon the ground, and in doing so grazed his vulnerable ankle against the point of a sharp rock, whereupon a mighty stream of blood gushed forth from the wound. Awakened by the pain, he tried to rise, but in vain, and with a mighty groan of anguish the giant fell dead, and his enormous body rolled heavily over into the deep. The heroes being now able to land, provisioned their vessel, after which they resumed their homeward voyage.
Arrival at Iolcus.—After a terrible night of storm and darkness they passed the island of Ægina, and at length reached in safety the port of Iolcus, where the recital of their numerous adventures and hair-breadth escapes was listened to with wondering admiration by their fellow-countrymen.
The Argo was consecrated to Poseidon, and was carefully preserved for many generations till no vestige of it remained, when it was placed in the heavens as a brilliant constellation.
On his arrival at Iolcus, Jason conducted his beautiful bride to the palace of his uncle Pelias, taking with him the Golden Fleece, for the sake of which this perilous expedition had been undertaken. But the old king, who had never expected that Jason would return alive, basely refused to fulfil his part of the compact, and declined to abdicate the throne.
Indignant at the wrongs of her husband, Medea avenged them in a most shocking manner. She made friends with the daughters of the king, and feigned great interest in all their concerns. Having gained their confidence, she informed them, that among her numerous magic arts, she possessed the power of restoring to the aged all the vigour and strength of youth, and in order to give them a convincing proof of the truth of her assertion, she cut up an old ram, which she boiled in a cauldron, whereupon, after uttering various mystic incantations, there came forth from the vessel a beautiful young lamb. She then assured them, that in a similar manner they could restore to their old father his former youthful frame and vigour. The fond and credulous daughters of Pelias lent an all too willing ear to the wicked sorceress, and thus the old king perished at the hands of his innocent children.
Death of Jason.—Medea and Jason now fled to Corinth, where at length they found, for a time, peace and tranquillity, their happiness being completed by the birth of three children.
As time passed on, however, and Medea began to lose the beauty which had won the love of her husband, he grew weary of her, and became attracted by the youthful charms of Glauce, the beautiful daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. Jason had obtained her father's consent to their union, and the wedding-day was already fixed, before he disclosed to Medea the treachery which he meditated against her. He used all his persuasive powers in order to induce her to consent to his union with Glauce, assuring her that his affection had in no way diminished, but that for the sake of the advantages which would thereby accrue to their children, he had decided on forming this alliance with the royal house. Though justly enraged at his deceitful conduct, Medea dissembled her wrath, and, feigning to be satisfied with this explanation, sent, as a wedding-gift to her rival, a magnificent robe of cloth-of-gold. This robe was imbued with a deadly poison which penetrated to the flesh and bone of the wearer, and burned them as though with a consuming fire. Pleased with the beauty and costliness of the garment, the unsuspecting Glauce lost no time in donning it; but no sooner had she done so than the fell poison began to take effect. In vain she tried to tear the robe away; it defied all efforts to be removed, and after horrible and protracted sufferings, she expired.
Maddened at the loss of her husband's love Medea next put to death her three sons, and when Jason, thirsting for revenge, left the chamber of his dead bride, and flew to his own house in search of Medea, the ghastly spectacle of his murdered children met his view. He rushed frantically to seek the murderess, but nowhere could she be found. At length, hearing a sound above his head, he looked up, and beheld Medea gliding through the air in a golden chariot drawn by dragons.
In a fit of despair Jason threw himself on his own sword, and perished on the threshold of his desolate and deserted home.
Source: E. M. Berens, A Hand-book of Mythology: The Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1894).