The Historical Library
of Diodorus Siculus
Excerpt from Book IV
c. 60-30 BCE
translated by G. Booth (1814)
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian from Sicily whose sole suriving work, the Historial Library, aimed to relate the mytholoy and history of the whole world. In Book IV, Diodorus discusses the history of the Argonauts in rationalizing style. Most scholars believe Diodorus relied heavily on an earlier Greek writer, the third century BCE historian Dionysus Schytobrachion, whose lost six-volume Argonautica told of Jason's adventure without recourse to the supernatural.
Of the Argonauts, Medea, and the daughters of Pelias. How the Argonauts gained the Golden Fleece. The pranks of Medea. The acts of Jason. The cruelty of Pelias towards Jason's kindred; how he was killed by his own daughters, through Medea's charms. Medea burns the king of Corinth's palace, and him in it. The miserable end of Jason.
JASON (they say) was son of Aeson, and nephew to Pelias, king of Thessaly; and being a man of strong body, and of a high spirit, far above any of his age, was ambitious to perform some memorable and remarkable action; for knowing that Perseus his ancestor, and some others, (by their expeditious and admirable achievements in foreign countries), had purchased eternal honour and renown, he resolved to imitate them in the like heroic undertakings: acquainting, therefore, the king his uncle with his purpose, he easily obtained his consent, not that Pelias thereby aimed at the honour and glory of the young man, but that he hoped (among so many hazards and difficulties) he would be cut off; for having no issue male, he was afraid lest his brother, with the assistance of his son, would some time or other invade his kingdom. But he concealed his suspicion in the mean time, and promised to furnish him with provisions for his voyage, encouraging him to undertake the adventure, in sailing to Colchis to bring away the ram's golden fleece, so much famed and spoken of all the world over.
Pontus at that time was inhabited by a fierce and barbarous people, that were infamous for murdering all strangers that came amongst them, and therefore it was called Axenus: however, Jason being ambitious of glory, though he was something concerned at the difficulty of the undertaking, yet when he considered it was not altogether impossible to be accomplished, and that the more hazardous it was the greater his honour and glory would be, he furnished himself with all things necessary for his expedition.
And in the first place he built a ship at the mountain Pelion, much larger in every respect than was usual in those times; for then they used to sail only in boats and little skiffs. Every one, therefore, at the sight of the vessel, was amazed, and the intended design and the building of this ship, was noised over all Greece, so that many of the noble and brisk youths were eager to join and go away with Jason in order to partake of the honour in this expedition.
Jason now launching forth his ship, completely furnished with all things necessary, made choice of four-and-fifty of the greatest persons of quality out of the number of those who were desirous to go along with him: amongst whom the most remarkable were Castor and Pollux, Hercules and Telamon, Orpheus and Atalauta the daughter of Schoeneus, the sons of Thespius, and Jason himself the head and captain of the expedition to Colchis; he called the ship Argo, before he took her from the builder, whose name was Argus, (as some fabulous writers report), who (they say) embarked with them to repair the ship, as occasion might require: but others say it was so called from its swift sailing, for that Argon among the antient Greeks signified swift. Being all on board, they unanimously chose Hercules, for his extraordinary valour, to be their general. After they had set sail from Iolchos, and passed by Athos and Samothrace, they were by a tempest cast upon Sigeum, a promontory of Troas: where landing, they found a young virgin tied near to the sea-shore, for this reason as is said--
The report was, that Neptune being displeased with Laomedon the king, concerning the fabulously famed building of the walls of Troy, sent a vast monster out of the sea upon the land, which devoured all that came upon the shore, and the husbandmen that tilled the ground upon the sea-coast; and that this sea-god destroyed the people by a plague, and blasted all the fruits of the field. The whole country being in this miserable condition, the people met in a general assembly, and consulted together what course was to be taken for the redress of their deplorable condition. Hereupon it is said that the king sent to inquire of the oracle of Apollo what was to be done in this matter: who received this answer--That Neptune was angry, and would be then appeased, when one of the Trojan's children upon whom the lot should fall, should be offered up to be devoured by the sea-monster. Hereupon, they say, that a general lot was cast, and that it fell upon the king's daughter, called Hesione; whereupon Laomedon was forced to deliver up his daughter, and left her bound in chains upon the shore: and it fortunately happened at that very time, that Hercules landed with the rest of the Argonauts, and being informed by the lady of her misfortune, he broke off her fetters, and brought her into the city, promising he would kill the monster. Laomedon hereupon rejoiced exceedingly, and promised to bestow upon him as a reward, some horses he had, that were unconquerable. They say this monster was killed accordingly by Hercules, and that free liberty was given the lady either to go along with her deliverer, or stay at home with her parents; the lady, it is said, chose to go along with the stranger, not only as being mow affected with the deliverance, than the society of her parents and kindred, but fearing lest (if another monster should appear) she should be again exposed by the people to the same calamity.
Hercules, therefore, receiving honourable rewards suitable to so welcome a guest, left Hesione and the horses in trust with Laomedon, to be restored to him after his return from Colchis. Then he proceeded on his voyage with the Argonauts: and presently after they were overtaken with another violent storm, insomuch as they despaired of their lives; Orpheus only, they say, of all his companions in the expedition,(being a religious man), sacrificed and prayed to the gods of Samothraeia for their preservation: whereupon on a sudden there was a calm, and two stars, fell down upon the heads of Castor and Pollux, to the great amazement of the beholders; and so all concluded, that by the providence of the gods, they were now out of danger. Hence it has been a custom ever since, that when any are in a storm at sea, they call upon the gods of Samorhracia, and when any stars appear, they are looked upon then to be Castor and Pollux, that appear for their deliverance.
When the storm was over, the noble adventurers landed in a.province of Thrace, of which Phineus was king; where met them two young men, who for the punishment of their offences, were driven, out of the territories, and grievously whipped all along as they came. They proved to be the sons of Phineus, by Cleopatra the daughter of Boreas, and Orithyia the daughter of Erechtheus. But, through the malice of their stepmother, (by false accusations), their father was wrought upon to deal thus severely and unjustly with them; for Phineus having married (besides his former wife) Idea the daughter of Dardanus king of Scythia, was so enslaved by an inordinate affection to her, that he humoured her in every thing that she required; and therefore at that time he gave credit to her accusation, that those two young men (to please their own mother, and in contempt of her) attempted to lay violent hands on her.
Hercules, with the rest, fortunately landing at that very time, they say the young men called out to those noble heroes, and implored them as if they had been so many gods, to rescue them out of those miserable circumstances, declaring the cause why their father was so enraged against them. But Phineus meeting the strangers, in a rage charged them not to meddle in other people's concerns; for they might be assured, that no father would willingly so punish his own sons, unless the greatness of their faults had overcome all natural affection.
But it happened, that at that time, the Boreades, the brothers of Cleopatra, were companions with Hercules in this expedition. These therefore were the first that (by reason of their near relation) by force of arms relieved the young men, and breaking in pieces their chains, killed as many of the barbarians as opposed them. But when Phineus himself with a multitude of Thracians came flocking in, marched up to decide the matter by a battle, it is said, that then Hercules stoutly laid about him, and slew both Phineus, and a great number of the other Thracians. Then seizing upon the king's city and palace, he set Cleopatra at liberty, and restored to her sons their father's kingdom; who resolving to be revenged upon their step* mother, he persuaded them to forbear doing any such thing, but rather to send messengers into Scythia to her father, to let him know that they left her wholly to his discretion, to be punished for her offences. Which being done accordingly, the Scythian put his daughter to death; and the sons of Cleopatra were highly commended by the Thracians for their mildness and equity. But I am not ignorant how some of the fabulous authors relate, that Phiueus put out his two sons eyes, and that in retaliation,when he was old, Boreas served him the same sauce: and they report likewise, that Hercules going out of the ship to get a little fresh water, was left behind by the Argonauts in Asia. For in ancient stories no historians unanimously agree one with another; and therefore it is not to be admired, that 'in'giving an account of things in antient times, we do not in every thing agree with the poets and other writers.
But it is said, that the two sons gave up the kingdom to their mother Cleopatra, and went along with the Argonauts in their expedition; who sailing away from Thrace, and arriving at Pontus, landed in Taurica Chersonesus, being altogether ignorant of the cruelty of the inhabitants: for it was a custom amongst those Barbarians, to sacrifice all strangers that arrived there, to Diana Taurica. Amongst whom it is said, that in after-times, Ephigenia, the priestess of the goddess, practised the same cruelty upon all she could lay hold of.
And here, in regard that the course of the history requires it, it is requisite we should give an account of the causes of this horrid cruelty executed upon strangers, especially this digression seeming pertinent to the acts of the Argonauts.
They say, that Sol begat two sons, Aeetes and Perses, and that Aeetes was king of Colchis, and the other of Taurica, and that both were exceeding cruel. That Hecate was the daughter of Perses, far more fierce and cruel than her father; for being given to hunting (if she could find no game) she would sport herself with casting her darts at men instead of beasts: she made it her business likewise to compound deadly poisons, and was the first that found out Aconitum; and made trial of the nature and efficacy of every composition, by mixing them with the food given to strangers. Being thus grown extraordinarily skilful in this devilish art, she first poisoned her own father, and so usurped the crown.
Then she built Diana's temple, and ordered all strangers that arrived there, to Ue sacrificed to that goddess; so that her cruelty was noised abroad in every place. She afterwards married Aietes, and by him had two daughters, Circe and Medea, and one son called Aegialeus. Circe likewise being much addicted to the compounding of all sorts of medicines, found out the wonderful natures and efficacy of divers sorts of roots and herbs, many she learnt of her mother Hecate, but many more she discovered by her own industry; so that she left nothing new (for any that came after her} which might any ways advance that art. This Circe was married to the king of the Sarmatians, whom some call Scythians; bat she likewise poisoned her husband, and so usurping the kingdom, executed many butcheries and cruelties upon the subjects; for which (as some writers relate) she was driven out of the kingdom, and fled to the ocean, and possessing herself of a certain desert island, settled there, together with the women her companions. But as other historians say, leaving Pontus, she settled in the promontory of Italy, now called from her Circaeum.
They report likewise, that Medea learned the same art from her mother and sister; but she plainly made use of it for contrary ends and purposes; for she constantly laid out herself to save the lives of strangers that were driven thither, sometimes begging the lives of such as were condemned by her father, and at other times by her subtle contrivance procuring their escape out of prison.
For Aeetes, prompted thereto both by the cruelty of his own nature, and likewise incited by the counsels and persuasions of Hecate his wife, observed the custom of murdering strangers. But Medea every day more and more opposed her parents in this thing; Aeetes (upon suspicion of treason) committed his daughter Medea to prison, whence, notwithstanding, she escaped, and fled to a temple of Apollo, seated near the sea-shore; about which same time, the Argonauts sailed by Taurica, and arrived in the night at Colchis, at the very place where the temple stood; where meeting with Medea wandering upon the shore, were informed by her of the cruel custom of murdering strangers in those parts; whereupon giving the virgin thanks for her humanity and kindness, they told her of their designs, and of the end of their adventure; and she on the other hand informed them what dangers she was surrounded with from her father, by reason of her kindness and compassion to strangers: It being therefore evident to both parties what was then fit to be done, Medea on her part promised she would assist them to the utmost of her power, till they had accomplished their design; and Jason promised, and confirmed by a solemn oath, that Medea should from that time forward be his wife. Hereupon the Argonauts leaving a party, to guard their ships, went with Medea in the night to the golden fleece: of which we must here write more largely, that nothing may be omited that is pertinent to the history.
They say that Phryxus the son of Athamas, to avoid the malice of his stepmother, fled out of Greece, together with Helles his sister, and being by the advice and direction of the gods, transported out of Europe into Asia, upon the back of a golden-fleeced ram, it happened that the young maid fell off into Pontus, which was therefore from thence called Hellespont: but Phryxus landing safe in Colchis, by the command of the oracle sacrificed the ram, and hung up its skin in the temple of Mars.
Afterwards the king was told by the oracle, that he should die when some sea-faring men came thither, and carried away the golden fleece. And this was the cause (besides the cruelty of his nature) that moved this vile man to sacrifice strangers, that (this horrid cruelty being noised abroad in all parts) no stranger might dare to set footing in his country. He built a wall likewise round the temple, and placed a strung guard of Taurican soldiers to keep it, which has afforded matter for prodigious stories among the Grecians; as how that bulls which breathed out fire at their nostrils guarded the temple, and that a dragon kept the fleece. For by reason of the ambiguity of the word Taurus, it was strained to signify the fierceness and violence of bulls; and the cruel murdering of strangers, gave rise to the fiction of the bulls breathing out fire. Upon the same account the poets have given the name of a most terrible and monstrous beast, placed as a guard for security of the temple.
And much like to this story, is what they say concerning Phryxus: for they say that he sailed in a ship, upon whose fore-deck was carved the head of a ram, and that Helle by leaning too much forward over the sides of the ship to vomit, fell over-board into the sea.
Others say, that about the time that Phryxus with his schoolmaster was taken by Aeetes, the Scythian king, the father-in-law of Aeetes, came to Colchis, and fell in love with the boy, and upon that account he was bestowed by Aeetes upon the Scythian, who loved him as his own child, and adopted him as his heir and successor to the kingdom. But that the school-master whose name was Crius, was sacrificed to the gods, and his skin, according to the custom, was fastened to the walls of the temple.
Afterwards Aeetes being foretold by the oracle that he should die when strangers carried away the ram's-skin, it is said that he gilt it with gold, that the splendour thereof should cause the soldiers who were set to guard it, to be more careful and diligent in their watch. But we leave every one to judge of these things as he thinks fit.
However it was, Medea conducted the Argonauts to the temple of Mars, which was not above seventy furlongs distant from the city Sybaris, dignified with the palace royal of the kings of Colchis. Medea therefore coming in the night to the temple gates, which Were fast shut up, spoke to the guards in the language of Taurica: whereupon knowing her to be the king's daughter, they forthwith opened the gates; upon which, the Argonauts rushed in with their drawn swords, and killed many of the barbarians, and drove the rest (terrified with the sudden surprise) out of the temple; and then plucking down the fleece, they hastened back to their ship with all speed.
While these things were performing, Medea was as diligent on her part, and poisoned the ever-wakeful dragon, which wound himself about the fleece in the temple; and then she went on ship-board with Jason. The Tauricans that fled, informed the king of what was done, who forthwith pursuing the Greeks with his soldiers which were ready at hand, overtook them at the sea side, and falling upon them on-the sudden, slew Iphitus, one of the Argonauts, brother of Eurystheus, who imposed upon Hercules so many labours. But when the rest of the Greeks (who were before dispersed) fell on in a great body upon them, the barbarians were most of them killed by Meleager, amongst whom was the king himself. The Grecians hereupon being fired with this success, pressed more resolutely upon the Colchians, and at length put them to flight, and slew the greatest part of them in the pursuit. Of the Argonauts, were wounded in this encounter, Jason, Laertes, Atalanta, and the Thesplades, but they were cured within a few days, by applications, as is said, made up of herbs and roots by Medea. Then furnishing themselves with provision,they set sail, in order to return. But being got into the midst of the Pontic sea, they were overtaken with a sudden tempest, to the great hazard of their lives. But Orpheus addressing himself to the gods of Samothracia as before, the winds presently ceased, and Glaucus the sea god presently appeared near to the ship, and swam along by the ship's side for two days and nights together, and foretold to Hercules his labours and future immortality. He told likewise the Tyndarides, that they should be called Dioscuri, and should be adored and reverenced by all men as gods. Then he called the Argonauts every one by their names, and told them, that for the sake of Orpheus's prayers, by the provident care of the gods, he now appeared to them, and had foretold them of things to come. Therefore he advised them, that as soon as they landed, they should pay their vows, and give thanks to the gods, by whose kindness they had been now twice delivered. Having said this, Glaucus dived again into the sea.
The Argonauts being now arrived at the mouth of Pontus, made to land, where Byzas then reigned, from whom the city is now called Byzantium. Here they erected altars, and offered up their prayers and thanks to the gods, and consecrated the place, which is now at this day accounted sacred, and reverenced by all that sail that way. Departing thence, they passed through Propontis, and the Hellespont, and made to the coasts of Troy. When they arrived there, Hercules sent his brother Iphiclus and Telamon into the city, to demand Hesione and the horses: but Laomedon laid the messengers by the heels, and plotted the destruction of all the Argonauts. To which foul act, all his sons (except Priam) contributed their helping hands. For Priam alleged, that compacts with strangers ought to be kept inviolable, and pressed that his sister, with the horses that were promised should be restored (whose advice being disregarded, he privately conveyed two swords into the goal to Iphiclus and Telamon, declaring to them his father's design, and by this means procured their deliverance. For forthwith killing the keepers that resisted them, they escaped to the sea, and discovered all the particulars to the Argonauts. The heroes hereupon readily prepared themselves for battle, and marched on to meet the Trojans, who with their king had issued out of the city against them.
A sharp dispute and conflict there was, but at length the valour of the heroes prevailed, where they say, Hercules exceeded them all; for he killed Laomedon, and took the city by a sudden assault, and punished them who were parties and contrivers in the design with the king; but gave the kingdom to Priam for his justice and equity; and after entering into a league of friendship with him, departed thence with the Argonauts. But some of the antient poets say, that being furnished only with six ships, upon the account of being denied the horses, he took Troy himself, without the help of the Argonauts; and to confirm this, they allege these verses of Homer But Hercules my father, as is said, The lions strong in valeur did exceed, That only with six ships and slender force, For Laomedon's horses took his course; And then besieg'd and took the city Troy, And many of her people did destroy.
From Troy the Argonauts arrived at Samothracia, and then again gave thanks to the gods, where they dedicated their drink-offering bowls, and left them in the temple, which remain there at this day.
The return of the heroes was not yet known; but the common report was throughout all Thessaly, that Jason and all his companions were destroyed some where or other about Pontus.
Pelias therefore now thinking it a fit opportunity to cut off all that might in any probability seem to affect the kingdom, compelled Jason's father to drink bull's blood, and murdered his brother Promachus, who was then but a mere child.
But when Amphinome hie mother was sought for to be butchered, she acted the part of a manlike and noble spirit, worthy of remark; fcr running to the king's palace, she poured out most heavy curses upon his head, wishing that due vengeance might overtake him for his impiety; and then immediately stabbed herself, and so like a hero ended her days.
Pelias having thus extinguished Jason's whole family, in a short time after paid for it, and received the due reward of his wickedness: for Jason in the night, entering* port of Thessaly not far from the city Iolchos,(yet out of view of the inhabitants), was by one informed of the sad state and condition of his family, and thereupon all the heroes were in readiness to asset Jason, and to undergo all hazards for that purpose; but there arose some difference of opinion amongst them; for some were for surprising the king with a sudden assault, others were for the raising of forces out of every country, and so to join against him in a common war: for it was impossible for three-and-forty men, to think to overcome so potent a prince, both as to his riches and the number of his cities. In these different councils k is said, that Medea promised to kill the king by a stratagem, and deliver op the palace into their hands, without any hazard to any of them. The heroes wondering at what she said, asked how she would accomplish it? Who answered, that she had great variety of poisons of admirable strength and efficacy, some of them found out by her mother Hecate, and others by her sister Circe; that she had not as yet made use of them for the killing of any man, but now by the help of them, she would execute due and deserved punishment upon the wicked wretches; and told the Argonauts her whole design, after what manner she would get to the king; and promised that front some turret in the palace that looked towards the sea, she would give a sign to their watch by fire in the night, and by smoke in the day.
Hereupon she provided a hollow image of the goddess Diana, in which she hid several sorts of poisons, and anointed her hair with a sort of ointment, which turned it all grey and hoary, and with the same ointment wrinkled up her face and her whole body, so that she looked like an old withered hag. Then taking the goddess with her, ordered in all respects so as to excite the common people to a superstitious adoration, she entered the city when it was light; whereupon the people came running in to her from all quarters, as if she had been an inspired priestess: and she herself commanded every body to bear a reverend regard to the goddess, who was now by the special providence of the gods, come to them from the Hyperboreans for the preservation of the king and the whole city. All being now employed every where in adoring the goddess, and preparing sacrifices in honour of her, the whole city was possessed with such a fanatical fury of superstition, that Medea slily procured herself to be brought into the palace; where with her delusions she infatuated both Pelias and his daughters with such a pang of superstition, that they all believed the goddess was come to load the king's house with all manner of blessings; for she declared that Diana in a chariot, drawn through the air by dragons, had passed over many parts of the world, and had now at length made choice of the king as the most pious prince to settle her image, and establish her worship there for ever; adding, that she was commanded by the application of some medicines to give a check to his old age, and restore him to his former youth and strength, and bestow many other blessings upon him that might make his life comfortable to himself, and pleasing to die goddess.
The king being amazed at this strange and unusual discourse, she promised him, forthwith, to give an assurance of the truth of what she said, by an example in her own body. To this end therefore she ordered one of Pelias's daughters to bring her some spring-water; which being done, she shut herself up in a little room, and bathing her body all over in the water, she cleansed herself of the ointment, and so being restored to her former vigour, as soon as she came into the king's presence, all the beholders were amazed: for they conceived that an old woman was transformed into a youthful and beautiful virgin by the power and providence of the gods. She forthwith likewise, by her witchcraft, caused the appearance of the shape of the dragons to appear, by which the goddess was drawn through the air from the Hyperboreans to continue as a guest with Pelias.
These things done by her, being looked upon to be above the course of nature, the king highly honoured her, and believed all she said to be true; and it is said that he took his daughters aside, and ordered them to assist her, and do whatever she commanded: and that it was fitter his own children should apply medicines to his body than servants, in order to reap the benefits designed him by the favour of the gods. Pelias therefore having expressly commanded that his daughters should observe whatever Medea ordered to be done, in reference to the care of their father's body, were ready in all things to obey her. About midnight, therefore, when Pelias was fast asleep, she said it was absolutely necessary that his body should be boiled in a cauldron: and though the young ladies easily and readily of their own accord, prepared themselves to obey her, yet she applied herself to another experiment for the gaining further credit to what she said: there was an old ram bred up in the stall, which she told the young ladies, she would first boil, and then it should come forth a Iamb. Whereupon they agreed, and then it is said, she cut the ram into small pieces, and boiled them, till to their seeming, by the use of the enchanted drugs, she brought forth a young lamb out of the kettle, to the admiration and astonishment of the young women, who now thinkingthey might with great assurance depend upon what she promised, resolved to observe her in all her commands; and all of them, but Alcestis (who out of a pious and natural affection to her father, would not lay hands upon him) cudgelled him to death. Whereupon Medea pretended that vows and prayers were first to be made to the moon, before his body was dissected, and cast into the cauldron: to which end, she carried the young ladies with torches and fire-brands to the top of the highest part of the palace; where Medea to spin out time, mumbled out a long prayer in the language of Colchis, that the Argonauts might make the assault in the mean time; who now seeing the fire from the turret, concluded the king was despatched; and therefore in a body they made hastily to the city; where presently mounting over the walls, they entered the palace with their drawn swords, and killed the watch that opposed them. As soon as Pelias's daughters Were come down to boil their father, unexpectedly seeing Jason with the rest of the noble youths his companions, entered into the midst of the palace, they grievously cried out with exceeding sorrow and lamentation: having now neither power to revenge themselves upon Medea, nor time to purge themselves from the horrid fact that by her delusions they had committed, they had forthwith murdered themselves, if Jason (pitying their miserable condition) had not prevented them, and comforted them with this consideration, that their present misery was not occasioned by their own malicious contrivance, but that they were without any fault of theirs led aside by the deceit of another; he promised them likewise, that their whole family should be civilly and honourably used. Having therefore called together a general assembly, he excused what was done, and declared that he had dealt far more gently with the authors of those injuries than they deserved; and what he had done, was far short of what he and his had suffered. Then he placed Acastus the eldest son of Pelias upon his father's throne, and carried himself with all due respect to the king's daughters; and in performance of what he had promised, it is said, he at length married them to the greatest persons of quality.
Alcestis, the eldest, he married to Admetus the Thessalian, the son of Pheretes; Amphinome to Andnemon, the brother of Leonteus; and Eradne to Canas the prince of Phocis, the son of Cephalus. And these were the things afterwards done by Jason.
Then arriving with the rest of the heroes in the Isthmus of Pelponnesus, he there sacrificed to Neptune, and dedicated the ship Argo to that god. Having gained the special favour of Creon king of Corinth, he was made free of the city, and ever after dwelt among the Corinthians.
When the Argonauts were preparing every one to return into his own country, they say Hercules made this proposal, that to obviate the unexpected blasts and frowns of fortune, they should enter into an oath mutually to assist each other, whenever any of them stood in need of help; and that they should pick out the most remarkable place in Greece for the celebrating of sports*, and a general and solemn meeting of all the Grecians; and that the games should be celebrated in honour of Jupiter Olympus, the greatest ot the gods.
Upon which the heroes entered into the association proposed, and left it to Hercules to institute the games; who made choice of the ground in the territories of Elis, near to the river Alpheus, for the general and solemn meeting, and dedicated the place to the chiefest of the gods, from whom it was called Olympia. Having therefore appointed horse-coursing, wrestling, and other Olympic sports, and ordered their several prizes and rewards, he sent messengers to all the cities, to acquaint them with the institution of these games. He was in no small honour and repute before, upon the account of his expedition with the Argonauts: but this institution of the Olympic games much more advanced his praise; for he was so cried up amongst all the Grecians, and was so eminently famous in the esteem of most of the cities, that many desired to enter into a league of friendship with him, and to stand or fall with him in all dangers whatsoever.
His valour and military art was so admired by every body, that he presently got together a vast army, with which he went through. the whole world, desiring to benefit all mankind; upon which account all unanimously agree that he has attained to a state of immortality. But the poets, according to their prodigious way of relating matters, say, that Hercules himself alone, and without any army, performed all those famous actions reported of him. But we have before given an account of all those things that are fabulously related concerning this god: and now it remains that we should proceed with the history of Jason.
It is said that he and Medea, as man and wife, lived together ten years in Corinth, and of her first begat twins,Thessalus and Aicimena, and then a third called Tisandrus, much younger than the other two. During all this time, they say Medea was greatly beloved of her husband, being eminent not only for the excellency of her beauty, but for her prudence and other virtuous qualifications: but it is said, that when she grew old, and her beauty began to decay, Jason fell in love with Glauce, the daughter of Creon, and courted the young lady to marry her. The father agreed to the match, and appointed a day, but Jason they say, first applied himself to Medea, in order to persuade her to a voluntary divorce; telling her, that he did not marry this other lady out of any aversion or disgust to her, but that he might have children to be heirs to the royal family. Hereat the woman stormed, and appealed to the gods for revenge, the witnesses of his oath and vows. However, it is said, Jason without any further regard to her, married the king's daughter.
Medea therefore being commanded to leave the city, having only one day allowed her by Creon to prepare for her departure, by the art of witchcraft she changed the form of her countenance, and entered the palace in the night, and by a root found out by Circe her sister (which being kindled, was of such a nature, as it could not be extinguished) she set the palace on fire. And now all being in a flame, Jason sprang out from the burning, and escaped, but Glauce and her father Creon hemmed in on every side by the fire, were both consumed. Some historians say, that Medea's sons presented the new bride with poisoned plasters, which she applying to herself, miserably perished, and her father together with her, by only touching her body in endeavouring to help her. Medea thus succeeding in her first attempt, proceeded sill to be further revenged upon Jason; for she was so far transported with rage and jealousy, yea, with implacable cruelty, that notwithstanding Jason's narrow escape, and the destruction of the bride, she further enhanced his misery, by murdering his sons he had by her; for she cut all their throats (except one who made his escape by flight) and buried them in the temple of Juno; and when she had done, at midnight fled with some of her faithful maid-servants from Corinth to Hercules at Thebes, who undertaking as a surety for Jason, that he should perform his vows made to her in Colchis, promised to assist her in taking revenge. In the mean time, every one judged Jason was justly punished in this loss, both of his wife and children: not being therefore able to bear the insupportable weight of his calamities, he killed himself. The Corinthians were even astonished at the extremity of his misery, and were especially perplexed concerning the burying of the children. Therefore they sent to Delphos to inquire of the oracle how their bodies were to be disposed of: and it is said, the oracle ordered them to be buried in Juno's temple, and that they should for ever after be worshipped as demi-gods. The Corinthians accordingly observed what was commanded; and Thessalus who escaped the cruel hands of his mother, was brought up by them.
Afterwards he returned to lolchos, his father's country, and found Acastus the son of Pelius, then lately dead; and thereupon (as next heir to the crown) took upon him the sovereign authority, and called the people within his dominions after his own name Thessalians. But I am not ignorant that there are other accounts given concerning the naming of them Thessalians, of which we shall speak in their proper place.
In the mean time they say, Medea finding Hercules at Thebes distracted, and his children a little before by him murdered, she cured him by her medicinal applications. But because there was no hope of assistance for her from Hercules at the present, by reason of the labours imposed upon him by Eurystheus, she fled to Aegeus the son of Pandion at Athens, who married her, and begat of her Medus, afterwards king of the Medes. Others say, she was brought to her trial by Hippotus the son of Creon, and fairly acquitted.
Some small time after, when Theseus returned from Troezene to Athens, sire was expelled the city for witchcraft; and Aegeus sent her away by messengers, with orders to conduct her to what place soever she had a mind to go; and it is said she went into Phoenicia, and that from thence she past into the upper parts of Asia, and being married there to a certain famous king, she had a son by him called Medus, who after the death of his father, succeeded in the kingdom, and became renowned for his valour, and after his own name, called the people Medes.
But by reason of the monstrous stories feigned by the tragedians, there is great variety and difference in the history concerning Medea. Others, in favour to the Athenians,say, that she returned safe to Colchis, and took along with her Medus the son of Aegeus: and that about that time, Medus was by force of arms deprived of his kingdom by Perses his brother, and was restored by his nephew Medus, who killed Perses.
Afterwards Medus having raised a great army, overran many parts of Asia above Pontus, and subdued that part now called, from him, Media: but it would be here unnecessary and too tedious to relate all the stories that they have written concerning Medea; therefore we shall now proceed with what remains of the history of the Argonauts.
Many, both of the antient and modern writers, (amongst whom is Timaeus), report that the Argonauts (after the carrying away of the golden fleece) coming to. understand that Aeetes had blocked up the mouth of Pontus with his fleet, to prevent their return, performed that which was wonderfully remarkable: for it is said, they sailed up to the land of the river Tanais, and there drew the ship a considerable way over, and into another river that ran into the ocean, and so fell down that way into the sea; and then bending their course from the north to the west, leaving the continent on their left hand, they at length entered our sea near Gades: and to confirm this, they use these arguments--
First, that the Celts, the inhabitants near the ocean, do adore Castor and. Pollux above all the rest of the gods; for among these Celts there is an ancient tradition, that these gods appeared, and came to them out of the ocean: and they affirm, that there are several places near the sea, that had their names from the Argonauts and the Dioscuri, which remain still to this day; and that within the continent beyond Gades, there are apparent marks and signs of the return of the Argonauts: for sailing by Tyrrhenia, and arriving at a certain island called Aethalia, there is a spacious haven, called by them Argo, from the name of their ship, which name the port retains to this day: and that there is another harbour in Etruria, eight hundred furlongs from Rome, which they named Telamon, and that the port at the city Formia; into Italy they called Aeetes, which is now named Caieta.
They further say, that being driven upon the quick-sands in Libya, by a violent tempest, they were informed by Triton the king, of the nature of the sea in those parts, and how to avoid the danger; for which kindness they presented him with a brass tripod, on which were inscribed very ancient characters, which not long since it is said was among the Hesperians.
We are not here to omit refuting those historians, that affirm the Argonauts sailing through the river Ister to the spring heads below, passed through the channel there straight before them into the Adriatic gulf. But time has now clearly manifested the mistakes of those authors, who thought that that Ister which disembogues itself by several mouths into the Pontic sea,and that other which falls into Adria, rise from one and the same spring-head. For, since the conquest of Istria by the Romans, it is known by experience, that the fountain-heads of the river, are not above forty furlongs from the sea: but the identity of the names of rivers has been the occasion of mistakes in historians.
Text from Diodorus Siculus, The Library, trans. G. Booth, vol. 1 (London: 1814).