Jason and The Golden Fleece: The Prequel to Medea

The Early Years

Jason was the son of the lawful king of Iolcus, but his uncle Pelias had usurped the throne. Pelias lived in constant fear of losing what he had taken so unjustly. He kept Jason's father a prisoner and would certainly have murdered Jason at birth. But Jason's mother deceived Pelias by mourning as if Jason had died. Meanwhile the infant was bundled off to the wilderness cave of Chiron the Centaur. Chiron tutored Jason in the lore of plants, the hunt and the civilized arts. When he had came of age, Jason set out like a proper hero to claim his rightful throne.

The Oracle's Warning

Jason did not think twice when an old hag asked him to help her across a river. Taking the crone on his back, he set off into the current. And halfway across he began to stagger under her unexpected weight. For the old woman was none other than Hera in disguise. Some say that she revealed herself to Jason on the far shore. Jason had lost a sandal in the swift-moving stream, and this would prove significant. For an oracle had warned King Pelias, "Beware a stranger who wears but a single sandal." When Jason arrived in Iolcus, he asserted his claim to the throne. But his uncle Pelias had no intention of giving it up, particularly to a one-shoed stranger.

The Challenge

Under the guise of hospitality, he invited Jason to a banquet. And during the course of the meal, he engaged him in conversation. "You say you've got what it takes to rule a kingdom," said Pelias. "May I take it that you're fit to deal with any thorny problems that arise? For example, how would you go about getting rid of someone who was giving you difficulties?" Jason considered for a moment, eager to show a kingly knack for problem solving. "Send him after the Golden Fleece?" he suggested. "Not a bad idea," responded Pelias. "It's just the sort of quest that any hero worth his salt would leap at. Why, if he succeeded he'd be remembered down through the ages. Tell you what, why don't you go?"

The Argonauts

And so it came to pass that word went out the length and breadth of Greece that Jason was looking for shipmates to embark upon a perilous but glamorous adventure. And in spite of the miniscule chances of anyone surviving to lay eyes upon the Fleece let alone get past the guarding dragon and return with the prize, large numbers of heroes were ready to run the risk. These were known as the Argonauts, after their ship, the Argo. Among them was Hercules.

Medea

Once arrived in Colchis, Jason had to face a series of challenges meted out by King Aeetes, ruler of this barbarian kingdom on the far edge of the heroic world. King Aeetes had taken a disliking to Jason on sight. He had no particular fondness for handsome young strangers who came traipsing into his kingdom on glorious quests featuring the trampling of his sacred grove and the carrying off of his personal property. For King Aeetes considered the Golden Fleece to be his own, and he was in the midst of telling Jason just what he could do with his precious quest when he was reminded of the obligations of hospitality by another of his daughters named Medea. Medea was motivated by more than good manners. For Hera had been looking out for Jason's interests, and she had succeeded in persuading her fellow goddess Aphrodite to intervene on Jason's behalf by causing Medea to fall in love with Jason at first sight.

The Fire-Breathing Bulls

There were two bulls standing in the adjacent pasture. If Jason would be so kind as to harness them, plow the field, sow it and reap the harvest in a single day, King Aeetes would be much obliged - and only too happy to turn over the Golden Fleece. Oh, and there was one trifling detail of which Jason should be aware. These bulls were a bit unusual in that their feet were made of brass sharp enough to rip open a man from gullet to gizzard. And then of course there was the matter of their bad breath. In point of fact, they breathed flames.

Plowing and Sowing

Quite conveniently for Jason, Medea was a famous sorceress, magic potions being her stock in trade. She slipped Jason a salve which, when smeared on his body, made him proof against fire and brazen hooves. And so it was that Jason boldly approached the bulls and brooked no bullish insolence. Disregarding the flames that played merrily about his shoulders and steering clear of the hooves, he forced the creatures into harness and set about plowing the field. Nor was the subsequent sowing any great chore for the now-heartened hero.

The Dragon's Teeth

Aeetes, it turns out, had got his hands on some dragon's teeth with unique agricultural properties. For each seed germinated into a fully-armed warrior, who popped up from the ground and joined the throng now menacing poor Jason.

Conquest of the Seed Men

Jason, who it was quite clear by now lacked the heroic wherewithal to make the grade on his own with this army. Employing the simple device suggested by Medea, he brought the harvest in on deadline with a minimum of personal effort. He simply threw a stone at one of the men. The man, in turn, thought his neighbor had done it. And in short order all the seed men had turned on one another with their swords until not one was left standing.

  

The Golden Fleece

Aeetes had no choice but to make as though he'd give the Fleece to Jason, but he still had no intention of doing so. He now committed the tactical error of divulging this fact to his daughter. Medea confided in Jason. Furthermore, she offered to lead him under cover of darkness to the temple grove where the Fleece was displayed, nailed to a tree and guarded by a serpent or dragon. And so at midnight they crept into the grove.

 

The Aftermath

She used a sleeping potion to subvert the monster's vigilance. Together they made off with the Fleece and escaped to the Argo. Setting sail at once, they eluded pursuit.  Accompanied by Medea, Jason and the Argonauts sailed away on the Argo, pursued by Aeetes, Medeaís father. Expecting pursuit, Medea had persuaded her young brother to come with them. As Aeetes gained on the Argo, Medea killed and dismembered her brother and scattered his body parts all over the surface of the sea, so her father must stop to gather his sonís remains in order to give him a proper burial.

Once they had returned to Iolchus and married, Jason asked Medea to use her magic to take some years from Jasonís own life and add them to his fatherís, for Aeson had grown quite old and frail. Medea told him she would not shorten his life, but would gladly add years to his fatherís. After preparing a pot with a magical brew, she cut up an old ram, threw it into the pot, and pronounced a sorcerous incantation. Out of the pot leapt a frisky young lamb. Having seen this evidence of her power, Aeson nervously allowed his new daughter-in-law to take a knife to him. She had put his remains into the pot, said the magic words, and out of the pot stepped Aeson, once again tall and strong, with a youthful head of black hair!

Medea had let the daughters of Pelias witnessed this act of sorcery, so they would approach her to do the same thing for their father. They knew he was too suspicious to submit willingly to the process, so they gave Pelias a sleeping potion Medea had prepared. Then, when their father was deeply asleep, the two daughters fell on him with their knives. Once he was dead, Medea cut him up and placed him in the pot. But instead of saying the magic words, she left the horrified women alone to watch the boiling pot with their fatherís remains. Jason was now king of Iolchus. He and Medea lived happily together for ten years, during which time they had two sons.

Questions: Answer on a separate sheet of paper. Worth 5 points each

 

  1. Who are Pelias and Aeetes?  What relationship do they have to Jason?
  2. What task does Aeetes make Jason do for the Fleece?
  3. How does Medea help him in this task?
  4. What does Medea do to help Jason flee Aeetesí ship?
  5. How does Medea trick Pelias and regain the throne for Jason?