For this Friday’s fable, we’re taking a journey through Greek mythology back to the era before the Trojan War. Our story begins with Pelias bypassing his brother Aeson in order to take the throne of Iolcus. With Aeson locked in a dungeon, his wife took their son Jason to be hidden and raised by a centaur named Cheiron on the Mountain of Pelion. Meanwhile, Pelias’ wrongful actions elicit a warning from an Oracle that a descendant of Aeson wearing one shoe would one day seek revenge.
When Jason turned 20, he set out to visit his uncle Pelias in order to reclaim his throne as its rightful heir. Along his journey, he aided an old woman—who was actually the goddess Hera in disguise—across a river and lost a sandal in the process. Pelias immediately grew nervous when Jason arrived because of the Oracle’s prophecy that a man wearing only one shoe would usurp his throne. However, Pelias wasn’t willing to give up the throne so easily.
Pelias commanded Jason to undertake an impossible mission in order to prove his worth, one from which Pelias hoped Jason would not return. The task was for Jason to voyage to the faraway land of Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which once belonged to a winged ram of Zeus. Years ago, the ram was given to Jason’s ancestor, Phrixus, who flew from Greece to Colchis on its back. Aietes, the king of Colchis, sacrificed the ram and hung the Golden Fleece in a sacred grove guarded by a large dragon after an Oracle foretold that Aietes would lose his kingdom if the fleece was taken away.
Jason recruited 50 warriors and heroes, including Hercules, to accompany him on the voyage. They set sail with Hera’s support on a ship called Argos, and so named the crew the Argonautica. After surpassing many trials and challenges along the way, the Argonautica finally arrived in Colchis. Jason asked King Aietes for the Golden Fleece, saying that it was the wish of Hera and that the fleece belonged to his ancestor. But once again, Jason was given an impossible, deadly task to complete before he could get what he wanted.
Aietes told Jason he must first plough the land with two yoked bulls that had metallic legs and blew fire from their nostrils. Then he had to sow with the teeth of a dragon, which unknowingly unearthed an army of warriors from the furrows in the soil. Fortunately for Jason, the king’s daughter, Medea, fell in love with him and used her sorcery skills to help him accomplish this mission in return for his promise to marry her. First, she gave him an ointment that made Jason invincible to fire and iron for one day. Then, she informed Jason of the army and told him that throwing a stone at them would turn them against each other.
With more of Medea’s help, Jason was able to retrieve the Golden Fleece without being harmed by the dragon. Meanwhile, the king ordered his army to burn Jason’s ship and kill the Argonautica. But Medea was able to help them all escape intact, and she left with them. The journey back, much like the journey there, was filled with challenges like sea monsters, storms, and Sirens. Jason and the Argonauts successfully overcame these obstacles and made it safely back home. Jason then gave the Golden Fleece to Pelias and claimed the throne.
Unfortunately, this hero’s tale does not have a happy ending and Jason’s success was rather short-lived. He and Medea, now his wife, were driven out of Iolkos after Media deceived and killed Pelias. They were exiled to Corinth, where the king offered Jason his daughter’s hand in marriage. Jason agreed, violating his vow to be true to Medea. The betrayed Medea was furious and killed their children, along with Jason’s new wife, before ascending to Mount Olympus where she eventually married Achilles.
Jason returned to Iolkos alone and miserable. One day, he visited his ship, the Argo. While sitting and weeping beside the old ship, a decayed beam fell and hit him in the head, killing him on the spot.
Despite the story’s troubled ending, it does allow us to dig into the importance of the Golden Fleece. Many folk traditions talk of fleeces being connected with magic and/or prophecy. Some societies believed that hanging fleeces led to prosperity and others believe they had the ability to renew royal power. The fleece’s representation of kinship and prosperity could be why Pelias asked Jason to retrieve it and why Aietes did not want to part with it. If you’re a collector of gold coins, rounds, or bars, this might sound familiar…right?
We hope that your quest to acquire gold and other treasures is less dramatic and more successful than Jason’s misbegotten plight!