The heroes of the Trojan War — Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, Agamemnon, etc. — are well known. However, the generation before the heroes of the Trojan War also had its heroes. Many of these heroes voyaged on the ship Argo with Jason in his quest to acquire the Golden Fleece. Some of the Argonauts — the sailors of the ship named the Argo — were the fathers of some of the Trojan War heroes: Peleus was the father of Achilles, Telamon was the father of Great Ajax, Oileus was the father of Little Ajax, and Menoetius was the father of Patroclus. In addition, the Argonauts included the twins Polydeuces and Castor, the brothers of Helen of Troy.
The Golden Fleece
The ram with the Golden Fleece rescued a child: Phrixus, the son of Athamas and Nephele in southeastern Greece. Athamas had married Nephele, and she bore him two children: a son named Phrixus and a daughter named Helle. But Athamas ceased to love Nephele, and he married Ino. Nephele left. Ino was a cruel stepmother to Phrixus and Helle, and she plotted against them and wanted them to die. Nephele returned to rescue her children. She sent them a winged ram whose fleece was made of gold. Phrixus and Helle climbed on top of the ram, which flew them over the sea. Unfortunately, Helle fell off the ram into the sea and drowned; thereafter, that sea was called the Hellespont in honor of her. The ram carried Phrixus from Greece to Colchis on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Phrixus lived there in the palace of King Aeetes, and he sacrificed the ram to the sea-god Poseidon. He skinned the ram and hung its Golden Fleece on a tree where a huge snake guarded it. This is the Golden Fleece that Jason and the heroes who sailed with him sought.
Jason’s Early Years
Jason’s father was named Aeson, and his mother was named Alcimede. Aeson was the rightful ruler of Thessaly, but Pelias, his half-brother, overthrew him and assumed the throne, which was in Iolcus, for himself. Pelias wanted to kill all of Aeson’s children, but Alcimede was able to save Jason’s life when he was born. She tricked Pelias into thinking that Jason was stillborn by having the women who served her pretend to mourn Jason. She sent Jason to the wise Centaur Chiron to raise to adulthood.
Jason Goes to Iolcus
Hera, the wife of Zeus, king of gods and of men, hated Pelias because he had killed his stepmother, Sidero, who had mistreated his mother, Tyro. He killed his stepmother on an altar dedicated to Hera, which is sacrilegious. Because of Pelias’ act of impiety, Hera therefore hated Pelias. In return, Pelias did not worship Hera. Because of her hatred of Pelias, Hera became Jason’s patron goddess. She knew that one day Jason would marry Medea, who would cause the death of Pelias. When Jason came of age, he decided to see Pelias, who had been warned by an oracle to beware of a man wearing one sandal. Jason wanted to regain the throne for his father, who still lived. Jason came to a stream, where he saw an old woman who wanted to cross the water. The old woman was Hera in disguise; she wanted to see what kind of man Jason was. Was Jason a good man who would help an old woman? Or was Jason a bad man who would refuse to help an old woman? Jason carried her on his back across the water, and Hera knew that Jason deserved her help. As Jason crossed the water, he lost one sandal. Hera told Jason to go to the city of Iolcus in Thessaly and see Pelias, and she told him that he — Jason — would have her help.
When Jason arrived in Iolcus, Pelias saw that he was wearing one sandal. Pelias would have liked to have Jason killed immediately, but he did not want to incite the people of Iolcus to rebel against him. Jason told Pelias that he wanted him to give the throne to Aeson, Jason’s father. Pelias said that both he and Aeson were old and tired, but that Jason was young and vigorous, and so Jason should be the King of Thessaly — if he could prove himself worthy. Pelias also said that an exploit that would prove that Jason was worthy of being King of Thessaly would be for Jason to acquire the Golden Fleece in Colchis on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Privately, Pelias believed and hoped that Jason would die in the attempt to acquire the Golden Fleece.
Jason accepted the challenge. He decided to build a ship, assemble a group of heroes, and sail away in the quest to acquire the Golden Fleece.
Copyrighted by Bruce D. Bruce
Note: The above is the preface to my book “Jason and the Argonauts: A Retelling in Prose of Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica.” It is available here: