The Argonautica, Book III

Book I Book II Book III Book IV

Jason Meets Medea & The Tasks of Aeetes

Hera, hostile to Pelias because he had not made sacrifices in her honour and favourable to Jason because he had carried her, disguised as an old woman, across a ford, plotted with Athena to help Jason. They asked Aphrodite to request her son, Eros, to make Aeetes’ daughter, Medea, fall in love with Jason. A humourous scene of everyday life is described of Aphrodite finding Eros playing dice with Ganymede in a garden. Both are characterised as children. As a reward for making Medea fall in love with Jason, she promised Eros the ball with which Zeus had played as a baby.

Jason and Medea, painting by John William Waterhouse, 1907.

After spending the night hiding in the rushes by the river, Jason, accompanied by the sons of Phrixus and Telamon and Augeas, made his way to Aeetes’ palace to ascertain whether he would willingly hand over the Golden Fleece. Hera ensured their safe arrival at the palace by covering them in mist. They marvelled at the palace which Hephaestus had built: it had four streams flowing with milk, wine, fragrant oil and hot water, statues of bronze bulls with fire-breathing mouths, an indestructible plough and numerous rooms.

Jason and his men first searched for Chalciope, Phrixus’ wife and sister of Medea, who was delighted to see them. As they met Medea, whom Hera had ensured was at home, Eros struck her with his arrow and she immediately fell in love with Jason. Argus described to Aeetes how, having been shipwrecked, they had been rescued by Jason and how they had accompanied him back in his quest for the Golden Fleece sent by Pelias. Aeetes, however, believed the Argonauts wanted his throne, despite Jason arguing to the contrary and offering to pay for the Golden Fleece by subduing whatever enemy Aeetes wished.

Medea, painting by Frederick Sandys.

Aeetes pretended he would hand the Golden Fleece over to Jason if he completed two seemingly impossible tasks: to yoke two bronze footed, fire-breathing oxen and plough a field with them, sowing the teeth of Cadmus’ dragon, from which would spring armed men whom he must kill. Jason, though daunted at the prospect, took up the challenge as the alternative was death at the hands of Aeetes. Having received a good omen of a dove, the bird of Aphrodite, escaping from a hawk, Argus returned to the palace to persuade Chalciope to persuade Medea to give Jason ointment made from magic herbs to protect him.

Aeetes, meanwhile, planned to burn the Argo and kill the Argonauts once Jason had been killed in his challenges. Medea, meanwhile, had dreamt that Jason had come to Colchis to marry her, that she had carried out the challenges set by her father and, when asked to choose between her family and Jason, she had chosen the latter. Distressed and uncertain what to do when she awoke, she explained to Chalciope that her distress was caused by fear for Chalciope’s sons being harmed by their father, a fear shared by her sister. Medea then agreed to prepare drugs at the shrine of Hecate to help Jason overcome the bulls but she was kept awake and was unsettled by a combination of conflicting emotions: worry and guilt about her decision to help him, the shame that that might bring together with the pain of her love for him and fear that he might be killed. At one point she decided to kill herself, then decided against it after the intervention of Hera.

The Colchis Bull from Persey Jackson: Sea of Monsters

At dawn Medea travelled to the shrine of Hecate with twelve female servants taking a herbal drug called Prometheon, which had sprouted from the blood of Prometheus when he was being tortured by the eagle, and which provided immunity from harm. Argus and Mopsus accompanied Jason to the shrine but Jason and Medea met alone, both resplendent. Jason begged for the help of the tongue-tied girl, promising her eternal fame. Medea gave Jason the ointment and instructions on how to use it once he had sacrificed to Hecate. It would give him one day’s protection. He should also throw a stone into the midst of the armed men who would then turn on themselves and Jason could finish them off and take the Golden Fleece. Jason promised never to forget her and described his homeland and then promised to marry her if she came to Greece.

The following evening Jason sacrificed to Hecate and on the following day covered himself and his weapons with the ointment of Prometheon and he immediately felt its power. The Argonauts and the Colchians with Aeetes in his chariot, carrying a shield gifted by Ares, came to watch Jason attempt to yoke the bronze bulls. They were formidable but, with his added protection, Jason managed to yoke them and, as they ploughed the ground, Jason threw into the earth the teeth of the dragon killed by Cadmus. Soon armed soldiers rose from the below the ground and after Jason had thrown a huge rock in their midst, just as Medea had instructed, they began to attack each other. Jason rushed in and killed them all. Aeetes returned to his palace plotting what to do next.

Book II Book IV