Jason

Jason was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Iolcus and the leader of the Argonauts.

Parents: Aeson and Alcimede
Consort: Medea and Hypsipyle
Children: Alcimenes, Eriopis, Euneus, Medus, Mermerus, Pheres, Thessalus and Tissander

Jason with the Golden Fleece by Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Early Life

When Pelias, the half-brother of King Aeson, deposed Aeson and claimed the throne of Iolcus, Jason, the heir to the throne, was smuggled away from the kingdom and put into the care of Chiron the Centaur.

After many years, Jason made his way back to Iolcus to regain his kingdom. On his way he helped an old woman by carrying her across a river. He lost one of his sandals in the stream but earned the gratitude of the old woman, who was the goddess Hera in disguise. Henceforth, Hera would always be a friend and an ally of Jason.

Pelias, king of Iolcus, stops on the steps of a temple as he recognises young Jason by his missing sandal. Roman fresco from Pompeii, 1st c. AD.

King Pelias had been warned by an Oracle to beware of a man wearing one sandal. When Jason appeared with one bare foot, Pelias sent him on an expedition to find the Golden Fleece, knowing it was unlikely that Jason would ever return.

The Quest for the Golden Fleece

With their help of the goddesses Hera and Athena, Jason built the fabled ship Argo, which had fifty oars. He recruited fifty heroes from around the Greek world, who were called the Argonauts after the ship. They included Atalanta, Heracles, Orpheus, Calais and Zetes, Castor and Polydeuces, Idmon, Nestor, Peleus, Philoctetes and Telamon.

Jason and the Argonauts set sail for the Black Sea where the legend said the Golden Fleece was hidden. After many adventures, the Argonauts reached the kingdom ruled by Aeetes. The king, whose help the Argonauts needed, imposed seemingly impossible tasks upon Jason. One was to harness the fire breathing bulls of Hephaestus and plow a field. Then he was to sow the plowed field with dragons’ teeth, from which would spring fully armed warriors and Jason also had to kill these Spartoi.

Medea

With a little nudge from Hera and Aphrodite, Medea, daughter of Aeetes, had fallen in love with him. Medea used her powers as a sorceress to help him. Jason mastered the bulls with a special fire-proof ointment and when the armed men sprang from the dragons’ teeth, Jason did what Cadmus had done before him: he threw a stone into the midst of the warriors, who accused each other of throwing the stone. They fought amongst themselves until all were dead.

Medea then led Jason to the place where the Golden Fleece hung, which was guarded by a terrible dragon. Using a magic potion, Medea put the dragon to sleep, allowing Jason to secure the golden trophy. Jason and the Argonauts fled Colchis, accompanied by Medea, and pursued by King Aeetes.

Medea slew her brother, Apsyrtus, who had accompanied them. She cut his body into pieces and flung them into the sea, knowing that Aeetes would gather up the dismembered pieces of his son’s body to give them a ceremonial burial. Thus Jason and the Argonauts escaped with the Golden Fleece, and returned it to Iolcus.

Jason bringing Pelias the Golden Fleece. Apulian red-figure calyx krater, c. 340–330 BC, Louvre.