Jason & The Argonauts

The Greek tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece has been told for 3,000 years. This version is partly adapted from ‘The Orchard Book of Greek Myths’ , with some help from BBC History

                                 

Once upon a time, two brothers were always squabbling. Even as grown-ups. The older brother, Aeson (Ee-son), was King of Thebes. His younger brother, Pelias (“Pell-eye-us”) was jealous.  One day, Pelias locked King Aeson in prison so that he could take over as king. Aeson’s wife escaped with their baby to Mount Pelion. And as the child grew up, he was taught by Chiron, a centaur: half man, half horse. But today’s story is all about what Jason did when he grew up. 

 

When Jason became an adult, he went to his wicked uncle Pelias to take back the throne and release his father from prison. Pelias was a cunning man, and he said to Jason,  “We don’t have to fight over this. I’ll give you the kingdom, if you can prove you are worthy to rule it. Bring me the famous Golden Fleece and I’ll release my brother and return the kingdom.” Jason accepted the challenge. Pelias grinned. He knew that lots of people had tried and failed to get Golden Fleece - it was the toughest challenge he could think of. Everyone in the kingdom shook their heads. This was impossible! Impossible! Impossible!

 

But what was the Golden Fleece? It was the fleece of a magical ram that once belonged to Zeus, the king of the gods. Now, its fleece now hung in a sacred grove - guarded by a terrifying, many-headed dragon called the Hydra. 

 

Jason found the finest shipbuilder in the land and had him build him a ship that could travel the globe. Then he found a crew of sailors - the wise, the strong, the kind and the brave. He called the boat The Argo and his crew were the Argonauts.  But Jason had a problem - he had no idea where to start looking for the Golden Fleece. But there was something extra-special about The Argo: on the front of the ship, the carved figurehead was made from the wood of a magical oak tree. When Jason touched it, it spoke to him, saying, "King Phineas will tell you where to go. Go and ask poor, poor Phineas!"

 

King Phineas was very old and completely blind. He owned chests full of robes and larders full of food. But when Jason and the Argonauts visited him he was as thin as a twig and his clothes hung in rags. In front of him was a banqueting table, covered in delicious food. But every time Phineas reached the table, a flock of hideous flying creatures swooped in and stole the food. 

 

Jason and the Argonauts looked at the flying creatures. They were as big as people, like pterodactyls, and their heads were women's heads, with flying hair and unkind, hungry mouths. When the Argonauts tried to beat them away, these creatures, called the Harpies, scratched and bit and beat their giant wings harder. “The Harpies, the Harpies! Shelter under the table!" cried Phineas. 

 

But Jason wouldn’t give up. He knew that Phineas would be most able to help him find the Golden Fleece if he had a good meal inside him. And that was hardly going to happen with these Harpies stealing all his food.  So Jason drew his sword, and he and the Argonauts battled the Harpies until they fled, shrieking across the rooftops and out to sea, never to return.

 

For the first time in years, Phineas was able to enjoy this table of food, rather than live off the scraps that the Harpies left behind. Zeus had sent the Harpies to Phineas as a punishment because Phineas could see the future and had told everyone what Zeus had planned for their lives. But now, Jason had brought this punishment to an end.  The Argonauts hoped Zeus wouldn’t be angry with them!  

 

When Phineas had eaten, Jason asked him how to find the Golden Fleece. "Don't even try!" said Phineas. "The Fleece hangs in the land of Colchis, beyond the Clashing Cliffs. Think of that and tremble!" But Jason would not give up: he was determined to release his father and rescue the kingdom from his wicked uncle Pelias.

 

The crew left Phineas and sailed the Argo towards the island of Colchis, and before long, they saw they had to sail between two narrow cliffs. The clashing cliffs! Sure enough, they watched them crash together like two hands clapping. How on earth could they sail between them - wouldn’t they be squashed?!  

 

But many of the gods were on Jason’s side. They wanted to see him save his father and to see wicked uncle Pelias get what he deserved. And so, as the Argo sailed as fast as it could between the Clashing Cliffs, the cliffs stayed open. Before they knew it, they were through safely, and sailing on the Black Sea on their way to Colchis, land of the Golden Fleece.

 

They arrived in Colchis and dropped their anchor just offshore. After a good night’s sleep, Jason went to the king of the island, King Aietes (Eye-eet-ees), and told him his story. "I must have the Golden Fleece," he said. 

 

King Aietes’s lip curled. "Well, of course Iyou can try... but the guards might try to stop you. Ha ha!” Then from his pockets he pulled handfuls of sharp white teeth. Dragon's teeth! He threw them on the ground in front of the Argonauts. As each tooth touched the ground, it sprouted, like a plant, into a soldier! 

 

Now Jason and the Argonauts were easily outnumbered and were fighting magical soldiers. “Don’t give up!” called Jason to his friends. “We fought the Harpies! What’s a handful of teeth to us?!” And, encouraged by Jason’s words, the Argonauts won the battle. 

 

Onwards, towards the Fleece. They were so close to saving Jason’s father and their kingdom, but perhaps the toughest challenge was ahead.  They entered the sacred grove - a beautiful garden - where the shimmering, magical fleece of Zeus’s golden ram hung from a tree. “Wow,” they all sighed. 

 

Watching them was Medea, Aietes’s daughter who was a powerful magician. She didn’t like her father’s cruelty and hoped that Jason would take the fleece and do some good with it. It was wasted here, just being her father’s treasure.  

 

Jason looked at the tree with the fleece. A dragon was wrapped around it, with many heads, and no eyelids: this was the Hydra. It looked at Jason and pounced.  But Jason could not give up now. He had to rescue his father and his kingdom and would do everything he could to do that.  

 

He tried to cut off one of the Hydra’s many heads, but two grew back in its place! Every time a head came off, the Hydra just got stronger! Jason had to find a different way to slay it.  As the Hydra opened its mouth, he threw his sword into its throat - and it worked. The Hydra choked and died. 

 

Still being careful, Jason climbed the tree and took down the magic golden fleece. Medea helped him down and said, “I will help you escape from my father and his soldiers - he will not let you leave Colchis with his fleece.” 

 

Jason and Medea and the Argonauts all ran down to the beach to get back on the Argo. They got on the boat just as Aietes and his soldiers began to catch up with them, and heaved a great sigh of relief. Now they were safe and on their way back to release Jason’s father from wicked uncle Pelias. 

 

When they arrived back in Thebes, Jason took the Golden Fleece to Pelias, and said, “Here is the golden fleece. Now you must release my father and return the kingdom to us.” Pelias was furious and refused to keep his promise. Jason was upset, but Medea said, “Don’t give up.”

 

“Pelias,” she said to the wicked king. “At least let me help the prisoner. He is very old and possibly dying. Let me restore his youth with my magic so he can at  least enjoy a few visits with his son, who he’s never met before. That way, he will be your prisoner for even longer!”

 

Now, Pelias was very interested in this. Not to help his imprisoned brother, of course, but because he was vain and very much fancied the idea of looking younger. “Alright,” he said, “do your magic. You see, I’m actually quite kind.”

So Medea went to the prison and gave Aeson a magic potion. He slept for three days and three nights and when he woke up, he had the body of a young man and the wisdom of an old one. He smiled at Medea and said, “I think I know what you’re doing,” and she smiled back. 

 

“My turn, my turn!” grumbled jealous King Pelias. “I want to look young now, hurry up, hurry up.” 

“Are you sure?” said Medea.

“Just get on with it!” snapped Pelias. So she gave him his potion. 

 

Just like Aeson, Pelias slept for three days. Three months. Three years. In fact he never woke up again, because the potion was missing one vital ingredient: the kindness of the drinker. Because he wasn’t kind, the same potion that Aeson had drunk was a poison to him. 

 

So Jason saved his father, did the impossible, travelled the globe, killed the Hydra, released Phineas from the Harpies and made a wonderful group of friends. Even though everyone had said it was impossible.

 

 ————

 

Let’s Think!

 

1. How would you describe Pelias? 

2. How would you describe Jason? 

3. What challenges did Jason face? 

4. Did he do this all alone? 

 

All kinds of things to draw, write, imagine: 

* hydra *the Argo * the Harpies *the golden ram *the magical sleep *Medea’s magic potions *the clashing rocks * the talking figurehead *Phineas’s banquet

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