Gadfly to Golden Girdle of Ares Gordian Knot to Gyro

Golden Fleece

A fleece of pure gold that was all that remained of the flying ram that bore Helle and her brother, Phrixus, as they attempted to fly to safety across the body of water that was later to be named the Hellespont, i.e. the Sea of Helle.

Their mother, Nephele, and Hermes provided the golden ram so that Helle and Phrixus could escape the evil plotting of their stepmother, Ino; Helle fell from the ram and drowned in the water below, thus the name: Helle-pontos.

The ram was sacrificed by Phrixus and the Golden Fleece was kept in Kolkhis (Colchis) until Iason (Jason) and the Argonauts retrieved it as part of the seemingly suicidal mission that was forced on them by the king of Iolkos (Iolcos), Pelias.

The story of the Golden Fleece incorporates numerous creatures and heroes from previous adventure epics as related by Homer; the story of the Golden Fleece is best told by the poet Apollonius Rhodius, i.e. Apollonius of Rhodes, in the epic poem, Argonautika.

I have not tried to relate the entire story here but have only included the highlights of the adventures of the Argonauts; for the complete story I recommend Argonautika by Peter Green, ISBN 0520076877, which is available at most libraries and through the Book Shop on this site which is connected to


King Pelias of Iolkos was warned that a stranger with one sandal would come to take his throne and so when Iason arrived, having lost one of his sandals in a river, Pelias devised a plan where Iason would be required to undertake an impossible task and never return; Pelias also made the mistake of offending Hera by not giving her proper honor at his sacrifices and so Hera plotted to have Pelias punished; the voyage of the Argonauts was to be the method by which Hera would achieve this end.

Pelias sent Iason to retrieve the magical fleece of gold that had been created by Hermes and kept in the Grove of Ares (god of War) in the far-off land of Kolkhis; the king of Kolkhis was a mighty ruler and a fierce man named Aietes (Aeetes); Pelias was certain that Aietes would never voluntarily surrender the Golden Fleece and that Iason would never be able to take it by force.

Iason was not foolhardy enough to attempt such a feat alone, so he gathered the bravest and most adventuresome men in Greece to aid him in his quest; the members of the crew that Iason assembled were collectively known as the Argonauts; they took their name from the ship which was built expressly for their voyage, the Argo; the ship was designed by a man named Argus and the construction of the ship was overseen by the goddess of craft and skill, Athene (Athena).

The most famous Argonaut was, of course, Herakles (Heracles) but others included the sons of Poseidon, sons of Boreas (North Wind) and sons of Helios (the Sun).

The land of Kolkhis was on the eastern edge of the sea named the Euxine (Black Sea); they sailed north through the Aegean Sea to the Hellespont and onwards to the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and survived the attacks of several of the native inhabitants; they encountered the pitiful, blind seer, Phineus, who was being punished by Zeus and Helios by having his food eaten and defiled by the she-birds, the Harpies; the winged sons of Boreas, Kalais (Calais) and Zetes chased away the Harpies and freed Phineus from his curse; Phineus then rewarded the Argonauts by giving them instructions as to how to get to Kolkhis and safely return to their homeland.

The Argonauts had to pass through the Clashing Rocks which guarded the narrow passage from the Propontis to the Euxine; called “the twin Kyanean (Cyanean) Rocks where the two seas meet,” the gigantic rocks would clash together whenever any living thing tried to pass between them; Phineus, told the Argonauts to send a dove through the Clashing Rocks before they attempted to sail their ship through; if the dove survived, it would be safe for the Argo to proceed; the dove flew between the Clashing Rocks with only the loss of its tail feathers and the Argo sailed boldly into the passage; Athene held back one of the rocks with one hand and pushed the Argo through with the other; the Clashing Rocks then became stationary islands and never menaced sailors again.

In the land of the Mysians, one of the sailors, Hylas, went in search of water and was abducted by the nymphs of a spring; Herakles and Polyphemos (Polyphemus) refused to leave the island without Hylas and the Argo sailed without them; the fate of the Argonauts began to change and they suffered their first casualties; Idmon was the first to die; he died from wounds inflicted by a monstrous, white-tusked boar; then Tiphys died of a fast-acting sickness; when they came to the Isle of Ares, Oileus died after he was struck by a feather from one of the war god’s birds; on the Isle of Ares they found the four sons of Phrixus who were shipwrecked on the island; their father, Phrixus, was the one who had originally sacrificed the golden ram and given it to Aietes; the four brothers joined the Argonauts and they proceeded to Kolkhis.

Iason tried to reason with Aietes but the king was beyond reason; Hera and Athene went to Aphrodite (goddess of Love) and asked her to intervene on Iason’s behalf; Aphrodite sent Eros (the primal god of Love) to shoot the king’s daughter, Medea, with an arrow of irresistible love; when Medea saw Iason she was helpless in her desire for him; Medea was a priestess of the goddess, Hekate (Hecate), and the niece of the sorceress-nymph, Kirke (Circe).

Aietes decided that it would not be wise to blatantly refuse Iason’s request for the Golden Fleece so he cunningly challenged Iason to demonstrate his strength by harnessing two fierce supernatural, bronze-footed bulls, plow a field and plant the dragon’s teeth of Kadmus (Cadmus); the dragon’s teeth would grow into warriors and then Iason would have to fight and kill the Earth-Born warriors.

Iason met with Medea and together they plotted how he could survive the ordeal and win the Golden Fleece without having to fight Aietes’ army or resort to common thievery; Medea gave Iason a potion which was made from the flowers that grew from the blood of Prometheus as he laid suffering, chained to the Caucasus Mountains; Iason made a sacrifice to Hekate and bathed himself and his weapons in the magic potion.

At dawn the following day Iason went into the field to face the bronze-footed bulls and plant the dragon’s teeth; the Earthborn warriors sprang from the ground and attacked Iason with fury; using the same trick that Kadmus had used, he tossed a stone in the midst of the warriors and let them fight amongst themselves until their numbers were small enough so that he could kill the remainder; Aietes was furious.

Medea, still in the thralls of love, led the Argonauts to the Grove of Ares where the Golden Fleece was kept; the Fleece was protected by an ever-vigilant dragon but Medea cast a spell on the dragon with a hypnotic song and undiluted potions; Iason took the Fleece and fled.

Aietes soon realized the treachery of his daughter and sent a fleet in pursuit; Aietes insisted that he would have honored his promise to surrender the Golden Fleece but he justified his pursuit of the Argonauts because they had taken Medea.

In their escape, the Argonauts took the long and difficult route up the Ister (Danube) River and across southern Europe, hoping to elude their pursuers; Aietes’ son, Apsyrtos, led the fleet that pursued the Argo; when the Argonauts were finally cornered and feared a direct confrontation with Apsyrtos and his numerous ships, Iason and Medea devised a treacherous plan where they would meet with Apsyrtos and Medea would pretend to surrender herself to him while Iason waited in ambush; as Medea was talking to Apsyrtos, Iason attacked and killed him; without a leader, the pursuers lost their momentum and the Argonauts made their escape; fearful of what king Aietes would do when they returned without Medea or Apsyrtos, the sailors chose to stay in Europe and never return home to Kolkhis.

The keel of the Argo, inspired by Athene, warned the Argonauts that Zeus was furious at the murder of Apsyrtos and urged them to go to Kirke’s island and beg forgiveness; on the island of Kirke, Medea asked to be forgiven but Kirke could not absolve them of such a wanton murder; Hera implored Thetis and the other Nereids, Hephaistos (Hephaestus) and Aiolos (Aeolus) (lord of the Winds) to protect the Argonauts and guide them through the dangers that awaited them on the open sea; one by one, the monster, Skylla (Scylla), the whirlpool, Kharybdis (Charybdis), and the clear-voiced Sirens were overcome; when they arrived on the island of the Phaiakians (Phaeacians) the king, Alkinoos (Alcinous), declared that he would not help Iason and Medea unless they were married and so the couple took the sacred wedding vows and gained sanctuary.

Once again at sea, the Argo was blown ashore in Libya by a tempest; the Argonauts had to carry the ship across the Libyan desert to lake Trito; the god Triton arose from the lake and guided the desperate Argonauts back to the Mediterranean Sea.

When they approached the island of Crete, the Argonauts were unable to make a safe landing because the gigantic bronze man, Talos, guarded the shore; again Medea used her magical powers to save the Argo from certain destruction; she invoked the Death-Spirits to befuddle Talos and, in a fit of confusion, Talos stumbled on the rocky shore and tore the thin membrane at his heel allowing the fluid of life, ikhor (ichor), to drain from his otherwise impervious body.

From Crete the remaining Argonauts sailed safely to their home in Thessaly thus ending the quest for the Golden Fleece and the voyage of the Argo according to Apollonius; the continuation of the story was told by poets such as Euripides and in various pieces of artwork dating back to the fifth century BCE.

After arriving back in Iolkos, Iason found that his father was dead through the trickery of king Pelias; Medea hatched an evil revenge on Pelias and his daughters; using her occult skills, Medea convinced Pelias’ daughters that she could restore their father’s youth if he was cut into pieces and put in a caldron filled with magical herbs; to demonstrate the process, Medea successfully performed the process on a ram; the unwitting girls followed Medea’s instructions and their father was killed but not reanimated.

When news of Medea’s sorcery had spread throughout Iolkos, Iason and Medea are forced to flee to the city of Korinth (Corinth) and take refuge with king Kreon (Creon); Iason and Medea had two children but Iason fell in love with the king’s daughter, Glauke (Glauce); Medea was well practiced in the art of revenge so she made a poison cloak for Glauke and effectively murdered her; as a further attack on Iason for his infidelity, Medea killed their two children and fled to Athens on a chariot drawn by dragons; Medea eventually made her way to Persia and founded the race we know as the Medes.

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Gadfly to Golden Girdle of Ares Gordian Knot to Gyro


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