Search This Blog

Sunday, April 11, 2021

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - J Is For Jason

Jason And Pelias. Public Domain

Today, we will be meeting Jason and the Argonauts. This one of
  the best-known stories of Greek myth. It’s one of the foundations of the quest story, but I’ll be keeping that part of the story for a post called Q Is For Quests. It has been filmed and written into a lot of fiction. 

I’ve already mentioned some of the novels - Medea by Kerry Greenwood, in which Jason is shown as an idiot and the story is seen from Medea’s viewpoint. Circe has a brief appearance at Circe’s island by Medea, who doesn’t pay attention to her aunt’s advice. Voyage With Jason by Ken Catran. Jason, by Henry Treece. In Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, Medea appears as King Aegeus’s lover, in Athens, and tries to poison Theseus. Aegeus stops the poison attempt when he sees a token that makes him realise Theseus is his son.

There is, of course, the classic Ray Harryhausen film Jason And The Argonauts, which is best known for its SFX, like the giant sea person who holds aside the Clashing Rocks for the Argo to pass, and the most famous scene, with the armed skeletons springing from the earth to fight Jason. If you haven’t seen it you are missing out.

So, what is the story? Young Jason is the son of Aeson, the King of Iolcus and his Queen. The throne is usurped by Aeson’s half-brother Pelias, who goes through the royal family like a hot knife through butter, but Jason’s Mum manages to smuggle him out to be brought up by the wise Centaur Cheiron, teacher of so many famous heroes of the myths. 

Pelias has had a prophecy that he will be killed by a man with one sandal, so when Jason turns up, muddy and with one sandal after stumbling in the stream and losing it, Pelias knows he has met his doom (Not quite true, actually, as we shall see). 

I don’t know if you have ever read the Dark Lord’s list, which goes through all the things the author would do if they were a Dark Lord, but here is one thing I would have done if I was Pelias: called the guards and had Jason killed on the spot. On the other hand, it never works that way in the myths, does it? So...Pelias instead asks Jason what he’d do if he had heard a prophecy of someone who was going to kill him, and the young man pipes up, “Oh, I’d send him off to Colchis, to retrieve the Golden Fleece! By the way, Sir, this is my kingdom, I’d like it back.”

“Okay,” says Pelias, “you can have the kingdom when you come back with the Golden Fleece.” 

This was the fleece of a magical ram that flew off with two kids on its back, saving them from bring sacrificed. It is now hanging up on a tree in far-off Colchis, the kingdom of Aeetes, Circe’s brother (Robert Graves tells us that’s in what is now Georgia). 

So, Jason commissions a ship, the Argo, by a guy called Argus, who goes with him on the adventure. 

Then he sends out a call for a company of heroes to go with him. There is quite an impressive array of people on that trip. I’ll go into more detail later, in my Q post, but there are fifty of them, including one woman, Atalanta, she of the golden apples fame, Heracles and his squire Hylas, Orpheus the musician. Calais and Zetes, the sons of Boreas, the North Wind, have wings. There is even one trans crew member, Caeneus the Lapith, who used to be a woman! I think that that they were all heroes in their own right who were gathered for this story, a bit like Arthur’s men in Culhwch and Olwen

It might be interesting to wonder who missed out in the crew auditions...

So, our young heroes set off on their quest, sneak past Troy, which doesn’t let anyone past without paying a toll, have a number of adventures and eventually find themselves in Colchis, asking nicely for the Golden Fleece. Aeetes says no, very loudly, but hands out some impossible tasks anyway. 

At this point, they need the help of Aphrodite, who sends her son Eros aka Cupid(Roman name) to shoot the king’s daughter, Medea, a skilled sorceress, to make her fall for Jason. She does, but makes him swear by all the gods that he will marry her and no unfaithfulness, ever.

Jason and Medea, Waterhouse. Public Donain

The Golden Fleece is guarded by an unsleeping dragon, but Medea manages to put it to sleep anyway, and they grab the Fleece and head for the Argo

There are plenty more adventures on the way back, including killing off Medea’s brother, who has pursued them, and - eventually - Pelias. Here is where it’s not quite as prophesied. See, Pelias is not so easy to kill, and he has an army. One of Jason’s crew is Pelias’s son, who says, “No offence, Jason, but I’m not helping to kill my Dad.” 

“Leave it to me,” says Medea, and sneaks in disguised as an old lady, and suckers Pelias and his daughters into believing she can rejuvenate him with some Celtic style cauldron, by cutting him into pieces. Yuk! 

At this point, Jason wins the fight, but he isn’t getting his kingdom back after that stunt. He hands it over to another son of Pelias and travels on. 

They go to Corinth, where it turns out that Medea is the rightful heir to the throne and they settle down to rule, with lots of kids. This could be happily ever after, except... it turns out that Medea poisoned the last king. Jason loses his nerve and divorces her, to marry a girl called Glauce. Medea reminds him of his vow, and that strictly speaking, it’s her kingdom, not his. He says the people like him better anyway, so tough.

Big mistake. She kills her rival with a very Morgan Le Fay-style flaming cloak and crown, then flies off in a chariot pulled by dragons, leaving behind her many children. The story of her killing two is only one version of the story, but considering how many people she did kill, those two can be left out. 

Interestingly, after a few more adventures, Medea settled down happily with a new husband and had an afterlife in Elysium. 

As for Jason, he ended up in exile, unpopular and homeless. He was killed by the falling prow of the Argo, under which he was spending the night.

What a way for a questing hero to end, eh? A bit sad. 

Tomorrow, I’ll take you into the middle of another adventure, in which you will meet a Queen and mother called Kassiopeia. 

See you then! 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

As Madeline Miller points out in "The Song of Achilles," no hero is every happy. Jason proves that trope as well.

Kalpana said...

Quite a saga! I haven't watched Jason and the Argonauts but I'll try and get hold of it now, at your recommendation.

Jayashree (pagesfromjayashree) said...

That was a sad ending for someone with so many heroic tales in his past .... I think the golden fleece is one of the first Greek mythological stories I had come across as a kid

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Debra! Very true! But at least Achilles had a dramatic ending he had chosen and accepted as long as he preferred to be famous rather than forgotten. Jason’s life just fizzled out, from hero to bag man...

Hi Kalpana! I do think you will enjoy that film, which is a classic.

Hi Jayashree! I bet your childhood version ended with Jason sailing back to Greece in triumph. Kids’ versions do prefer the happy endings, don’t they?

Debs Carey said...

A very sad ending for a hero, but fits the sad hero trope which is proven all too true even in modern times for fighting men.

A-Zing from Fiction Can Be Fun
Normally found at Debs Despatches

Iain Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing the story of Jason. As you say, I remember the film for the special effects and not much of the actual story!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Debs! Yes, a very sad ending, especially since Medea lived happily ever after.

Hi Iain! Perhaps time to re-view the film, then? 😉

AJ Blythe said...

Yep, one I am familiar with. It's also one that appears regularly in art work. I was fortunate enough to get to the Botticelli to Van Gogh exhibition at the National Gallery at the moment, and one of the paintings referenced the story (sadly I can't remember which painter it was - but there were such big names throughout the exhibition I'm not surprised).

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I've always liked Jason -- until he starts fearing his wife. Who knows what really happened there...

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge with an A-Z of Faerie: Jengu: The Mermaid from Africa

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Medea was certainly a scary nutjob, but really, when you find out that you have, yet again, been tricked, used, and cheated on by a man who never actually loved you but only ever cares about what you can do for him... I think a lot of people would go off the deep end at that point. Jason was a twerp anyway.
Black and White: J for Prester John

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Anita! I’ve entered a competition for two tickets to that exhibition, fingers crossed! Right now, I can’t even get to the NGV.

Hi Ronel! Personally I don’t care much for Jason anyway. He wanted the Golden Fleece, he took what he could get and then found he was riding a tiger. Idiot!

Agreed, Anne! Jason picked the wrong woman to manipulate.

Guillaume said...

Medea was played by Helen McCrory on the stage of the National Theatre, in Eurypides' playboy the same name. She was mesmerising in it. Sadly she passed away recently due to cancer.