Symbol Sage Sale Banner

Argonauts: The Band of Valiant Greek Heroes

The Argonauts were a group of brave and valiant heroes in Greek mythology, who received their name from their ship “Argo”, built by Argus. This journey, aboard the ship named the Argo, is one of the most celebrated adventures in Greek mythology and is called the Argonautica or the Quest of the Argonauts.

Of all their adventures, the greatest the Argonauts were known for was the quest for the Golden Fleece. On this journey, the 50+ Argonauts were led by Jason on a dangerous journey across the seas to obtain the fleece of a golden ram. Let’s take a closer look at the Argonauts and their quest for the golden fleece.

Symbol Sage Sale Banner

Who Are the Argonauts

The Map of the Argonauts route
Map of the Argonauts Route. See it here.

There are around 50 Argonauts who joined Jason on his adventures, but the exact number is disputed. There are different accounts based on various versions. From the list of Argonauts, some of the most prominent are the following.

  1. Jason: The leader of the Argonauts, Jason was tasked with retrieving the Golden Fleece in order to claim his rightful throne in Iolcus from his usurping uncle, King Pelias.
  2. Hercules (Heracles): The greatest Greek hero known for his immense strength and his Twelve Labors. He only joined for part of the journey and didn’t complete it.
  3. Orpheus: The legendary musician and poet whose music could charm wild beasts and even make stones and trees move.
  4. Atalanta: A fierce huntress who was one of the few female Argonauts. She was known for her speed and her vow of virginity.
  5. Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces): Twin brothers known as the Dioscuri. Castor was skilled in taming horses while Pollux was an excellent boxer.
  6. Peleus: The father of the great Greek hero Achilles. He would later become known as the husband of the sea nymph Thetis.
  7. Telamon: A friend of Hercules and the father of the Greek hero Ajax.
  8. Argus: The builder of the Argo. He was guided by the goddess Athena in constructing the ship.
  9. Calais and Zetes: Winged sons of the North Wind, Boreas. They played a crucial role in the journey by helping the Argonauts navigate through challenges.
  10. Idas and Lynceus: Brothers known for their contrasting abilities: Idas was incredibly strong, while Lynceus had the power to see things from miles away.

These are just some of the Argonauts. There are many others, but they didn’t have as much impact as some of these mentioned above.

Before the Argonauts: The Story of Jason

Jason - Ancient Greek Hero
Jason with the Golden Fleece. See this here.

Pelias Usurps the Throne

The story begins with Pelias, Jason’s uncle who usurped the throne of Iolcos from his brother Aeson. However, an oracle warned Pelias that a descendent of Aeson would challenge him and avenge his crimes. Not wanting to give up the throne, Pelias killed all the descendants of Aeson, but he spared Aeson himself for the sake of their mother. During the time that Aeson was imprisoned, he married Alcimede, who bore him a son. Pelias didn’t know that the boy had survived the birth. This boy would grow up to become Jason.

Beware the Man with One Shoe

Pelias recognizes Jason with only one sandal by Marie-Lan Nguyen. Source.

Around the same time, another oracle warned Pelias to beware of the man with one shoe. During a public event, Pelias saw Jason wearing a leopard skin and on his foot there was only one sandal. He knew this was Aeson’s son and therefore the one who would kill him.

Symbol Sage Quiz Banner

However, Pelias couldn’t kill Jason as there were many people around him. Instead, he asked Jason: “What would you do if the oracle had warned you that one of your fellow-citizens would kill you?” To which Jason replied, “I would send him to fetch the Golden Fleece”. Unbeknownst to Jason, it was Hera who had caused him to reply in that way.

Thus, Pelias challenged Jason to the quest, declaring that he would step down from the throne, if Jason obtained the fleece of a golden ram.

Formation of the Argonauts

The Argonauts by Niobid Painter. Source.

To reach the fleece, Jason had to voyage across several seas, and into the grove of Ares. The fleece was guarded by a fierce dragon that never slept. Despite the dangers, Jason agreed to the quest, and called upon the most valiant heroes to undertake the journey with him. The heroes of the expedition were called the Argonauts, and many of Jason’s kin were part of the valiant group. Over eighty men joined the expedition, with each contributing to the eventual success of the quest.

The Argonauts and Lemnos

The first stop for the Argonauts was the land of Lemnos. This part of their journey was the most comforting, and the heroes found women to court and fall in love with. The Queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, fell in love with Jason, and gave birth to his sons. Upon landing at Lemnos, the quest for the golden fleece was delayed by several months. The Argonauts resumed their journey only after a nudge from Heracles.

Argonauts and Cyzicus’ Island

After the departure from Lemnos, the Argonauts came upon the country of Doliones. The king of Doliones, Cyzicus, welcomed the Argonauts with much grace and hospitality. After feasting and resting, the Argonauts resumed their quest for the golden fleece. However, before they could venture far, the crew met with a fierce and raging storm. Completely lost and confused, the Argonauts unknowingly steered their ship back to Doliones.

The soldiers of Doliones couldn’t recognize the Argonauts, and in the middle of the night a battle ensued between the two groups. The Argonauts wounded many soldiers, and Jason slew their king. It was only during the break of day that the Argonauts realized their mistake. They mourned for the soldiers by cutting of their hair.

The Argonauts and the Land of Bebryces

The physical prowess of the Argonauts was tested in the next part of the journey. When the Argonauts reached the land of Bebryces, they were challenged by the king, Amycus. Amycus was a very strong wrestler and believed that none could defeat him. His plan was to kill all the Argonauts and prevent them from continuing their journey. Amycus’ plans didn’t succeed as Pollux, one of the Argonauts, accepted the wrestling challenge and slew the king.

The Argonauts and Phineus

After defeating Amycus, the Argonauts were able to travel safely without incident. They journeyed to the land of Salmydessus and met Phineus, an  old and blind king. Knowing that Phineus was a seer, the Argonauts enquired about their future paths. However, Phineus said he would only help the Argonauts if they helped him first.

Phineus was constantly troubled by Harpies, who ate and polluted his food. Two of the Argonauts, the sons of Boreas, went after the Harpies and slew them. Phineus then advised the Argonauts on how to get past the clashing rocks, without being crushed. Following his advice, and with the help of Athena, the Argonauts were able to get through the rocks and continue their journey.  

The Argonauts and the Golden Fleece

Jason and the Golden Fleece by Underworld Painter. Source.

After several other trials, tribulations, and adventures, the Argonauts finally reached Colchis, the land of the golden fleece. King Aeetes agreed to give the fleece, but in return, Jason was required to complete some impossible sounding tasks. He was asked to plough the fields of Ares with bulls that snorted fire and sow the land with dragons’ teeth.

Jason could only complete these tasks with the help of Aeetes daughter, Medea. Although Jason and Medea completed the tasks, Aeetes still refused to give up the fleece. Medea then put the fierce dragon to sleep, and the Argonauts were able to flee with the fleece. The Argonauts, along with Medea, returned to their homes and Jason reclaimed the throne.

Significance of the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts The Famous Argo Ship
The Argo. See this here.

What is it about this group of valiant Greek heroes that continue to capture our imagination? The stories of the Argonauts are among the most important from ancient Greek literature for several reasons.

  1. Establishment of Western Heroic Narrative: The story of the Argonauts is among the earliest adventure epics in Western literature. It serves as a foundation for the concept of a heroic journey, a motif that appears repeatedly throughout Western literary tradition, from Homer’s “Odyssey” to the tales of King Arthur, and even in modern literature and film.
  2. Interconnectedness of Myths: The Argonauts’ story links together several other important Greek myths, creating a cohesive whole. It showcases how intricately the Greek myths are woven together.
  3. Popular Themes: The Argonautica delves deep into themes that are still relevant today: love, betrayal, heroism, the challenges of leadership, and the boundaries of human capability.
  4. Cultural and Historical Influence: The story was an inspiration for numerous works of art, drama, poetry, and philosophy throughout history. Aspects of the Argonauts’ journey are reflected in later Western literary traditions, including the epic hero’s quest, the trials faced by the crew, and the inevitable return home transformed by the journey.
  5. Artistic Inspiration: Over millennia, the tale of the Argonauts has inspired countless artists, playwrights, poets, and writers. From ancient plays and poems to Renaissance art, and even modern movies and literature, the story’s echoes are omnipresent.
  6. Metaphorical Significance: The quest for the Golden Fleece can be seen as a metaphor for humanity’s eternal search for knowledge, enlightenment, or spiritual fulfillment. The challenges faced by the Argonauts represent the trials and tribulations that humans face in their own personal quests.

Cultural Representations of the Argonauts

The quest for the golden fleece has been mentioned in several classical works. Homer gives an account of the quest in his epic poem Odyssey. The events of the expedition were also recorded in Pindar’s poetry. However, the most detailed version of the quest, was written by Apollonius of Rhodes, in his epic  Argonautica. In all these classical works, the expedition was considered an important event, in the opening up of the Black Sea to Greek trade and colonization.

In contemporary culture, the quest for the golden fleece has been reimagined in movies, music, TV series and video games. Medea’s Dance of Vengeance, a composition by Samuel Barber is about the quest seen from Medea’s perspective.

The movie Jason and the Argonauts represented all the major events of the Greek expedition. More recently, a video game, Rise of the Argonauts features Jason and his crew in a compelling and thrilling adventure.

In Brief

The quest for the golden fleece is one of the greatest events in Greek mythology, featuring the Argonauts led by Jason. At the end of the quest, the Argonauts gained recognition as the greatest band of Greek heroes, with each member contributing to the success of the mission. 

Argonauts Greek myth

Related articles

Heracles – Greatest of the Greek Heroes

Cadmus: First Greek Hero of Them All

Chiron: The Wise Centaur of Greek Mythology and His Legacy

Greek Mythology’s Perseus: The Hero, The Slayer, The Saviour

Centaurs in Greek Mythology: Half-Horse, Half-Human Beings

Themis: Upholding Law and Order in Greek Mythology

Affiliate Disclosures
Juan Salazar Sanchez
Juan Salazar Sanchez

Juan Sanchez has been a freelance writer for years, with a particular focus on Mythology and History, especially Greek mythology. He has been a part of the Symbol Sage team for several years, and has contributed immensely to the team. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and reading.