Jason – Greek Hero and Leader of the Argonauts

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In Greek mythology, the great hero Jason stands out as the leader of one of the most famous expeditions in Ancient Greece – the Argonauts. Jason and his group of brave warriors are best known for their epic quest to fetch the Golden Fleece and the many adventures they had on the way.

The Argonautica, an epic poem by the Greek writer Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century BC, remains as the only surviving Hellenistic epic. Here’s a closer look.

Who was Jason?

Jason was the son of King Aeson of Iolcos in Thessaly. According to most sources, he was the son of either Alcimede or Polymedes, and was a descendant of the herald god Hermes. Jason was born in the middle of a family feud over the claim to the throne of Iolcos. Due to this conflict, his parents decided to fake their son’s death at birth. After that, they sent him to Chiron, the legendary centaur who trained great heroes.

King Pelias

In the fight over the throne of Iolcos, Pelias overthrew Aeson from the throne and killed all Aeson’s children. That way, he would have no opposition to his kingship. Since Jason was not in Iolcos at the time, he did not suffer the same fate as his siblings. Pelias ascended the throne and reigned over Iolcos. However, King Pelias received a prophecy that said that he had to be cautious of a man coming from the country with only one sandal.

Jason Returns to Iolcos

After growing up with Chiron, Jason returned to Iolcos when he was a young man to claim the throne of his father. On his way back, Jason helped a woman to cross a river. Unbeknownst to the hero, this woman was the goddess Hera in disguise. According to some sources, the quest for the Golden Fleece was Hera’s idea.

When Pelias saw the man with only one sandal amongst the crowd in Iolcos, he knew it was his nephew Jason, the rightful claimant to the throne. Since there were too many people around him, Pelias could not kill Jason upon seeing him.

Instead, Pelias asked him: What would you do if the oracle had warned you that one of your fellow-citizens would kill you? Through Hera’s influence, Jason answered: I would send him to fetch the Golden Fleece.

And so, Pelias commanded Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, saying that if Jason were able to do it successfully, he would step down and give the throne to him. Pelias knew the dangers involved in this near-impossible mission and believed that Jason would die on this quest.  

The Argonauts

Argo Jason ship
Argo – the Ship of the Argonauts

To succeed in this quest, Jason assembled a team of heroes known as the Argonauts. They were between 50 and 80 in number, and several of them were part of Jason’s family. The Argonauts traveled across the seas and performed several feats before ultimately arriving at Colchis.

  • The Argonauts in Lemnos 

The heroes first visited the land of Lemnos, where they would stay for several months. In Lemnos, the Argonauts found women and fell in love with them. Since they were so comfortable in Lemnos, they delayed the quest. Jason fell in love with Queen Hypsipyle of Lemnos, and she bore him at least one child. They resumed their search for the Golden Fleece after Heracles encouraged them to do so. 

  • The Argonauts in Doliones

When the Argonauts arrived at the court of King Cyzicus, they were received with the highest honors, and Cyzicus offered a feast for them. Once rested and fed, the Argonauts resumed their voyage. Unfortunately, a storm struck their ship, and they ended up disoriented after sailing away. 

The Argonauts found themselves back in Doliones without knowing where they were. Since they arrived in the middle of the night, the soldiers of Cyzicus could not recognize them, and a battle began. The Argonauts killed several soldiers, and Jason slit the throat of King Cyzicus. Only with the light of the dawn did they realize what had happened. To honor the late soldiers, the Argonauts held a funeral and cut their hair in despair.

  • The Argonauts and King Phineus

The next stop of the Argonauts was Thrace, where the blind King Phineus of Salmydessus was suffering the rage of the Harpies. These hideous creatures took away and polluted Phineus’ food every day. Jason took pity on the blind king and decided to help him. He and the rest of the Argonauts managed to drive the Harpies away, freeing the land from them. 

According to some myths, the help of the Argonauts was an exchange for information since Phineus was a seer. Once they got rid of the Harpies for him, Phineus explained how to go through the Sympleglades.

  • The Argonauts through the Sympleglades

The Symplegates were moving rock cliffs that crushed every ship that attempted to pass through them. Phineus told Jason to let a dove fly through the cliffs – that the fate of the dove would be the fate of their ship. The dove flew through with only a scratch to its tail. In the same way, their vessel could go through the cliffs with only slight damage. After this, the Argonauts arrived in Colchis.

  • The Argonauts in Colchis

King Aeetes of Colchis considered the Golden Fleece his possession, and he would not give it up without conditions. He said that he would give the fleece to Jason, but only if he could accomplish some tasks. Jason would not have been able to do them alone, but he received the help of Aeetes’ daughter, Medea.

Jason and Medea

Since Hera was the protectress of Jason, she asked Eros to shot Medea with a love-inducing arrow so that she would fall for the hero. Medea was not only a princess but also an enchantress and the high priestess of the goddess Hecate in Colchis. With the help of Medea, Jason succeeded in carrying out the tasks set by king Aeetes.

Aeetes’ Tasks for Jason

King Aeetes had devised tasks that he deemed impossible, hoping that the hero would not be able to do them successfully or would die in his attempts.

  • The first task was to plow a field from end to end using the Kahlkotauroi, fire-breathing bulls. Medea gave Jason an ointment that made the hero immune to fire. With this advantage, Jason could easily yoke the bulls and plow the field without trouble.
  • The next task was to sow dragon teeth in the field he had just plowed. It was easy to do, but once finished, stone warriors emerged from the ground. Medea had already informed Jason that this would happen, so it was no surprise for him. The enchantress instructed him to throw a stone in the middle of the warriors to create confusion among them and make them fight each other. In the end, Jason was the last man standing.

Even after accomplishing the tasks, King Aeetes refused to give him the Golden Fleece. Hence, Medea and Jason went to the oak where the Golden Fleece hung to take it either way. Medea used her drugs and potions to induce sleep in the never-resting dragon, and Jason grabbed the Golden Fleece from the oak. Medea fled Colchis with the Argonauts and married him.

The Journey to Iolcos

Medea distracted her father as they sailed away by killing her brother, Apsyrtus, cutting him up into pieces and throwing him into the ocean. Aeetes stopped to collect his son’s body parts, which allowed Medea and Jason to escape. This brought on the ire of Zeus who caused several storms that took the Argo off course and caused the Argonauts much suffering.

Jason and Medea were then told by the ship to stop at the island of Aeaea, where the enchantress Circe would absolve them of their sin and purify them. They did that and were able to continue their journey.

On the way, they had to go past the island of the Sirens and the island of the bronze-man Talos. They survived the Sirens with the help of Orpheus’ music abilities and Talos with Medea’s magic.

Back in Iolcos

Many years passed before Jason could return to Iolcos. When he arrived, both his father and Pelias were aged men. Medea used her magic to restore Aeson’s youth. When Pelias requested that she did the same to him, Medea killed the king. Jason and Medea were exiled from Iolcos for the murder of Pelias, and after that, they stayed in Corinth. 

Jason Betrays Medea

In Corinth, Jason decided to marry a daughter of King Creon, Princess Creusa. Enraged, Medea confronted Jason, but the hero disregarded her. Considering that Jason owed his life to Medea, this was treachery on his part.

Incensed, Medea then killed Creusa with a cursed dress. According to some myths, Creon died while trying to help his daughter out of the burning dress. The enchantress also killed her children from Jason, fearing what the people of Corinth could do to them when they found out what she had done. After this, Medea fled in a chariot sent to her by Helios.

The End of Jason’s Story

According to some myths, Jason was able to become the King of Iolcos years later with the help of Peleus. In Greek mythology, there are few accounts of the death of Jason. Some myths say that after Medea killed their children and Creusa, Jason committed suicide. In other accounts, the hero died unhappily in his ship after losing the favor of Hera for vow of marriage to Medea.

Jason leader of Argonauts Greek myth

Jason Facts

  1. Who are Jason’s parents? Jason’s father is Aeson and his mother was Alcimede.
  2. What is Jason famous for? Jason is famous for his expedition with the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.
  3. Who helped Jason on his quest? Apart from the band of Argonauts, Medea, the daughter of King Aeetes was Jason’s greatest helper, without whom he wouldn’t have been able to complete the tasks given to him.
  4. Who is Jason’s wife? Jason’s wife is Medea.
  5. Which was Jason’s kingdom? Jason was the rightful claimant to the throne of Iolcus.
  6. Why did Jason betray Medea? Jason left Medea for Creusa after all she had done for him.

In Brief

Jason was one of the most important heroes of Greek mythology, known for his quest for the Golden Fleece. The story of the Argonauts is one of the most famous stories of ancient Greece, and as their leader, the role of Jason was paramount. Like many other heroes, Jason had the favor of the gods which lead him to victory. However, in the latter years of his life, he made several questionable decisions which would result in the gods’ displeasure and his downfall.