Reader's Encyclopedia


A group of mythological heroes. The Argonauts sailed to Colchis to recover the Golden Fleece. Jason had demanded the throne of Iolcos from Pelias, who had usurped it from his brother Acson, Jason's father. Pelias agreed, if Jason would first return the Fleece to Greece. Those who joined Jason in this adventure included Heracles, Orpheus, Castor and Polydeuces, Peleus, Melampus, Mopsus, Meleager, Atalanta, Admetus, Aeolus' winged sons Calais and Zetes, the lynx - eyed Lynceus and his quarrelsome brother Idas, Telamon, Pelias' own son Acastus, and many others. Argus built their ship, the Argo, under Athene's direction, and Hera aided them throughout the voyage so as to punish Pelias for refusing to worship her

Their first stop was Lemnos, where the women, lonely after having killed their husbands a year before, vainly entreated them to stay. They were hospitably received by the Doliones but killed their king Cyzicus by mistake. In Mysia, when Heracles' beautiful young favorite Hylas was drowned in a spring by a love - struck naiad, Heracles would not give up the search for Hylas and had to be left behind. The Argonauts were challenged to box by Amycus, king of the Bebryces, who had killed many strangers in this manner. Polydeuces accepted the challenge and quickly killed Amycus. At Salmydessus they saw blind old King Phineus, whose days were made miserable by the Harpies, which stole or befouled his food before he could eat -- a punishment for his having revealed too much, as a seer, of the ways of Zeus. Zetes and Calais saved him by pursuing the Harpies until Iris promised that they would not return. In gratitude, Phineus gave the Argonauts much useful advice.

With the help of this advice and of Athene's aid, the Argonauts passed through the Clashing Rocks, which usually sprang together to crush ships between them. Later, their shouts and the clashing of their shields drove off the birds of Ares, which attacked them with a hail of sharp plumes. By a happy chance, they saved the four sons of Phrixus from shipwreck and were led by them to their home, Colchis, where King Aeetes kept the Fleece. The cruel Aeetes promised to relinquish the Fleece if Jason could pass a test: he must plow a field with two fire - breathing bulls, sow dragon's teeth, and fight the armed men who would spring up (see also Sparti). Jason succeeded with the secret aid of Aeetes' daughter Medea, who had fallen in love with him. Aeetes refused to honor his promise, but Medea lulled to sleep the dragon that guarded the Fleece, and the Argonauts escaped with both Medea and the Fleece.

The Argonauts were pursued but escaped again, when Jason and Medea treacherously slew her half - brother Apsyrtus and (according to some versions) flung pieces of his body from the ship. Zeus ordained that the Argonauts suffer many hardships for this outrage before reaching home. Making their way via the Danube, Rhine, and Rhone to the Mediterranean, they reached the island of Aea, where Circe, Aeetes' sister, purified Jason and Medea of murder. Thetis helped them past the Wandering Rocks; the singing of Orpheus got them safely past the sirens. While they were entertained by the Phaeacians, Queen Arete secretly arranged the marriage of Jason and Medea, and King Alcinous protected the Argonauts from pursuing Colchians.

Blown to the coast of Africa, they were marooned with their ship in the desert, but they were helped or encouraged by Libyan nymphs, by the Hesperides, and by the god Triton. As they neared Crete, the bronze giant Talus nearly crushed their ship with rocks but was destroyed by Medea 's sorcery. The Argonauts returned to Iolcos, where a trick of Medea's disposed of Pelias, and, Aeson having died, Acastus became king. Jason returned the Fleece to the temple of Laphystian Zeus in Orchomenus.

Next to the Trojan War, the voyage of the Argo was the event most often celebrated in Greek epic. It is the subject in particular of the Argonautica, the masterpiece of Apollonius of Rhodes, which is notable for the psychological realism with which its characters are treated, its memorable picture of Medea, and its remarkably unheroic portrayal of its hero, Jason.