How did the “Golden Fleece” become a treasure of Kingdom of Colchis

 

          The myth of “Golden Fleece” consists of two independent stories: the story of Phrixus and Helle alongside the story of Argonauts.

          Phrixus and Helle were children of Nephele, a goddess of clouds and Athamas, king of Boeotia. King soon remarried and as often is the case in such stories, stepmother happened to hate their guts. She decided to get rid of them. Nephele, children’s mother rescued them from danger by a flying ram of god Hermes which took them to the very edge of the known world. The ram had been born with many special characteristics, it had golden wool and ability to talk. During their flight upon the narrow strait between Aegean and Propontis sea Helle lost her grip, fell off the ram and drowned in the water. The passage was named “Hellespont” after her, meaning “Sea of Helle”. Nowadays it’s called Strait of Dardanelles.

 

 

Embossed silver mirror. Phrixus trying to save Helle.

Palazzo Massimo, Rome. 138-193 AD

 

          The ram consoled Phrixus and finally safely landed him on the shore of the Black Sea, in the city of Aea, in the Kingdom of Colchis ("Aea" is an old name of Kutaisi and the Kingdom of Colchis involved nowadays West Georgia). The king of the land was Aeetes, son of Helios, the sun god. He had two daughters: Medea and Chalciope and one son Apsirt. King Aeetes treated Phrixus kindly, marrying him to his daughter Chalciope as a sign of largeness. In gratitude, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave the king the golden fleece of the ram.

          Aeetes hung The Golden Fleece in a grove of Ares, on an oak tree guarded by an ever-vigilant dragon. Golden Fleece as the priceless treasure was in the center of attention of all kingdoms. Many of the finest heroes were competing with each other in stealing it from King Aeetes, but their tries were always ending with failure. The dragon was vigilantly guarding Golden Fleece day or night.


 

Argonauts

  

          In Greek mythology, Argonauts represent the band of heroes, floating towards the land of EA, the Kingdom of Colchis. Their leader was Jason, the son of Eson, the king of Iolcos. According to the legend, Aeson’s half-brother Pelias usurped the throne from him. To save his son from ultimate death, Eson pretended as if his newborn son was dead and meanwhile sent him to centaur Chiron. Jason was raised by Chiron. 20 years old Jason was distinguished from his fellow peers with strength, bravery and well-built body. He was determined to go back to his hometown and take back his rightful throne. He claimed his throne during the banquet, that king Pelias held in honor of his father Poseidon. Pelias could not kill his nephew, as he was afraid to enrage gods, so he promised to return the throne to Jason in exchange for Golden Fleece and sent him on an impossible quest. Golden Fleece was the treasure of the Kingdom of Colchis and was guarded by a vigilant dragon.

          Oracle from Delphos suggested Jason start his quest immediately. Prominent hero, Argus, constructed the boat with 50 oars and named it after his name: Argo. Hera convinced Thessalian heroes to join the quest.

 

 

Athena supervising the building of the ship Argo

1st century AD. British Museum

 

           Between Argonauts were poet Orpheus and hero Heraclius. They sailed the sea full of magic creatures, visited surprising lands, faces many trials and tribulations and eventually reached the land of Colchis. The King Aeetes, son of the god Helios, met foreigners with honor and gaiety. Although as he heard of their quest, he gave Jason impossible tasks to fulfill and consented only if Jason would beat the Fire-breathing bronze-hoofed bulls guarding the Golden Fleece and make them plow a field in which he was to sow the dragon’s teeth. These seeds would turn into warriors that he would have to defeat afterward.

          Goddesses Hera and Athena asked Aphrodite for help. Aphrodite caused Medea, the daughter of Aeetes, to fall in love with Jason. Consequently, it was the efforts of Medea that enabled Jason to fulfill all tasks and steal Golden Fleece. Argonauts have quickly left the Colchis with Medea and Golden Fleece. Jason promised Medea that they will get married as soon as they arrive in Thessaly.

 

Jason swearing eternal affection to Medea

1742-43 Jean François de Troy

 

          Aeetes sent the fleet to catch thieves, but Medea stopped them. On their way home, Thessaly they overcame many difficulties. They survived Sirens, safely passed between two gigantic rocks which constantly clashed against each other and seldom let anything pass between them. They found an outlet from Lake Tritonis, defeated giant bronze man called Talos and finally arrived back to Iolcus.

 

 Copyright © 2016 DIMITRIS M. STEFANIDIS, SIGMA PUBLICATIONS

 

          Argonauts came back to their homes and Jason brought Golden Fleece to Pelias, unaware that his uncle had already killed his brother and father Aeson. Furious for this unfairness Jason and Medea exacted revenge on Pelias, but Jason couldn’t keep the throne. Son of Pelias exiled them from Iolcus.

          Jason and Medea were sheltered by Creon, the king of Corinth, where they lived happily for 10 years, but then Jason decided to marry the daughter of Creon. Inconsolable at Jason’s deceit, Medea killed the princess and even her children to punish her husband. 

          According to one version of the myth, Jason, unable to overcome the pain and sorrow he was going through, killed himself. Another version of storyline retells that Jason lost the protection of Hera and his life ended in loneliness with an unhappy ending. One day, when he was sitting next to the dilapidated hull of his beloved Argo, the ship creaked, groaned and collapsed. Jason died under its fractures.

          Golden Fleece is symbolically represented on the sky as a constellation of Aries.