Pandora’s stories: The Golden Fleece

You have heard of the adventures of Odysseus on his way home from Troy. Others too, even before the time of Odysseus, have had adventures. Imagine a place on the edge of the world…

Athamas the Minyan, founder of Halos in Thessaly and also king of the city of Orchomenus in Boeotia, took as his first wife Nephele the cloud goddess. They had two children, a boy Phrixus (whose name means ‘curly’) and a girl Helle. Later Athamas fell in love with and married Ino, daughter of Cadmus. When Nephele understandably and angrily left, she caused a drought which parched the land.

Ino became jealous of her stepchildren and plotted their deaths: she persuaded Athamas that sacrificing Phrixus was the only way to end the drought. Nephele came to her children’s rescue by appearing with a winged ram whose fleece was gold. The ram’s father was Poseidon who in the form of a ram had slept with Theophane, a nymph and granddaughter of Helios, the sun-god.

Nephele’s children escaped on the winged ram over the sea, but Helle fell off and drowned in the strait now named after her, the Hellespont. The ram spoke to Phrixus, encouraged him, and took the boy safely to Colchis (modern-day Georgia), on the easternmost shore of the Euxine (Black Sea). There Phrixus sacrificed the winged ram to Poseidon, thereby returning him to the god. The ram became the constellation Aries.

Phrixus settled in the house of Aeetes, son of Helios the sun god. He hung the Golden Fleece preserved from the sacrifice of the ram on an oak in a grove sacred to Ares. The Golden Fleece was defended by bulls with hoofs of brass and breath of fire. It was also guarded by a never-sleeping dragon with teeth which became human soldiers when planted in the ground. The dragon lay at the foot of the tree on which the fleece was placed.

Despite, or perhaps challenged by, this protection, many men coveted the Golden Fleece. Who would be able to take it?

Jason with the Golden Fleece

Jason with the Golden Fleece

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