Study Guide

Jason and the Golden Fleece Summary

How It (Supposedly) Went Down

A Brief Summary:

Jason shows up in his hometown of Iolcus with a game-plan: regain the throne stolen from his father by his uncle Pelias. King Pelias says he's down to give up the throne... so long as Jason brings him the Golden Fleece. Which is held in the far away land of Colchis, a.k.a not something you can just pick up at the local Walmart. Jason accepts the quest anyway and assembles the most star-studded team of heroes Greece has ever seen to go on the quest with him aboard the magical ship, the Argo.

Jason and the Argonauts have tons of adventures on the way Colchis, like battling Harpies and giants and stuff like that. When they finally arrive in Colchis, King Aeëtes says that Jason can have the Fleece just as long he completes three nearly impossible tasks. With the help of Medea, the daughter of Aeëtes, Jason completes the tasks, grabs the Fleece and Medea, and sails back to Greece. A few adventures later, Jason and pals are marching into Iolcus with the Golden Fleece.

A Detailed Summary: 

  • Jason shows up in his hometown of Iolcus to demand that his wicked uncle Pelias return the throne to him, the rightful heir.
  • Pelias stole the throne from Jason's father, Aeson.
  • King Pelias says, “Sure, no problemo. But first you have to sail to the distant land of Colchis and fetch the Golden Fleece. Which no one's ever done before.”
  • “Hey now, won't it be an insanely dangerous voyage?” the young hero asks.
  • “Probably so,” says his uncle.
  • “Awesome. I'm in!” declares Jason, gunning for adventure.
  • So, Jason gets to work preparing for the journey.
  • If he's gonna travel across the Black Sea, he figures the first thing he needs to do is get himself a ship. (You can see his sterling genius at work already.)
  • Jason recruits a shipwright named Argus, who builds Jason a fantastic boat that has the ability to speak and give prophecies; basically a Yacht with Siri built in.
  • Argus wasn't particularly modest, and so he named the ship the Argo after himself.
  • The next thing for Jason to do is put together a crew for the Argo.
  • Along with Argus, he assembles a massive group of all the heroes and demigods of ancient Greece, the greatest gang of big names until the Trojan war (which you can read about in Homer's Iliad!)
  • The list of Argonauts is pretty much a “who's who?” list of Greeky awesomeness.
  • Different people will give you some drastically different guest-lists of heroes invited on the quest for the golden fleece, but they typically agree on these guys:
  • Heracles, the biggest strongest hero of them all
  • Hylas, Heracles's squire and/or boy lover (you decide)
  • Zetes and Calais, the sons of Boreas, the North Wind
  • Orpheus, the famous musician who went to the underworld and could make stones fly.
  • Castor and Polydeuces (aka Pollux), tough-as-nails Spartan twin brothers.
  • Peleus, father of Achilles of ankle fame.
  • Telamon, father of Ajax, an intimidating lunk who fought at Troy
  • Atalanta, the female huntress (watch out: she killed the Calydonian boar)
  • Theseus, King of Athens (sometimes) and slayer of the Minotaur
  • This list goes on for days and can include like fifty to eighty dudes all with competitively funny names. Check out the original poems for all the deets.
  • Once Jason is done rounding up his squad of superheroes, he's ready to set sail.
  • Island One: Lemnos
  • The first island that Jason and the Argonauts come to is Lemnos, an island full of nothing but women. This is gonna be good.
  • Apparently, under the leadership of their queen, Hypsipyle, the women rebelled and murdered all the men.
  • The ladies of Lemnos omit this bloody detail when they meet the Argonauts.
  • Struck by the boatful of sexiness that has just hit their shore, the women propose that the crew of heroes mate with them in order to repopulate the island.
  • Jason and his crew are more than happy to fulfill this request (to say the least).
  • By the time they leave, a whole bunch of little Argonauts are on the way.
  • The only Argonaut who doesn't take part in the...um...repopulation of Lemnos is Heracles, which is kind of bonkers because he was famous for his lusty exploits.
  • (Some say that Heracles doesn't go spend time with the ladies, because he's more than occupied with Hylas, who was his lover.)
  • Next Up: The Doilones
  • The Argonauts sail through the Hellespont, a narrow strait that separates the Aegean Sea from the Marmara Sea. Today, this strait is called Dardanelles. (More here.)
  • After squeezing through this rather skinny body of water they come to the Island of the Doilones.
  • King Cyzicus of the Doilones gets chummy with the Argonauts.
  • They have a nice meal together and swap stories.
  • The Argonauts sail off, thinking what a lovely time they had with the Doilones.
  • Jason and his crew see a mountain on a spit of land.
  • They decide to climb it to check out what lies ahead of them.
  • Heracles and a couple others stay with the Argo, while Jason and most of the Argonauts climb the mountain.
  • Suddenly, this gaggle of giants called the Earthbound Men come streaming toward the Argo, determined to destroy it. Uh oh Spaghetti-O.
  • Heracles whips out his bow and kills a ton of them.
  • Jason and the other Argonauts get back just in time to finish off the rest.
  • They set sail again that night, but a blustery storm blows them off course.
  • Unbeknownst to the Argonauts, their ship actually ends up landing back on the island of the Doilones.
  • King Cyzicus and his people tragically mistake the Argonauts for invaders and a battle ensues.
  • Before anybody figures out the mistake, King Cyzicus is dead.
  • His wife is horrified and kills herself.
  • Jason and the rest of the Argonauts feel simply terrible about this, so they hold funeral games in honor of the dead and make sacrifices to appease the gods.
  • Welcome to Cius
  • Next, the Argonauts land on the island of Cius.
  • Here, Hylas is seduced by some water nymphs.
  • The beautiful creatures drag the boy into their pond (or stream) and he's never seen again.
  • Some say that he drowns, while others say that he lives happily ever after under the water with a lovely young nymph.
  • Either way, Heracles goes totally nuts when his beloved Hylas can't be found.
  • The big burly hero runs around, cries like a baby, and refuses to leave the island.
  • Eventually, the Argonauts are forced to treat Heracles to the old Pirate Code, leaving him behind.
  • Arriving At: Bebryces
  • Now Jason and his buddies come to the land of Bebryces, which is ruled by a king named Amycus.
  • The king, an arrogant pugilist, is really full of himself and boasts that he can beat any of the Argonauts in a boxing match.
  • Polydeuces takes up the challenge, and after a gnarly fight, Polydeuces punks down the arrogant king. Teaches you to pick a fight with a son of Zeus.
  • Here We Are: Bosporus
  • Next, the Argonauts come to Bosporus, which is ruled by King Phineus.
  • Phineus is a prophet with mad skills.
  • He was given the power to see into the future by Apollo, but he revealed too much to other humans and is now being punished.
  • Phineus's punishment is pretty awful.
  • Every time he tries to eat, his food is snatched away by Harpies, half bird/half women, who have a particularly nasty reputation.
  • As if stealing Phineus's food wasn't bad enough, the Harpies also poop on whatever crumbs they leave behind. (Seriously, that's for real in the story.)
  • So, as you might imagine, Phineus is a skinny and downright miserable dude at this point.
  • Thus, when the Argonauts show up to the party, he's overjoyed.
  • Since he can see the future, he knows that Zetes and Calais will drive the Harpies away for good.
  • Zetes and Calais are the sons of Boreas, the North Wind. This gives them the ability to fly up into the air and duke it out with the Harpies on their own turf.
  • After the flying brothers kick some tail feathers, Phineus rewards the Argonauts by telling them how to get through the deadly Sympleglades (aka the Clashing Rocks).
  • A Tight Squeeze: The Sympleglades
  • The Sympleglades are a pair of giant rocks that clash together anytime a ship sails through them, smushing the vessel and its unlucky contents to splinters.
  • Phineus reveals to Jason that the secret to getting pass the stones is to release a bird to fly through them first.
  • As soon as the bird flies through and the rocks slam together, the ship should quickly dart in after while the Sympleglades are rebooting.
  • Jason and Argonauts take Phineus's advice and release a dove.
  • The little bird wings its way through the big nasty rocks just in time, only losing a few tail feathers in the process.
  • The Argo follows swiftly after, and, like the dove, the ship only gets a little damage to its hind end.
  • Coupla Other Places
  • After the Argonauts scoot through the Sympleglades, they do a quick tour of a few other bizzare lands. Some pleasure-cruise this has turned out to be, huh?
  • They pass by the land of the Amazons, warrior women who have no love for men. (With good reason, considering the sorts of things Greek heroes usually do to the Amazons.)
  • The Argonauts decide it's best not to mess with these tough ladies and sail right by. Good thinking, Argonauts.
  • Jason and his merry men also sail by the land of the Mossynoikoi, where people like to make love in public, right in the dirt for all to see. Ew. Just ew.
  • The Argonauts also pass by an island full of the Birds of Ares.
  • These feathered friends of the god of war attack the Argonauts, but the heroes manage to beat them off and sail on.
  • Meet The Sons of Phrixus
  • Now, Jason and his crew see a damaged ship sailing towards them.
  • Like the good heroes they are, they save the folks on the boat before it sinks.
  • It turns out that the dudes on the boat are the sons of Phrixus, the guy who brought the Golden Fleece to Colchis to begin with.
  • Oops, looks like its time for some back-story...
  • Several years ago, Phrixus came swooping into Colchis on the back of a winged golden ram. (Too bad you can't rent one of those for the Prom.)
  • It turns out that Phrixus had been about to be sacrificed when the ram flew out of the sky and saved him.
  • When Phrixus arrived in Colchis, he sacrificed the ram to the gods and hung its Golden Fleece in a grove of trees. (Wait, so the ram saved Phrixus from being sacrificed, so he then sacrificed the ram? Is it just us, or did the ram get the bum end of this deal?)
  • King Aeëtes thought Phrixus seemed like a mighty cool dude, so the King let the stranger marry one of his daughters.
  • The King also decides to put a big nasty dragon in the grove to guard the Golden Fleece.
  • “Wait, wait, wait...” says Jason, interrupting Phrixus's sons' blast to the past. “You're saying there's a dragon guarding the Golden Fleece? Aw man!”
  • “Well, it is a fleece made of gold, you can't just leave that kind of thing lying around,” the Phrixus brothers tell him. “That kinda junk could get you like, three hundred drachmae on Ebay.”
  • “Shucks, this is going to be harder than I thought,” thinks Jason aloud.
  • Here At Last: Arrival in Colchis
  • Not long after, Jason and the Argonauts finally land on the shore of Colchis, the land of the legendary Golden Fleece.
  • King Aeëtes is immediately Not A Fan of Jason, suspecting that the young hero is here to steal his throne.
  • Jason assures the King that he's just come to fetch the Golden Fleece.
  • “Okey-lee-dokey-lee,” says King Aeëtes. “You can have the Fleece.”
  • “Huh? Wha-? Awesome!” says Jason, shooting high-five to the nearest Argonaut.
  • “But first, you have three little tasks to perform,” the King says with a smirk.
  • Jason retracts the high-five.
  • The Tasks
  • Numero Uno: Till a field using a team of fire breathing oxen.
  • Numero Dos: Sow dragon teeth into the soil and defeat the magical warriors that sprout from the earth.
  • Numero Tres: Defeat the dragon that guards the Fleece.
  • Jason tells the King he'll have all the tasks done in a jiff, but secretly the hero has no idea how he'll get the jobs done. Dude could really use a fairy godmother right about now.
  • Meanwhile on Olympus...
  • Hera, queen of the gods, looks down and sees what a pickle Jason is in.
  • She's got kind of a Thing for the young hero, and she absolutely hates his uncle Pelias, who stole his throne, so she decides it's just about time to step in and help Jason out.
  • Hera convinces Aphrodite, goddess of love, to send her son Eros (a.k.a. Cupid) to the rescue.
  • The queen of the gods wants Eros to make Medea, King Aeëtes's daughter, fall in love with Jason.
  • Hera knows that Medea is just the person to help Jason, since she just happens to be a skilled sorceress, straight out of Ravenclaw.
  • So, little winged Eros zooms down to Colchis and fires one of his golden arrows straight into Medea's heart.
  • The sorceress sees Jason and falls so in love that she's willing to do anything for him—even betray her own family.
  • So, when it comes time for Jason to do the first task of tilling with the fire-breathing oxen, Medea gives the hero a special ointment to rub on his skin that protects him from the flames.
  • Jason tills away without getting singed a bit from the fiery bovines.
  • The hero then sows the dragon teeth into the soil.
  • Instantly, an army of powerful warriors erupts from the dirt. Aw bugger.
  • These guys would probably be a big problem for Jason, except that Medea already told her new boyfriend how to deal with them. Thanks girl!
  • Apparently, dragon teeth warriors are fearsome fighters, but they aren't so bright.
  • Jason throws a rock into the middle of them, and the brutes start accusing each other of throwing it.
  • Eventually, their argument turns into an all out brawl, and they end up slaughtering each other.
  • Last of all, Jason has to face the dragon that guards the Golden Fleece.
  • Once again he wouldn't be able to get the job done without Medea's help.
  • As Jason enters the grove of the Golden Fleece, the dragon roars and almost swallows Jason whole. Yikes!
  • Right at the last moment, Jason sprays the serpent in the face with a sleeping potion, courtesy of Medea.
  • As the monster starts to snooze, Jason grabs the Golden Fleece, and with Medea and the Argonauts in tow, he makes a break for the Argo.
  • The Voyage Home
  • King Aeëtes is pretty ticked off that Jason took off with Medea, and that the hero actually managed to get the Golden Fleece.
  • So, Jason and friends aren't out to sea very long before they see the King's ship in hot pursuit.
  • Once again, however, Medea is prepared.
  • It seems that the sorceress lured her brother Apsyrtus on board for just this occasion.
  • To stop her father from catching up to them, Medea kills her brother, slices him into little pieces, and dumps his remains overboard. (Dude.)
  • (Note: in some versions Medea lures her brother, and Jason does the slaying.)
  • Back in the day, people were mad serious about giving bodies the proper burial, so King Aeëtes is forced to stop and gather the remains so that he can give his son the proper send off to the otherworld.
  • We're guessing that the other Argonauts are now looking sideways at Medea, and whispering, “Um, Jason, who is this chick again?” But the diversion ensures a safe getaway for the crew.
  • Up on Mount Olympus, however, Zeus is not impressed with Medea's methods.
  • The king of the gods causes a massive storm to blow the Argo off course.
  • So, Jason and Medea are forced to make a pit-stop on the island of Circe, a sorceress with the power to cleanse them of the murder Medea's brother.
  • Circe is willing to do the deed and washes their sins away with water from the sea.
  • Not long after this, the newly sanctified couple is officially married.
  • As the Argo continues to sail, they come across the Sirens, gorgeous creatures who, like the Harpies, are part-bird.
  • The Sirens' favorite pastime is to perch on jagged rocks and sing beautifully, luring passing sailors to their death.
  • Luckily, musician extraordinaire Orpheus is aboard the Argo.
  • The master minstrel plays a song so beautiful that it drowns out the Sirens' singing.
  • The last big adventure happens near the island of Crete, where the Argonauts run into Talos, a giant man made totally of bronze.
  • When the Argo passes by Crete, Talos hurls boulders at the ship.
  • There are a lot of different versions about what exactly happens next.
  • Most say that Medea either hypnotizes him or drugs him.
  • Then she sneaks onto the island and pulls a nail from his ankle.
  • It turns out that this nail is bronze man's weak spot.
  • It's connected to Talos's one vein, so when Medea pulls it from his body, he bleeds to death.
  • Instead of human blood, Talos bleeds ichor, which is the immortal blood of the gods.
  • With the last hurdle crossed, Jason, Medea, and the Argonauts make a beeline for Greece.
  • Before you know it, the crew is standing, weary but victorious, before the gates of Iolcus.
  • Jason carries the Golden Fleece into the city, ready to finally take his throne from Pelias.