Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 121

The golden fleece.

This tale and his liberal potations greatly excited the youth Jason; and Pelias, perceiving it, hypocritically regretted his inability to win the golden fleece, and softly insinuated that young men of the present generation were not brave enough to risk [266] their lives in such a glorious cause. The usurper’s crafty remarks had the desired effect; for Jason suddenly sprang from his seat, and vowed he would go in quest of the golden fleece. Pelias, quite certain that the rash youth would lose his life in the attempt, and thus cause no more trouble, with much difficulty restrained all expressions of joy, and dared him to make the attempt.

“With terror struck, lest by young Jason’s hand
His crown should be rent from him, Pelias sought
By machinations dark to slay his foe.
From Colchis’ realm to bring the golden fleece
He charged the youth.”
Orphic Argonautics.
The Speaking Oak.

When Jason, sobered and refreshed by a long night’s rest, perceived how foolish had been his vow, he would fain have recalled it; but, mindful of Chiron’s teachings ever to be true to his word, he resolved to depart for Colchis. To secure Juno’s assistance, he began by visiting her shrine at Dodona, where the oracle, a Speaking Oak, assured him of the goddess’s good will and efficacious protection. Next the Speaking Oak bade him cut off one of its own mighty limbs, and carve from it a figurehead for the swift-sailing vessel which Minerva, at Juno’s request, would build for his use from pine trees grown on Mount Pelion.

The Argo and crew.

Jason, having finished his figurehead, found that it too had the gift of speech, and that it would occasionally vouchsafe sage counsel in the direction of his affairs. When quite completed, Jason called his vessel the Argo (swift-sailing), and speedily collected a crew of heroes as brave as himself, among whom were Hercules, Castor, Pollux, Peleus, Admetus, Theseus, and Orpheus, who were all glad to undertake the perilous journey to lands unknown. To speed them on their way, Juno then bargained with Æolus for favorable winds, and forbade any tempest which might work them harm.

[267] “Then with a whistling breeze did Juno fill the sail,
And Argo, self-impell’d, shot swift before the gale.”
Onomacritus (Elton’s tr.).
Story of Hylas.

On several occasions the heroes landed, either to renew their stock of provisions or to recruit their strength, but in general every delay brought them some misfortune. Once Hercules, having landed with a youth named Hylas to cut wood for new oars, bade the youth go to a neighboring spring and draw a pitcher of water to quench the thirst produced by his exertions. The youth promptly departed; but as he bent over the fountain, the nymphs, enamored with his beauty, drew him down into their moist abode to keep them company. Hercules, after vainly waiting for Hylas’ return, went in search of him, but could find no trace of him, and, in his grief and disappointment at the death of his young friend, refused to continue the expedition, and, deserting the Argonauts, made his way home alone and on foot.