Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 87

Then AEetes promised the next day to give them the fleece, and the Greeks went joyfully down to the Argo with the hero Jason in their midst. But that night Medea came down to Jason, and bade him make haste and follow her, for that her father proposed the next morning to attack the Argonauts and to destroy their ship. They went together to the grove of Mars, where the golden fleece hung guarded by the dreadful dragon, who glared at the hero and his conductor with his great round eyes that never slept. But Medea was prepared, and began her magic songs and spells, and sprinkled over him a sleeping potion which she had prepared by her art. At the smell he relaxed his rage, stood for a moment motionless, then shut those great round eyes, that had never been known to shut before, and turned over on his side, fast asleep. Jason seized the fleece, and with his friends and Medea accompanying, hastened to their vessel, before AEETES, the king, could arrest their departure, and made the best of their way back to Thessaly, where they arrived safe, and Jason delivered the fleece to Pelias, and dedicated the Argo to Neptune. What became of the fleece afterwards we do not know, but perhaps it was found, after all, like many other golden prizes, not worth the trouble it had cost to procure it.

This is one of those mythological tales, says a modern writer, in which there is reason to believe that a substratum of truth exists, though overlaid by a mass of fiction. It probably was the first important maritime expedition, and like the first attempts of the kind of all nations, as we know from history, was probably of a half-piratical character. If rich spoils were the result, it was enough to give rise to the idea of the golden fleece.

Another suggestion of a learned mythologist, Bryant, is that it is a corrupt tradition of the story of Noah and the ark. The name Argo seems to countenance this, and the incident of the dove is another confirmation.

Pope, in his Ode on St. Cecelia's Day, thus celebrates the launching of the ship Argo, and the power of the music of Orpheus, whom he calls the Thracian:

  "So when the first bold vessel dared the seas,
  High on the stern the Thracian raised his strain,
  While Argo saw her kindred trees
  Descend from Pelion to the main.
  Transported demigods stood round,
  And men grew heroes at the sound."

In Dyer's poem of The Fleece there is an account of the ship Argo and her crew, which gives a good picture of this primitive maritime adventure:

  "From every region of Aegea's shore
  The brave assembled; those illustrious twins,
  Castor and Pollux; Orpheus, tuneful bard;
  Zetes and Calais, as the wind in speed;
  Strong Hercules and many a chief renowned.
  On deep Iolcos' sandy shore they thronged,
  Gleaming in armor, ardent of exploits;
  And soon, the laurel cord and the huge stone
  Uplifting to the deck, unmoored the bark;
  Whose keel of wondrous length the skilful hand
  Of Argus fashioned for the proud attempt;
  And in the extended keel a lofty mast
  Upraised, and sails full swelling; to the chiefs
  Unwonted objects. Now first, now they learned
  Their bolder steerage over ocean wave,
  Led by the golden stars, as Chiron's art
  Had marked the sphere celestial."