Jason and the Argonauts

One of the great adventure tales found in Greek mythology concerns the hero Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece. King Pelias of Thessaly must give up the throne to his nephew Jason, but comes up with a plan to keep Jason too busy (or, in all likelihood, too dead) to bother taking the crown. Legend has it that in the far off land of Colchis was the skin of a sheep made of gold, which was guarded by a dragon that never slept. Pelias concocts a story that this Golden Fleece rightly belongs to their family, and that Jason must immediately equip himself with a ship and crew to retrieve it.

In need of a ship, Jason contacts the master craftsman Argus to build him one. Legend has it that the vessel Argus produced was the first true ship ever built; until then, Greeks had to content themselves with small boats and canoes. Jason, to honor its creator, named the ship, an oared galley with a single sail, Argo. With the perfect ship to sail off to Colchis, Jason now concerned himself with getting a crew together. Other celebrities of Greek mythology answered his call for help, including legendary strongman Heracles, skilled musician Orpheus, and Athenian hero Theseus. Jason dubbed his crew the Argonauts.

They set sail, dodging all manner of hazards, from giant boulders that specialized in crushing ships, to a terrifying flock of half-human, half-eagle monsters known as Harpies. The god of the North Wind, Boreas, had sent his two sons, Zetes and Calais, along with the expedition. Being skilled warriors and capable of flying, the pair of brothers drove off the Harpies and saved the Argonauts from being attacked.

After the Argonauts arrived at Colchis, the local ruler, King Ǽetes, at first seemed surprisingly agreeable to hand over the Golden Fleece. The fleece was Jason's, provided he could tame a pair of fire-breathing bulls and then plant a field full of dragon's teeth. As luck would have it, Jason fell madly in love with King Ǽetes' daughter, a sorceress named Medea, who helped him tame the bulls through witchcraft.

Sowing the dragon's teeth sounded easy after facing a pair of fire-breathing bulls. The catch was that when a dragon's tooth was planted in the dirt, it instantly grew into a fully armored warrior, ready to battle anyone he saw. After only a few minutes, Jason found himself surrounded by an army of dragon tooth-spawned soldiers. Overwhelmed by superior numbers, Jason got the bright idea to throw a heavy rock into the dragon tooth warriors' midst; this caused confusion in their ranks and they begin to fight one another.

King Ǽetes was impressed, but he felt confident that Jason would not be able to defeat the sleepless dragon that guarded the fleece. Once again, Medea came to the rescue by giving Jason a potion that put the dragon to sleep. Jason hurried from the land of Colchis with the fleece and with King Ǽetes' daughter Medea, whom he promised to marry.

The myth of Jason and the Argonauts illustrates how the ancients rightly viewed profit-motivated sea journeys as adventures. Typical sea-going merchants, while unlikely to face half-human monsters that wanted to devour them or an army of undead soldiers, did risk life and limb to achieve profits. The ancient land of Colchis, in the Caucus mountains on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, was a rich trading area, where gold flecks could be found in the local rivers. Perhaps this fact spawned the idea of a golden treasure in Colchis, which was well worth the effort to obtain. Oddly enough, while King Pelias, Jason and Medea all appear in later Greek myths, nothing is ever said of what became of the Golden Fleece.