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who ran against Hippomenes, and a first cousin of Admetus, the husband of Alcestis.1 When, however, Jason, being grown up, came to demand the crown, his uncle Pelias with wily intent, suggested to him the glorious quest of the golden fleece. Jason, pleased with the thought, forthwith made preparations for the expedition. At that time the only species of navigation known to the Greeks consisted of small boats or canoes hollowed out from trunks of trees; when, accordingly, Jason employed Argus to build a vessel capable of containing fifty men, it was considered a gigantic undertaking. The vessel was named Argo, probably after its builder. Jason soon found himself at the head of a bold band of comrades, many of whom afterward were renowned among the heroes and demigods of Greece.
From every region of ^igea's shore
On deep Iolcos' sandy shore they thronged,
Theseus, Meleager, Peleus, and Nestor were also among these Argonauts, or sailors of the Argo. The ship with her crew of heroes left the shores of Thessaly, and touching at the island of Lemnos, thence crossed to Mysia and thence to Thrace. Here
1 See genealogical table, § 97, Commentary.
they found the sage Phineus, who instructed the Argonauts how they might pass the Symplegades, or Clashing Islands, at the entrance of the Euxine Sea. When they reached these islands, they, accordingly, let go a dove, which took her way between the rocks, and passed in safety, only losing some feathers of her tail. Jason and his men, seizing the favorable moment of the rebound, plied their oars with vigor, and passed safe through, though the islands closed behind them, and actually grazed the stern of the vessel. They then rowed along the shore till they arrived at the eastern end of the sea, and so landed in the kingdom of Colchis.
Jason made known his message to the Colchian king, yEetes, who consented to give up the golden fleece on certain conditions: namely, that Jason should yoke to the plough two fire-breathing bulls with brazen feet; and that he, then, should sow the teeth of the dragon that Cadmus had slain. Jason, although it was well known that a crop of armed men would spring up from the teeth, destined to turn their weapons against their producer, accepted the conditions; and a time was set for the undertaking. The hero, however, wisely spent the interval in wooing Medea, the daughter of yEetes; and with such success that they plighted troth before the altar of Hecate. The princess then furnished her hero with a charm which should aid him in the contest to come.
Accordingly, when the momentous day was arrived, Jason, with calmness, encountered the fire-breathing monsters, and speedily yoked them to the plough. The Colchians stood in amazement; the Greeks shouted for joy. Next, the hero proceeded to sow the dragon's teeth and plough them in. Up sprang, according to prediction, the crop of armed men, brandished aloft their weapons, and rushed upon Jason. The Greeks trembled for their hero. Medea herself grew pale with fear. The hero, himself, for a time, with sword and shield, kept his assailants at bay; but he surely would have been overwhelmed by the numbers had he not resorted to a charm which Medea had taught him: seizing a stone, he threw it in the midst of his foes. Immediately they turned their arms against one another, and soon there was not one of the dragon's brood alive.
It remained only to lull to sleep the dragon that guarded the fleece. This was done by scattering over him a few drops of a preparation, which, again, Medea had supplied. Jason then seized the fleece, and with his friends and his sweetheart accompanying, hastened to the vessel. It is said that, in order to delay the pursuit of her father yEetes, Medea tore to pieces her young brother Absyrtus, and strewed fragments of him along the line of their flight. The ruse succeeded. The Argonauts arrived safe in Thessaly. Jason delivered the fleece to Pelias, and dedicated the Argo to Neptune.
§ 146. Medea and .ffison.1 — Medea's career as a sorceress was, by no means, completed. At Jason's request, she undertook next to restore his aged father yEson to the vigor of youth. To the full moon she addressed her incantations, to the stars, to Hecate, to Tellus, the goddess of the earth. In a chariot borne aloft by dragons, she traversed the fields of air to regions where flourished potent plants, which only she knew how to select. Nine nights she employed in her search, and during that period shunned all intercourse with mortals.
Next she erected two altars, the one to Hecate, the other to Hebe, and sacrificed a black sheep, — pouring libations of milk and wine. She implored Pluto and his stolen bride to spare the
1 Ovid, Metam. 7:143-293.
old man's life. Then she directed that ^son be led forth; and throwing him into a deep sleep, she laid him on a bed of herbs, like one dead. No eye profane looked upon her mysteries. With streaming hair, thrice she moved round the altars, dipped flaming twigs in the blood, and laid them thereon to burn. Meanwhile the caldron with its contents was preparing. In it she put magic herbs, with seeds and flowers of acrid juice, stones from the distant East, and sand from the shore of all-surrounding ocean, hoar frost — gathered by moonlight, a screech owl's head and wings, and the entrails of a wolf. She added fragments of the shells of tortoises and the liver of stags — animals tenacious of life — and the head and beak of a crow, which outlives nine generations of men. These, with many other things " without a name," she boiled together for her purposed work, stirring them with a dry olive branch. The branch when taken out instantly was green, and erelong was covered with leaves and a plentiful growth of young olives; and as the liquor boiled and bubbled, and sometimes bubbled over, the grass wherever the sprinklings fell leaped into verdure like that of spring.
Seeing that all was ready, Medea cut the throat of the old man, let out his blood, and poured into his mouth and his wound the juices of her caldron. As soon as he had completely imbibed them, his hair and beard lost their whiteness, and assumed the color of youth; his paleness and emaciation were gone; his veins were full of blood, his limbs of vigor and robustness; and ^Eson, on awakening, found himself forty years younger.
§ 147. Pelias.1 — In another instance, Medea made her arts the instrument of revenge. Pelias, the usurping uncle of Jason, still kept him out of his heritage. But the daughters of Pelias wished Medea to restore their father also to youth. Medea simulated consent, but prepared her caldron for him in a new and singular way. She put in only water and a few simple herbs. In the night she persuaded the daughters of Pelias to kill him. They, at first, hesitated to strike, but, Medea chiding their irreso1 Ovid, Metam. 7:297-353.
lution, they turned away their faces and, giving random blows, smote him with their weapons. Starting from his sleep, the old man cried out, "My daughters, would you kill your father?" Whereat their hearts failed them, and the weapons fell from their hands. Medea, however, struck the fatal blow.
They placed him in the caldron, but, as might be expected, with no success. Medea herself had taken care to escape before they discovered the treachery. She had, however, little profit of the fruits of her crime. Jason, for whom she had sacrificed so much, put her away, for he wished to marry Creiisa, princess of Corinth. Whereupon Medea, enraged at his ingratitude, called on the gods for vengeance: then, sending a poisoned robe as a gift to the bride, killing her own children, and setting fire to the palace, she mounted her serpent-drawn chariot and fled to Athens. There she married King yEgeus, the father of Theseus; and we shall meet her again when we come to the adventures of that hero.1
The incantation of Medea readily suggests that of the witches in Macbeth: —
"Round about the caldron go;
• Macbeth, Act IV, 1. Consult.