Argonauts

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Gathering of the Argonauts, Attic red-figure krater, 460–450 BC, Louvre (G 341).

The Argonauts (/ˈɑːrɡənɔːt/; Ancient Greek: Ἀργοναῦται Argonautai) were a band of heroes in Greek mythology, who in the years before the Trojan War, around 1300 BC,[1] accompanied Jason to Colchis in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. Their name comes from their ship, Argo, named after its builder, Argus. "Argonauts" literally means "Argo sailors". They were sometimes called Minyans, after a prehistoric tribe in the area.

Mythology[edit]

Background[edit]

Pelias, king of Iolcos, stops on the steps of a temple as he recognises young Jason by his missing sandal; Roman fresco from Pompeii, 1st century AD.

After the death of King Cretheus, the Aeolian Pelias usurped the Iolcan throne from his half-brother Aeson and became king of Iolcus in Thessaly (near the modern city of Volos). Because of this unlawful act, an oracle warned him that a descendant of Aeolus would seek revenge. Pelias put to death every prominent descendant of Aeolus he could, but spared Aeson because of the pleas of their mother Tyro. Instead, Pelias kept Aeson prisoner and forced him to renounce his inheritance. Aeson married Alcimede, who bore him a son named Jason. Pelias intended to kill the baby at once, but Alcimede summoned her kinswomen to weep over him as if he were stillborn. She faked a burial and smuggled the baby to Mount Pelion. He was raised by the centaur Chiron, the trainer of heroes.

When Jason was 20 years old, an oracle ordered him to dress as a Magnesian and head to the Iolcan court. While traveling Jason lost his sandal crossing the muddy Anavros river while helping an old woman (Hera in disguise). The goddess was angry with King Pelias for killing his stepmother Sidero after she had sought refuge in Hera's temple.

Another oracle warned Pelias to be on his guard against a man with one shoe. Pelias was presiding over a sacrifice to Poseidon with several neighboring kings in attendance. Among the crowd stood a tall youth in leopard skin with only one sandal. Pelias recognized that Jason was his nephew. He could not kill him because prominent kings of the Aeolian family were present. Instead, he asked Jason: "What would you do if an oracle announced that one of your fellow-citizens were destined to kill you?" Jason replied that he would send him to go and fetch the Golden Fleece, not knowing that Hera had put those words in his mouth.

Jason learned later that Pelias was being haunted by the ghost of Phrixus. Phrixus had fled from Orchomenus riding on a divine ram to avoid being sacrificed and took refuge in Colchis where he was later denied proper burial. According to an oracle, Iolcus would never prosper unless his ghost was taken back in a ship, together with the golden ram's fleece. This fleece now hung from a tree in the grove of the Colchian Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never slept. Pelias swore before Zeus that he would give up the throne at Jason's return while expecting that Jason's attempt to steal the Golden Fleece would be a fatal enterprise. However, Hera acted in Jason's favour during the perilous journey.

The crew of the Argo[edit]

There is no definite list of the Argonauts. H.J. Rose explains this was because "an Argonautic ancestor was an addition to even the proudest of pedigrees."[2] The following list is collated from several lists given in ancient sources.[3][4][5][6]

Crew Sources Appearance Abode Parentage and Notes
Apollonius Apollodorus Valerius Hyginus Orphic Lemprie
Beginning of Journey
Acastus 6 Pherae or Iolcus son of Pelias and Anaxibia or Phylomache; he joined the Argonauts as a volunteer and at his own accord
Actor 3 Pellene, Peloponnesus son of Hippasus
Admetus 6 Pherae son of Pheres and Periclymene; his flocks they say were pastured by Apollo
Aethalides 5 Larissa, Thessaly son of Hermes and Eupolemeia
Amphiaraus ✓* 3 Argos son of Oicles and Hypermnestra; *he could fit the description of Hyginus ". . . Thestius’ daughter, an Argive." which could be interpreted as Amphiaraus, son of Oicles and Hypermnestra, Thestius' daughter and an Argive.
Amphidamas or Iphidamas 5 Tegea, Arcadia son of Aleus and Cleobule
Amphion 5 Pellene, Peloponnesus son of Hyperasius and Hypso or of Hippasus
Ancaeus 5 Parthenia or Samos son of Poseidon and Astypalaea or Althaea
Ancaeus 6 Tegea, Arcadia son of Lycurgus and Eurynome or Cleophyle; he went clad in the skin of a Maenalian bear and wielded a huge two-edged battleaxe
Areius 3 Argos son of Bias and Pero
Argus 4 Argos son of Arestor or Polybus and Argia or Danaus; builder of Argo
Argus 2 - son of Phrixus; builder of Argo (might be conflated with Argus the builder by late mythographers because Argus, the son of Phrixus appeared in the later part of the story according to earlier accounts on the Argonauts' voyage). see Argus below.
Armenus [7] 1 Armenium, Thessaly -
Ascalaphus 2 Orchomenus son of Ares and Astyoche; later one of the Suitors of Helen and led the Orchomenians in the Trojan War.
Asclepius 2 Tricca son of Apollo and Coronis or Arsinoe
Asterion or Asterius 6 Peiresiae, Thessaly son of Cometes and Antigona or of Hyperasius; he was probably conflated by Hyginus with Asterius below when saying Asterion as the son of Hyperasius.
Asterius or Asterion or Deucalion* ✓* 5 Pellene, Peloponnesus son of Hyperasius and Hypso or of Hippasus; in the account of Valerius, Deucalion was the name of the brother of Amphion instead of Asterius.
Atalanta 2 Arcadia daughter of Schoeneus or Iasus; Atalanta is included on the list by Pseudo-Apollodorus, but Apollonius[8] claims that Jason forbade her because she was a woman and could cause strife in the otherwise all-male crew. Other sources state that she was asked, but refused.
Augeas 5 Pisa, Elis son of Helios and Nausidame
Autolycus 2 Thessaly son of Hermes
Azorus 1 - -
Buphagus 1 - -
Butes 6 Athens (Cecropia) son of Coronus
Calaïs 6 Thrace son of Boreas and Oreithyia
Caeneus 3 Gyrton son of Coronus
Canthus ✓* 5 Chalcis or Cerinthus, Euboea son of Canethus or Abas; *name appeared in some notes of the book
Castor 6 Sparta son of Tyndareus or Zeus and Leda
Cepheus 6 Tegea, Arcadia son of Aleus and Cleobule
Cius 1 - -
Clymenus 1 Phylace, Thessaly possibly son of Phylacus and Clymene as the brother of Iphiclus
Clytius 3 Oechalia son of Eurytus and Antiope
Coronus 4 Thessaly son of Caeneus
Deucalion 2 Crete son of Minos and Pasiphae
Echion 5 Alope son of Hermes and Antianeira or Laothoe
Eneus 1 son of Caeneus
Erginus 6 Miletus, Caria son of Poseidon
Eribotes 4 Opus son of Teleon
Erytus or Eurytus 6 Alope son of Hermes and Antianeira or Laothoe
Euphemus 6 Taenarus, Peloponesse son of Poseidon and Europe
Euryalus 2 Argos son of Mecisteus
Eurydamas 4 Ctimene, Dolopia son of Ctimenus or of Irus and Demonassa
Eurymedon 1 Phlius son of Dionysus and Ariadne
Eurytion 5 Opus son of Irus and Demonassa or Actor
Glaucus 1 - -
Heracles 6 Thebes son of Zeus and Alcmena
Hippalcimus 1 Pisa, Elis son of Pelops and Hippodamia
Hylas 5 Oechalia or Argos son of Theiodamas & Menodice
Ialmenus 2 Orchomenus son of Ares and Astyoche
Idas 6 Messenia son of Aphareus and Arene
Idmon 5 Argos son of Apollo or Abas or by Cyrene or Antianeira or of Asteria or of Ampycus
Iolaus 2 Argos son of Iphicles and Automedusa
Iphiclus 5 Phylace, Thessaly son of Phylacus and Clymene
Iphiclus 4 Aetolia son of Thestius and Leucippe
Iphis or Iphitos 1 Mycenae son of Sthenelus
Iphis 1 Argos son of Alector
Iphitos 3 Oechalia son of Eurytus and Antiope
Iphitos 6 Phocis or Peloponnesse son of Naubolus or Hippasus
Jason 6 Iolcus son of Aeson
Laërtes 2 son of Arcesius and Chalcomedusa father of Odysseus
Laocoon 3 Calydon son of Porthaon and half-brother of Oeneus; tutor of Meleager
Leitus 2 Boeotia son of Alector (Alectryon) and Polybule or of Lacritus and Cleobule
Leodocus or Laodocus 4 Argos son of Bias and Pero
Lynceus 6 Messenia son of Aphareus and Arene
Meleager 6 Calydon son of Oeneus and Althaea
Menoetius 6 Opus son of Actor
Mopsus 5 Tiraresia son of Ampyx and Chloris or Aregonis
Nauplius 5 Nauplia son of Clytoneus or of Poseidon and Amymone
Neleus 2 Pylos son of Poseidon or Hippocoon
Nestor 2 Pylos son of Neleus and Chloris
Oileus 5 Narycea, Opus son of Hodoedocus (Leodocus) and Agrianome
Orpheus 6 Bistonian Pieria, Thrace son of Calliope and Oeagrus
Palaemon orPalaimonius 5 Olenus, Aulis or Calydon son of Hephaestus or Lernus or Aetolus
Peleus 6 Phthia son of Aeacus and Endeis
Peneleos 2 Boeotia son of Hippalmus and Asterope
Periclymenus 6 Pylos son of Chloris and Neleus, son of Poseidon
Phalerus 5 Athens, Attica son of Alcon
Phanus 2 - son of Dionysus and Ariadne
Philoctetes 3 Meliboea son of Poeas
Phlias 5 Araethyrea, Phlius son of Dionysus and Ariadne
Phocus 2 Magnesia son of Caeneus and brother of Priasus
Pirithous 2 Larissa son of Ixion or Zeus by Dia
Poeas 2 Meliboea son of Thaumacus and father of Philoctetes
Pollux 6 Sparta son of Zeus and Leda
Polyphemus 6 Larisa son of Elatus and Hippea; one of the Lapiths
Priasus 2 Magnesia son of Caeneus and Phocus
Staphylus 2 Phlius son of Dionysus and Ariadne
Talaus 4 Argos son of Bias and Pero
Telamon 6 Salamis son of Aeacus and Endeis
Theseus 3 Troezen son of Poseidon or Aegeus by Aethra; slayer of the Minotaur; Apollonius claims that Theseus and Pirithous were trapped in underworld by Hades at the time and could not join.[9] Theseus being on the list is inconsistent with accounts of his life usually including him encountering Medea at an early stage of his adventures, yet many years after the Argonauts completed their adventure (Medea, by that time, was not only abandoned by Jason, but also bore a child from Aegeus).[10]
Tiphys 6 Thespia, Boeotia or Elis son of Hagnias or of Phorbas and Hyrmine
Tydeus 1 Calydon son of Oeneus and father of Diomedes
Zetes 5 Thrace son of Boreas and Oreithyia
*thersanon 1 Andros son of Helios and Leucothoe
TOTAL
During or After the Journey
Argus 1 Colchis sons of Phrixus and Chalciope

They joined the crew only after being rescued by the Argonauts: the four had been stranded on a desert island not far from Colchis, from where they initially sailed with an intent to reach their father's homeland.[11] However, Argus is not to be confused with the other Argus, son of Arestor or Polybus, constructor and eponym of the ship Argo and member of the crew from the beginning.[12]

Cytissorus 1
Melas 1
Phrontis 1
Autolycus 3 Thessaly sons of Deimachus
Demoleon or Deileon 3
Phlogius 3
Phronius 1
Medea 5 Colchis daughter of Aeetes; joined when the Fleece was recovered

Several more names are discoverable from other sources. Amyrus, eponym of a Thessalian city, is given by Stephanus of Byzantium as "one of the Argonauts";[13]

The Argo, by Konstantinos Volanakis (1837–1907).

he is otherwise said to have been a son of Poseidon and to have given his name to the river Amyrus.[14] Azorus was the helmsman of Argo according to Hesychius of Alexandria;[15] he could be the same as the Azorus mentioned by Stephanus as founder of the city Azorus in Pelagonia.[16]

The Journey[edit]

Jason, along with his other 49 crew-mates, sailed off from Iolcus to Colchis to fetch the golden fleece. They first stopped at Lemnos.

When the Argonauts came to the island of Lemnos, they learned that all the males had been murdered. For the Lemnian women, having learned that their husbands had taken Thracian wives, resolved to kill all men on Lemnos. The women deposed King Thoas, and he should have died along with the other men, but his daughter Hypsipyle, who became queen after him, secretly spared her father. When the Argonauts arrived, Hypsipyle fell in love with their captain Jason and had children with him. But later, when the other women learned that Hypsipyle had spared her father, they sold her as a slave and killed Thoas.[citation needed] (Hypsipyle reappeared years later, when the Argives marching against Thebes learned from her the way to a spring in Nemea, where she served as nurse of the king's son.) The Argonauts consorted with the Lemnian women, and their descendants were called Minyans, since some among them had previously emigrated from Minyan Orchomenus to Iolcus. (Later, these Minyans were driven out from the island, and came to Lacedaemon). Hypsipyle`son, Euneus, later became king of Lemnos. To purify the island from blood guilt, he ordered that all Leminan hearth-fires be put off for nine days and a new fire be brought on a ship from Apollo`s altar in Delos.

The Argonauts made their second stop at Bear Mountain, an island[17] shaped like a bear; the locals, called the Doliones, all descended from Poseidon. Their king Cyzicus, who had just got married, decided to have a huge party with the Argonauts. At the party the king tried to tell Jason to not go to the eastern side of the island, but he got distracted by Heracles, and forgot to tell Jason.

Adaptations of the myth[edit]

Literature[edit]

Film and television[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "BBC - History - Ancient History in depth: Jason and the Golden Fleece". bbc.co.uk.
  2. ^ Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (New York: Dutton, 1959), p. 198
  3. ^ Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 1. 23 - 228
  4. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 9. 16
  5. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae, 14
  6. ^ John Lempière, Argonautae
  7. ^ Strabo. Geographica. xi. pp. 503, 530. Page numbers refer to those of Isaac Casaubon's edition.
  8. ^ Arg. 1. 770
  9. ^ Arg. 1. 100
  10. ^ Roger Lancelyn Green, in his Tales of the Greek Heroes, gets round this problem by suppressing the name of the witch-wife who Theseus encountered in his early life.
  11. ^ Arg. 2. 1193
  12. ^ Arg. 1. 112; Hyg. Fab. 14
  13. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Amyros
  14. ^ Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 1. 596. The Argonauts are reported to have sailed past this river by both Apollonius (1. 596) and Valerius Flaccus (2. 11)
  15. ^ Hesychius s. v. Azōros
  16. ^ Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Azōros
  17. ^ Freely, John (2000). The Companion Guide to Istanbul and Around the Marmara. Companion guide to Turkey. 1. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Companion Guides. p. 350. ISBN 9781900639316. Retrieved 2018-03-04. The Kapidağ peninsula was in antiquity known variously as Arctonoros (Bear Mountain) or Arctonissos (Bear Island). It was then indeed an island, which its early settlers linked to the mainland by bridges that could be removed when enemies appeared; in later times alluvial deposits created the isthmus that we see today.

Further reading[edit]

  • J. R. Bacon, The Voyage of the Argonauts. (London: Methuen, 1925).
  • Dimitris Michalopoulos and Antonis Milanos, The Evolution of the Hellenic Mercantile Marine through the Ages, The Piraeus: Institute of Hellenic Maritime History, 2014 (ISBN 9786188059900)

External links[edit]