Medeia and the Golden Fleece (page 360 with art)

Chapter 12: Iason and the Argo

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Bonn, Akademisches Kunstmuseum 860.  Early Corinthian vase, Jason and snake.

Samos,  Museum.  Early Corinthian fragments.  Jason and snake.

Mimnermos 11 W – Iambi et Elegi Graeci 2, p. 86, ed. M. L. West. Oxford 1972.

New York Metropolitan Museum 34.11.7.  Attic krater by the Orchard Painter.  Jason, Athena, Argonaut and snake.


Metropolitan Museum

Thebes, Museum 31.166a.  Attic lekythos. 

London, British Museum 1926.4-17.1.  Attic lekythos. Head of Medea between snakes.



AR 4.123-82 – Apollonios of Rhodes, Argonautika

And they two by the pathway came to the sacred grove, seeking the huge oak tree on which was hung the fleece, like to a cloud that blushes red with the fiery beams of the rising sun. But right in front the serpent with his keen sleepless eyes saw them coming, and stretched out his long neck and hissed in awful wise; and all round the long banks of the river echoed and the boundless grove. Those heard it who dwelt in the Colchian land very far from Titanian Aea, near the outfall of Lycus, the river which parts from loud-roaring Araxes and blends his sacred stream with Phasis, and they twain flow on together in one and pour their waters into the Caucasian Sea. And through fear young mothers awoke, and round their new-born babes, who were sleeping in their arms, threw their hands in agony, for the small limbs started at that hiss. And as when above a pile of smouldering wood countless eddies of smoke roll up mingled with soot, and one ever springs up quickly after another, rising aloft from beneath in wavering wreaths; so at that time did that monster roll his countless coils covered with hard dry scales. And as he writhed, the maiden came before his eyes, with sweet voice calling to her aid sleep, highest of gods, to charm the monster; and she cried to the queen of the underworld, the night-wanderer, to be propitious to her enterprise. And Aeson’s son followed in fear, but the serpent, already charmed by her song, was relaxing the long ridge of his giant spine, and lengthening out his myriad coils, like a dark wave, dumb and noiseless, rolling over a sluggish sea; but still he raised aloft his grisly head, eager to enclose them both in his murderous jaws. But she with a newly cut spray of juniper, dipping and drawing untempered charms from her mystic brew, sprinkled his eyes, while she chanted her song; and all around the potent scent of the charm cast sleep; and on the very spot he let his jaw sink down; and far behind through the wood with its many trees were those countless coils stretched out.

[162] Hereupon Jason snatched the golden fleece from the oak, at the maiden bidding; and she, standing firm, smeared with the charm the monster’s head, till Jason himself bade her turn back towards their ship, and she left the grove of Ares, dusky with shade. And as a maiden catches on her finely wrought robe the gleam of the moon at the full, as it rises above her high-roofed chamber; and her heart rejoices as she beholds the fair ray; so at that time did Jason uplift the mighty fleece in his hands; and from the shimmering of the flocks of wool there settled on his fair cheeks and brow a red flush like a flame. And great as is the hide of a yearling ox or stag, which huntsmen call a brocket, so great in extent was the fleece all golden above. Heavy it was, thickly clustered with flocks; and as he moved along, even beneath his feet the sheen rose up from the earth. And he strode on now with the fleece covering his left shoulder from the height of his neck to his feet, and now again he gathered it up in his hands; for he feared exceedingly, lest some god or man should meet him and deprive him thereof.  Greek Text

VF 8.64-108 – Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica

Come tell me now, wouldst thou rob him of the fleece while he wakes and can see his foe, or shall I steep his eyes in drowse and so deliver unto thee the serpent subdued?” The other is silent, such shuddering awe of the maiden has mastered him.

[67] And now the Colchian had stretched upward to the stars her hands that bare the wand, and pouring forth spells in barbaric rhythm was calling to thee, O father Sleep. “All-powerful Sleep, from all the quarters of the world do I the maid of Colchis summon thee and bid thee descend upon the snake alone; oft with thy horn have I subdued waves and clouds and lightning brands and all that gleams in heaven; but now, now come to my aid with mightier influence, most like thy brother Death. And thou too, faithful warden of Phrixus’ beast, it is time at last to turn thy vision away from this duty of thine. What guile dost thou fear while I am beside thee? For a space I will guard the grove myself, meantime lay by thy long toil.”

[79] He brooks not to leave the Aeolian gold through weariness nor to surrender his eyes, fain though he be, to permitted slumber; and when the first wafting of drowse assailed him, he shuddered and shook off from his body the beguiling sleep. But on her side the Colchian ceases not to foam with hellish poisons and to sprinkle all the silences of Lethe’s bough: exerting her spells she constrains his reluctant eyes, exhausting all her Stygian power of hand and tongue, until sleep gains the mastery over his blazing ire. And now the high crest sinks, now the head is nodding overpowered and the huge neck has slipped from around the fleece it guarded, like refluent Po or Nile that sprawls in seven streams or Alpheus when his waters enter the Hesperian word.

[92] Medea herself, when she saw the head of her dear serpent on the ground, darted forward and flinging her arms about him wept alike for her charge and her own cruelty. “Not so wert thou when in deep night bringing the holy offerings and thy food I saw thee, nor such was I when I placed the honey-cakes in thy open mouth and faithfully led thee with my potions. In what gross bulk thou liest now! how sluggish a breathing holds thy inert frame! Yet at least, hapless once, I slew thee not! Alas! how cruel the daylight thou shalt endure! Soon shalt thou see no fleece, no gleaming offerings in the shadow of thy tree. Give place then, spend thine old age in other groves, forgetting me, I pray; nor let thy deadly hissing chase me from sea to sea. But thou too, son of Aeson, put by all tarrying, seize the fleece and hie thee. My noxious art has quenched my father’s bulls, has laid low the earth-born: lo! there lies the dragon’s body at thy feet, and at last – I hope, at last – I have accomplished all my deadly deeds.”  Latin Text

Lyk 1315 – Lykophron, Alexandra

and had his own body cut to pieces in a caldron  Greek Text

Naupaktia fr 6 PEG – Poetae Epici Graeci 1, p. 125, ed. A. Bernabé. Leipzig 1987.

Naupaktia fr 7 PEG – Poetae Epici Graeci 1, p. 125, ed. A. Bernabé. Leipzig 1987.

Naupaktia fr 8 PEG – Poetae Epici Graeci 1, p. 126, ed. A. Bernabé. Leipzig 1987.

Herodoros 31F53 FGrH Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 1, p. 226, ed. F. Jacoby, 2d ed. Leiden 1957.

Greek Text

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Literary sources edited by Elena Bianchelli, Retired Senior Lecturer of Classical Languages and Culture, Univ. of Georgia, March 2022.

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