The Quest for The Golden Fleece: Story & Overview

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson will recount a brief version of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. It discusses their quest for the Golden Fleece as told primarily by Apollonius of Rhodes.


The story of the Golden Fleece started with Athamas, who took as his first wife the goddess Nephele. By her, he had two children: Phrixus and Helle. Later he took a second wife, Ino daughter of Cadmus, and Nephele left him. With her departure, the land grew barren and Ino took advantage by convincing her husband that her stepchildren needed to be sacrificed in order to bring prosperity back to the land.

The Golden Fleece
Fleece of Jason

But then, Nephele reappeared with a golden ram and sent her children on it to safety. The ram went across the sea, but during their flight, Helles fell off and drowned, and the strait where she died still bears the name Hellespont. When the ram stopped in Colchis, Phrixus sacrificed the ram and displayed the fleece. It was protected by a dragon that never slept and whose teeth would become warriors when planted in the ground. It was also defended by two bulls with brass hooves who breathed fire.

The Heroes

Back in Greece, the rightful king of Iolcus, Aeson, was overthrown by his half-brother Pelias. When Aeson's son, Jason, came of age, he demanded that he be given his throne. Pelias countered by telling him that to have the throne he needed to first take the Golden Fleece. Jason accepted, and set about enlisting the greatest heroes of Greece to help him. The list varies in the telling, but generally Heracles (aka Hercules), Orpheus, Castor and Polydeuces (or Pollux), the winged sons of the North Wind, Zetes and Calais, Peleus, father of Achilles, and Philoctetes are named as Argonauts, members of the Argonaut crew bound for Colchis, somewhere in modern Georgia. They were named Argonauts after the name of their ship, the Argo.


The Argonauts made several stops on their journey. One of the first was the island of Lemnos, where they came upon a race of women who had killed their husbands and were now living without men. The Argonauts paired up with them for a time before Jason and Heracles managed to make them leave.

Their next stop was with the Doliones and their king, Cyzicus. They were well received and Cyzicus told them about a land a short sail away with plenty of supplies. The problem was that he forgot to mention the giants who lived there, not that the Argonauts had any trouble fighting them off, though. The trouble was when they set sail again and got lost in the night. They wound up landing back in the land of the Doliones. There the Argonauts were mistaken for raiders and attacked by the Doliones. Without realizing it, they killed Cyzicus.

This was followed by meeting Phineus, whose food was eaten or ruined by harpies every day. Jason had the harpies killed, and in return, Phineus told them how to get to Colchis through the Symplegades, or Clashing Rocks. This they passed through with only minor damage to their hull.

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