Jason and the Golden Fleece
The Tales of Aries and Argo

Chapter 4: Bitter Hearts

Sailing into the harbor of his birthplace, Iolcos, Jason expected to find his father planning festivities celebrating his victorious return. Not only were there no festivities, but his parents were dead and Jason learned that King Pelias' lies and treachery had caused his father to kill himself and shortly after, Jason's mother died of grief.

"Curse that evil Pelias," Jason said. "Death alone would be too honorable for him. To destroy his family as he has destroyed mine would be the just thing to do." Jason was inconsolable. His grief tore at Medea's heart and she undertook his revenge.

"I have a secret, but I will share it with you if you wish." Medea said to Pelias' two daughters. When she met them, she immediately won their trust with her cleverness and charm.

"Medea trusts us," they said to each other excitedly. "How wonderful it will be to learn her magic. What is the secret?" they asked her.

"Would you like to learn how to make the old young again?" Medea asked.

The sisters could not contain their excitement as Medea demonstrated the skill by cutting up an old ram. Then she put its pieces in a pot of boiling water. Throwing into the boiling pot some foul smelling magic herbs, she chanted an incantation to the gods and a frisky young lamb leaped from the pot.

"How marvelous," the sisters exclaimed. "We can become famous with this skill. Let's try it out." They thought about how to try their magic and decided to give their beloved father the gift of eternal youth. They were sure he would be grateful for the surprise. They begged Medea for her help and were delighted when she agreed.

That evening, after Pelias' dinner as he was drinking his evening wine, Medea slipped a sleeping potion into his cup. "Come," she called to his daughters, "it is time." Gathering a huge pot and stoking the fire under it, the girls cut their father into small pieces and put him in the pot.

"Now we're ready for the herbs and the charm," they called to Medea. There was no answer. The girls looked up from their grizzly, bloody task. Medea was not there. In horror they looked at each other as they realized that they had just murdered their father.

"We must leave here at once," Medea shook Jason from his sleep. "Pelias is dead and his daughters have murdered him, but we can no longer stay in Iolcos." Though Jason achieved his desired revenge, he was not pleased. He was guilty of murder by association. Even though he should be king, his right to rule could never be fulfilled. Taking the Golden Fleece with them, they left for Corinth.

The next few years in Corinth were Medea's happiest ones. They had hung the Golden Fleece in the Temple of Zeus and Medea was sure this would bring their good fortune. Medea and Jason bore two sons and, in spite of her exile, her loss of family and homeland seemed tolerable for she felt rooted in her new home with her new family. It was while she luxuriated in security that Jason's ambition flared. "I'm going to marry Glauce, daughter of King Creon," he callously blurted out to her. "You deprived me of the rulership of Iolcos. Now, instead, I shall rule Corinth," he said.

"No you won't," she cried. "You're my husband. You will never marry her for I will kill her," she frantically sobbed. "I will not let my family be destroyed by her." King Creon heard of Medea's threats to his daughter and sent word that she and her sons must leave Corinth.

"No!" she screamed. "He can't do that to me. He may as well kill us. What am I to do? I am alone with two small children and no place to go. I can't go home to my father. Where am I to go?" her eyes were wide with fear. "Jason, don't do this. Don't you remember you promised that nothing in life would come between us? I have sacrificed everything for you; my father, my brother, my home. My devotion to you has brought me to this misery," she grabbed Jason's arm and sobbed with her face buried in his sleeve.

"You disgust me," he shook her loose and looked at her coldly. She whimpered and curled into a ball, while tears streamed down her cheeks. "You're so stupid. If you had kept your mouth shut you could have stayed in Corinth. I've done all I can for you. Thanks to me you've been exiled instead of killed. It was hard to persuade the king but I'm not one to fail a friend." He stood over her and curled his lip as he spoke to her. "I'll make sure you have plenty of gold and whatever else you need."

After her collapse in self-pity she now felt a surge of anger swell through her body, giving her strength and she rose from the ground. "Is this what I get for giving up everything for you? I made you invincible," she said. "I fought your foes and made enemies of my family, all because I loved you. Oh, my foolish loyalty to my husband. Now, after everything, I am discarded. . ."

"You didn't save me," Jason said, "it was Hera who did, and Aphrodite made you fall in love with me. I don't owe you anything. You owe me for bringing you to Greece to live in a civilized country. Because of me you have a measure of fame. If you had any sense you would be happy for my marriage as you and the boys will profit from it. You are a fool and your exile is your own fault!"

As Medea looked at him she felt hatred rise up inside her and when he reached out to hand her a bag of gold, she spat on him and walked away.

"You have nothing but stubborn pride," Jason screamed after her. "You drive away whoever would be kind. You'll be sorry!"

Deliberately she walked back to her room and opened a trunk, pulling out her most beautiful robe. It was rich with deep green leaves and pearl white lilies and its silver threads cast a sheen over everything. Taking a vial from her collection, she shook its liquid over the robe. Then she took a carved wooden box fragrant with perfumes and placed the robe inside.

"Take this box to Princess Glauce," she said to her sons and kissed them on their foreheads. "Ask her to show her acceptance of this gift by wearing it at once." They smiled and nodded and they went upon their way.

The boys arrived at Glauce's chambers and shyly announced themselves. She had no interest in the children, even though they were to be her stepsons, but she did have curiosity about the box they carried. As she opened it she saw the magnificent robe and was overtaken by vanity. The boys did not even have to ask, for she immediately wrapped herself in its silver threaded splendor. The boys left immediately, but no sooner had they gone than flames burst from the robe, engulfing her and melting her flesh. She screamed, but there was no one to hear as she died a torturous death.

"Glauce, why haven't you come to dinner?" King Creon called as he came to her room, but when he opened her door he saw the scorched body. He ran to his dead daughter and held her, but when he touched her robe, he too, burst into flames and died.

"I have nothing with which to protect my children," Medea said to herself. "Fate is cruel and there is nothing in store for them but slavery or poverty. I cannot bear to think of them being abused by strangers. I cannot let them live like that. I gave them life and I will also give them death. . ."

That evening, going to her chambers to see his bride, Jason found the burned bodies of Glauce and the king. He knew who did it and grabbed his sword, heading for Medea's room. "I'll kill her myself," he cried, but when he got there he did not find Medea. Instead he found the two small bodies of his sons! He held one of his sons in each arm, and he cried. Then he heard noises on the roof and ran outside, looking up. There, on the roof, he saw a chariot drawn by dragons and in it was Medea, fleeing to Athens.

"I curse you!" he screamed. But, for what had happened, he never cursed himself. Jason became king of Corinth, but he never found joy in it. He lost Hera's favor and lived an empty life, bearing no more children. Finally, as he sat under the prow of the Argo, brooding about his life and what promise he started with only to be abused by fate, the Argo's beam fell on him and killed him.

Medea never learned the lesson Circe told her. Instead, evil acts forced her to leave Athens and she spent her final days with her grandfather, the sun. Meanwhile, Zeus took the Golden Fleece from his temple and hung it in the sky and with it he placed the Argo. "The ram's journey answered prayers, the Argo's answered greed," he said. "I will call the ram Aries, and it will show the sun where to begin its yearly journey. As for the Argo, only the prow will be visible in the sky, for that part is the talking oak of Dodona. The prow will warn of dangers, but only to those who will listen."

Chapter 3: Jason and Medea | Myth Index

Tales of the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl


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