HEY had come into a country that was the strangest of all
countries, and amongst a people that were the strangest of all
peoples. They were in the land, this people said, before the moon
had come into the sky. And it is true that when the great king of
Egypt had come so far, finding in all other places men living on
the high hills and eating the acorns that grew on the oaks there,
he found in Colchis the city of Aea with a wall around it and
with pillars on which writings were graven. That was when Egypt
was called the Morning Land.
And many of the magicians of Egypt who had come with King
Sesostris stayed in that city of Aea, and they taught people
spells that could stay the moon in her going and coming, in her
rising and setting. Priests of the Moon ruled the city of Aea
until King Æetes came.
Æetes had no need of their magic, for Helios, the bright Sun,
was his father, as he thought. Also, Hephæstus, the artisan of
the gods, was his friend, and Hephæstus made for him
wonderful things to be his protection. Medea, too, his wise
daughter, knew the secrets taught by those who could sway the
But Æetes once was made afraid by a dream that he had: he dreamt
that a ship had come up the Phasis, and then, sailing on a mist,
had rammed his palace that was standing there in all its strength
and beauty until it had fallen down. On the morning of the night
that he had had this dream Æetes called Medea, his wise
daughter, and he bade her go to the temple of Hecate, the Moon,
and search out spells that might destroy those who came against
That morning the Argonauts, who had passed the night in the
backwater of the river, had two youths come to them. They were in
a broken ship, and they had one oar only. When Jason, after
giving them food and fresh garments, questioned them, he found
out that these youths were of the city of Aea, and that they were
none others than the sons of Phrixus—of Phrixus who had come
there with the Golden Ram.
And the youths, Phrontis and Melas, were as amazed as was Jason
when they found out whose ship they had come aboard. For Jason
was the grandson of Cretheus, and Cretheus was the brother of
Athamas, their grandfather. They had ventured from Aea, where
they had been reared, thinking to reach the country of Athamas
and lay claim to his possessions. But they had been wrecked at a
place not far from the mouth of the
 Phasis, and with great pain
and struggle they had made their way back.
They were fearful of Aea and of their uncle King Æetes, and they
would gladly go with Jason and the Argonauts back to Greece. They
would help Jason, they said, to persuade Æetes to give the
Golden Fleece peaceably to them. Their mother was the daughter of
Æetes—Chalciope, whom the king had given in marriage to
Phrixus, his guest.
A council of the Argonauts was held, and it was agreed that Jason
should go with two comrades to King Æetes, Phrontis and Melas
going also. They were to ask the king to give them the Golden
Fleece and to offer him a recompense. Jason took Peleus and
Telamon with him.
As they came to the city a mist fell, and Jason and his comrades
with the sons of Phrixus went through the city without being
seen. They came before the palace of King Æetes. Then Phrontis
and Melas were some way behind. The mist lifted, and before the
heroes was the wonder of the palace in the bright light of the
Vines with broad leaves and heavy clusters of fruit grew from
column to column, the columns holding a gallery up. And under the
vines were the four fountains that Hephæstus had made for King
Æetes. They gushed out into golden, silver, bronze, and iron
basins. And one fountain gushed out clear water, and another
gushed out milk; another gushed out wine; and another oil. On
each side of the courtyard were the palace
 buildings; in one
King Æetes lived with Apsyrtus, his son, and in the other
Chalciope and Medea lived with their handmaidens.
Medea was passing from her father's house. The mist lifted
suddenly and she saw three strangers in the palace courtyard. One
had a crimson mantle on; his shoulders were such as to make him
seem a man that a whole world could not overthrow, and his eyes
had all the sun's light in them.
Amazed, Medea stood looking upon Jason, wondering at his bright
hair and gleaming eyes and at the lightness and strength of the
hand that he had raised. And then a dove flew toward her: it was
being chased by a hawk, and Medea saw the hawk's eyes and beak.
As the dove lighted upon her shoulder she threw her veil around
it, and the hawk dashed itself against a column. And as Medea,
trembling, leaned against the column she heard a cry from her
sister, who was within.
For now Phrontis and Melas had come up, and Chalciope who was
spinning by the door saw them and cried out. All the servants
rushed out. Seeing Chalciope's sons there they, too, uttered loud
cries, and made such commotion that Apsyrtus and then King Æetes
came out of the palace.
Jason saw King Æetes. He was old and white, but he had great
green eyes, and the strength of a leopard was in all he did. And
Jason looked upon Apsyrtus too; the son of Æetes looked like a
Phœnician merchant, black of beard and with rings in his ears,
with a hooked nose and a gleam of copper in his face.
Phrontis and Melas went from their mother's embrace and
reverence to King Æetes. Then they spoke of the heroes who were
with them, of Jason and his two comrades. Æetes bade all enter
the palace; baths were made ready for them, and a banquet was
After the banquet, when they all sat together, Æetes, addressing
the eldest of Chalciope's sons, said:
"Sons of Phrixus, of that man whom I honored above all men who
came to my halls, speak now and tell me how it is that you have
come back to Aea so soon, and who they are, these men who come
Æetes, as he spoke, looked sharply upon Phrontis and Melas, for
he suspected them of having returned to Aea, bringing these armed
men with them, with an evil intent. Phrontis looked at the King,
"Æetes, our ship was driven upon the Island of Ares, where it
was almost broken upon the rocks. That was on a murky night, and
in the morning the birds of Ares shot their sharp feathers upon
us. We pulled away from that place, and thereafter we were driven
by the winds back to the mouth of the Phasis. There we met with
these heroes who were friendly to us. Who they are, what they
have come to your city for, I shall now tell you.
"A certain king, longing to drive one of these heroes from his
land, and hoping that the race of Cretheus might perish utterly,
led him to enter a most perilous adventure. He came here upon
a ship that was made by the command of Hera, the wife of
 Zeus, a ship more wonderful than mortals ever sailed in before.
With him there came the mightiest of the heroes of Greece. He is
Jason, the grandson of Cretheus, and he has come to beg that you
will grant him freely the famous Fleece of Gold that Phrixus
brought to Aea.
"But not without recompense to you would he take the Fleece.
Already he has heard of your bitter foes, the Sauromatæ. He with
his comrades would subdue them for you. And if you would ask of
the names and the lineage of the heroes who are with Jason I
shall tell you. This is Peleus and this is Telamon; they are
brothers, and they are sons of Æacus, who was of the seed of
Zeus. And all the other heroes who have come with them are of the
seed of the gods."
So Phrontis said, but the King was not placated by what he said.
He thought that the sons of Chalciope had returned to Aea
bringing these warriors with them so that they might wrest the
kingship from him, or, failing that, plunder the city. Æetes's
heart was filled with wrath as he looked upon them, and his eyes
shone as a leopard's eyes.
"Begone from my sight," he cried, "robbers that ye are!
Tricksters! If you had not eaten at my table, assuredly I should
have had your tongues cut out for speaking falsehoods about the
blessed gods, saying that this one and that of your companions
was of their divine race."
Telamon and Peleus strode forward with angry hearts; they would
have laid their hands upon King Æetes only Jason held
 them back.
And then speaking to the king in a quiet voice, Jason said:
"Bear with us, King Æetes, I pray you. We have not come with
such evil intent as you think. Ah, it was the evil command of an
evil king that sent me forth with these companions of mine across
dangerous gulfs of the sea, and to face your wrath and the armed
men you can bring against us. We are ready to make great
recompense for the friendliness you may show to us. We will
subdue for you the Sauromatæ, or any other people that you would
lord it over."
But Æetes was not made friendly by Jason's words. His heart was
divided as to whether he should summon his armed men and have
them slain upon the spot, or whether he should put them into
danger by the trial he would make of them.
At last he thought that it would be better to put them to the
trial that he had in mind, slaying them afterward if need be. And
then he spoke to Jason, saying:
"Strangers to Colchis, it may be true what my nephews have said.
It may be that ye are truly of the seed of the immortals. And it
may be that I shall give you the Golden Fleece to bear away after
I have made trial of you."
As he spoke Medea, brought there by his messenger so that she
might observe the strangers, came into the chamber. She entered
softly and she stood away from her father and the four who were
speaking with him. Jason looked upon her, and even although his
mind was filled with the thought of bending King
 Æetes to his
will, he saw what manner of maiden she was, and what beauty and
what strength was hers.
She had a dark face that was made very strange by her crown of
golden hair. Her eyes, like her father's, were wide and full of
light, and her lips were so full and red that they made her mouth
like an opening rose. But her brows were always knit as if there
was some secret anger within her.
"With brave men I have no quarrel," said Æetes. "I will make a
trial of your bravery, and if your bravery wins through the
trial, be very sure that you will have the Golden Fleece to bring
back in triumph to Iolcus.
"But the trial that I would make of you is hard for a great hero
even. Know that on the plain of Ares yonder I have two
fire-breathing bulls with feet of brass. These bulls were once
conquered by me; I yoked them to a plow of adamant, and with them
I plowed the field of Ares for four plow-gates. Then I sowed the
furrows, not with the seed that Demeter gives, but with teeth of
a dragon. And from the dragon's teeth that I sowed in the field
of Ares armed men sprang up. I slew them with my spear as they
rose around me to slay me. If you can accomplish this that I
accomplished in days gone by I shall submit to you and give you
the Golden Fleece. But if you cannot accomplish what I once
accomplished you shall go from my city empty-handed; for it is
not right that a brave man should yield aught to one who cannot
show himself as brave."
 So Æetes said. Then Jason, utterly confounded, cast his eyes
upon the ground. He raised them to speak to the king, and as he
did he found the strange eyes of Medea upon him. With all the
courage that was in him he spoke:
"I will dare this contest, monstrous as it is. I will face this
doom. I have come far, and there is nothing else for me to do but
to yoke your fire-breathing bulls to the plow of adamant, and plow
the furrows in the field of Ares, and struggle with the
Earth-born Men." As he said this he saw the eyes of Medea grow
wide as with fear.
Then Æetes, said, "Go back to your ship and make ready for the
trial." Jason, with Peleus and Telamon, left the chamber, and the
king smiled grimly as he saw them go. Phrontis and Melas went to
where their mother was. But Medea stayed, and Æetes looked upon
her with his great leopard's eyes. "My daughter, my wise Medea,"
he said, "go, put spells upon the Moon, that Hecate may weaken
that man in his hour of trial." Medea turned away from her
father's eyes, and went to her chamber.