| Famous Men of Greece|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of ancient Greece, from legendary times to its fall in 146 B.C. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-12 |
JASON AND THE GOLDEN FLEECE
 IN a city of Greece named Iolcus a good man called Æson was king. His younger brother, Pelias, seized the throne. But Pelias did not enjoy much happiness
in his stolen kingdom. He had no fear
of Æson, who was a weak man. But he was very much afraid
that Æson's son Jason, then only a
boy, might some day take the kingdom from him.
So he tried to kill Jason, but the child was taken away by
night and Pelias never found him. It was
said that he was dead. Twenty years passed, and though
Jason was never seen in Iolcus Pelias
was still afraid that he was alive. Finally, to settle the
matter, he consulted the oracle of Apollo.
He received the answer, "Beware of the man who wears but one
After that Pelias ordered the watchman at the city gate to
take notice of the feet of every stranger
who entered the city.
Jason had been all these years in charge of
Chiron, the centaur, who was the most famous teacher
in Greece. Jason had heard of the
wicked-  ness of his uncle, and now that he was a man he determined
to regain his father's kingdom.
So one day he set out for Iolcus. On the way he came to a
wide stream over which there was no
bridge. At the same time a feeble old woman came up and
wished to cross. The stream was
swollen, and it looked as if she would be swept away by the
current and drowned if she tried to
wade across. So Jason took her in his arms and carried her
That old woman was really Juno, the queen of the gods. She
had come down from Olympus to
take a journey on earth without telling any one who she was,
because she wished to find out if
there was any real kindness among men. She never forgot
Jason's courtesy; and to her help he
owed his success in his career.
In crossing the stream he lost one of his sandals, and so he
reached Iolcus with one foot bare. He
cared very little about this; but when word was
 brought to Pelias that a man wearing one sandal had entered
the city, the king was greatly
"Either I must kill that man," Pelias said to himself, "or
he will kill me." He therefore sent a
messenger to invite the stranger to the palace, and Jason
soon stood before him.
"What would you do," asked Pelias, "if you had in your power
the man who was fated to kill
"I should tell him," answered Jason, "to go to Colchis and
bring me 'the golden fleece.' "
"Then you shall go," cried Pelias, "You have come to take
my kingdom from me; but not till you
bring me that fleece will I yield you my crown."
The story of the golden fleece is very interesting.
Many years before one of the Grecian kings, who had a son
named Phrixus, was told by an oracle
that Jupiter wished him to offer up his son as a sacrifice.
The poor father prepared to make the
offering. As the young man was standing before the altar
and his father was just about to slay
him, a ram with shining fleece of gold came down from the
sky and stood beside them. Phrixus
jumped to the back of the ram. His sister, Helle, who was
standing with him at the altar, jumped
on behind her brother, and the ram immediately ran off with
the two. He went so fast that people
 who saw him thought he had wings. When he came to
the strait which separates Europe from Asia he plunged into
the waves. Poor Helle soon fell off
and was drowned; and ever after that the strait was called
by the Greeks the Hellespont, a word
that means the Sea of Helle. It is the strait that is named
the Dardanelles' on our maps.
The ram carried Phrixus safely across the strait, and went
on until he reached the palace of
Æetes the king of a country called Colchis, which
lay on the shores of the Euxine, or Black Sea.
Phrixus felt very thankful for having made such a wonderful
journey in safety, so he offered the
ram as a sacrifice to Jupiter and nailed the fleece to a
tree that was sacred to Mars.
This fleece became one of the wonders of the world; and lest
it should be stolen a dragon was set
to watch it. Many persons tried to get possession of it,
but most, if not all of them, lost their lives
in the attempt.
Jason knew all this, but he said at once that he
 would get the fleece. Before setting out on the journey,
however, he went to a place called
Dodona to ask the advice of Jupiter; for at Dodona there
was a wonderful talking oak which told
men the advice and commands of Jupiter. As soon as Jason
came near the oak the leaves began
to rustle, and a voice from within the tree said:
"Build a fifty-oared ship. Take as companions the greatest
heroes of Greece. Cut a branch from
the talking oak and make it a part of the prow of the
All these commands Jason obeyed. The ship was built and a
piece of the talking oak was used in
making her prow. Jason invited forty-nine of the bravest
men of Greece to go on the expedition.
He named his ship the Argo, and he and his companions are
known as the Argonauts, or sailors
on the Argo. One of them was
Orpheus, the greatest
musician that ever played or sang in
Greece. It was said of him that the trees of a forest once
danced in wild delight at his music.
This wonderful musician was of very great use on the Argo.
The ship was the largest that had
ever been built in Greece and it was found too heavy to
launch. The strength of all the fifty
heroes did not move it an inch. Jason did not know what to
do. So he consulted the talking
which told him that everybody must get on board and that
Orpheus must then play his lyre and
sing. No sooner was the music heard than the great ship
glided easily into the water, and the
famous voyage began.
Another companion of Jason was Hercules, about whose
wonderful labors you have already been
told. Then there were Castor and Pollux, twin brothers,
who did such wonders that after their
death the gods took them to heaven, where they still shine
as stars in the constellation called the
Still another of the Argonauts was a hero named
Lynceus, which means the lynx-eyed.
He was kept on watch all through the Argo's voyage, because
he could see a whole day's trip
AFTER many adventures the Argonauts at last crossed the
Black Sea and reached the shores of
Colchis. Æetes received them in a kind manner; but he was
not at all pleased when he learned
their errand, because there was nothing in his kingdom which
he prized so much as the golden
However, when Jason explained the matter, Æetes said, "Very
will, you may try to get the fleece
if you choose to run the risk. But first you must yoke my
pair of brazen-footed, fire-breathing
 bulls and with them plow a field near the grove where the
golden fleece hangs. Then you must
sow the field with some of the teeth of the dragon that
Cadmus killed. And finally, you must fight
with the dragon that guards the fleece."
Æetes felt sure that Jason would lose his life in trying to
do all this; for many brave men had been
burned to death in the streams of fire that the bulls
breathed out from their nostrils.
King Æetes had a daughter named
Medea. She was famed for
her beauty and her skill as an
enchantress. Fortunately, she fell in love with Jason and
now came to his aid.
"Take this ointment," said Medea, "and rub it all over your
body. Then the flaming breath of the
bulls cannot harm you. At midnight I will go with you to
the pasture where the creatures feed."
MEDEA MIXING AN ENCHANTED POTION
That night Jason went with Medea and found the bulls in the
pasture. The magic ointment saved
him from being burned by their fiery breath. He seized and
yoked them without any trouble, and
very soon the field was plowed and harrowed. Jason sowed
the teeth of the dragon and then
stood waiting to see what would happen.
Soon points of light glistened here and there in the soil.
They were the tops of helmets coming up
out of the ground and touched by the rays of the
 rising sun. In no great while where each point of light had
appeared stood a full-armed warrior.
"Throw a stone into the midst of the host!" commanded Medea;
and Jason obeyed.
The stone struck one warrior, glanced off to another, and
then to a third. The new-born heroes,
not knowing whence the stone had come, became wild with
rage, and hacked and battered one
another with swords and clubs. At last only one was left
and he was fatally wounded.
Then Jason went back to the palace and told Æetes what he
had done, and said that he was ready
to fight the dragon that guarded the golden fleece.
At midnight he went with Medea to the grove in which the
fleece hung. The dragon rushed with
wide-open jaws to devour him, but Medea threw an enchanted
potion into the monster's mouth,
and he sank to the ground in a death-like sleep.
"Make haste!" cried Medea. "Take down the fleece." In a
twinkling Jason had done so. "And
now," she added, "we must start at once for Greece; for my
father will never let you carry the
fleece from Colchis."
Taking Medea with him, Jason made all haste to the Argo.
When he reached the shore where the
ship lay, his companions welcomed him heartily,
 and they were filled with delight when they saw the golden
fleece. All hurried on board the Argo,
the sails were hoisted, and the ship began her homeward
To get back to Greece the Argonauts had to sail past the
Isle of the
Sirens. The sirens were
maidens with beautiful faces but cruel hearts. They sat
upon dangerous rocks on the shore of
their island and sang songs of enchanting sweetness.
Sailors who heard them would steer nearer
and nearer, till their vessels were wrecked on the jagged
rocks. The Argonauts escaped this peril
through the help of Orpheus. He played his lyre and sang
more sweetly than even the Sirens, and
listening to him, Jason and his companions steered their
vessel beyond the dangerous rocks.
As soon as Jason reached Iolcus again he showed the golden
fleece to Pelias, and then hung it up
as a thank-offering in the temple of one of the gods. What
became of it afterward nobody knows.
While Jason was getting the golden fleece Pelias murdered
Æson. In revenge for this Medea
made a plot by which Pelias was killed by his own daughters.
Then the son of Pelias drove both
Jason and Medea from Iolcus.
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