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THE EXPEDITION OF THE ARGONAUTS
BY B. G. NIEBUHR
 THERE was a king in Greece whose name was Athamas, and his wife's name was Nephela. They had
two children, a son and a daughter, who were very good, and loved each other very much.
The son's name was Phrixus, and the daughter's Helle. But the father was wicked and put
away his wife, the mother of the good children, and married another wife whose name was
Ino, and who was very wicked. She treated the poor children very badly, gave them bad
things to eat, and bad clothes, and beat them, although they were good, because they
wept after their mother. Ino was a very bad stepmother. At last both Athamas and Ino
sought to kill Phrixus and to offer him as a sacrifice.
But when he was brought to the altar, the god Hermes brought a fine large ram who had
wool of gold and could walk on the clouds. On this ram was the golden fleece, Hermes
placed Phrixus and also his sister Helle, and told them to go through the air to the
country of Colochis.
The ram knew his way. The children were told to cling with one hand to one of the horns,
and they bent their other arm about each other's waists: but Helle let go her hold, and
fell down into the sea. Phrixus wept very much because his good sister was dead, but went
on riding until he came to Colchis. There he sacrificed his ram, and nailed the fleece
against an oak-tree.
Afterwards there was in Thessaly another king, whose name was Pelias. He had a brother
whose name was AEson and AEson a son whose name was Jason. Jason was a young and brave
warrior who dwelt with his father out of the town. Now it had been said to King Pelias,
that if a man with only one shoe should come to him, he would take away his kingdom. Then
it happened that King Pelias gave a great dinner, to which he invited also Jason. Jason
was obliged to wade through a brook in coming to the town, for there was no bridge over
the brook. There had been in the night a heavy thunder-storm, and it had rained very
heavily; the brook was full of water, and flowed strongly when the heavy rain happened.
Then the ties of one of Jason's shoes were loosened so that he lost it in the water, and
he came with only one shoe into the king's house. When King Pellias saw this, he was
greatly frightened, and told Jason he should depart out of the country, and not come
back unless he brought him the golden fleece at Colchis.
Jason was not at all afraid, and sent an invitation to all brave warriors to go with
him. In order to get the fleece, it was necessary to fight with evil beasts and with
Jason built a large ship for himself and for his comrades. Then the goddess Minerva,
who loved him, lent him assistance, and made him a present of a tree for his mast,
which, if Jason questioned it, told him what he was to do.
The ship's name was Argo, and they who went in her were called Argonauts. Amongst the
Argonauts there was one Hercules, and two brothers who had wings and could fly through
the air: and another hero's name was Pollux: he knocked every man down who boxed with
Then the Argonauts came with their ship to a country where there was a king whose name
was Amycus; and whenever strangers came to his country they were compelled to fight him,
and he was very strong and struck all dead. But Pollux knocked him down and struck him
dead; for Amycus had been very wicked.
After that, the Argonauts came in their ship to the town of Salmydessus, where there lived
a king whose name was Phineus. He had rendered Jupiter angry, and Jupiter, to punish him,
made him blind. Whenever Phineus sat down to his dinner, there came nasty great birds which
they called harpies. These harpies had a skin of iron
 like a coat of mail, and if the
attendants of the blind king shot after them or struck at them, they could not wound them.
The harpies had also long sharp iron claws, with which they tore the people to pieces who
wished to drive them away. As soon as dinner was served, they would come and carry it away,
and if they could not carry away all, they dirtied the dishes and the table, so that it
stank most detestably. Thus, as poor Phinues could never dine comfortably, he was very near
starving. When the heroes came to him, he related to them his misfortunes, and wept sorely,
and begged them to help him. The heroes sat down with him at the table, and when the meals
were brought in, then the harpies came flying in. Jason and his comrades drew their swords
and struck at them, but it availed not a bit. The two sons of Boreas, Zetes and Calais, who
had wings, jumped into the air; then the harpies lost courage and flew away, and the two
heroes flew after them: the harpies at last became quite weary and still more frightened,
and fell into the sea and were drowned. Then Zetes and Calais came back, and now poor
Phineus had rest and could eat.
When the wind was favorable, the heroes went back to their ship Argo, to sail towards
Colchis, and when they bade farewell to Phineus, he took them into his arms and kissed
them, and thanked them a great many times that they had helped him out of his disagreeable
trouble; and as a recompense for the service, he gave them good advice. In the great sea
over which they were to sail there floated two great rocks, as icebergs float in the sea
where there is no summer, but always winter. Those mountains were as high as Monte Cavo,
and whenever they struck against each other they crushed everything to pieces that had got
between them; if fishes swam in the water they crushed them to death; and if birds flew
through the air, when the rocks dashed together they crushed them to death; and if a ship
was about to sail through, they rushed together when the ship was in the middle, and crushed
it into small pieces, and all that were in it died. Jupiter had placed these rocks in the sea,
lest any ship should come to Colchis. Phineus, however, knew that the rocks always parted very
widely from each other after having crushed together, and they always came together whenever a
fish was about to swim through, or a bird fly through, or a ship sail between them.
Therefore he gave clever advice to the Argonauts, and they did what he advised them and got
safely through, and I will tell you how they managed it.
When they came near the place where the rocks swam, the rocks were lying widely asunder
(about fifteen miles), but they immediately prepared to meet each other. The Argonauts
sailed straight towards the middle of them, and when they were close to them, one of the
heroes stood up on the ship and held a dove in his hand, and he let it fly; whenever any
living thing got between the rocks, they were obliged to crush together, and then again
they parted widely asunder. The dove was quick, and the goddess Minerva helped her, because
she was a very good dove: she was quite white. When the rocks had crushed together, only her
tail was left behind, which was torn out, but the feathers soon grew again. Then the rocks
again parted widely asunder, and then the heroes rowed with all their might and got happily
through: when the rocks crushed together again, they could only catch a small bit of the
ship's stern, which they knocked off. The dove sat again down on the ship, and was not
angry at all at the Argonauts; and afterwards Minerva took her and placed her in the
firmament, where she is now a beautiful constellation.
When the Argonauts had passed happily through the Symplegades (as these rocks were
called), they entered at last the river Phasis, which flows through Colchis. Some
remained in the ship; but Jason and Pollux and many other heroes went into the town
where the king dwelt. The king's name was AEetes, and he had a daughter whose name was
Medea. Jason told King AEetes that Pelias had sent him to fetch the golden fleece, and
requested him that he would
 give it to him. AEetes was unwilling to lose the
fleece, but could not refuse it to Jason, it having been predestined that he must give
it whenever any one came from Greece and asked for it. He therefore told Jason that he
should have it, but first, that he must yoke certain brazen bulls to a plow, and plow up
a great tract of land, and then sow the teeth of a certain dragon. The brazen bulls had
been made by Vulcan; they walked and moved and were living like real bulls, but they
belched out fire from nose and mouth and were far more fierce and strong than real bulls.
Therefore there was built a stable of great stones and iron for them, in which they were
bound with strong iron chains.
And when the dragon's teeth got under the earth, as corn gets under the earth when it has
been sowed, there would grow out of the earth iron men with lances and swords, who would
kill him who had sown them. Thus the king wished that the bulls should kill Jason; and if
the bulls should not kill him, then he thought that the iron men would do it.
Medea, the daughter of the king, saw Jason at her father's and conceived a fondness for
him; and she was sorry that Jason should perish. She was able to brew magic liquors: and
placed herself on a chariot drawn by flying serpents; and thus she flew through the air
and collected herbs on many mountains and in many vales, on the brinks of brooks, and from
all these herbs she pressed out the juice and prepared it; and then she went to Jason
without her father knowing it, and brought him the juice, and told him to rub his face
and his hands, and arms and legs, and also his armor, his sword and lance, with the juice,
whereby he would become for a whole day stronger than all the other heroes together, and
fire would not burn him, and steel would not wound him, or go through his shield or armor,
but his sword and this lance would pierce steel as if it were butter.
The a day was appointed when Jason should yoke the bulls and sow the teeth; and early in
the morning, before the sun rose, there came King AEetes, with his daughter, and his
ministers, generals, chamberlains, and his courtiers, and sat down on a throne near the
place where Jason was to plow, and the others sat down on benches as they do on the Corso
at the races, and all people went out of the town to see how it would happen, and the boys
climbed up the trees in order to see better.
Jason rubbed himself and his weapons with the juice as Medea had told him, and came to the
place. The stall in which the bulls were shut up stood on the place. Then the doors were
opened with a key, and Jason courageously stepped in and was not at all afraid. He
loosened the bulls from the chain, and seized each with one hand by its horn, and
dragged them out. The bulls bellowed most horribly, and all that time fire came out
from their noses and mouths; and as much smoke as when a house is burning, or when
Mount Vesuvius is spitting fire. Then the wicked King AEetes felt quite glad: But when
the good among the spectators saw what a beautiful man and how courageous Jason was,
they were grieved and feared he would die; for they did not know that Medea was helping
him. Jason, however, pressed the heads of both the bulls down to the ground; then they
kicked with their hind legs, but Jason pressed them down so strongly that they fell on
The plow to which they were to be yoked was all of iron; Pollux brought it near and threw
the yoke over their necks and the chain around their horns; whilst Jason kept their mouths
and noses so close to the ground that they could not belch out fire. When Pollux had done
and the bulls were yoked, he leaped quickly away, and Jason then seized the chain in one
hand and the handle of the plow in the other, and let loose his grasp of the horns; the
bulls jumped up meaning to run away, but Jason held the chain so fast that they were
obliged to walk quite slowly, and to plow quite orderly. It was sunrise when they were
yoked, and when it was noon Jason had plowed up the whole field. Then he unyoked the
bulls and let them loose; but the bulls were as shy as a cat after a beating, and they
ran without looking behind them to the mountains. There they would
 have set all
the woods on fire if Vulcan had not appeared and caught them and led them away.
When Jason had done plowing, he went to King AEetes, telling him he must now give him
the dragon's teeth. Dragons and serpents have their mouths full of small teeth, and
AEetes gave to Jason a helmet all filled with their teeth. Jason took them out with
his hand and went up and down the field and threw them in all directions; and then
he took his large spear and beat the clods, the large lumps of earth, into small
pieces, and then he smoothed the soil as the gardener does after having sowed. And
then he went away and lay down to rest until the evening, for he was very weary.
Towards sunset he returned to the field and iron men were everywhere growing out of
the soil. Some had grown out to the feet, others to the knees, others to the hips,
others to the under part of the shoulders, of some only the helmet or forehead could
be seen, whilst the remainder of their bodies stuck in the ground. Those who had their
arms already out of the earth and could move them, shook their lances, and brandished
their swords. Some were just freeing their feet and preparing to come against Jason.
Then Jason did what his friend Medea had told him, and taking a big stone, he threw it
on the field just in the midst of them. When the iron men saw the stone, they sprang
quick to take it. I suppose that it must have been a fine great marble stone. Then they
began to bicker amongst each other, because each wished to have it, and to cut and thrust
at each other, and as soon as one got his feet out of the soil, he ran to join the others,
and all of them fought together, until everyone of them was killed. Jason meanwhile
leisurely walked over the field and cut off the heads of those that were about to grow
out. In this way all the iron men perished and the King AEetes became furious like a
madman: but Medea and the heroes and the spectators were uncommonly pleased.
The next morning, Jason went to King AEetes and asked him now to give him the fleece;
but the king did not give it to him, and said that he should come again: he wished to
have Jason murdered. Medea told that to Jason, and told him also that he must fetch the
fleece himself, or else he would never get it. The fleece was nailed to an oak, and at
the foot of the oak there lay a dragon that never slept, and ate all men, excepting King
AEetes, that should touch the fleece. As the dragon was immortal, Medea could not help
Jason to kill him. But the dragon ate sweet cakes with delight, and Medea gave to Jason
honey-cakes, in which she had mixed a juice which obliged the dragon to go fast asleep.
Jason came with his cakes and threw them before him; the stupid dragon ate all of them,
and fell asleep immediately. Then Jason stepped over him and drew out with pincers the
nails with which the fleece was fastened to the oak, and then taking down the fleece, he
wrapped it in his cloak and carried it off to the ship. Medea came also and became Jason's
wife, and went with him to Greece.
AEetes thinking the Argonauts would go back in the Argo the same way they had come,
sent a great many vessels to attack them; but hey took another way and went up the
large river Ister, and then the heroes carried the Argo into the Ocean (which goes
all around the earth), and then they came again to Iolcos: but the Colchians always
waited at the Symplegades, which now stood fastened, and the Argo never coming, they
returned at last home again; and King AEetes was terribly angry; for he had lost the
fleece,and the brazen bulls, and the dragon's teeth; and his daughter was gone, and had
also taken with her all her jewels, and everybody laughed at him.
When Medea arrived with Jason in Thessaly, she made old AEson young again, so that
his white heair became black again, and all his teeth came again; he grew as strong as
any young man, and lived a great many more years: but she killed Pelias, and AEson
became king in his stead.