Aeson was the oldest son of Cretheus, himself a son of Aeolus, who ruled over Iolcus. He stood to inherit the throne, but it was forcibly seized by Aeson's half-brother Pelias. Aeson continued to live in the kingdom, but he lacked any power to oppose Pelias. Soon after, Aeson's wife had a child, named Jason. Fearing for the child's life, Aeson announced the child was dead and secretly sent him to live with Cheiron, king of the Centaurs. For twenty years, Cheiron trained the boy how to be a hero.
Pelias, unsure of his unmerited power in Iolcus, went to an Oracle at Delphi to ask for advice. It replied that he must beware a descendant of Aeolus wearing only one sandle. When he turned twenty-one, Jason decided to claim the throne of Iolcus, which had rightfully belonged to his father. On his journey, Jason met an old woman, who asked him to help her cross a stream. Jason did so, but lost a sandal in the mud. The woman was in fact Hera, who was testing the heart of the young hero. Hera hated Pelias, and wished to see him dead.
When Jason arrived in Iolcus, he demanded the throne from Pelias. Pelias agreed to abdicate, but first tricked Jason into promising to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis. Colchis was near the end of the world, and the fleece was guarded by a dragon, which never slept. Pelias assumed there was no way he would return alive, but he did not know that Hera would do everything in her power to see that he did.
In order to complete his seemingly impossible quest, Jason called upon Argus, a master boat builder. Argus built for him the largest ship which had yet been made, manned by fifty oars. Moreover, Athena fitted the prow with a beam of oak from Dodona, which had the power of speech. Jason named the ship the Argo after its builder. Tiphys was the steersman.
Jason then set about finding a crew. He sent out messengers to announce his intentions throughout all of Greece. All the heroes could not resist the temptation of the glory that could be won for such a difficult task. These heroes were then called the Argonauts, or "sailors of the Argo". Jason asked the Argonauts to select a leader, and they chose Heracles. He refused, however, and insisted that Jason be their leader.
With the able Tiphys as their pilot, the crew set out. The first place they sailed was the island of Lemnos. Several years before the women had offended they goddess Artemis. As punishment, she caused them all to smell. Their husbands then understandably took up mistresses elsewhere. Jealous, the women killed all of the men on their island. When the women saw the Argonauts, they desired to have them stay permanently as their husbands. The Argonauts did not stay for long, but long enough to ensure there would be a new generation of Lemnians.
Later, they arrived at the island of Mysia. Heracles, who had broken his oar, went into the woods to carve a new one. While he was away, his young friend Hylas was dragged down into the water by a nymph, who fell in love with the boy's beauty. When he returned to the ship to find Hylas gone, Heracles abandoned the voyage to look for him.
After several more stops, the Argonauts encountered the seer Phineus. As punishment for revealing too much of the future, he was tormented by the Harpies. The Argonauts took pity on him and chased away the Harpies. In exchange for their kindness, Phineus gave the Argonauts advice on how to complete their voyage to Colchis.
Soon the Argonauts reached the Bosporous and the Clashing Rocks. These were two rocks on either side of the strait, which crashed together at random times. Following Phineus' advice, they released a dove into the air. Phineus had said that if the dove survived the rocks, then the Argonauts would survive as well. As the the dove passed through, the rocks crashed together. Yet the dove was unharmed, having only lost a few tail feathers.
Upon seeing this, the Argonauts, when the rocks had parted, rowed as hard as they could toward the end of the strait. When they were directly between the rocks, a strong current began to flow against the ship. In this current, the ship could not move, and the Argonauts were certainly going to be crushed. Seeing their plight, Athena headed down to earth, and holding the rocks with one hand, she pushed the boat through the straight with her other. After the Argonauts had safely passed through, the gods declared that the rocks would no longer crash as before.
The Argonauts next were about to land at the Thermodon River, where the Amazons were lying in wait to ambush the adventurers. Hippolyte, their queen, had actually wanted to join the expedition, but was not accepted by Jason, who was wary of a woman on board. Seeing that a battle was about to happen, Zeus sent a favorable wind, which blew the Argonauts safely past the shore.
Later in their voyage, the Argonauts arrived at a barren island, where they were attacked at sea by a flock of birds. These birds shot arrow-like feathers from their wings, one of which pierced a crewman. Remembering how Heracles had battled the the Stymphalian Birds, half of the Argonauts started beating their swords against their shields, while the other half raised their shields for protection. Frightened by the tremendous noise, the birds all flew off.
Once on the island, the Argonauts encountered the four sons of Phrixus, who were stranded there. They had attempted to return to Greece, as it was the dying wish of their father. The Argonauts took them on board and persuaded them to return to Colchis with them.
When the Argonauts arrived at Colchis, Jason and two men set out for the palace. The first person they encountered was Medea, the daughter of Aeetes. Hera persuaded Aphrodite to send her son Eros down and shoot Medea. She fell instantly in love with Jason, and she escorted Jason and his crew to the palace.
Jason and the rest of the Argonauts met Aeetes, the king of Colchis. The sons of Phrixus explained who they were, and that all they wanted was the Golden Fleece. They said that the Argonauts would even help Aeetes fight against his enemies. Aeetes did not trust the strangers, but could not kill him, for the laws of hospitality strictly forbid it.
So, instead, Aeetes promised them the Golden Fleece, but only if Jason could complete a test. He had to take the teeth of sacred serpent, yoke two fire-breathing bulls to a plow, plow the soil with the dragon's teeth, and then kill the warriors who sprung up from the ground. Furthermore, if Jason should fell, then all of the Argonauts would be killed. Since he had no alternative, Jason accepted Aeetes' proposal.
Jason could not have possibly hoped to complete his test alone. It was only through Medea's help that he succeeded. Before beginning his trial, Jason met Medea again, who gave to him a potion of invulnerability. Jason then promised to take her back home with him in the the Argo.
When Jason arrived for his test, Aeetes gave him the serpent's teeth. As Jason approached the plow, two fire-breathing bulls charged towards him. He was engulfed in flames, but unhurt due to the potion. He then forced the bulls to the plow, and placed them under the yoke. As soon as he had plowed the field with the serpent's teeth, men began to sprout from the soil, just as Aeetes had said. Following Medea's advice, Jason hurled a rock into the middle of their formation. The men then miraculously turned on each other, instead of Jason. He then entered the battle, killing them while they fought one another.
After Jason completed his task, Aeetes returned to the city. He still had no intention of giving away the Golden Fleece, and so he and his men made plans to murder the Argonauts the next day. Aware of this, Medea snuck away from the palace and hurried to warn Jason. When Jason heard the news, he made an oath to Hera that he would marry Medea as soon as they returned to Greece.
Medea led the Argonauts to the Golden Fleece, which was guarded by a dragon. Using a potion, she put the dragon to sleep. Jason grabbed the Golden Fleece, and they all hurried back to the Argo. The Argonauts hurriedly sailed away, with the ships of Aeetes not far behind. Several of the ships were positioned by Aeetes at the mouth of the Bosporus, the entrance to the Black sea.
To escape from the Black Sea, Argus told the others to guide the ship into the Danube River. The Argonauts did not know that Aeetes had also sent ships, led by his son Apsyrtus, to the block the Danube. In a parley with Apsyrtus, Jason agreed to hand over Medea in exchange for being allowed to leave. Medea obviously felt betrayed and was angry at Jason.
Fearful of her powers, he said that he had only agreed to lure Apsyrtus into a trap. Medea promised to lure Apsyrtus in, if Jason would kill him. Jason agreed, and Apsyrtus and the Colchians were treacherously murdered. The Argonauts sailed on, aided by Hera, who sent a favorable wind and storms to drive the rest of the Colchians back.
Argonauts began to head south towards Greece, but they were driven northwest by a strong wind. They were carried along the Rhone River to the west of Italy. So that they could be purified for the murder of Apsyrtus, Hera had driven to the waters near Aeaea, the home of Aeetes' sister Circe. Circe purified Jason and Medea for their crime, then asked them what exactly what it was that they had done. When Medea told her, Circe ordered them to leave immediately.
Now that they were absolved, Hera set about getting Jason and Medea back to Greece. She asked Aeolus for a favorable wind, and Thetis to be their guide.
The Argonauts were hastened on their way, and soon they sailed by Anthemoessa, the home of the Sirens. After hearing their song, the Argonauts would have spent the rest of their lives wasting away on that island. Fortunately, Orpheus was alert, and using his lyre, played so loud that he drowned out the song.
Next, the Argonauts arrived at the Strait of Messina, the home of Scylla and Charybdis. Unknown to the crew, Thetis was underneath, skillfully guiding the Argo between the two monsters. Thetis performed the same duty to guide them past the Wandering Rocks, rocks which randomly moved about in the water.
Soon, the Argonauts arrived at the island of the Phaeacians and their king Alcinous. Nearby, another Colchian fleet, still hoping to return Medea, was preparing to attack. Jason asked Alcinous for help. He said that he would offer his help, but only if Jason and Medea were married. They agreed, and were quickly married by the Argonauts. Fearing the great Alcinous' power, the Colchians abandoned their mission.
After leaving Phaeacia, a very strong wind drove the Argo south to Libya and carried it deep into the desert sands. Desparing, the Argonauts gave up hope of ever returning to their homes. Encouraged by an oracle, however, the Argonauts put the Argo upon their backs, and after nine tortuous days managed to carry it to a lake. There, the god Triton carried the ship back to the sea.
When they approached Crete, huge rocks began striking the water near the ship. They were thrown by Talus, the last man of the bronze age. Jason once again turned to Medea for help. She cast the evil eye upon Talus, who then by accident struck his ankle upon a sharp stone. This was his lone weak spot, where a single nail plugged a hole which led to his lone artery. When the nail was dislodged, all of his blood poured out from the wound, killing him. The Argonauts were now able to land and re-supply their ship.
Without too much more difficulty, the Argonauts were able to arrive back in Greece. The rest of the Argonauts disbanded, but Jason headed to Iolcus, where Pelias was still king. During Jason's absence, Pelias had murdered his father Aeson. Jason delivered the Golden Fleece to the king, but when he heard about his father's fate, wished to kill Pelias.
Medea went to Pelias' daughters, and gave them a told them that, if they would chop up their father and boil him, she could make Pelias young again. Medea convinced them by chopping up the dead Aeson, boiling him, and then restoring Aeson to life. The daughters, wishing to help their father, did as Medea had said. When they presenter her with the boiled pieces of Pelias, Medea of course refused to perform the spell.
For the murder of Pelias, Jason and Medea were exiled from Iolcus. Pelias' son Acastus took over the throne. By completing his virtually impossible task, Jason had accomplished nothing. Only Hera, who had wanted Pelias dead, benefited from the quest for the Golden Fleece.
Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica.