About
Greek Hero

Jason

Jason was a Greek hero from Iolcus in northern Greece who led the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. During their adventures, Jason and the Argonauts tamed the sea, travelled to exotic eastern lands, and enlisted the help of the witch Medea, whom Jason later married.

By Avi Kapach17 min read • Last updated on Apr. 20th, 2022
  • Yes. Jason stole the Golden Fleece from Aeetes, the king of Colchis, for his uncle Pelias.

  • Medusa was killed by Perseus, a hero from Argos.

  • Jason married Medea, the daughter of Aeetes. Later, however, Jason left Medea for a younger woman, and Medea exacted a terrible revenge.

Jason, known primarily for his theft of the Golden Fleece, was the legitimate heir to the throne of Iolcus. He was sent on the supposedly impossible mission of acquiring the Golden Fleece by his uncle Pelias, who had overthrown Jason’s father, Aeson, years before. Jason assembled the Argonauts, consisting of some of the greatest heroes of Greek myth, and managed to carry away the Golden Fleece with the help of the witch Medea

After the famous adventures of the Argonauts, however, Jason’s life soon fell apart. He was banished from his homeland due to the brutality of his new wife, Medea. Later, when Jason tried to abandon Medea and remarry, she took a terrible vengeance. A one-time hero, Jason died a broken and forgotten man.

#Etymology

The name “Jason” may be related to the Greek verb iaomai, meaning “to heal.”

  • English
    Greek

    Jason

    Ἰάσων

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [JAY] + [SUHN]

    [iˈason]

#Alternate Names

According to some traditions, Jason was originally called Diomedes.1

#Attributes

Jason, like most Greek heroes, is usually depicted as a young man. In art, he often appears holding weapons or the Golden Fleece.

#Family

Jason was the son of Aeson, whose father, Cretheus, had founded the kingdom of Iolcus. Aeson had two half-brothers, Neleus and Pelias, born after Poseidon fell in love with his mother, Tyro. Neleus became king of Pylos in the Peloponnese, while Pelias overthrew Aeson and made himself king of Iolcus.

The identity of Jason’s mother is uncertain: almost every ancient source for the myth gives her a different name.2 Jason was also said to have had a younger brother named Promachus.3

Jason took two lovers during his adventures. The first was Hypsipyle, the queen of Lemnos, with whom he had several children. One of them later became the king of Lemnos and supplied the Greeks during the Trojan War. Jason’s second lover was Medea, whom he eventually married. The two had several ill-fated children together, though ancient sources disagreed about their names.4

#Family Tree

  • Parents
    father
    mother
    • Aeson
    • Alcimede/Amphinome/Polymede/Polymele
  • Siblings
    brother
    • Promachus
  • Consorts
    wife
    lover
    • Hypsipyle
  • Children
    sons
    • Deipylus/Nebrophonus/Thoas
    • Eueneus
    • Alcimendes, Thessalus, and Tisandrus
    • Mermerus and Pheres

#Mythology

#Origins

Jason was the son of Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcus in northern Greece. Aeson’s half-brother Pelias, however, overthrew Aeson when Jason was a newborn. Aeson knew that Pelias wanted to dispose of Jason, as he was a potential rival for the throne, so he gave him to the centaur Chiron for safekeeping. As predicted, Pelias soon began to fear challengers to his throne. An oracle warned him to beware a man wearing only one sandal. 

Jason was reared and trained by Chiron in the mountains. Once he had reached adulthood, he set out to reclaim his father’s rightful throne in Iolcus. On his journey, he came to a river. An old woman on the bank (actually Hera in disguise) asked him to help her make the crossing. Jason took the old woman on his shoulders and carried her across the river, but lost one of his sandals to the rushing stream. He thus entered Iolcus wearing only one sandal.

Pelias and Jason Fresco, Pompeii

King Pelias notices Jason and his missing sandal in this fresco from Pompeii, now at the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

Marie Lan-Nguyen / Public Domain

As soon as Pelias saw that Jason was wearing only one sandal, he understood the oracle and feared that Jason would take away his throne. Wanting to be rid of Jason once and for all, he sent him on what he thought to be an impossible mission: to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason accepted the challenge.

#The Golden Fleece

The Golden Fleece coveted by Pelias had a strange origin. Years before, the Boeotian king Athamas had had two children, Phrixus and Helle, by his first wife, the goddess Nephele. Athamas’ second wife, Ino, hated her stepchildren and plotted to get rid of them. 

As part of her plan, Ino roasted the crop seeds of the city so that they would not grow. The people were frightened by the famine, and men were sent to seek advice from an oracle. Ino bribed the men to say that the famine would end if Phrixus and Helle were sacrificed. 

Before the sacrifice could be carried out, however, Nephele sent a flying golden ram to carry her children away. Helle fell off as they were crossing the narrow strait separating Europe from Asia, which was subsequently called the Hellespont after her. 

Phrixus made it to the city of Colchis on the Black Sea, where the king, Aeetes, welcomed him and gave him his daughter Calchiope’s hand in marriage. In gratitude, Phrixus sacrificed the golden ram that had saved him and gave its precious fleece to Aeetes. This was the Golden Fleece that Pelias ordered Jason to retrieve.

#The Argo and the Argonauts

To get to the Golden Fleece, Jason had to make the long and dangerous sea journey to Colchis, on the far side of the Black Sea. Jason knew that he would need a good ship and a brave crew. With Athena’s help, the shipbuilder Argus created Jason’s famous vessel, the Argo, named after its builder. It was the greatest ship of Greek mythology. 

Jason then set out to put together his crew, bringing together some of the mightiest heroes of his time. The so-called “Argonauts” included Heracles, Castor and Polydeuces (also called the Dioscuri), the Calydonian hero Meleager, the divine musician Orpheus, Peleus (the father of Achilles), and Peleus’ brother Telamon. According to some sources, the Arcadian heroine Atalanta was also among the Argonauts.5 

In Apollonius of Rhodes’ epic poem Argonautica, the Argonauts were later joined by Phrixus’ four sons (Argus, Melas, Phrontis, and Cytisorus), who were found stranded on a desert island.6

#The Voyage of the Argonauts

On their way to Colchis, Jason and the Argonauts enjoyed a series of colorful adventures. 

Scenes from story of Argonauts, Sellaio

Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts by Jacopo del Sellaio (c. 1465).

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

Lemnos

The Argonauts first put in on the island of Lemnos, off the coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). There they encountered a society of women who had all killed their husbands. Years before, Aphrodite, furious at the women of Lemnos for neglecting her worship, had punished them—she made it so that their husbands could not bear to be near them and instead took concubines from the mainland. The jealous women of Lemnos then murdered their husbands; only Thoas, the king, managed to escape with the help of his daughter Hypsipyle. The women of Lemnos, now living without men, made Hypsipyle their queen.

When the Argonauts came to Lemnos, they took lovers among the women there. Hypsipyle partnered with Jason and bore him twin sons named Eueneus and Thoas (according to most sources).7

Cyzicus

After leaving Lemnos, the Argonauts came to the land of the Doliones on the coast of the Sea of Marmara. Cyzicus, the king of the Doliones, received Jason and the Argonauts and entertained them generously. 

But after the Argonauts left, they were driven back at nightfall by adverse winds. The Doliones, not recognizing their former guests in the darkness, attacked the ship, leading to casualties on both sides. Among those killed in the chaos was King Cyzicus. 

In the morning, both sides realized their mistake. The Argonauts were deeply saddened by the death of Cyzicus and held a funeral for him before departing again.

Heracles and Hylas

On one of their landfalls, the Argonaut Hylas, Heracles’ young male lover, wandered inland and was carried away by nymphs. Heracles searched far and wide for Hylas but could not find him, and the ship eventually sailed away without them. The Argonauts thus lost Heracles before even reaching Colchis.

Amycus

The Argonauts then arrived at the land of the Bebryces, where they received a tense welcome. The king of the Bebryces, Amycus, was a son of Poseidon who challenged all strangers to a boxing competition. The Argonauts sent their own champion boxer, Polydeuces, to take Amycus on. Polydeuces defeated and killed Amycus, and in the aftermath, the Argonauts successfully defended themselves against an attack by the Bebryces.

Phineus and the Harpies

Drawing nearer to Colchis, the Argonauts stopped at Salmydessus in Thrace. Phineus, the king of Salmydessus, was a blind seer who had incurred the anger of the gods. As punishment, the food set out for Phineus every day was stolen by the Harpies, winged monsters that were half-bird and half-woman. 

Jason took pity on the wasted Phineus and vowed to help him. Two of the Argonauts, Calais and Zetes, were the sons of the North Wind and so had the power of flight; Jason sent them to chase away the Harpies. 

Boreads rescue Phineas from the harpies red figure column krater, 460 BCE

Vase painting of Calais and Zetes rescuing Phineus from the Harpies by the Leningrad Painter (c. 460 BCE), Louvre.

Marie-Lan Nguyen / Public Domain

The grateful Phineus revealed to the Argonauts the way to Colchis and gave them advice on how to successfully make it through the Symplegades, or the “Clashing Rocks.”

The Symplegades

To finally get to Colchis, the Argonauts needed to clear one last hurdle: the Symplegades, sometimes called the “Clashing Rocks.” These were two huge cliffs that came together and crushed anything that passed between them. 

Phineus told the Argonauts to unleash a dove before they attempted to pass through the Symplegades. If the dove made it through, they were to row with all their strength. If the dove did not make it, they were destined to fail. 

The Argonauts followed Phineus’ instructions: the dove made it through, losing only a few tail feathers as the rocks closed. The Argonauts then rowed their ship through the rocks, taking only minor damage on the stern. After the Argo had passed, the Symplegades stood still and no longer posed a threat to travellers.

#Colchis

When the Argonauts finally reached Colchis, Jason went to see King Aeetes to claim the Golden Fleece. Aeetes promised to let Jason have the fleece if he could yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls and harness them to plow a field and sow it with dragons’ teeth. 

Aeetes was confident that Jason would never survive the task. But Jason’s patron-goddess Hera, helped by Aphrodite, caused Medea, the daughter of Aeetes and a powerful witch, to fall in love with Jason. Medea promised to help Jason if he agreed to take her home with him and make her his wife. When Jason consented, Medea explained to him how he could accomplish Aeetes’ tasks. 

Medea gave Jason an ointment that would prevent the bulls’ fire from harming him. After Jason had yoked the bulls and sown the dragons’ teeth, an army of warriors sprouted from the earth. But before they could attack, Jason threw a stone into their midst, following Medea’s instructions. Not knowing where the stone came from, the warriors slew each other. 

Although Jason successfully completed these impossible tasks, Aeetes reneged on his promise and refused to hand over the Golden Fleece. Thus, at nightfall, Medea took Jason to the grove where the Golden Fleece was kept, guarded by a giant serpent. Medea put the serpent to sleep with a special drug, and Jason was able to steal the fleece. With Medea at his side, Jason rounded up the Argonauts and sailed away from Colchis.

#The Return Voyage

The Argonauts’ return to Greece as they escaped the furious Aeetes was no less eventful than their voyage to Colchis.

Apsyrtus

When Aeetes discovered that Jason and Medea had stolen the Golden Fleece, he was furious and set out to pursue them. He almost caught the Argonauts as they were leaving or shortly thereafter, but Medea helped Jason distract him by killing Aeetes’ son (and her brother) Apsyrtus. In the version recounted by Apollodorus, Medea cut Apsyrtus’ body into pieces and cast them into the sea. Aeetes stopped to gather the pieces, and his pursuit was slowed.8

The Golden Fleece painting by Herbert James Draper, 1904

The Golden Fleece by Herbert James Draper (1904).

Bradford Museums and Galleries / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Circe

After outrunning Aeetes, the Argonauts were blown off course by a storm that almost destroyed their ship. When they ran aground, the helm of the Argo spoke to them, revealing that Zeus was angry with Jason and Medea for the unholy murder of Apsyrtus. In order to be purified of their crime, the Argonauts sailed to the island of Circe, a daughter of the sun god Helios and a powerful sorceress.

The Sirens

After leaving Circe’s island, the Argonauts sailed past the Sirens. The Sirens lived on a series of small, rocky islands and lured sailors to their death by singing beautiful, haunting songs. The Argonauts were able to escape the Sirens with Orpheus’ help: as the Sirens began to sing, Orpheus played an even more beautiful tune that drowned out their voices.

The Island of the Phaeacians

The Argonauts next made a stop at the island of the Phaeacians, ruled by Alcinous and his queen, Arete. There the Colchians caught up to them. But because Jason and Medea were now married (Arete had hastily married them in secret), Alcinous refused to send Medea back to Aeetes. The Argonauts then sailed away, while many of the Colchians settled on the nearby islands.

Talos

The Argonauts then came to Crete, guarded by Talos. Talos was a bronze giant with a single vein running from his neck to his ankle. As the Argo passed, Talos started hurling boulders at the ship and the crew. Medea was able to kill Talos by enchanting him and causing him to graze his ankle on a rock, so that he cut his vein and bled to death.9

#Return to Iolcus

Jason finally returned to Iolcus with the Golden Fleece, only to find that Pelias had brought about his parents’ deaths during his absence.10 Jason enlisted Medea’s help to seek vengeance. 

Medea came to the palace of Iolcus and convinced Pelias’ daughters that she had the power to restore their father’s youth. In a demonstration, she picked out the oldest sheep in their herd, cut it into pieces, and boiled it with magical herbs: a lamb leapt out of the cauldron. Pelias’ daughters, trusting Medea, cut their father into pieces and boiled him; but Medea did not add the magical herbs, and Pelias died at his daughters’ hands.

Relief with Medea and the daughters of Pelias

This 2nd century Roman copy of a Greek relief shows Medea and the daughters of Pelias, at the Altes Museum in Berlin.

Frans Vanderwalle / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The people of Iolcus were horrified by the brutal murder of Pelias and feared Medea. Thus, Jason was banished by Pelias’ son Acastus.

#Jason’s Treachery

Jason and Medea went to the city of Corinth, where they lived as husband and wife for some years. But Jason’s eye eventually wandered, and he became engaged to Glauce, the daughter of the Corinthian king Creon. 

The jealous Medea sent Glauce a poisoned robe: as soon as Glauce put it on, she burst into flames. Her father and the attendants who tried to help her were burned alive with her. 

In the most familiar version of this story, recounted in Euripides’ tragedy Medea, Medea then murdered her children by Jason and escaped to Athens. In another version, however, Medea did not murder her children but instead abandoned them in Corinth when she escaped, leaving them to be killed by the angry Corinthians.11 

#Death

After betraying Medea and losing his children by her, Jason lost divine favor. In Euripides’ Medea, his death is foretold by Medea before she leaves Corinth:

...you, as is fitting, shall die the miserable death of a coward, struck on the head by a piece of the Argo, having seen the bitter result of your marriage to me.12

One day, sure enough, Jason was sitting beneath the Argo when a rotting piece of it fell on his head and killed him.13

#Worship

Jason seems to have received hero-worship in parts of the ancient Greek world. The first-century BCE geographer Strabo mentions a temple of Jason in Abdera, a Greek city in Thrace.14

#Pop Culture

In popular culture, Jason is perhaps best known from the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. But he has appeared in other film and television adaptations of Greek myths, including the film Hercules (1958) and the 1990s television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The myth of Jason is the inspiration for the BBC series Atlantis, which aired between 2013 and 2015 (and whose main character is named Jason).

Jason has also been kept alive in modern literature. Henry Treece’s Jason (1961) is a historical fiction novel based on the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts (though with the supernatural elements largely removed). Jason features in some of Rick Riordan’s novels, and one of the main characters of his Heroes of Olympus series is named Jason. 

Jason has appeared (as both a protagonist and antagonist) in a number of video games, such as Age of Mythology (2002), God of War II (2007), and Fate/Grand Order (2015).

#Further Reading

#Primary Sources

Greek

  • Homer: The voyage of the Argonauts is mentioned briefly in Book 12 of the Odyssey (69–72), a work of the eighth or seventh century BCE.

  • Hesiod: Jason’s marriage to Medea is described briefly in the Theogony (993–1002), and his genealogy is outlined in the fragmentary Catalogue of Women (fragment 13).

  • Pindar: Pindar composed the earliest detailed account of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, which is still extant today in his fourth Pythian Ode (466 BCE). The myths of the Argonauts are also mentioned in some of his other poems and fragments (for example, Olympian Odes 4 and 13).

  • Euripides: The story of Jason’s betrayal of Medea and her terrible revenge is told in the tragedy Medea (428 BCE).

  • Lycophron: Lycophron’s Alexandra, a third-century BCE poem in which the Trojan seer Cassandra prophecies the future of the Greeks who fought at Troy, alludes to a strange version of the myth of the Argonauts in which Jason died and was resurrected in Colchis before he carried off the Golden Fleece (877ff, 1011ff, 1226ff, 1309ff).

  • Apollonius of Rhodes: The most complete literary account of Jason and the Argonauts from antiquity is Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica (third century BCE).

  • Strabo, Geography: A late first-century BCE geographical treatise and an important source for many local Greek myths, institutions, and religious practices from antiquity.

  • Pausanias, Description of Greece: A second-century CE travelogue; like Strabo’s Geography, an important source for local myths and customs.

  • Orphic Argonautica: A poem by an unknown author, probably written after the fourth century CE, the Orphic Argonautica tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts from the point of view of Orpheus.

Roman

Many of the most important Roman adaptations of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts no longer survive. These include Quintus Ennius’ Media Exiled, a tragedy written in the second century BCE; Varro of Atax’s Argonautica, a translation of Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, published in the mid-first century BCE; and Ovid’s Medea, a tragedy written at the end of the first century BCE. There are, however, several important surviving treatments of the myth.

  • Ovid: The myths of Jason are told in the fourth book of the epic Metamorphoses (ca. 8 CE). Two of Ovid’s Heroides (25–16 BCE), a series of epistolary poems, deal with the myths of Jason as well: Heroides 6 is a letter to Jason from Hypsipyle, and Heroides 12 is a letter to Jason from Medea. Ovid’s tragedy Medea, which was much read and highly acclaimed in antiquity, has not survived.

  • Seneca: One of Seneca’s tragedies (first century CE), the Medea, is an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea.

  • Statius: The story of Jason and Hypsipyle and of Hypsipyle’s subsequent fate is told in Books 5 and 6 of Statius’ epic Thebaid (late first century CE).

  • Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica: Like Apollonius’ earlier Argonautica, this Latin epic, written around the end of the first century CE, is about Jason and the Argonauts.

Mythological Handbooks (Greek and Roman):

  • Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History: A work of universal history, covering events from the creation of the cosmos to Diodorus’ own time (mid-first century BCE). The myths of Jason are treated in Book 4.

  • Apollodorus, Library: A mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE. The myths of Jason are in Book 1.

  • Hyginus, Fabulae: A Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE) that includes sections on the myths of Jason.

#Secondary Sources

  • Colavito, Jason. “Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages.” Published online 2014. http://www.argonauts-book.com/.

  • Colavito, Jason. Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.

  • Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Hunter, Richard. The Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

  • Kerényi, Károly. The Heroes of the Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1974.

  • Powell, B. “The Voyage of the Argo.” In Classical Myth, 477–89. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

  • Richter, Gisela M. A. “Jason and the Golden Fleece.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 30 (1935): 86–88.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Smith, William. “Jason.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed March 18, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DI%3Aentry+group%3D2%3Aentry%3Djason-bio-1

  • Spence, Simon. The Image of Jason in Early Greek Myth. Morrisville, NC: Lulu, 2010.

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