Who was Jason?
The Greek tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece has been told for 3,000 years. It’s a classic hero’s quest tale – a sort of ancient Greek mission impossible – in which the hero embarks on a sea voyage into an unknown land, with a great task to achieve. He is in search of a magical ram’s fleece, which he has to find in order to reclaim his father’s kingdom of Iolkos from the usurper King Pelias.
The story is a set a generation before the time of the Trojan War, around 1300 BC, but the first known written mention of it comes six centuries later, in the age of Homer (800 BC). The tale came out of the region of Thessaly, in Greece, where early epic poetry developed. The Greeks have retold and reinterpreted it many times since, changing it as their knowledge of the physical world increased.
According to the legend, Jason was deprived of his expectation of the throne of Iolkos (a real kingdom situated in the locale of present-day Volos) by his uncle, King Pelias, who usurped the throne. Jason was taken from his parents and was brought up on Mount Pelion, in Thessaly, by a centaur named Cheiron. Meantime his uncle lived in dread of an oracle’s prophecy, which said he should fear the “man with one shoe”.
At the age of 20, Jason set off to return to Iolkos – on his journey losing a sandal in the river while helping Hera, Queen of the Gods, who was in disguise as an old woman. On arriving before King Pelias, Jason revealed who he was and made a claim to the kingdom. The king replied, “If I am to give you the kingdom, first you must bring me the Fleece of the Golden Ram”.
And this was the hero’s quest. His task would take him beyond the known world to acquire the fleece of a magical ram that once belonged to Zeus, the king of the gods. Jason’s ancestor Phrixus had flown east from Greece to the land of Cochlis (modern-day Georgia) on the back of this ram. King Aietes, son of Helios the sun god, had then sacrificed the ram and hung its fleece in a sacred grove guarded by a dragon. An oracle foretold that Aietes would lose his kingdom if he lost the fleece, and it was from Aietes that Jason had to retrieve it.