Jason: Meaning, Origin Story, & the Golden Fleece from Colchis

Jason in Greek mythology

Born to Aeson, king of Iolcus in Thessaly, Jason was a Greek hero and commander of the Argonauts. Jason is most famous for leading his band of warriors and soldiers in a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason’s heroic exploits rank up there as one of the greatest stories in Greek mythology.

World History Edu explores the major myths surrounding Jason’s birth story, family and the Argonautic expedition to secure the very elusive Golden Fleece.

Meaning and Summary

The name Jason generally translates to “Healer”. It comes from the Greek word “iaomai”, which means “to heal”. In Greek mythology, Jason is revered as the Thessalian hero and leader of the Argonauts, a band of heroes that included the demi-god Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology).

According to the myths, Jason was robbed off his birth right as his half-uncle Pelias took his throne. Pelias then committed Jason to a series of insurmountable tasks, one of them involved fetching the Golden Fleece from Colchis. With the help of a young priestess of the Greek goddess Hecate, Jason was able to accomplish those tasks and force the usurper to hand over the throne to him.

Jason’s birth story and family

Jason was born to King Aeson and Queen Alcimede of Iolcus in Thessaly. At the time that Greek hero Jason was born, his family was in turmoil as members waged a fierce war over the throne of Iolcus. In the end his father Aeson was overthrown by his half-brother Pelias, a power-hungry man who subjected everyone in the kingdom to tyranny.

Upon the completion of his adventures with the Argonauts, Jason married Medea, the Colchis sorceress who helped Jason accomplish many of his tasks. Medea was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis.

Greek hero Jason and his wife Medea (left) | Depiction by John William Waterhouse, 1907.

The Centaur Chiron

Following the death of his father, Jason’s mother quickly hid the young Jason on the Mountain of Pelion, where he was put in the care of a centaur called Chiron (Cheiron). The centaur tutored Jason in a host of mental and physical subjects, including wrestling, sword handling and fighting. The young Jason grew up into a strong and wise warrior, fully ready to take on his half-uncle and reclaim his inheritance.

Jason and the Golden Fleece

With Iolcus firmly in the hands of Pelias, the tyrant desired nothing more than to get rid of his half-nephew Jason, the legitimate heir to the throne. Pelias was also restless because a seer had prophesied that Jason would one day retake the throne. As a result, Pelias committed Jason to a series of very difficult and quite frankly impossible tasks. Jason was ordered to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis.

Jason and the Argonauts

In order to accomplish such a herculean task, Jason solicited put together a team of brave and loyal fighters, who later came to be known as the Argonauts due to the name of the boat, Argo, that they sailed in.

Jason and the Argonauts went on some very amazingly dangerous journey. They showed nerves of steel in the face and surmounted all sorts of dangers that came their way.

The Argonauts derived their name from their ship the Argos. Their name therefore means “Argos sailors”. | Image: The Argo, by Konstantinos Volanakis (1837–1907).

The women of Lemnos

In one of their journeys, Jason and the Argonauts stumbled upon the isle of Lemnos. The island was inhabited by only women with Hypsipyle as their ruler. Legend had it that the women on the island slit the throats of their husbands because their husbands had scorned them for their unpleasant smell. The women’s foul smell was a punishment exacted on them by Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sex.

It took a lot of convincing from Jason and the Argonauts to allay the fears of the women of Lemnos. In the end, the women warmed up to Jason and his crew, giving them shelter and food. While at Lemnos, Jason and his Argonautic warriors procreated with the women of Lemnos, thereby creating a new race of people known as the Minyans.

The Island of Doliones

Following their expedition to Lemnos, Jason and the Argonauts made their way to the island of Doliones. For years, the inhabitants of Doliones had to contend with the destruction and terror caused by the Gegeines, the six-armed giants. Therefore, Jason and his team’s arrival came as good news to Cyzicus, the king of Doliones.

According to the myth, the giants attacked Jason and his Argonautic warriors while they were loading up food supplies on to their ship, the Argos. Thanks to the heroic displays of Heracles, one of the leading members of the Argonauts, Jason and his crew were able to hold off the Gegeines.

After their victory over the giants, the Argonauts hoisted the sails of the Argos and left the island. However, and as fate would have it, a terrible wind blew the Argos back to the shores of island of Doliones. Thinking the Argonauts were group of pirates, the soldiers of Doliones attacked Jason and his crew. Scores of Doliones warriors were killed that night, including King Cyzicus.

When the dust settled, the surviving Doliones realized how completely wrong they had misjudged the situation. The dead were then given a befitting burial by Jason and the Argonauts.

Jason in Greek mythology | Image: Gathering of the Argonauts, Attic red-figure krater, 460–450 BC, Louvre (G 341).

Jason and King Phineus

After sailing away from Doliones, the Argonauts found themselves in Salmydessus, Thrace. The kingdom’s ruler Phineus was said to have incurred the wrath of Zeus, king of the Greek gods. Phineus was on the brink of starvation as his food was stolen by the Harpies dispatched by Zeus. Taking pity on the Phineus, Jason tasked his Argonauts to help the king. They set up a huge feast in order to attract the Harpies. Hidden in the corner were Zetes and Calais who quickly drove away the Harpies upon their arrival.

To show his deep appreciation to Jason and the Argonauts, King Phineus revealed to Jason where he could find the Golden Fleece. Phineus also showed Jason how he could navigate the very treacherous Clashing Rocks that led to the Colchis. Phineus instructed Jason to send a dove through the Clashing Rocks. Jason was to carefully watch what happened to the dove as it made its way through cliffs. Phineus stated that Jason and his Argonauts would survive if the dove survives.

Jason and King of Colchis’ impossible tasks

Upon arriving at Colchis, Jason and his crew were welcomed by Aeetes, king of Colchis. Seeing how much Jason desired the Golden Fleece, Aeetes sought to take advantage of the situation. Aeetes commanded Jason to complete a very difficult set of tasks. The first task required Jason to plow a large field with a fire-breathing beast known as Khalkotauroi. The second task called on Jason to then sow a dragon’s teeth into the plowed field.

Sensing how challenging those tasks would be for Jason, Hera, the queen of the Olympians, came to the aid of Jason. The goddess appealed to goddess Aphrodite to ask the deity Cupid (Eros) to fire his love arrow into Medea, the daughter of Aeetes. The intention was to make Medea fall head over hills for Jason and thereby help him accomplish those impossible tasks.

Medea, a gifted sorceress and priestess of Hecate, was able to use her magic to make Jason impervious to the heat of the bull. This allowed Jason to completely plow the field. In the second task, Medea gave Jason very good advice on how to deal with the army of stone warriors that sprung up immediately the dragon’s teeth was planted into the field. Medea told Jason to cast a stone into the midst of the stone warriors. Upon doing so, the stone warriors fought and killed each other.

Once those two tasks were completed, Jason and Medea were able to escape a set of mischievous moves orchestrated by Aeetes. Medea then helped Jason secure the Golden Fleece from a sacred oak tree. But before he could lay his hands on the Golden Fleece, Jason and his crew had to get past the fierce dragon that guarded the place. Medea cast a sleeping spell on the dragon, thereby allowing Jason to secure the Golden Fleece. Jason and Medea then sail straight to Iolcos.

In one version of the myth, Medea chops up her brother Apsyrtus into pieces and then throws his body into the sea. The enchantress does this in order to prevent her father Aeëtes from pursuing her and Jason.

Jason in Greek mythology | Image: Jason presenting the Golden Fleece to King Pelias, Apulian red-figure calyx krater, ca. 340 BC–330 BC, Louvre

Return to Iolcos

Upon arriving at Iolcos, Medea kills the tyrant king Pelias. However, the people of Iolcos are insulted by the murder of Pelias and seek out revenge.

Jason and Medea are banished from Iolcos. The couple then head to Corinth, where King Creon offers them refuge. Taken aback by the daughter of Creon, Jason divorces Pelias for the princess.

In one version of the story, the enraged Pelias goes on a killing spree, killing Creon and his daughter as well as two of the children she had with Jason. Medea then flees Athens, where marries King Aegeus of Athens. Her marriage to Aegeus ends when she tried to kill Theseus, son of King Aegeus.

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