Most Notable Members of the Argonauts, including the hero Jason
The Argonauts were a group of heroes in Greek mythology who, under the leadership of Jason, set out on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece from distant Colchis. Each of the heroes and renowned sailors brought their unique skills and qualities to the quest, making the Argonauts one of the most renowned teams in Greek mythology.
The adventures of the Argonauts were documented in various ancient sources, most notably the “Argonautica” by ancient Greek author Apollonius of Rhodes.
Below, WHE presents some of the notable members of the Argonauts:
Jason was the son of Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcus. However, Aeson was overthrown by his half-brother, Pelias. To protect the young Jason from being killed by Pelias, Aeson’s wife ensured that he was hidden away from the palace. Jason was raised by the centaur Chiron, away from Iolcus, and grew up unaware of his royal lineage.
When Jason announced the expedition to retrieve the Golden Fleece, many heroes of ancient Greece joined, including Heracles. Given his reputation, he was an invaluable asset to the team.
During the journey, a significant event involved Heracles’ young companion, Hylas. Hylas was either Heracles’ squire or beloved, depending on the version of the story. While the Argonauts were on land, Hylas went to fetch water and was abducted by water nymphs who were entranced by his beauty. Distraught, Heracles searched tirelessly for him but to no avail. As a result, Heracles and his close friend Polyphemus were left behind, as the Argo had to continue its journey.
After the incident with Hylas, Heracles’ involvement with the main storyline of the Argonauts diminishes. In most versions of the myth, Heracles does not continue with the Argonauts to Colchis and does not take part in the challenges Jason faced there.
Orpheus, the legendary musician and poet of Greek mythology, was one of the most notable members of the Argonauts. His divine music had the power to enchant mortals, gods, and even inanimate objects.
According to the myths, Orpheus played his lyre to calm the waves and soothe the winds, aiding the Argonauts in their perilous sea journey.
One of the most dangerous challenges faced by the Argonauts was the song of the Sirens — mythical creatures who lured sailors to their deaths with their mesmerizing voices. When the Argo approached the Sirens, Orpheus played his lyre and sang loudly, drowning out the Sirens’ deadly song and preventing the Argonauts from being lured to their doom.
Also, Orpheus’s music provided solace, comfort, and inspiration to the Argonauts during their arduous journey. His songs told tales of gods and heroes, reminding the Argonauts of their heroic lineage and the glory of their mission.
This heroine was one of the few women to join the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. In some versions of the myth, she was the only woman aboard the Argo. Her inclusion was initially met with resistance because some Argonauts believed her presence could cause discord or distract the crew. However, her undeniable skills made her an invaluable member of the team.
While details vary depending on the source, Atalanta’s speed and hunting abilities were beneficial to the Argonauts during their journey. Her prowess as an archer was particularly noted.
Some versions of the myth state that Atalanta left the Argonauts either before or after the encounter with the Harpies, mythical creatures that tormented the blind seer Phineus. The reasons for her departure are not always clear, but in some tales, it’s suggested that her attraction to some of the male Argonauts or theirs to her caused complication.
Argus was the craftsman who built the ship Argo, which was used by the Argonauts during their famous quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The ship was named after him.
According to the myths, he constructed the ship under the guidance of the goddess Athena. With her divine help, the Argo was made swift and strong, fit for the dangerous journey to Colchis and back.
One of the unique features of the Argo was a piece of timber in its prow that was taken from the sacred forest of Dodona. This piece of timber could speak and sometimes offered prophecies or advice to the Argonauts during their journey.
Meleager’s exploits prior to and after the expedition made him one of the most celebrated heroes of the age.
While many heroes on the Argo had moments to shine, individual feats for each Argonaut are not always delineated in every version of the myth. However, given Meleager’s reputation and skills, it’s certain he played a vital role in the challenges the Argonauts faced during their voyage.
One of Meleager’s most famous exploits was leading the Calydonian Boar hunt. Sent by Artemis to ravage the land of Calydon because King Oeneus forgot to honor her in the annual harvest sacrifices, the Calydonian Boar was a menace. A band of the greatest Greek heroes of the time, including Atalanta, gathered to hunt the beast. Meleager killed the boar but gave the hide to Atalanta, whom he admired and who had been the first to wound the beast. This decision caused a dispute that eventually led to tragic consequences for Meleager.
While the Argonautica, the primary source detailing the journey of the Argonauts, contains many episodes highlighting the deeds of various heroes, Peleus’s individual actions on the quest are not as prominently featured as some of the others. However, his presence among the Argonauts speaks to his stature and reputation as a warrior and hero.
Prior to his involvement with the Argonauts, Peleus had already gained renown for various adventures. He was granted immortality (which he later renounced) and married the sea-nymph Thetis. Their wedding was a significant event, attended by many deities and figures from Greek mythology. It was at this wedding that the seed of discord leading to the Trojan War was planted, when Eris, the goddess of discord, threw the Golden Apple of Discord among the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, leading to the famous judgment of Paris.
Theseus is counted among the Argonauts in some versions of the myth, suggesting that he was part of the grand quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The inclusion of such a significant Greek hero among the Argonauts underscores the importance and grandeur of Jason’s expedition.
Specifics about Theseus’s role among the Argonauts differ between accounts. However, given his stature as a hero, it’s likely he would have been a significant figure on the journey, lending his strength and wisdom to various challenges.
Born to parents – Ampyx and Aregonis or Chloris – Mopsus is renowned in the myths for his prophetic abilities. It is said that he had acquired those skills from the sun god Apollo himself. This explains why some accounts consider him the son of Apollo and Manto, the daughter of the famous seer Tiresias.
As one of the Argonauts, Mopsus used his prophetic gifts to aid the group. His ability to interpret signs, omens, and divine the future was invaluable during their challenging journey.
One of the most memorable episodes featuring Mopsus is when the Argonauts faced the bronze giant Talos on the island of Crete. Talos attempted to prevent the Argonauts from landing by hurling huge rocks at their ship. Mopsus used his divination to find a weakness in Talos. He told the Argonauts about a vein in the giant’s ankle, which when punctured, caused the ichor (the blood of the gods) to drain out, leading to Talos’s defeat.
In some versions of the myth, Mopsus, a seer and augur (i.e. priest), dies during the journey home from Colchis, bitten by a snake in Libya. His death was seen as a tragic loss given his abilities and the assistance he provided to the Argonauts.
The son of the god Poseidon and Europa (daughter of the giant Tityos), Euphemus is best known for his incredible speed in Greek mythology.
As one of the Argonauts, Euphemus was chosen for his unique talents to accompany Jason and the other heroes on the journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece. His ability to tread water was particularly advantageous during various challenges they encountered at sea.
During the Argonauts’ journey, Euphemus had a notable encounter with Triton, the sea god. Triton gifted Euphemus with a clod of earth. Later, as the clod fell into the sea, it transformed into the island of Thera (now known as Santorini). This story ties into the foundation myths of several Cycladic islands in the Aegean Sea.
Telamon was a Greek hero, son of King Aeacus of Aegina and Endeis, making him the brother of Peleus (the father of Achilles) and half-brother to Phocus.
He was one of the warriors chosen to accompany Jason on his voyage aboard the Argo. As one of the Argonauts, he participated in several of the challenges and combats that the crew faced during their quest.
Telamon’s most notable son was Ajax the Great, a hero renowned for his colossal strength and vital role in the Trojan War. Ajax’s stature and might were often compared to that of Achilles, and he was one of the principal warriors who fought for the Greeks in the Trojan War.
Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces)
Twin brothers, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces) were the sons of Zeus and Leda. Castor was a horse tamer, and Pollux was a boxer.
These legendary heroes played a vital role in the expedition of the Argonauts. At one point during the voyage, the Argo was caught in a massive storm. Pollux, given his divine status, was able to calm the waters, ensuring the ship’s safety.
Also in the myths, their bond as brothers was tested when Castor was mortally wounded in a battle. Unable to bear the thought of living without his brother, Pollux pleaded with Zeus to share his immortality with Castor. Touched by his devotion, Zeus granted his request, and the brothers were transformed into the constellation Gemini, forever together in the night sky.
Beyond the Argonaut expedition, Castor and Pollux were considered the patron saints of sailors. They were often invoked for protection during sea voyages, and their appearance in the sky (as the constellation Gemini or as St. Elmo’s fire) was seen as a favorable omen by sailors.
Son of Hagnias or of Phorbas and Hyrmine, Tiphys was the helmsman of the Argo, the ship in which Jason and the Argonauts sailed to Colchis in their quest for the Golden Fleece. His role was crucial, as he was responsible for steering the ship and navigating the often treacherous waters the Argonauts encountered.
When Jason was recruiting heroes to join him on his dangerous mission, Tiphys was chosen specifically for his nautical skills. While many of the Argonauts were chosen for their strength or combat abilities, Tiphys was valued for his unmatched expertise in navigation.
Unfortunately, Tiphys did not complete the journey with the Argonauts. In some versions of the myth, he died of an illness while the crew was on the return journey. In others, he was bitten by a snake and died from its venom. After his death, the role of the helmsman was taken over by Ancaeus.
A son of King Pelias, Acastus was one of the seers that helped steer the Argonauts from dangerous situations. Bear in mind, Pelias was the one who sent Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece in the first place, partly as a way to get rid of him. Pelias hoped that Jason would never return from such a perilous journey.
Despite the treacherous intentions of his father towards Jason, Acastus joined the Argonauts. As one of the Argonauts, he took part in their many adventures and faced numerous challenges alongside them.
Acastus’s loyalty to the Argonauts, despite his father’s schemes, highlights the unity and camaraderie of the heroes. Their shared experiences on the journey forged strong bonds among them.
In later myths, after the quest for the Golden Fleece, Acastus becomes the king of Iolcus and is associated with the story of Peleus and the hero’s wife, Thetis (the parents of Achilles). In some accounts, Acastus tried to harm Peleus, leading to further mythological tales.
Questions and Answers
Why did Jason and the Argonauts embark on the quest for the Golden Fleece?
As a young man, Jason returned to Iolcus to claim his rightful place as king. On his way to the city, he lost one of his sandals while helping an old woman (who was actually the goddess Hera in disguise) cross a river. This fulfilled a prophecy that Pelias had heard: he would be overthrown by a man wearing only one sandal.
When Jason revealed his identity and demanded the throne, Pelias, fearing the prophecy but not wanting to kill Jason outright, devised a seemingly impossible challenge. He told Jason he could have the throne if he retrieved the Golden Fleece, a symbol of authority and kingship, from the distant land of Colchis. Pelias believed that this quest would result in Jason’s death, eliminating any threat he posed.
Jason accepted the challenge and set out to assemble a crew of heroes, known as the Argonauts, and embarked on the perilous journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
In the broader narrative, the quest for the Golden Fleece was not just about reclaiming his throne. It also became a journey of trials, adventures, and personal growth for Jason and his crew, showcasing the values, challenges, and complexities of ancient Greek heroism.
READ MORE: Hera and the Argonauts
What is the significance of the ship Argo in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts?
The ship was built by Argus, with the help of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare. The divine assistance in its construction indicates the importance and sanctity of Jason’s quest. Athena’s involvement also suggests that the heroes had the gods’ favor, at least at the start of their journey.
In some versions of the myth, the Argo is considered the first ship ever to be built, which adds another layer of significance. As the first of its kind, the Argo represents human ingenuity, exploration, and the spirit of adventure.
The Argo was not just a lifeless vessel. Athena incorporated a piece of the Dodonaean oak into its prow, which could speak and offer prophecies. This made the Argo semi-sentient and further emphasized its divine connection.
The ship carries a diverse group of heroes from different regions of Greece. Despite their differences, they come together with a shared purpose. The Argo, thus, is a symbol of unity and collective heroism, as it holds together a band of individuals as one crew, facing numerous challenges.
How did the sorceress Medea assist Jason and the Argonauts during their journey?
Medea, a powerful sorceress, played an instrumental role in aiding Jason and the Argonauts.
Enamored with Jason due to Eros’s intervention, she provided a potion rendering him invulnerable, enabling him to tackle fire-breathing oxen in Colchis.
She then concocted an elixir to lull the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece into sleep. With the dragon asleep, Jason and his crew could steal the Golden Fleece.
During their escape, Medea strategically killed and dismembered her brother, delaying their pursuers.
Furthermore, she safeguarded the Argonauts from the lethal allure of the Sirens by overpowering their song and neutralized the threat of the bronze giant, Talos, using her mystical skills.