The Argo in Greek Mythology
Hereoes were a central idea in Greek mythology and the gathering of heroes to bring the Golden Fleece back to Iolcus is one of the most famous stories from antiquity. Only the bravest and most skilled heroes of Ancient Greece would accompany Jason, for only they would be able to survive such an arduous adventure.
The gathering and selection of heroes was only one part of the problem facing Jason, for the retrieval of the Golden Fleece would mean travelling to Colchis. Colchis was thought of as a barbaric land, at the very edge of the ancient world. To make the journey would mean a boat had to be built, but no vessel yet constructed would be up to the task, and so a new boat, the Argo, would have to be built.
The Gods Help with the Argo
Jason was being aided in his quest by several of the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece, with the most prominent support coming from Hera. Hera was actually manipulating Jason for her own ends, but nevertheless, she encouraged Athena to get involved in the construction of the vessel.
Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, would design a new seagoing ship, and then the goddess would help in the actually building of the vessel. The construction of the ship was actually put into the hands of Argos, a son of Arestor from the city of Argos.
Building the Argo
In the sources that survive into today, little is mentioned about the design or the actually building of the vessel, although it is generally thought to resemble the galley design typical of Ancient Greece. Most surviving sources though, do claim that it was a ship that could ship 50 oars.
Arguably the most important feature of the newly designed ship was the prow, for part of it was built making use of oak from the forest of Dodona.
Dodona was one of the sacred regions of Ancient Greece, and was believed to be closely associated with Zeus. Dodona also had its own Oracle, one of the most important in the entire ancient world.
Making use of oak from Dodona was said to have imbued the new vessel with mystical powers, and as a result, the prow of the boat was able to speak and utter prophecies.
The newly designed and built vessel was named the Argo; whether the name was given as recognition for the man who built it, or because the word argos means swift, is not entirely clear, but of course those heroes who sailed onboard her would forever be known as the Argonauts.
The Argo Sets Sail
With a ship built and a crew assembled, it was now time to set sail for Colchis, and it was said in ancient texts, that the Argo itself proclaimed that it was time to leave. Thus, at the appointed time, the Argo was launched from the beach at Pagasae.
The journey to Colchis was a relatively straightforward one for the Argo and the Argonauts, and would take in Lemnos, Samothrace and Ares Island. The voyage, and the landfalls made on the way, would prove more of a danger to the Argonauts than the ship that carried them. That being said, the Argo did have to deal with gigantic waves as it passed the Bosphorus. Additionally, the Argo also had to navigate between the Symplegades, the Clashing Rocks, which randomly came together.
The Golden Fleece on the Argo
The Argo Returns
Eventually, at Colchis, the Golden Fleece was removed from the sacred grove, then the Argo and surviving Argonauts had to make a rapid exit. The Argo was chased by the Colchian fleet, but the murder and decapitation of Apsyrtus, Medea’s brother, did much to slow down the chase.
The murder of Apsyrtus angered Zeus, and so the journey back to Iolcus would not be a straightforward one, and it would be much longer, and far more dangerous, than the outward voyage.
The long and winding route would see the Argo traverse the River Danube, Italy, Elba, Corfu, Libya and Crete, and in Libya, the Argo would have to be carried across the desert by the Argonauts. Ultimately the return journey was again far more dangerous to the Argonauts, rather than the Argo, although the return journey did see the Argo having to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis.
In the end, it was the Argo itself who told Jason how to safely return to Iolcus, with a trip to the island of Circe required. The sorceress Circe would be able to offer forgiveness for the killing of Apsyrtus.
Thus eventually the voyage of the Argo ended at Iolcus, and Jason, Medea, and the Argonauts disembarked from the ship for a final time.
To recognise the achievement of the Argo, a likeness of the boat was placed amongst the stars, as the constellation Argo Navis (now a combination of Carina, Vela and Puppis). The Argo itself though was left beached at Pagasae.
The Greek Myths as Constellations
The End of the Argo
The Argo though does appear once more in the continuing story of Jason, for years later, after the murder of his children by Medea, the Greek hero comes to the beach at Pagasae. There, a desolate Jason rests in the shade, beneath the prow of the Argo; the Argo by this time had started to rot away, and the prow of the ship falls earthwards, killing Jason where he rested.
All of the physical remains of the Argo would of course quickly rot away, but the legend of the Argo would live on forever.
Jason and the Argonauts 1963
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