Jason’s father was the King of Thebes, but one day, his own brother, Pelias, took the throne from him and threw him in prison. Pelias challenged Jason to find the famous Golden Fleece and bring it back to him. If he succeeded the King would return the crown to the rightful king.
Without hesitation, Jason took up the challenge. His first task was to find the finest ship builder in the land. When it was complete, he called his ship the Argo, which means swift, and he gathered up the greatest heroes from around the land. They would be called the Argonauts.
When they set out, he did not even know where to start looking for the golden fleece. On board the ship was a wooden figurehead, carved from a magical oak tree. As he rested his hand upon it, he could feel a throb, like a heartbeat. Suddenly the figurehead spoke: “Ask King Phineas where to go!”
As they feasted with Phineas a flock of hideous birds, called the harpies, flew through the window attacking Jason and his men. The brave warriors fought them off and they flew out to sea never to return.
Phineas told Jason where the fleece could be found, but warned him of the perils of the mission. The argonauts set off to the land of the Colchis, out beyond the clashing cliffs. Fire and boulders flew in this terrible place. Jason’s men sat trembling in their boats.
“Watch the seagulls!” cried Jason. “They know when the way ahead is safe. Follow them as they move”.
They negotiated the cliffs and arrived at the land of the Colchis, where the golden fleece was held. When they arrived, the King threw dragons teeth at Jason’s men. As each tooth hit the ground a warrior burst to life. Soon they were in the midst of a deadly battle. Gradually the argonauts overcame the dragon-tooth warriors. Now nothing stood between them and the golden fleece.
Except for the dragon.
The fleece hung in a beautiful garden, on the branch of great tree, guarded by the dragon. At the gate to the garden the King’s daughter, princess Medea appeared. She offered her assistance in exchange for marriage. Jason entered the garden and after a fearsome fight, slayed the dragon. He returned to his men on the beach with the golden fleece and king’s daughter.
When they returned to Thebes, Jason’s father released from prison, as the incredulous Pelias stepped aside. But Jason’s father, Aeson, refused to rule. He was too old and weary. The princess stepped in and gave him a magic potion and he became strong and young again. He emerged from a deep sleep with the energy of a young man and the wisdom of an old one. He ruled the kingdom justly.
Many old stories begin in crisis. When the King loses the crown, the whole kingdom falls into sickness and it is up to the hero to embark on a quest to save the society. This theme strongly resonates with our own times where we witness a convergence of crises in the world around us.
In response, Jason takes up the challenge of finding the golden fleece. He recruits resources – a ship and men to help him. Along the way he receives help from the wooden figurehead, King Phineas and the princess. He and his men must go through tests and trials: The harpies, the clashing cliffs and the dragon.
Throughout the journey Jason and his men must demonstrate great courage, strength and perseverance; upon returning the triumphant hero has the humility and good judgement not to take the crown himself but to return it to his father. Jason knows his place in the larger scheme of things and does not get ahead of his station.
What are we to take from this? The story of the golden Fleece is not just a heroic story played out long ago but one that is alive right now in each of us and in the world. The themes echo and ring through for us all: A world that is sick and in crisis in which we are called to engage in a journey and a search for that which will heal and the need for courage to face this challenge. What the old stories give us is guidance for how to respond in these times and also some measure of comfort. The task may be formidable, but when we accept the challenge and engage with the quest we will receive the support and resources we need from the world.