The Golden Fleece

In Greek mythology, Jason went on a quest for the Golden Fleece.

The Golden Fleece comes from a golden haired, winged ram that is the offspring of Poseidon and the beautiful maiden, Theophane. Poseidon, jealous of her suitors, carried the maiden away. He brought her to an island where he transformed her into a ewe & himself into a ram so he could have his way with her without her suitors interfering. She eventually gives birth to a winged ram with gold hair. The ram disappears from any surviving Greek myths until it is needed to help two children escape a terrible fate.

The Greek king, Athamas of Boeotia, marries a beautiful woman names Nephele. Some stories say she is human, other say she is a cloud nymph while others elevate her to a cloud goddess. They have two children, a boy names Phrixus, and a girl named Helle. Athamas grows tired of Nephele and become enamored with Princess Ino. King Athamas kills Nephele in the versions she is mortal or divorces her it the versions she is a nymph or goddess.

Athamas takes Ino as his new wife and they have two sons. Ino grows jealous of her stepchildren and devises a way to be rid of them. Ino secretly has seeds destroyed so crops will not grow and a famine would result. When the crops fail, the king asks the oracle what he should do. The oracle, under Ino’s influence, says that the king must sacrifice his first-born son and daughter. The king is reluctant to do this, but the people convince the king to go through with the sacrifices. On the way to the alter Nephele, or her spirit, appears before her children with the winged ram. She tells them to get on and ride the ram to safety.

The children ride the ram over the sea. They are told not to look down as they fly but Helle does and falls off. She drowns in a strait that is now named Hellespont after her. The ram speaks to Phrixus in order to comfort him. The ram brings Phrixus safely to Colchis on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Phrixus sacrifices the ram to Zeus, settles in the house of King Aeetes, and marries his daughter. In appreciation for all the king has done for him, Phrixus gives King Aeetes the Golden Fleece. Aeetes places the fleece on an oak tree in a grove sacred to Ares where it was guarded by a dragon. The ram becomes the constellation Aries.

After many years, a hero named Jason is given a quest to obtain the fleece. If he retrieves the Golden Fleece, he will be able to take the throne in Thessaly, which was rightfully his. He assembles a band of heroes that became known as the Argonauts. They go through many trials before finally reaching Colchis, where the fleece is located.

Jason asks King Aeetes for the fleece. The king agrees to let him have it if he can perform three tasks, which he believes are impossible. The king’s sorceress daughter, Medea, likes Jason and secretly agrees to help him if he promises to marry her. He agrees and she helps him complete each task. When Jason leaves, he takes the Golden Fleece and Medea with him.

The story of a golden fleece is thought to derive from an old practice of placing sheep fleece into a stream to collect gold flecks that were washed down from upstream. The fleece would sometimes be stretched over a wooden frame to make this easier. Afterwards, the fleeces would be hung from trees to dry out. When a fleece was dry, the gold would be shaken or combed out of it. A fleece would also be used to wipe off washing tables in gold mines.