The Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes.
|The Golden Fleece by Herbert James Draper (1904).|
Apollonius of Rhodes account is a retelling of the myth of Jason's quest at the behest of King Pelias to retrieve the Golden Fleece (this is also mentioned in the Odes of Pindar: Pythian IV, 462 B.C. The earliest version is thought to be the one told by Eumelos in 700 B.C.). King Pelias was king of Iolcus: following the death of King Cretheus Pelias had usurped his half-brother Aeson and claimed the right to the throne. When king he heard a prophecy from the Oracle that his death would be brought about by a man wearing only one sandal; later, Pelias held a feast in honour of the god Poseidon and Jason, the son of Aeseon, arrived wearing only one sandal having lost the other in the River Anaurus whilst helping Hera. And so Pelias decided to send Jason on a perilous journey, hoping his rival will be lost or killed, never to return home.
|The Map of the Voyage of the Argonaunts (1624).|
They journey around the Greek islands, first encountering the women of Lemnos, led by Queen Hypsipyle, who have recently murdered all the men of the island. Then in Hellespont they meet King Cyzicus of the Doilones and see the giants intent on killing them. When they leave they get blown off course and return to the island, however this time are mistaken for a hostile army. Ultimately Cyzicus is killed by Jason. Following Doilones is Cius: this is where Hylas is lost, seduced by the water nymphs. Some say he has become a nymph himself, others claim they drowned him.
|Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse (1896).|
When they arrive in Colchis they meet the king, Aeëtes, who agrees to let Jason take the Golden Fleece but first he must perform three tasks: to plough the Plain of Ares with fire-breathing bulls, to sow the land with the teeth of dragons, and finally to defeat the dragon that guards the Fleece.
|Jason and Medea|
by John William Waterhouse (1907).
The Argonautica is an epic, comparable I think, with Homer's The Odyssey and Virgil's later poem The Aeneid. It is exceptionally dense, so it is one I'd like to read again (next time a poetry translation) with a great many important characters all familiar to contemporary Greek readers. I adored it, it's beautiful and exciting, and I did learn a lot, though it was a little overwhelming due to my lack of familiarity. Those familiar with Greek myth will know the story doesn't end there, which is why I'm keen to read Euripides' Medea very soon! It's an excellent work, and I'm surprised it's not quite as celebrated as Virgil and Homer's poems.