Brother-Killing & the Voyage Home

Alerted, Aeetes ran to the shore, ordering his men to launch his fleet in pursuit of the pirates who had stolen his daughter and the fleece. At last, near the Black Sea’s western shores the distance between them grew so narrow that it seemed the Colchians would overtake the Argo. In desperation Medea seized her brother, Apsyrtus (whom she had smuggled aboard), killed him, cut up his body and scattered the pieces into the sea. When Aeetes saw the fingers, feet, chopped arms and head bobbing on the waves, he commanded his men to stop and collect the remains. He buried them on the shore and founded a city, naming it Tomi (‘temno’ means ‘I cut’) in his dismembered son’s memory.

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The Argonauts’ route home excited much debate among ancient authors. Some traced a passage north up the Danube, then south down the River Rhone, and far to the west and lands associated with death. Their adventures paralleled some of Odysseus’ on his journey home to Ithaca. Thus the Argonauts visited Circe, who purified them of Apsyrtus’ murder; the Sirens’ rock, where Orpheus saved the crew by singing more sweetly than the enchantresses; and Crete, where they defeated the bronze giant Talos by removing a pin from his ankle so that blood-like molten lead drained out and Talos crashed dying to the shore.

Returning to Iolcus, Jason presented Pelias with the golden fleece (which harboured Phrixus’ ghost). But Pelias refused to hand over the throne. Again Medea intervened. Some say that Aeson was already dead – persuaded by Pelias that Jason’s mission had failed, he had drunk bull’s blood and killed himself. Others maintain he was still alive, the frailest of old men, and that Medea restored him to youth. Chanting spells, she first slit Aeson’s throat, then placed his body in a boiling cauldron, into which she poured a magic brew. Out stepped a comely youth: Aeson, robust once more and in the springtime of his life. Those who claim that Aeson was already dead say that Medea achieved the same results with an old ram.

Pelias’ daughters, eager to make their father young again, begged Medea’s help. She promised that if they slit Pelias’ throat, she would perform the magic. The girls did as commanded, but Medea, triumphant, would not fulfil her promise. The people blamed the foreign princess for their king’s death, rising as one to exile Jason and Medea. Far away in Corinth their love affair ended in violence. In Iolcus, Pelias’ son Acastus (himself an Argonaut) claimed the throne.

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