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Classical Mythology

No Place Like Home?

Long before the Argo returned to Iolcus, rumors had spread that the ship and her crew had all been lost. Pelias, emboldened by this news, forced Jason's father Aeson to commit suicide by drinking bull's blood, a fatal toxin. Pelias killed Jason's young brother, Promachus, too. Jason's mother cursed Pelias, but then killed herself with a sword.

Jason correctly suspected that Pelias would renege on his promise to give up his throne. So the Argo docked outside the city, where Medea hatched a horrifying plot to seize the throne without a costly battle.

Medea disguised herself as a crone and entered the city. After claiming that Artemis had sent her to restore Pelias's youth, Medea slipped into a tent. She quickly emerged as the young and beautiful woman she really was, impressing Pelias so much that he agreed to submit to her promised “treatment.”

Mythed by a Mile

Some say Aeson was still alive, though just barely, when Jason returned to Iolcus. But Medea restored his youth and vigor by slitting his throat, draining his blood, and filling his veins with a brew of magic herbs.

The spell required the cooperation of Pelias's daughters, Medea insisted. Despite their loyalty to their father, however, the daughters of Pelias were reluctant to follow Medea's recipe: Chop up their father into pieces and stew them. Medea then made a show of slaying a ram, cutting it up, and putting the pieces into her cauldron. When the sorceress lifted out a frisky lamb, the apparent miracle convinced all but the eldest daughter, Alcestis. Her sisters killed Pelias and stewed his body parts—then wailed with despair when he failed to return.

With Pelias out of the way, the Argonauts easily took the city. Jason's shipmate Acastus, however, who succeeded his father in the throne, expelled the couple from Iolcus after learning of the treacherous way in which they had murdered his father. Or perhaps they left the city to accept an invitation for Medea to rule Corinth, where some say her father Aeëtes once reigned. In either case, the objective of the quest was never fulfilled.

A Woman Scorned

Jason and Medea settled in Corinth, where they had two (or three) children and spent 10 happy years together. But Jason increasingly found Medea, whom the Corinthians feared and loathed, an embarrassment to him. He decided to divorce her.

When King Creon of Corinth offered the hand of his daughter Glauce (or Creusa), Jason eagerly accepted. Divorcing Medea and marrying Glauce would add to his own power and prestige as well as ensure the citizenship rights of his children. But his abandonment crushed Medea.

Beware of Colchians Bearing Gifts

Ditched, divorced, and then exiled by Creon—who had good reason to fear her sorcery—Medea took advantage of her final day in Corinth to send Glauce a robe and crown for her wedding. When the naive Glauce tried on the robe, which Medea had drenched in poison, it burst into flames. The fire consumed not only Glauce, but Creon, his entire family, and the palace of Corinth as well. Simply to hurt Jason further, Medea then killed their children. When she left Iolcus, Medea took their bodies with her, making it impossible for Jason even to bury them. The sorceress escaped Corinth on a chariot pulled by dragons, a gift from her grandfather, Helius.

The Aftermath of Tragedy

Medea fled to Athens, where she convinced King Aegeus, who had long been childless, to marry her by promising him children. (Aethra, the daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen, was already pregnant with Aegeus's son Theseus, but Aegeus didn't know that.) Aegeus and Medea, who had a son named Medus, lived together in Athens for many years. However, when she tried to kill Theseus in order to clear a path to the throne for her own son, Medea and Medus were both exiled by Aegeus.

With nowhere else to go, Medea returned at last to her homeland of Colchis. There Medus—egged on by his mother—killed King Perses, who had dethroned his brother Aeëtes. Medus thus captured the throne for himself (or recaptured it for his grandfather if, as some accounts have it, Aeëtes was still alive). Nothing further is known of Medea.

As for Jason, he never again approached the glory of his younger days. Desolate in his grief, Jason died while revisiting his past glory: the wreckage of the Argo at Corinth. There, a beam from the rotten ship fell upon his head, ending his glory days forever.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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